The great thing about working here is finding just the right book to put into your hands when you want something new. Now that I'm working 'behind the scenes' I don't get to answer this question much anymore. But if you hear someone asking "What are your favorite books? They don't have to be science fiction or fantasy, tell me about everything." or "What book would be the right book for your mood right now if you hadn't read it already?" or (to someone contemplating buying the posthumous writings of J. R. R. Tolkien) "If I gave you a magic window so you could look over Tolkien's shoulder as he wrote The Lord of the Rings, would you look through the window, or not?" then that's me. ;-)
My own yardstick for what's good is that the book be good for what it is. I can read highfalutin' stuff like Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun or action-adventure-y stuff like the Indiana Jones novels, depending on what I want at the moment; but it has to be good highfalutin' stuff or good action-adventure.
I like stories where the setting is so rich the place is like a character in the story: Austin Tappan Wright's Islandia or Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness.
I like stories where the characters have to measure themselves against a high standard of honor -- or struggle with standards of honor which are not native to them: JRRT's The Lord of the Rings; C. J. Cherryh's work, especially the Faded Sun trilogy or the Chanur books.
I like books which have a distinctive 'voice' so that reading the book is like hearing the author tell you the story, and there is never any doubt who is telling the story to you: Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn; Robin McKinley's Damarian books (The Blue Sword, The Hero and the Crown, Deerskin); Laurence Yep's historical novels Dragonwings and Child of the Owl, and fantasies Dragon of the Lost Sea, and sequels; Pamela C. Dean's Secret Country books.
I like books with rich language, so reading the book is like drinking a fine wine: Patricia McKillip's Riddle-Master of Hed Trilogy; Cherry Wilder's Chameln trilogy and Luck of Brin's Five trilogy; Robert Stallman's The Book of the Beast; Caroline Stevermer's A College of Magics.
I like stuff with a particular sense of humor (as someone once described Gene Wolfe's) "that makes strong men weep and women reach for weapons": Gene Wolfe's Free Live Free and Castle of Days; Howard Waldrop's Night of the Cooters; most stuff by R.A. Lafferty; Connie Willis' screwball short stories, especially "Blued Moon"; Michael Bishop's "Rogue Tomato" and "The Yukio Mishima Cultural Association of Kudzu Valley, Georgia".
Just to round out the picture:
That's probably more than you wanted to know. If you've read this far, then you've been cruising the Web too long. Go off and enjoy a book!
Here are two 'top ten' lists from me :-)
The first is personal favorites/recommended. Part of the 'criteria' for this list is that they be stand-alone and available in a single volume (thus LotR & Cordelia's Honor :-))
Jennifer's Favorites in No Particular Order (27 Aug 97)
The second is a list of books that have shaped/changed/affected my perception of the world -- and a) is by no means complete, and b) not restricted to singleton, stand-alone books. (I did refrain from duplicating anything in the 'favorites' list, though)
The Other Change of Hobbit
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