Here's some strong opinions I had about books I read a decade ago.
All the King's Men
Quite possibly the best book ever written. The plot is engrossing and unpredictable, the writing style is unique and entertaining, and there are some insightful bits of life knowledge sprinkled throughout.
Be prepared for a slow first chapter or two, followed by mind-blowing awesome. If you finish this book and don't rank it in your top two and a half books, you and I can't be friends anymore, and I say good day to you. If you start this book and don't finish it, you can probably still be my friend, but only the kind that I borrow things from and never return.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
This is a book about a man's descent into madness, and his attempt to drag you down with him. Don't let him. Avoid this book.
If you don't believe me, read the first three chapters. When he starts talking about how gravity didn't exist until Newton invented it, you'll understand.
If you're an elitist Westerner disillusioned with the society around you, and you really need a Zen fix, try reading an actual Buddhist book. I recommend What the Buddha Taught. One crazy dude's advice as he bikes across the country just doesn't measure up.
Count of Monte Cristo
Unabridged version if you're not a goddamn sissy.
Revenge is awesome. 1200 page books are awesome. What could be more awesome than combining the two? The answer is: not much. Add to that a badass main character and an intricate plot, and you've got yourself a book you must read.
While the writing is somewhat vanilla (understandable given that it's a translation (unless you speak French)), the plot more than makes up for it. You can tell that's the case because there have been multiple movies made about it. But don't fall for that trap - as usual, the movies don't live up to the book.
Very interesting read with an ambiguously nightmarish story. If you like crazy bizarre sci-fi, you need this book. If you don't, read it anyway and expand your mind, dumbass. Good plot with interesting and novel ideas. What are you waiting for?
Do you like made up words, nonsensical plots, and a rambling story that goes nowhere, while satirizing a society that you know or care little about? If so, this book will probably overwhelm even you.
This book is a classic. That means if you like this book, then you must be smart and cultured, so everyone keeps on pretending to like it. Incidentally, appearing smart and cultured is the only possible reason to read this book. If you've seen the made-for-TV movie, you might think the book will be a fascinating tale full of wacky and whimsical adventures. Unfortunately, Swift manages to detail the plot in the most dry and uninteresting way imaginable.
Ilium + Olympos
If cheesy romance novels are porn for women, then these books are porn for sci-fi geeks. There's very little literary value in them, but they are entertaining for the most part. Dan Simmons uses the classic 5-plotlines-at-once-with-every-chapter-ending-in-a-cliffhanger style of writing, which makes it a page-turner and also gets extremely irritating after about 30 chapters.
I have a couple beefs with this series. [Minor spoilers ahead.] First, the motivations of many of the characters are kept hidden, and it is implied that things will be revealed when the story concludes. Nothing is revealed. The characters are basically acting upon a whim. Second, there are several simultaneous plotlines, each one containing one or more hero protagonists in an epic struggle against the end of the world. Unfortunately, only one of the plotlines actually matters in the end. The plotlines converge and the seemingly important protaganists all turn out to have been impotent and useless and only served as filler while the main plotline got shit done.
All told, the books kept me interested, but I was irritated by its shortcomings. You might want to consider passing this one up if you're not a huge sci-fi fan.
Neal Stephenson doesn't know how to end a story. While an improvement over Snowcrash, Anathem's ending is pretty abrupt and leaves some glaring questions unanswered. Maybe I'm the only one annoyed by this sort of thing. I like my plots unambiguous and closed to interpretation.
That said, this book is really pretty amazing. It touches on several interesting topics in philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, quantum physics, and human behavior. Stephenson invents a parallel world with an incredibly internally consistent set of rules. Both its similarities and differences when compared to our world serve to highlight the varied absurdity or tragedy of our society, customs, and power structures.
The book starts off fairly slow, which might be difficult to stomach if you're not into math, but it picks up and becomes pretty engrossing from about page 200 on.