(In my rarely-if-ever humble opinion)
I’ll admit it. Out of all of the areas of entertainment in which I call myself an expert…traditional books aren’t necessarily on the top of the list. Plays? Sure! Books? Not as much. (Although I have read about 115 Books, not to mention 100 Graphic Novels and 20 Theatre Books. So, I’m probably not the least qualified person to make a list like this. Right? Right!)
All that being said, I think it is every Artist’s duty to search for and discover inspiration wherever they can find it, so I make it my business to study books with the same enthusiasm that I would plays, movies, and television shows. Ya never know where your next great idea could come from! (My ten-minute play, Unfinish-, was loosely inspired by a 7-page Batman comic. You’d never know it by watching the play, but that’s what makes the search for inspiration so exciting!)
Hope you enjoy reading this list as much as I enjoyed reading these gems!
Best Overall Series: Harry Potter (J.K. Rowling)
There’s a reason Harry Potter is the global phenomenon that it is. Not only is what J.K. Rowling saying brilliant, but how she says it is just, well, magical. And, somehow, it gets even better the more you re-read it.
Best Individual Book: The Art of Racing in the Rain (Garth Stein)
I don’t particularly like dogs, or racing, and this book is all about both. That’s how well-written it is-I can’t help but still love it!
Best Teen Literature: The Hunger Games Series (Suzanne Collins)
Say what you will about the film adaptations (I’m still bitter that they unnecessarily turned Mockingjay into two films), but these books are hard to put down!
Best Prequel: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (Suzanne Collins)
I know, I know. I’m kind of cheating by including this separately from The Hunger Games, but this prequel, which came out so many years after the original trilogy ended, is an easy reminder that Collins has still got it!
Best Fantasy: Eragon Series (Christopher Paolini)
Like a PG-13 Game of Thrones. Wild to think Paolini was a teenager when he wrote it!
Best Self-Help: How to Win Friends and Influence People (Dale Carnegie)
Once you read this book, you’ll be able to see through every bad salesperson so easily, you’ll have to stop yourself from laughing in their face. This book is the ultimate textbook on manipulating people to do good, and you’ll find yourself thinking about its lessons every single day.
Best Horror: Frankenstein (Mary Shelley)
It’s ALIVVVEEE!!! And awesome. It’s awesome.
Best Mystery/Thriller: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Stieg Larsson)
A bit dense, and sometimes bites off more than it should chew, but it’s worth the time investment for its stellar plot and character development!
Best Sequel: The Girl Who Played with Fire (Stieg Larsson)
Again, I know I’m cheating by throwing this in as a separate winner. But it further solidifies Lisbeth Salander as the most bad-a$# character ever written.
Best Comedic: SeinLanguage (Jerry Seinfeld)
If you want to read a book that reads like a standup set, look no further. And who better to read standup than from the greatest observational comedian of all time?
Best Holocaust Book: Sarah’s Key (Tatiana De Rosnay)
I still think about certain moments from this haunting book. While technically not based on a specific true story, it is fully plausible based on the atrocities the French government committed on its Jewish citizens during the Holocaust.
Best Memoir: A Father First: How My Life Became Bigger Than Basketball (Dwyane Wade)
I may be biased because D-Wade is my favorite athlete, but this is a must-read even if you’re not a Miami Heat fan. Heck, this is a must-read even if you’ve never watched a single basketball game in your life.
Best Medical Book: Fever (Robin Cook)
Chilling to see how the players change, but the game often stays the same when it comes to modern medicine and treating patients.
Best Philosophical Book: When Bad Things Happen to Good People (Rabbi Harold Kushner)
This book pretty much leaves you with the philosophy that we need to take the good with the bad. And while I find it too easy on the man upstairs, it is extremely well-written and certainly makes you question why the world works the way it does.
Best Legal Drama: A Time to Kill (John Grisham)
From it’s opening chapter that had my heart palpitating, all the way to the back cover, this book pits what is “right” against what is “legal” in a thought-provoking, disturbing way.
Best Gateway Drug book (to get kids into reading): Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Not really a graphic novel, but not really a traditional novel either. It’s own breed of fun!
Best Overall Graphic Novel: Batman Knightfall
A literal page-turner (I actually had to convince myself to pull away because I’d be late for work if I kept on reading, that’s how difficult it was to put down.) An epic introduction to one of Batman’s most formidable foes, Bane.
Best Batman Graphic Novel: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
Cheating again, are we? Yes. But while Knightfall is the best graphic novel overall, TDKR really puts the novel in Graphic Novel.
Best Superman Graphic Novel: Superman: Red Son
Really cool metaphorical and philosophical discussion on communism, while also being the most cinematic graphic novel I’ve ever read.
Best Justice League Graphic Novel: Justice
Can’t go wrong when you’ve got Alex Ross illustrating! (Actually, that’s not true, as I’ve read some other graphic novels he’s illustrated that I didn’t love-but his artwork has always been superb!)
Best Thanos Graphic Novel: Thanos Rising
A fascinating look at the Mad Titan’s origin story!
Best Punisher Graphic Novel: The Punisher The Complete Collection Volume 1
Not the last time one of Garth Ennis’s works will appear on this list. Brutal. Cold-blooded. Just like The Punisher himself.
Best Star Wars Graphic Novel: Darth Maul: Son of Dathomir
Star Wars graphic novels are tough to get right. It’s such a visual franchise, and graphic novels, by nature, stilt the battle scenes into a shot-by-shot frame. It’s often difficult, if not impossible, to get the same level of excitement watching a live lightsaber battle on a page as you get from a screen. But this one is so well-paced that it overcomes that obstacle and makes for a compelling look into everyone’s favorite double-sided lightsaber-wielding bad guy.
Best non-superhero Dramatic Graphic Novel: Maus
Beautiful, symbolic, and one of the more unique pieces of Art to come out of the nightmare of the Holocaust.
Best non-superhero Action Graphic Novel: Preacher
What I think is most intriguing about this series is how perfect it is for the Graphic Novel medium. I simply can’t imagine this specific story being told in any other way. (In fact, I’ve never seen the TV adaptation, but I’m curious to see how they could possibly do it-as this series has a myriad of images that you simply CANNOT show on television.)
Best Overall Theatre Book: Acting Professionally
This book pulls no punches, which is exactly what any young, aspiring Actor needs.
Best Acting Technique Book: Uta Hagen Respect for Acting/A Challenge for the Actor
Hard to find a better pair of books to start building your acting technique around!
Best Directing Book: Notes on Directing
Excellent. Read this in one sitting. Easy, smart, clear, brilliant.
Best Theatre Memoir: Rewrites/And the Play Goes On
It should come as no surprise that Neil Simon was as majestic an author as he was a playwright. Should really be required reading for any fan of the theatre, let alone anyone with hopes of becoming a writer!
The Rest of the Pack
These beauties may not be the best in any specific way within their given genres, but they are still some of the best books of all time (in not too particular of an order):
- Vladimir Tod Series
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
- The Witches
- The BFG
Rabbi Joseph Telushkin
- Jewish Literacy
- The Bone Collector
H. Jackson Brown Jr.
- Live and Learn and Pass it On
- 1,911 Best Things Anybody Ever Said
- The Death of Ivan Ilyich
- The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
- The Outsiders
- Good Benito
- Needful Things
- House of the Scorpion
- What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?
- Captain Underpants Series
- Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie
- The Court of Owls
- The City of Owls
- The Man Who Laughs/Made of Wood
- Vampire (wild, very unique take)
- Earth One Vol 1
- The Killing Joke
- Year One
- Batman and the Monster Men: Dark Moon Rising
- The Cult
- Black and White Vol 1, 2
- White Knight #2
- The Black Mirror
- Dark Victory (sequel to Long Halloween which I didn’t necessarily recommend but should probably read that before this great one)
- Batman Dark Night: A True Batman Story (extremely self-indulgent but interesting and unique)
- The War of Jokes and Riddles
- Going Sane
- Fool’s Errand
- Earth One Vol 1
- Infinity Gauntlet
- Darth Maul (Cullen Bunn/Luke Ross)
- Legacy Vol 1-Broken
- Dead Presidents
- Suicide Kings
- Headcanon (Wade Wilson’s War, Night of the Living Deadpool, Return of the Living Deadpool)
- Corps Vol. 1 (a little silly but pretty good overall)
- Despicable Deadpool: Deadpool Kills Cable
- The Walking Dead
- Kill or Be Killed (Dexter meets Donnie Darko)
- Sin City Vol 1 (simple but awesome).
- Scott Pilgrim
- Red Team Vol 1
- A Life in Parts
- True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor
- A Practical Handbook for the Actor
- The Dialect Handbook
- Tips Ideas for Directors
- Tips Ideas for Actors
- Playwriting for Dummies
- Shakespeare for Dummies
Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace
- Creativity Inc: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration (maybe more geared towards business, but a ton of great quotes and a lot of good stuff about general creativity that can be applied to theatre as well. In fact, I wrote a whole separate Medium article about it that you can read here: https://datz-eddie.medium.com/on-ed-catmulls-creativity-inc-2bbd7aa92d26)
What are you thoughts? What did I miss? What did I get just right? Let me know! And if you liked this, check out check out all my other Best of All Time lists!
And for more things Datz, check out eddiedatz.com!
Note: This is an ongoing list that will continue to be edited as I read more books and find new favorites!