Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card (Tor, $8). Card's novel about children trained for space combat is an amazing story about childhood and what it means to truly understand others and oneself. It's unfortunate that the author, who's been vocal about his anti-gay views, appears in real life to have entirely missed the points about empathy he made here, but his book is still well worth reading.
Use of Weapons by Iain Banks (Orbit, $15). An engrossing meditation on love, relationships, betrayal, and the true price of winning at all costs. Banks uses well-drawn characters to make his science-fiction fantasy worlds compelling and believable. All of his books are excellent; this just happens to be my favorite.
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett (HarperTorch, $8). Hilarious, insightful, and profound, Good Omens is my go-to book when I need to feel better about the absolute absurdity of our world. Where else are you going to find bikers of the apocalypse named Death and Grievous Bodily Harm?
Neuromancer by William Gibson (Ace, $8). This 1984 novel, which deftly weaves together intensely evocative passages with stunning insights into what the future holds, should be required reading for everyone. We haven't completely arrived at Gibson's cyberpunk future, but we're well on our way.
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (Dell, $8). There are many great Vonnegut lines, but none quite so unforgettable as that three-word mantra, "So it goes." Babies are born, men die, tragedies and triumphs occur, and yet the world keeps spinning. It's a lesson that we could all use now and then.
Air Force Gator by Dan Ryckert (Up to Something, $10). Proof that no matter how much time you spend agonizing over the perfect word choice, no matter how much literature you cram into your head, no matter how seriously you take yourself, there will always be someone who thinks up a story about a secret-agent alligator while watching pro-wrestling and then publishes it. And it's good that our world lets that happen.
— NFL punter Chris Kluwe, whose scathing letter to an anti-gay-marriage state lawmaker became an Internet sensation last year, is about to publish his first book — an essay collection called Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies.