Wired.com recently posted an article by Mr. Marty Continas entitled “9 Essential Geek Books You Must Read Right Now.” I don’t mean to question Mr. Continas’s authority, but obviously we at Master Ninja have some insight on these matters ourselves.
Firstly, I don’t agree with Marty’s – may I call him Marty? – with Marty’s title. I think it’s really “9 Essential Geek Books You Should Have Read Before You Were 18 If You Want Any Geek Cred, Seriously.” I, for instance, do not recommend actually reading the AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide. It’s a book you flip through and chuckle sentimentally about now – you should have read it when you were 13.
But let’s review the list in its entirety.
1. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide by Gary Gygax (1979)
On. Obviously. Of course, the problem is that the DMG alone isn’t going to get you much geek cred. Certainly, when quizzed, you can tell me the probability of encountering a sly pimp during a harlot encounter (4%, twice as likely as a wealthy procuress), but you won’t know how to become a Grand Master of Flowers, so I would quickly detect you weren’t one of us.
Point of Advice: I’d change this to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide, Player’s Handbook, and Monster Manual. A passing familiarity with “Basic” Dungeons & Dragons will get you through some tight spots proving your geek reputation, as well.
2. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (1979)
On. Again, this is an easy one. It also shows that all the good geek books were actually written in the 1970s, when geeking was still in its infancy, not nowadays, when geeking is a refined practice.
3. Watchmen by Alan Moore (1986)
Off. Watchmen is a work of art, a biting social commentary, and its gritty tone is so often copied that its imitators look like creepy pretenders to its throne. Have geeks read it? Yes. But non-geeks should also read it, and knowing what it is doesn’t make give you any more geek cred than naming ten of the X-Men does. Come back and talk to me when you’ve read all of From Hell, including the indices.
4. Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter (1979)
On. Yikes! Marty isn’t pulling any punches. If you’ve made it through Gödel, Escher, Bach, then you already know why Gödel, Escher, Bach is worth so much geek cred. Also, you’re probably only read about a quarter of the book and understood one-third of that – let’s be honest.
5. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (1985)
Off. Ender’s Game is a fine book, but “essential”? For what? I mean, it’s essential to read if you’re interested in how crazy Orson Scott Card is, but if your geek friends are often discussing Ender’s Game and its sequels, get new geek friends.
6. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson (1992)
On. But I could be wrong. Much like Ender’s Game, I don’t know if “essential” covers Snow Crash, but lots of people credit Snow Crash with how we look at the Internet today. Still, it’d be tough to convince me this slot couldn’t easily be replaced with Neuromancer, except that Snow Crash is a better read.
7. The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkein (1954)
On. Yes, all your friends are going to roll their eyes at some point and tell you that they’re not very good novels, or that Tolkein wasn’t a very good writer, or that Tom Bombadil makes no damned sense. Tell them to shut up. Their nerd worlds would be a shambles if not for these books.
8. The Visual Display of Quantitative Information By Edward Tufte (1992)
Off. What the Hell, Marty? Did Edward Tufte pay you for this mention? Sure, this is a very cool book for certain kinds of nerds and geeks, but this is that kind of thing that’s almost insulting. Yes, we are geeks, but we like to have a good time. If you want to hang with the nerd herd, t’s not “essential” that you display quantitative information cleanly.
9. Neuromancer by William Gibson (1984)
Off. Oh, look. Here’s Neuromancer. Remember, we talked about this earlier?
We here at Master Ninja have done our research, and here’s what we came up with:
Master Ninja’s 9-ish Essential Geek Books Curriculum
- All of:Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide, Player’s Handbook, and Monster Manual.
- Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Further recommended reading: The Restaurant at the End of the Universe and Life, the Universe and Everything. Somewhat less recommended reading, but still okay: So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish and Mostly Harmless.
- Godel, Escher, Bach. But really, you don’t have to completely finish and understand it.
- All of: The Hobbit, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. That’s the Lord of the Rings stuff, for you laypeople.
- One of:Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, Neuromancer by William Gibson, A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick (1977), or Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick (1974). Further reading: Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthologyespecially The Gernsback Continuum by William Gibson and Mozart in Mirrorshades by Bruce Sterling and Lewis Shiner
- Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft (1929) and two of: The Dunwich Horror by H.P. Lovecraft (1928), The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by H.P. Lovecraft (1927), The Lurker at the Threshold by August Derleth (1945), or The Hounds of Tindalos by Frank Belknap Long (1931).
- One of: Any novel with the Dungeons & Dragons, Star Wars, Warhammer, Warcraft, or Star Trek logos on it. Recommended: The Dark Elf Trilogy by R.A. Salvatore, the Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn, the Horus Heresy series, and Star Trek: The Next Generation - Vendetta by Peter David. Sadly, most of the Warcraft novels are trash, but they’re still worth geek cred.
- Three of:Watchmen by Alan Moore, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemenby Alan Moore, Sin City by Frank Miller, Kingdom Come by Alex Ross and Mark Waid, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller, Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman (or any other Sandman book, but you might as well begin at the beginning), X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga by Chris Claremont, V for Vendetta by Alan Moore, or The Authority by Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch
- Two of: Dune by Frank Herbert, Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein, I, Robot by Isaac Asimov, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, Ringworld by Larry Niven, 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke, or A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Note: Any of these will give you a much greater insight into the science fiction genre than Ender’s Game, and understanding science fiction is worth more geek cred than reading it.
We hope this helps!