Here are some novels that, if you stopped by my house and said, "Got anything good to read?", I would loan to you. I mean, once we had gotten past the screaming and "How did you get in here" stage.
I'm a little appalled by how many are movies now. Bad movies, too. I swear, when I first wrote this list, most were just books.
The funniest novel I've ever read. As soon as I finished, I read it again. Then I read it a third time. It is flat-out hilarious. It's also fairly offensive, which may be a plus or not, depending on your personal hang-ups. I think if you draw a line from Chuck Palahniuk through me, you finish up on Paul: he's less about bending your mind, more about the funny. (If you go the other way, you maybe get Craig Clevenger.)
One of those "it's four AM and I really should stop reading now" books. An aimless young man backpacking across Thailand discovers an isolated community of social dropouts building an ideal society. It's exciting, mind-bending, and totally compelling. I haven't enjoyed Alex's other books so much, but this one is an all-time favorite.
This is pretty close to perfection, as far as mainstream fiction goes. Seriously. I wouldn't lie to you about something like that. It's a fast, completely absorbing read about a girl chess prodigy.
Contains more Sumerian history than I ever wanted to know, but is still the best modern sci-fi around. I got accused of ripping this off for Jennifer Government, which probably means that if liked my book, you'll like this. Also terrific: Cryptonomicon.
I wasn't sure whether to list this or The Blind Assassin, which is also brilliant. I went for Handmaid's Tale because it's a little sci-fi-y, which may appeal more to readers of this site, and is a little more accessible, so should serve to get you hooked. I have become addicted to Atwood: I've read every novel she's written. Seriously, that's like eight thousand books. I find that about three chapters into each one, even though nothing is happening in a hurry, I'm totally entranced. Quite literary, almost... can I say lyrical, without sounding like a tosser? No. Okay.
Mind-bending and believable at the same time; also funny, if you have a very twisted sense of humor. I read this after seeing the film (which is also fantastic) and still loved it. It was my first Palahniuk, and while I've dug pretty much everything he's written since, nothing can quite match the shock of my first taste of that man's brain.
I think this book convinced me to write novels. It's absolutely brilliant. I can't even think how to describe what it's about. Life, man. Life.
I tried to limit myself to one book per author, but I love Neal too much; I don't care what the world thinks. So as well as Snow Crash (above), there's the Baroque Cycle: Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World. I adored all three. But I have to warn you: almost everybody I've loaned them to gave up, saying, "Why did you think I'd like that?" It's inexplicable. I think they're amazing. If I tried to write something like this, it would take me about 40 years. In fact, it would take me that long just to type it out, because they're about 900 pages each.
Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus
A gorgeous, funny-awful story with terrific characters; tells the tale of a nanny employed by a disintegrating upper-class New York couple. Very easy to read, amusing and engaging.
Joss Whedon is, of course, one of the greatest human beings to ever walk the Earth. Here he's writing X-Men comics. If you're in the market, that should sell you right there. Book 1 is great; Book 2 sags a little; Book 3 ("Torn") is superb.
Funny and clever, but what made me fall in love was the surprising and wonderfully genuine affection between the two main characters. The plot involves a murder mystery set in Toy City, where the nursery rhyme characters live.
I can't believe no-one sat me down and forced me to read this tale of a tobacco lobbyist earlier. The best kind of satire: fun, fast, and makes you feel dirty.
This is why it doesn't matter that there are no new ideas. A guy can travel through time: I've read that story a hundred times. But this one, about the relationship between a time traveler and the love of his life, whom he meets at various ages, is amazing and completely believable. Some of it is astonishingly beautiful, some unbearably tragic. It possibly drags just a little in the middle, but I still loved it.
Maybe a little melodramatic, but enjoyable as hell. Sweeping saga set in 12th-Century England about power, love, and cathedrals.
I loan this one out to engineer friends who don't read much fiction. It's told from the perspective of a boy with Asperger's Syndrome: extremely easy to read, funny, intriguing, and touching.
This is a great book, although mainly because it has an astounding ending. I spent most of it wondering what everyone was raving about, because it was very enjoyable without being foaming-at-the-mouth great. But then I found out. So I wouldn't recommend going into it with huge expectations, but it's definitely worth reading.
To be honest, I often find classic novels a little disappointing. They have a few great ideas, but don't seem to justify the universal praise heaped upon them. This one, though, I found truly funny, smart, and poignant.
I liked it before he was cool, okay? Well, actually that's not true. Hugh has been cool forever. But now he's super-famous as Dr. House, and will probably never write another novel. This is very funny and British (in a good way).
A great, very funny young adult novel set in the Crusades; maybe my all-time favorite young adult novel. I read it in my early twenties and feel it influenced my own style of humor.
A very cool, endearing young adult story about a... well, yeah. Like all the books on this list, it does an amazing job of sucking you into a strange, completely believable world.