Books Every Nerd Should Read


By: Scott Muller

I’ve been a nerd going on 40 summers now. In that time, I’ve read a book or 50, and some of them were quite exceptional. That being the case, here are some books (or series) you should read if you’re looking for something that new and that I feel should be on every nerd’s reading list.

Before I begin, I should let you know that I’m going to avoid some of the more obvious choices like King, Koontz, or Martin; those are all really obvious good reads. I’m going to go off the beaten path in some cases and recommend good, fast-paced reads that you should enjoy that probably aren’t as mainstream as most reading lists. Some of these books are a little older, but enjoyable nonetheless.

Hopefully, you’ll pick one or two of the following and enjoy them as much as I did. Let’s get started (in no particular order):

The Store (1998)

Author: Bentley Little

The Quick Sales Pitch: Imagine if you lived in a small town and Wal-Mart was building a store near you, and some really creepy stuff started happening there. And I’m not talking about “People of Wal-Mart,” creepy, I’m talking about cults and killing and stuff.

What It’s About and Why I Enjoyed It: Bentley Little is a horror writer who follows a pretty similar formula in all his books: take something mundane and make it grotesque and horrifying. In this case, the titular The Store, which is the actual name of the store in the book, is opening in a small Arizona town and something just doesn’t seem right about it. At first, it’s just odd accidents during construction of the building, but things go off the rails pretty quickly. It’s a really fast-paced ride that gets a little ridiculous at times, but it’s odd how it almost seems like everything in the book could maybe sorta happen. If you’re looking for logic and a literary classic, you won’t find it here, but this book is fast-paced, fun, and really entertaining. If you enjoy this book, Little does similar books based around private schools (The Academy), homeowners’ associations (The Association), and life insurance (The Policy). He has a few books that go outside the formula, including the exceptional The Ignored, about an unpopular guy who literally starts to become “unseeable” until he meets others like him and finds out why. Bentley Little is an author you’ll either like or hate after one book; give him a try and see which way you fall.

Ex-Heroes (2010)

Author: Peter Clines

The Quick Sales Pitch: It’s a book about a zombie apocalypse written in a world where superheroes exist…’nuff said.

What It’s About and Why I Enjoyed It: A friend recommended Ex-Heroes to me and at first, I wasn’t all that enthused. I figured that a book about zombies and superheroes would be like cheesy fan fiction. I am so glad I gave this book a chance. For a book (and series) that’s essentially The Avengers meets The Walking Dead, Peter Clines has created characters and a world that are far more fleshed out (pun not intended) than they had any right to be. His switching between “Now” and “Then” chapters, where he introduces characters before the downfall and then returns to the present is simple and does an amazing job of keeping the pace moving while making you care about the characters. While some of the characters are a bit similar to more mainstream heroes, there’s just enough of Clines’ personal touch to make them feel unique. Even the reason the zombies exist (which I won’t spoil here) is incredibly well thought out and made sense in the logic of the world Clines has created. There are now five books in the “Ex-“ series; I recommend trying out the first, Ex-Heroes, and seeing how that works for you. They’re all fast-paced reads that any ages from teen to adult (who like zombies and/or superheroes) could enjoy.

Redshirts (2012)

Author: John Scalzi

The Quick Sales Pitch: Almost everyone who knows anything about Star Trek jokes that redshirts are usually fodder anytime the “real” crew heads out on a mission. What would happen if these redshirts realized this and tried to figure out why?

What It’s About and Why I Enjoyed It: Okay, first and foremost, I’m not a big Star Trek fan. I enjoyed the old television shows (the original series and The Next Generation were in my wheelhouse), but I’m far from a Trekkie. However, I am a fan of parody and I love movies like Galaxy Quest (a movie with which this book has a lot in common), Mystery Men, and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, and when I saw this book at a bookstore, it looked like a satire and a parody had a baby and named it Redshirts. The story essentially centers around the crew of the spaceship Intrepid, and how many crew members the ship seems to lose, but never the high-ranking officers…only the redshirts, or low-ranking crew. I don’t want to spoil any of the book, but the book focused on one redshirt finally realizing how odd it is that only redshirts seem to die on missions. This book is a really quick read (a plane trip or day or two at the beach would cover it) and is exceptionally funny. After reading this, I checked out more of Scalzi’s fiction and really enjoyed his Old Man’s War series. If you like Redshirts, Old Man’s War (the tale of a world where older citizens of Earth are genetically altered to become super-soldiers and sent to fight aliens) has much of the same wit, but focuses more on action and adventure.

Confessions of a D-List Supervillain (2011)

Author: Jim Bernheimer

The Quick Sales Pitch: What if a low-level supervillain (think along the lines of Shocker from Spider-Man) was sick of getting beaten up and decides to call it quits AND THEN ends up having to save the world when its heroes are put under the spell of a truly powerful supervillain? Read this book and find out!

What It’s About and Why I Enjoyed It: This book is available on Amazon as an ebook, which I normally don’t love. At the time I got it, however, it was either free with Amazon Prime or pretty cheap, so I gave it a shot. I’m quite glad I did, because it’s a quick, fun read with excellent characters and a great premise. Calvin Stringel is the titular D-list supervillain. He’s “Mechani-Cal,” (said with a space, not as one word, which is a running joke through the book) and he’s a super intelligent engineer that’s built himself an Iron Man-esque battle suit. He’s sarcastic and selfish, but not necessarily a terrible guy. You actually feel for him as he gets his butt handed to him by ultra-do-gooders The Olympians at the beginning of the book. However, Cal’s luck soon changes and he might have to become what he hates the most: the hero. This is a really clever, well-written book that isn’t going to make you forget about The Avengers or Batman, but it’s a great summer read.

Island (1995, but Reissued in 2002)

Author: Richard Laymon

The Quick Sales Pitch: It’s Gilligan’s Island with an ax-wielding maniac! Who wouldn’t love that?

What It’s About and Why I Enjoyed It: While not as fast-paced or short as some of the other novels on this list, I really enjoyed this horror/suspense novel by Richard Laymon, whose other works tend to skew a little more to the fantastical. In this novel, a goofy fellow named Rupert finds himself stranded on an island when the yacht he’s on crashes. It’s not the most original premise, but Laymon is quite creative with a well-worn idea. The book is written as Rupert’s journal entries, and the tale definitely takes some twists and turns. The ending is one of the best I’ve ever read. Again, it’s a little longer than some of these other novels, but worth a read on a long flight or car trip. I also recommend some of Laymon’s other works if you’re more into slightly more off-the-wall horror, like One Rainy Night or Darkness, Tell Us. They’re both great reads as well.

Q Island (2015)

Author: Russell James

The Quick Sales Pitch: It’s The Walking Dead…well, maybe World War Z…in Manhattan…but with an outbreak that’s ACTUALLY EXPLAINED!

What It’s About and Why I Enjoyed It: I’m a nut for post-apocalyptic fiction, so when I attended a local comic con and saw Q Island at Russell James’ booth, I figured I’d give it a try. When I started reading the book, I was actually really impressed with how good it was. Good characters, a good villain, and a surprisingly logical outbreak. I read it quickly and eagerly enjoyed every step of the journey. It’s got a little bit of the, “Seriously? There’s no way a logical person would do that,” in it, but what horror book/movie/show doesn’t? Some people that are rabid fans of The Walking Dead might not swoon over this book, because it doesn’t have the typical slow, ambling zombies – the infected in this book skew a little toward the zombies in World War Z. So if you like your zombies a little more crazy and rabid, this book should be right up your alley. You might overlook this book because it isn’t by a big-time author, but for a writer who hasn’t churned out the number of books King, Koontz, or Kirkman have, this is a really good summer read that should keep your interest until the end.

World War Z (2006)

Author: Max Brooks

The Quick Sales Pitch: You know the movie version that stars Brad Pitt? Yeah, nothing like that.

What It’s About and Why I Enjoyed It: Okay, this novel is a little more mainstream than my other entries for one reason: if you saw the movie and thought it was a little brainless, than you would really like the book. It’s so bizarre how completely unlike the book the movie is. Unlike the movie, which is just a series of scenes where cities get overrun by zombies with five-minute chunks of exposition, the book is a cleverly-organized series of stories accumulated by the narrator, an agent of the United Nations Postwar Commission. This narrator collects stories before, during, and after the actual zombie uprising, and focuses more on how individuals dealt with the events instead of the large-scale event (but it does have that, as well). The book can be a bit unevenly paced at times, but for the most part, the stories are short and interesting. I think this book should have been sold as an episodic television series, because it breaks down well into logical chunks. If you’re a fan of post-apocalyptic fiction, but want yours a little headier than a bunch of wild psychos chasing an indestructible Brad Pitt (seriously, the dude survives a plane crash and a metal chunk stuck through his arm), then give World War Z the novel a chance, especially if you don’t have a lot of time to read at once; it breaks into very easily digestible pieces.

Ready Player One (2011)

Author: Ernest Cline

The Quick Sales Pitch: In a world where people spent all their time in a virtual world, what would happen if the crazy billionaire who created said virtual world died and offered it to the player that could solve some extraordinarily wacky, pop culture-based riddles? Ernest Cline writes an entire novel to answer that very question.

What It’s About and Why I Enjoyed It: This is another novel that’s a little more mainstream than my other recommendations. It’s even being made into a movie that’ll be directed by Steven Spielberg. I’m hoping it’ll be a tiny bit more loyal to the source material than World War Z. Anyway, this novel is a fun ride about a lower-income kid named Wade Watts in a dystopian future that, like a lot of the population, spends much of their time in the OASIS, a virtual reality world that gives folks access to a universe of planets to explore (think No Man’s Sky, but interesting and fun). When the guy who created OASIS dies, he leaves an announcement that anyone who can find three keys to an Easter egg hidden inside the virtual world will inherit his fortune and corporation. Wade begins the hunt, along with other competitors, including some that have been hired by corporations, to find the keys. The book is filled with pop culture references, many from my generation of pop culture. The book is a little disjointed and sometimes the references just seem to be there for the sake of being there, but the book is really a fun read that I think could be made into a great movie. I think you’ll enjoy it if you enjoy sci-fi and humor in equal parts and are willing to forgive some of the books shortcomings.

The Innocent (2012) and the Entire Will Robie Series

Author: David Baldacci

The Quick Sales Pitch: He’s a government assassin with a heart of gold…welllll, let’s just say he’s a government assassin that’s not a complete jerk. Heart of gold may be pushing it.

What It’s About and Why I Enjoyed It: Again, I’m skewing a little more mainstream here, but I really love these Will Robie novels. They’re fast-paced, they have good characters, and the plots have just enough twists and turns without being completely ridiculous. Robie is they guy the government calls when they need someone dead. However, when he refuses to kill, the government sorta gets pissed. Robie has to justify himself while keeping himself alive. He’s a really cool character and some other pretty good characters join him along the way. Pick up the first book and I think you’ll enjoy if you’re into a narrowly focused action-thriller. I’m not a fan of Clive Cussler or Tom Clancy espionage books, but this more personal, action packed series is a little more my speed. If you enjoy this series, Baldacci has another series about a military investigator named John Puller. That series is really excellent as well.

Needful Things (1991)

Author: Stephen King

The Quick Sales Pitch: The devil moves into a small town and opens a store that always seems to have what the customer wants…and the price is usually only a small prank played on one of the town’s residents. What harm could that be?

What It’s About and Why I Enjoyed It: I know I said I would stick to lesser-known books, and I think I am here, even though it was written by Stephen King. Most people know King’s more popular works like It, The Shining, and Misery, but this book seems to get lost in the shuffle, and it’s really sad. This book is long and a bit overwhelming on first glance, but it really is good. When Leland Gaunt moves into Castle Rock and opens up the titular Needful Things, nothing seems amiss. When young Brian Rusk buys a Sandy Koufax baseball card for a handful of change and a promise to commit a small prank on one his neighbors, things take a turn for the odd. The novel is a slow build as we’re introduced to the town’s residents, all of whom pay a visit to Gaunt at some point. As the town’s sheriff becomes more suspicious, things start to ratchet up a bit. This book is a little bit on the longer side, but it really is a great read with rich characters, humor, and an interesting look into what would happen if the devil offered you the trinket you wanted the most and asked you for a small but sinister price in return. I highly recommend this novel that many would call second- or third-tier Stephen King stuff, but it’s in my top four or five (with Misery, Cujo, Under the Dome, and 11/22/63, all of which I highly recommend as well).

Battle Royale (1999 in Japan; 2003 in the United States)

Author: Koushun Takami

The Quick Sales Pitch: This series that predates The Hunger Games series is probably five times more brutal. The premise, however is similar; a group of Japanese children fight it out on a small island with little chance for survival.

What It’s About and Why I Enjoyed It: The popularity of this book is odd to me. Some folks act like everyone knows what this book is about, while others have never heard of it. If you haven’t heard of this novel, get your hands on it. There are some extraordinarily small nits I can pick with this book; for example, the cast of characters is a bit too big, and a lot of them have very similar names. In my copy, there was a handy list in the beginning so at least I could cross them off if I wanted to. Also, the setup is somewhat abrupt. Since there are so many kids, it’s hard to really care about them until late in the book, when killing has narrowed the field. There is one kid I started cheering for about midway though, so if you’re concerned, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Otherwise, it’s a pretty biting (and almost uncomfortably brutal) novel in which a class of junior high-aged kids are gassed, fitted with collars, and put on an island to kill each other. Each student is given a bag with a random weapon, ranging from the utterly useless (like a fork or a boomerang) to the ridiculously overpowered (guns, knives, or a device that can track the other students). To speed up the proceedings, parts of the island are deemed “off limits” at intervals by causing the students’ shock collars to explode if entered. Essentially, if you liked The Hunger Games novels, but thought they were too tame, this is the novel for you. The book is long, clocking in at over 600 pages, but the action gets started pretty quickly and really never stops. I enjoyed the book enough that I got the comically overdubbed movie and watched it, too. It was an amazingly over-the-top flick, just like it’s novelized companion. Give them both a shot.

Well, there you have it, 11 novels that should keep you busy. Hopefully you read one or two and tell your friends. Good books deserve to be read and shared. The conversations they can drum up can help you meet new people and have good conversations with people you already know. Heck, talking about a great book you’ve read might help break the ice at an uncomfortable family function or work gathering this summer. We’ve become so attached to our phones (me included) that we might need to take a break and crack open a good book. Whether at the doctor’s office, an airport, a train station, on the subway, or in the back seat of your parents’ car on a long trip to grandma’s, reading can be a great passer of time…and it makes you look SMART!

Anyway, enough preaching about the goodness that is books and reading. I hope you enjoy the books I’ve recommended and that you have a great summer, not only reading, but doing great and nerdy things!


  1. AnjanetteJune 28th, 2017 at 4:14 pm

    Love Redshirts and Ready Player One! I’ve added a few to my list too. Thanks!

  2. Scott MullerJune 28th, 2017 at 4:27 pm

    You are quite welcome! Happy reading!

  3. KarenJune 28th, 2017 at 6:58 pm

    This is a great list. I love that you included Bentley Little. His book “The Collection” is one of my favourites. He is just the right amount or weird and creepy!

  4. VkJune 28th, 2017 at 9:30 pm

    How about The Fold or 14?

  5. LeiJune 28th, 2017 at 9:42 pm

    Why have I not checked this out soone. Will look into Redshirts, Ready Plahet One and check out some of the Little titles. Thanks for the recommendtaions. Was just at library lolking for something new. Got a light chick lit, but will be checking out others very soon.

  6. Alana DillJune 28th, 2017 at 10:33 pm

    All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders is a very fine book with nerdy protagonists. I liked it a lot.

  7. DaisyJune 29th, 2017 at 8:49 am

    Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars by Daniel Pinkwater and Interstellar Pig by William Sleator should be required reading for every self-respecting nerd.

  8. Scott MullerJune 29th, 2017 at 12:43 pm

    I did read 14 by Peter Clines. It was good, but not quite as good as the Ex-Heroes series, in my very humble opinion. I have The Fold on my bookshelf…I’ll be getting to it shortly!

  9. RachelJuly 1st, 2017 at 10:18 am

    Book lists are my favorite things ever!

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