Ian MacDonald - Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties (1994)
Ian MacDonald writes about every song The Beatles ever recorded, in chronological order, and with a strong sense of historical context. Sounds kind of dry but is absolutely not. Sometimes a good book to disagree with ('Wait' is a song I do feel strongly about, whatever he says) but always and in every way a good book.
Ian McEwan - The Cement Garden (1978)
Morbid, creepy, strangely deadpan and unlike anything else (except for some of Ian McEwan's early short stories), this is a perfect little grim and dreamlike novel.
Charles Shaar Murray - Shots from the Hip (1991)
A collection of some of the journalism of possibly the best music writer of all time (certainly better than the overrated but actually pretty good Lester Bangs), Murray writes brilliantly about people like Bowie, but more importantly writes gripping articles about artists that no-one in their right mind would want to read about.
JRR Tolkien - The Lord of the Rings (1954-5)
Not much to say about this; loved the movies but the book will always be the real thing.
George Orwell – Collected Essays and Journalism (4 vols, 196?)
Probably the best pound I ever spent in a charity shop; these books include some of Orwell's greatest pieces of writing, including The Decline of the English Murder, Inside the Whale etc
Gardner Fox - Kothar: Barbarian Swordsman (1969)
Simple Conan rip-off perhaps, but DC comics writer Gardner Fox's Kothar books have a special something that makes them head-and-shoulders above the average swords & sorcery pulp fantasy.
Jake Adelstein - Tokyo Vice (2009)
Not just investigative journalism; Jake Adelstein writes stunningly about the Japanese newspaper industry, the yakuza, the police and the country itself.
William Shakespeare - Hamlet (c.1600)
Not that many plays are a gripping read, but I think Hamlet is - witty, clever and of course tragic.
Philip K Dick - Dr Bloodmoney, or How We Got Along After the Bomb (1965)
Grotesque and inventive, not the most representative (or best) of Philip K Dick's novels but a classic nonetheless.
Philip K Dick - Time Out of Joint (1959)
Very much one of his best and most representative straight(ish) sci-fi novels in which he managed the feat of writing in the 50s about 50s small-town America with a seeming sense of nostalgia.
JD Salinger -The Catcher in the Rye (1951)
Although it is kind of mystifying that this odd little novel became one of the classics of 20th century literature it is endlessly re-readable, unlike all of the author's other books.
Haruki Murakami - After Dark (2004)
Somehow hypnotic mix of realism and fantasy, hugely atmospheric even in translation.
Cyril Connolly - The Rock Pool (1936)
The only novel by the literary critic; funny, delicate and strangely moving. One of my favourite books in the world, story-wise (but not tonally) somewhat similar to Christopher Isherwood's also-excellent Goodbye to Berlin, Stephen Spender's The Temple and even Hunter S. Thompson's The Rum Diary
Stephen King - It (1986)
Stephen King himself has said that It is too long; wrong. Shame about the film version though...
Peter Bagge - Hate (1990-1998)
Essentially a comic soap opera, Peter Bagge's Buddy Bradley is one of the great comic characters of all time, and the complete Hate saga is far more than just crude comedy.
Michael Moorcock - Dancers at the End of Time (1972-6)
Despite the fact that there are no boundaries to the imagination, most fantasy fiction is highly formulaic, but although Moorcock has written his fair share of standard (if excellent) swords & sorcery type stuff (the Corum series being maybe the best), Dancers at the End of Time is highly eccentric and otherworldly without simply being whimsical and annoying.
Evelyn Waugh - Vile Bodies (1930)
It turns out that the nasty sardonic humour that is nevertheless somehow very moving (a keynote of Waugh's first few novels) doesn't really translate to film. Sadly the sentimentality of Brideshead Revisited was easier to capture.
Michael Moynihan and Didrik Søderlind - Lords of Chaos - the Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground (1998)
A brilliantly researched and skilfully written book about Satanic music, beginning in the 60s and culminating in the church-burning Norwegian black metal scene of the 1990s. If the book sometimes seems a little sensationalistic, it's mainly because the bands and events described are 'larger than life' to say the least.
Wyndham Lewis - The Apes of God (1930)
A modernist satire on everything, The Apes of God is, like most of Lewis' fiction, initially offputting due to the denseness of his writing style, but formidably clever, very funny and kind of unpleasant. Despite his own peculiar fascist tendencies, Lewis mocks Oswald Moseley's blackshirts in this book as much as he does everyone else.
Robert Westall - The Watch House (1977)
Robert Westall is best known for his first novel The Machine Gunners but all of his books up until the late 80s are great, this one (first read when I was 11 or 12) being my favourite, and a children's book that is still easy to read as an adult. Actually, probably should have chosen The Scarecrows, which is possibly even better, but I'll stick with this.
Hunter S. Thompson - Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971)
Terry Gilliam's film version captures the hysterical intensity of the book; but it isn't as easy or fun to watch as the book is to read. Short, to the point and completely insane.