Being a rather voracious reader, i've been asked numerous times for book recommendations. I've come to the realization that i can use this here journal as a convenient holding place for a comprehensive answer to this question and simply direct further inquiries here.
For the time being, i'm only going to do this for novels. I'll get to the non-fiction and humor books later, assuming there's any interest.
I've postdated so it will remain at the top of my journal, for i intend on updating it as necessary. Feel free to add your own suggestions.
John Irving, The World According to Garp. My favorite book by my favorite author. Irving's ability to weave preeminent storytelling with grotesque humor sets my heart aflutter. Garp is his most famous novel, for good reason. It has the Under Toad, a transsexual football player, radical feminists who cut their tongues out, and the rape of a vegetative ball turret gunner. Funny, funny stuff. The Cider House Rules and The Hotel New Hampshire are also strongly recommended. Really, you can't go wrong with Irving unless you pickup the merely okay The Fourth Hand. (see also Richard Russo)
Neal Stephenson, Cryptonomicon. Tremendous. Apparently it can be a bit too technical for non-math/computer types, but you can ignore those details and bask in the warm glow of Stephenson's gloriously witty prose. Give it a fair shot. maddening hated it the first time she tried it. Two years later, she tried again and loved it. The three novels in The Baroque Cycle -- starting with Quicksilver -- are equally phenomenal. Despites its ~2600 pages, i found The Baroque Cycle to be a much too short historical/science fiction, adventure, epic masterpiece concerning, for lack of a better description, all sorts of interesting shit from 1660-1714 (English Restoration to the ascension of the House of Hanover). After completing these, i think Stephenson has now surpassed John Irving as my favorite novelist...though i'm too lazy to edit the entry above. Snow Crash is somewhat flawed, but has moments of sublime prose that more than makes up for it.
David Foster Wallace, The Broom of the System. I love this novel. It's pretentious. It's silly. It's overly cute. It's a bit uneven at times. It thinks it's funny. IOW, it's just like me. I can't adequately describe the plot to you, which is just as well because the plot mainly serves as a linking device for a series of humorous vignettes. I prefer The Broom of the System to the epic Infinite Jest due to the higher concentration of the funny. This is not to say you don't have to read Infinite Jest, because you do. Just make sure that you schedule a large block of time to read it because it's gigantic and isn't conducive to reading in bits and pieces.
John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces. A wonderful, Pulitzer Prize winning novel, assuming you can get past the fact that the main character is an unsympathetic, obnoxious, living with his mommy, annoying, supercilious, fat fuck. I enjoyed it because it made me feel normal and socially well-adjusted by comparison. Toole committed suicide having only written Dunces and the mediocre The Neon Bible.
Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita. I think it's safe to say that this is the most beautifully written book about diddling twelve-year-olds ever. In fact, it's the most beautifully written book that i've ever read. Next to Nabokov, i'm a functional illiterate, which i find truly depressing since English was the native Russian's third or fourth language. Don't let the pedophilia theme scare you away. Lolita is at turns touching, disturbing, and downright hilarious. I've found Nabokov's other writings disappointing, perhaps due to unfairly high expectations brought upon by reading Lolita first.
Joseph Heller, Catch-22. Speaking of unmet high expectations, after reading this classic satire on the absurdity of war, all of Heller's other books left me unsatisfied. This isn't to say they weren't worth reading, just that the novel you have to read is Catch-22. And you do have to read it, dammit.
Günter Grass, The Tin Drum. This first novel in the Danzig Trilogy earned Grass a well-deserved Nobel Prize in Literature a few years ago. A picaresque epic told autobiographically by Oskar Matzerath -- who at age three "decides" to stop growing -- while he's incarcerated guilty of a murder he did not commit. Covering Germany during the years before, during, and after WWII, Grass utilizes the diminutive Oskar to travel as an independent observer among myriad social classes, savagely satirizing the culpability of each group for the rise of the Third Reich. Though it's not wholly necessary to enjoy the book, having a decent cursory knowledge of WWII Germany (e.g. you know what Kristallnacht was) will aid in appreciating the novel. The film version of The Tin Drum won a Best Foreign Film Academy Award and should be watched after reading the book. It was banned in Oklahoma, so you know it has to be good. The other novels in The Danzig Trilogy weren't nearly as splendid and i haven't read anything else by Grass.
Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita. Another brilliant historical satire, this time of 1930's Stalinist Soviet Union, which, not surprisingly, caused it to be banned there until 1973. Satan arrives in Moscow one day and starts stirring the shit with the assistance of an anthropomorphic, pince-nez-wearing cat. Word on the street is that the Burgin/Tiernan O'Connor translation is the best, while the Glenny translation is quite poor. I read the former. I have yet to read anything else by Bulgakov, but i intend to.
Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume & Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates. I can't choose between these two for a single favorite Robbins book. The former deals with immortality, an odiferous, goat-horned, nymphomaniac deity, and beets. The latter has defrocked renegade nuns, the preservation and loss of innocence, and the translation of the word "pussy" into many languages. They're the two most accessible Robbins novels and you can't go wrong with either one. In fact, it's impossible to go wrong with any Robbins novel...unless you suck.
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Cat's Cradle. This is my favorite, but all Vonnegut novels are swell. His short stories are usually pretty good as well, if a tad predictable. I consider Slaughterhouse Five or the Children's Crusade : A Duty Dance With Death a must read. It makes a nice anti-war companion piece to Heller's Catch-22.
Mark Leyner, Et Tu, Babe. Leyner writes with "the copulatory abandon of the headless praying mantis" about visceral tattoos, self-surgery clinics, and egomaniacal self-puffery. He makes ikilled007 sound modest and insecure in comparison. If this appeals to you, and you don't get hung up on trifling details like having a coherent plot, you should adore Leyner. The Tetherballs of Bougainville and My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist also need to be read.
Barry Hughart, Bridge of Birds. I have little interest in China. I don't generally care for ancient history. I have zero appreciation for the fantasy genre. Nevertheless, i simply adored this "novel of an ancient China that never was." The adventures of Number Ten Ox and Master Li -- a sage with slight flaw in his character -- are, um, fantastic. Well, that's not quite true since i didn't care about the plot. The diction and wordplay, though, are truly fantastic: "...and Master Li turned bright red while he scorched the air with the Sixty Sequential Sacrileges with which he had won the all-China Freestyle Blasphemy Competition in Hangchow three years in a row." That's just beautiful. As are Hughart's other two books, The Story of the Stone and Eight Skilled Gentlemen. Someone needs to kidnap Mr. Hughart, strap him down, and force him to write more for my amusement.
Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal. All of Moore's books are good, wholesome, whimsical fun. Such as this novel that fictionalizes Christ's unknown years between his birth and age 30 that are ignored by the New Testament. Christ and Biff head to the East seeking out the Three Wise Men so Jesus can learn how to be the messiah. Wacky and zany adventures ensue. Then Christ gets tacked up. Feel-good book all around. Moore has improved with age, so lean towards his more recent novels: Lamb, The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove, and Island of the Sequined Love Nun. Moore reminds me of a cross between Tom Robbins and Dave Barry, and there's nothing wrong with that.
Once you finish all these, lemme know and i'll propose other literary treats for your consumption.