Netflix recs: Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock? (available for instant streaming from Netflix) is a documentary about a truck driver who bought a painting at a thrift store which might or might not actually be a Jackson Pollock worth millions. Trust me, it's really entertaining and interesting, even if you're not into art or Jackson Pollock.
I've also been watching The Wire on DVD. I'd never seen this show before. This is the best police drama ever! Holy crap. I'm almost done with Season Two now. I can't believe there are still three whole seasons left to watch! I'll never be able to watch Law & Order again.
My Favorite Authors
Since a couple of people asked me who my favorite authors were, I'll reel off a few (some of these I have mentioned before). This is by no means a comprehensive list of every author I like or all those whom I've read a lot of, but these are the ones who stick out and whose books I would always want to have on my shelves.
Brin's two Uplift trilogies are among my favorite science fiction series of all time. This is the sort of science fiction that makes you realize what weak tea Star Trek is. If you like far future settings in a universe populated with hundreds of alien races, advanced technology, and byzantine politics, with Earthlings trying to scrabble out a place for themselves surrounded by civilizations that spanned galaxies while humanity's ancestors were still invertebrates, this is the author for you.
Stephenson used to be on my must-read-everything list. Cryptonomicon was purely awesome (though very dense), but if you want to get started with something a little lighter, Snow Crash and Diamond Age are his other most popular works, and they are also pure cyberpunk awesomeness. (His earlier novels, The Big U and Zodiac, are also worth reading, but you can definitely tell that they were early works.) Stephenson has a way with words, and combining Big Ideas with crazy little character details that make for a thrill ride of a story.
And then I tried to read his Baroque Cycle and I... just couldn't get through the first book. It still had his clever prose and flashes of brilliance, but it just plodded along, story-wise. I'm afraid I kind of burned out on Stephenson at that point, and I'm a little hesitant to pick up his latest work, Anathem, which I have heard is both as brilliant as Cryptonomicon and as dense and plodding as the Baroque Cycle. (Anyone read it and want to offer opinions?)
First, let me say that I despise Heinlein fans who actually take the politics expressed in his books seriously. He wrote science fiction. Reading Heinlein for political theory is like reading L. Ron Hubbard for theology. The difference is that Heinlein was actually a good writer. That said, I liked his earlier novels, including his juveniles, much better than his later stuff. Give me The Star Beast or Podkayne of Mars or The Moon is a Harsh Mistress over The Cat Who Walks Through Walls or The Number of the Beast any day. (Personally, I think Friday was about the point where he lost it and started to become unreadable.)
I've only read His Dark Materials, not his Sally Lockhart series. The Golden Compass was one of the best YA books I've ever read, though. The entire trilogy is excellent, though unfortunately it's yet anothet trilogy that kind of falls flat in the last book. If you like Harry Potter and Alexandra Quick, you will like Lyra Belacqua. (Pullman is a much better writer than Rowling, and certainly better than me.)
I used to read everything he wrote, but who can keep up? If you've never read King because you think he's just that guy who writes gruesome horror novels from which really crappy movies are made, you should really give him a chance. He's amazingly prolific, and therefore some of his books are much better than others, but he actually writes outside the pure horror genre quite a bit, and he really knows how to write. And write, and write, and write... His biggest flaw is self-indulgence and, like Rowling, being too big to edit, so he can get away with writing a 800-page book to tell a 300-page story.
My King favorites include It, even though it's one of his doorstopper novels that could (should) have been much shorter. Also, the ending. Oh, gods, the ending. No spoilers, but those of you who've read it, you know what I'm talking about, right? I also love The Stand for its epic post-apocalyptic cheesiness, even though it's also one of his more flawed novels, is quite dated now, it's way too long, and.... yeah, okay, the ending on that one sucked, too. But I maintain that Salem's Lot is the best vampire novel, ever.
Jessica Amanda Salmonson
You're saying, "Who?" because you've probably never heard of her. Well, she wrote the Tomoe Gozen trilogy, which is simply one of my favorite fantasy series of all time. It's a meticulously-researched swords & sorcery tale based on a historical figure, but set on an alternate-earth Japan where magic is real. Everything from the sorcery to the magical beasts are authentically Japanese, and Tomoe Gozen is 100% pure awesome bad-ass. If you read this series, you will scoff in contempt at all those samurai manga and anime flooding the market today.
I'm not a huge fan of everything Gaiman has written (though I did like Good Omens, which he wrote with Terry Pratchett), but the Sandman series was truly a literary work of art. A lot of graphic novels claim that distinction. Most of them are very pretty and entertaining, but they're still just comic books. Sandman was special. Get the trade paperbacks and read the whole thing. It has that same characteristic that Buffy the Vampire Slayer had, of small details that appeared long ago suddenly reappearing and taking on critical importance, minor characters becoming major, good guys turning evil and evil characters turning good, and the entire thing is really a work of modern mythology.
Yes, I do occasionally read stuff that's not science fiction or fantasy. Mostly it's pretty random, and I'm not a fan of the mystery genre in general, but Hillerman is well known for his very accurate and very human portrayal of Navajo culture. His Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee mysteries are lots of fun, pretty good as whodunits, and really give you a feel for the Southwest. I will say, though, that Hillerman's later novels became, as the author of the preceding link describes them, "comfy chair" mysteries; although his continuing characters do change as they get older and things happen in their lives, each novel is pretty much like the last.