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  • John Fiorella

20 SPECTACULAR BOOKS THAT ROCKED MY WORLD

Updated: Mar 21, 2019



Move over, Shakespeare! These 20 works of literature possess the power to inspire, terrify, and make you question the cosmos. If there’s something on this list you haven’t experienced, pick up a tattered copy, grab a handful of wasabi peas, and crunch in all the goodness.





THE MYSTERIES OF HARRIS BURDICK, pub 1984


Author & illustrator Chris Van Allsburg delivers 14 wonderfully imaginative mysteries with brilliant simplicity. He tells the tale of Harris Burdick, an author who meets with a book editor and leaves him 14 drawings punctuated by a single caption. Harris promises to return the following day to see if the editor is interested in reading any of the material – only he never returns. What we’re left with, is a gorgeous set of illustrations and a teaspoon taste of 14 magical tales, leaving the rest to your imagination.





THE VELVETEEN RABBIT, pub 1922


Wait, what?? You can get a sickness that infects your stuffed animals?! GAH!! This book terrified me as a child. To purge Scarlet Fever from a young boys room, they throw all his toys in a sack, including his beloved velveteen rabbit, and set them ablaze. NOOOOOOO! This book belongs on the same, unsettling shelf with “Old Yellar.” While technically, there’s some sort of happy ending, I guarantee you’ll be crying little five-year-old tears well before you get there.





20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, pub 1870


Jules Verne was a man ahead of his time. His visionary submarine, the Nautilus, kicks @ss and takes names; all while allowing the reader a firsthand look at the wonders of the deep. At the ship’s helm stands Captain Nemo, a stoic mastermind with a thirst for vengeance. And did I mention, there’s a giant squid?!





THE JAWS OF DEATH, pub 1991


When I was a senior in high school, I set out to read The Bible, and not just the familiar parts, but every word. It took me 5 years, but I did it. The minute I finished, I went to Barnes & Noble and picked up something light – an easy read – ooh, a book about sharks. And look! This book has a section of pictures you can’t see unless you purchase it and tear open the restricted seal. Sweet! I bought the book and read it in a single weekend. It was highly educational, incredibly fascinating, and induced a crippling fear of the ocean that I’m still battling to overcome to this day!! DAMN YOU, FUN BOOK ABOUT SHARKS!!





THE TOMB AND OTHER TALES, pub 1965


Lovecraft is the master of describing terror without actually giving it shape. His crypts are filled with paralyzing horrors that drive sane men to the brink of unspeakable madness – and he does this without letting the reader get a good glimpse of what’s so freakin’ scary. “The Festival” is the highlight of this collection, with the protagonist being greeted by someone with a bland face that he comes to suspect is a “fiendishly cunning mask.” GAHHHH!!





AESOP’S FABLES, origin 600 BCE


According to the Greek historian Herodotus, Aesop was a slave who won his freedom by telling stories. “The Tortoise and the Hare,” “The Fox and the Grapes,” and “The Lion and the Mouse” are just a few of his more famous tales. There’s well over 650 fables in all, each imparting a sliver of wisdom that, despite being thousands of years-old, are very much applicable today - but be warned, most of them end in death!!





RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, pub 1981


Campbell Black tackles the novelization of the cinematic classic with fun subtleties that make it a read unlike most movie adaptations. And keep in mind, he’s writing this based on the screenplay written by Lawrence Kasdan, not on the movie itself, so its full of great little moments that didn’t make it into the finished film - like when the Nazi sub dives with Indy clinging to the periscope. Sheer literary gold!





TRIAL OF CHAMPIONS, pub 1986


Just imagine... stumbling upon a sequel to one of the most life-altering books of your childhood, that you never knew existed, some 30 years after you'd read the original! I was forty-one when I happened across this dusty paperback, and overcome with gleeful anxiety at peeling back the cover and revisiting Baron Sukumvit's twisted maze.





THE TWO TOWERS, pub 1954


Frodo’s dead?!? What the… this can’t be happening! CURSE YOU, SHELOB!! CURSE ALL SPIDERS TO THE FIREY GATES OF — what’s that? He’s not really dead?? OMG!!!!





GOD IS NOT GREAT, pub 2007


While the title may keep people with opposing viewpoints from giving this book a second glance, it certainly prepares the reader for a fistful of author Christopher Hitchens as he launches a thundering assault on his most entrenched rival: religion. Having been raised Catholic, and belonging to an extended family that continues to embrace these ideologies, I would recommend this book to anyone open to further exploring their own beliefs.





STAR WARS TALES OF THE BOUNTY HUNTERS, pub 1996


Whatever you thought you knew about IG-88, think again. Kevin J. Anderson takes this over-glorified, metallic stick-in-the-mud and tells the most mind-shattering Star Wars story this side of Mos Eisley. I kid you not, this story will rock you to your imperial core!





BARBAPAPA’S ARK, pub 1974


For those of you who missed this French phenomenon, the Barbapapas are a colorful family of blobs that can change their shape into whatever they desire. And they aren’t mushy weaklings, they’re defenders of truth and justice! They stood in defiance when the wrecking machines came to tear down their house. They guarded animals from poachers on both land and sea. And their greatest victory was the day they took all the animals to a distant planet and let the humans stew in their fog-laden cities until they stopped polluting the earth!! Top that, Super Friends.




A STORM OF SWORDS, pub 2000


The Red Wedding! Joffrey's choke down! The Viper vs the Mountain! IT’S TOO MUCH FOR THE NERD MIND TO COMPREHEND!! With this book, the third installment in his epic fantasy series “A Song of Ice and Fire,” George R.R. Martin rises to the rank of Storytelling Mastermind. It’s only fitting that he’s working behind the scenes to ensure that his work is translated to the small screen with all the same shocking intensity.





COOKING DIRTY, pub 2009


Jason Sheehan brings the heat as he cooks up a spicy dish of sex, love and death in the kitchen. It’s an electrifying autobiography that leads you from one restaurant stove to another, laughing as he peels back the layers of truth to the unpleasant hardships and endearing adventures of following after your true passion. Consider this a must read for anyone who has ever worked in the food industry.




SKELETON CREW, pub 1985


Stephen King has the power to make a grown man sleep with the lights on (spoken from personal experience).





THE MAKING OF THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, pub 2010


This is the definitive "making of" movie books. It details everything about The Empire Strikes Back, from story ideas, to location woes, costumes, editing... everything. If you love movies and aspire to bring your own ideas to the screen, you'll learn more from these 361 pages than from any college film class.





CONAN OF CIMMERIA, pub 1969


With Conan, Robert E. Howard gives birth to the action hero in his rawest form: short on smarts, stubborn to a fault, and eager to jump headlong into battle. Every adventure is wickedly fun, though it’s the author’s descriptive power that makes these stories so memorable.




JACKO, pub 1971


Even without a lick of text, John S. Goodall’s monkey adventure is one for the ages. I vividly remember sitting on my mother’s lap and describing the story as I imagined it. On some nights, Jacko was just out for an evening stroll, while other nights, he was determined to break free from the chains of slavery or die trying! And this tradition continues. Before my daughter could even form a sentence, she’d ramble in some fictional baby-language as she chronicled Jacko’s exploits.





THE ART OF STAR WARS, pub 1979


This was my first real peek behind the curtain. As a kid, sitting in the theater, you’d get lost in the story and flickering images, but this… this was the magician telling you how to do his tricks. Not only did it detail every word uttered on screen, but it showed you dozens of preliminary character designs and storyboards. This book changed me - and there was no goin’ back.





DEATHTRAP DUNGEON, pub 1984


Hmm, a choose your own adventure book? This looks fun. I’ll just read a few pages and – DID THAT GUY JUST GET IMPALED WITH SPIKES?? Wait… IS THAT SOME DUDE’S HAND NAILED TO THE DOOR?? Yup, Ian Livingstone sets fire to your childhood innocence and sends you racing through an underground labyrinth consumed with vile inhabitants and sinister pitfalls. I was eleven when I first opened this book, and I’ve been blissfully haunted by it ever since. The detailed illustrations, crafted by powerhouse artist Iain McCaig, will make every turn of the page feel like it could be your last. I’m telling you, this seemingly harmless paperback is the one book to rule them all.