Alright, I've put Fool's Errand on hold. I'd only read about a chapter and half in, anyway, and spoilers aren't really a concern for me. I'll resume searching for other of Hobb's work.
So, last night I was left to find another book to reread. I found myself picking up Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. Oh, what a wonderful book. I first read that book when I was eleven; I haven't given it a full reread since... and despite all these years, when I picked it up, it was as if I'd reread it a hundred times. I would recommend this book to anyone.
Defining the "best" book (or song, artist, etc) is a rather silly thing to do. You can't categorise like that; my favourite books, the books that I consider to be best written, the most timeless works, the most popular books... all of these wield different lists. I'd like to devote this post to the books that have influenced me the most. There are many great books out there, but many have not had a noticable influence on me. For example, The Communist Manifesto; by the time I'd read it, my socialistic ideals were already quite strong and the book had little effect on me.
But anyway... here's a list of the ones that have influenced me greatly, more or less in the order that I read them.
"The Hobbit", "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Silmarillion" by J.R.R. Tolkien
I picked up The Hobbit when I was about eight years old. It was an interesting read, but what immediately caught my interest was the angerthas on the maps - I was soon enthralled by Tolkien's languages. It was my interest in these languages that led to my interest in linguistics. Somehow I doubt I'd be a linguistics geek today if I hadn't read Tolkien's works. My interest in these books also brought to me to the internet, via Tolkien messageboards. That's a rather huge thing for me.
"Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises" by Mark Carwardine
When I was eleven (or twelve? ten?) I found myself rather obsessed with this book. I would take it out from the library, then renew it, then renew it again and again until I'd reach the limit... I'd then bring the book back and take it out the next day. Eventually my parents got fed up with this and bought me a copy. I'm still not sure to this day what it was about this book that enthralled me so much... I'd spend hours researching cetacean taxonomy and the like. I'd say that this book played a large part in getting me interested in science.
The Royal Diaries series
Now, about two thirds of the series can be summed up as "I am a princess and I'm going to marry Prince X". It got rather irksome, really. The Victoria diary was so ridden with such that I never finished it. That volume also introduced me to the concept of imperialism, which I found myself hating quite strongly. However, these books were not limited to that. Every book included an appendix at the back profiling the era and nation that the future-monarch was to rule. With these appendicies, I learnt of Elizabeth I's England, Nzingha's Angola, Lady of Ch'ia Kuo's China, Jahanara's India, Eleanor's Provence, Sondok's Korea, Kaiulani's Hawaii... the list goes on.
Since I stopped reading the series some years ago, many other appealing volumes have also been published. Anyway, it was these books that spurned on my interest in history and anthropolgy. I was introduced to nations I had had no knowledge of previously, in a manner that I could easily grasp.
"Speaking Out: Ideas That Work for Canadians" by Jack Layton
Layton may be a poor politician (although he's been improving), but I do respect him as a political activist. His book was well written and taught me quite a few things about political activism. Concepts like grassroots activism had been unknown to me before reading this book. This was the first political science book that I read from cover to cover. Sure, I'd been interested in politics prior to reading this, but it wasn't until after I read it that I was interested in activism.
"Who Killed the Canadian Military?" by J.L. Granatstein
I read this one in March (2005). It opened my eyes to a few things- how the military is used by politicians, how peacekeeping just isn't working, how the military is actually important, the folly of anti-americanism... it made me rethink a very large amount of my political stances. I'm still anti-war, but I've gone from thinking "Canada should get rid of its military" to "Canada should have a small and quality military that can defend us (just in case)... but we should not have any more than to defend ouselves".
"L'Étanger" by Albert Camus
Five years ago, I picked up Jean-Paul Sartre's Le Mur and was rather shaken by it's contents. However, the impact of that books was little compared to Camus' L'Étanger. Never before have I identified with a character as much as I did with Meursault. I'm not much of an existentalist, but those two books spoke to me and struck deep chords within me. I would recommend them to anybody who can read French - I haven't read any of their translations, but I am certain that the power of those books just cannot be translated.
"1984" by George Orwell
This one I read recently. I'd read Animal Farm at about the same time as Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World, but it failed to capture my interest in the same way. 1984, however, caught my interest. Perhaps I'd just been too young at the time to fully understand Animal Farm, but I did get 1984. The influence that the novel had on my political ideals was negligible; what this book introduced me to was the Whorf-Sapir Hypothesis and linguistic anthropology.
I think now I just have to mention the following authors: H.A. Rey, Douglas Adams, Gail Carson Levine, Roald Dahl, Dr. Seuss, Jean Craighead George and Gary Larson. They all impacted me, but I just don't know how to put into words how.
Returning now to "The Demon-Haunted World" by Carl Sagan.
I still vividly remember picking this book up. I was sitting in the chair by the green phone in my house; my mother had recently finished the book, and I decided to read it. The memory of reading the book's preface is still strong in my mind. Another memory with this book also comes back to me - I was once reading the book in my grade six classroom; I came to the chapters The Fine Art of Baloney Detection and The Dragon in my Garage, which are some of my favourite parts.
After reading the book, I went on to Sagan's other works, all of them wondeful, although none of them influenced me like The Demon-Haunted World did. It was this book that fortified my atheism, my skepticism, my wonder when it comes to science, my gross dislike of pseudoscience... sure, I was raised with these ideals, but it was this book that solidified them.
Right now, I want to quote The Demon-Haunted World, however, I cannot pick out any parts that are any better than the others. It is just such a consistently wonderful book.