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[Note: At the request of a reader, I’ve decided to make the summer reading suggestions an annual tradition. Next Friday I’ll post the recommendations for 2011. But I thought since the 2010 list contains some of my favorites that I’d repost it once more. One minor change from last year is that I’ve moved my top recommendations into the first ten slots.]

The following is a list of favorite works of imaginative literature compiled by a literary snob. Unlike similar lists you won’t find anything as daunting as Finnegan’s Wake or as faddish as whatever Oprah is shilling to her book club. In fact, on first glance the inclusion of children’s books and graphic novels might give the impression that it is rather lowbrow, if not philistine. But each of the entries was carefully selected because they have what much modern fiction lacks and what you need during the summer: a compelling story that makes you want to keep reading.

Until recently I’ve tended to prefer non-fiction to fiction, so there isn’t much depth to my selections. Fiction lovers—particularly those steeped in specific genres—will rightly take issue with my narrow choices. This list is meant to spark other suggestion rather than being the last word on what is truly worth reading during the summer.

A note about my prejudices: I prefer older to newer, short stories to long novels, magical realism to realistic narrative, and the fantastical to the mundane. Such taste make for an admittedly odd mix.

Here then are my favorite works to read during the lazy days of summer:

1. World War Z - Max Brooks (If I told you this book was about zombies you probably wouldn’t want to read it. So I won’t tell you. Instead, I’ll just say it is without a doubt the best and most detailed alternative histories that I’ve ever read. Highly recommended.)

2. The Sparrow – Mary Doria Russell (These two books by Russell make one of the finest stories about a Catholic priest/linguist traveling to another planet that you’ll ever find. Science fiction that transcends the genre.)

3. Children of God – Mary Doria Russell (The sequel to The Sparrow .)

4. The Mad Scientists Club – Bertrand R. Brinley (The ubertext for pre-Atari Gen-X nerds.)

5. The Princess Bride: S Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure – William Goldman (The highest praise I can give it is to say that the book is as charming as the movie.)

6. Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card (A brilliant book on young geniuses, military tactics, and much more.)

7.  The Secret History – Donna Tartt

8. Lonesome Dove – Larry McMurtry (McMurtry’s masterpiece gives us, among other treasures, Augustus McRae—one of best characters in American literature.)

9. Fables - Bill Willingham (Matthew Lickona mentioned Fables in an OTS article last year. What he forgot to mention is that this is one of the greatest graphic novel series (15 volumes and counting) ever produced. Start with Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall , which provides a backstory that will help you determine whether this series is for you.)

10. Holes – Louis Sachar (Magical realism for tweens. A magnificient book.)

11. Foucault’s Pendulum – Umberto Eco

12. World Made By Hand - James Howard Kunstler (A post-apocalyptic novel for the Front Porchers )

13. Astro City: Life in the Big City – Kurt Busiek (After Alan Moore’s highly overrated graphic novel Watchmen deconstructed the superhero genre, Busiek’s Astro City series restored it to its glory.)

14. Mariette in Ecstasy – Ron Hansen

15. Starship Troopers – Robert Heinlein (Not being a fan of sci-fi, I was reluctant to read this novel when I found it on the Marine Corps’ professional reading list. But Heinlein presents some intriguing ideas in this short work. Not to be confused with the horrible film adaptation by Paul Verhoeven.)

16. Out Of The Dust - Karen Hesse (Written in stanza form, this Newberry Award Winner tells the story of a young girl in the Depression-era Oklahoma dust bowl. A beautiful story for teens that deserves to find an adult readership.)

17. Expecting Someone Taller – Tom Holt (A lighthearted gem that mixes comedy and fantasy.)

18. The Pugilist at Rest – Thom Jones (If Raymond Chandler had joined the Marines and read too much Schopenhauer, he would have written short stories like Jones’ tales of hardboiled existential angst.)

19. Cold Snap – Thom Jones

20. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation – M. T. Anderson

21. The Bear Went Over the Mountain - William Kotzwinkle

22. A Wrinkle in Time - Madeline L’Engle

23. The Wall of the Sky, The Wall of the Eye – Jonathan Lethem

24. Appaloosa - Robert B. Parker

25. Right Ho, Jeeves – P.G. Wodehouse

26. Tooth Imprints On a Corn Dog - Mark Leyner (Sublimely weird, hysterically funny tales.)

27. Einstein’s Dreams – Alan Lightman (Lightman, a physics professor and gifted writer, presents a fascinating exploration into places where time behaves quite differently.)

28. The Giver – Lois Lowry

29. All the Pretty Horses - Cormac McCarthy

30. A River Runs Through It – Norman MacLean

31. Leaving Cheyenne – Larry McMurtry (McMurtry’s first novel isn’t his best work. But the unusual love triangle at the heart of the book shows why he is one of the best—though most erratic—of American novelists.)

32. The Preservationist – David Maine (A novel about Noah, his ark, his animals, and his family. Almost as compelling as the source material.)

33. The Borderlands anthologies Thomas F. Monteleone (Editor) (These hard-to-find anthologies reinvented the horror genre and made it accessible to people who would normally flee at from anything associated with the words “horror genre.”)

34. The Bluest Eye – Toni Morrison

35. Ironweed - William Kennedy

36. Fight Club – Chuck Palahniuk (I stumbled across this odd book long before the Brad Pitt movie made if famous. Nihilistic, but compelling.)

37. The Fountainhead – Ayn Rand (The only thing Rand ever wrote that is worth reading. Just don’t take it seriously.)

38. Where the Red Fern Grows – Wilson Rawls (The only book that ever made me cry.)

39. The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales – Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith

40. Red Harvest – Dashiel Hammett (When I read David Goldman’s claim that Red Harvest was one of the “two best American novels of the 20th century” I knew I had to read it. But I admit I was skeptical. David’s description made it sounds a bit like Matewan , but the book actually inspired Akira Kurosawa’s samurai masterpiece Yojimbo , which in turn inspired the great spaghetti western A Fistful Of Dollars .)

41. On The Road With Archangel – Frederick Buechner

42. Julian Comstock - Robert Charles Wilson

43. Civilwarland in Bad Decline – George Saunders (Saunders is simply the best short story writer alive today.)

44. Pastoralia – George Saunders

45. Flatland - Edwin Abbot

46. The Eyre Affair – Jasper Fforde (In this charming alternate history, England in the 1980s is a place where hardcore literature fans change their name to John Milton, roving gangs of surrealists rumble with French impressionists, and “Baconians” go door-to-door like Jehovah Witnesses’ to convince people that Francis Bacon was the true author of Shakespeare’s plays. For the English in Fforde’s world, art and literature attain the type of popularity comparable to American’s fascination with sports and celebrity.)

47. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: a new verse translation – By Simon Armitage (Don’t let the classic status throw you off. A quick, fun chivalric romance.)

48. Invisible Cities - Italo Calvino

49. A Handful of Dust - Evelyn Waugh

50. The Complete Calvin and Hobbes – Bill Watterson (Unarguably the greatest comic strip of all time. Calvin is the premier philosopher of the 20th century. Good for dipping into a little at a time.)

What imaginative literature would your recommend for this summer?


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