I really like stories that take me into another world entirely. Possibly because my childhood was so nasty I needed the escape.
So definitely things like Harry Potter (especially since it might just exist, a hidden supernatural world right on top of ours). I should look into those Magicians books.
Also the medieval fantasy genre, so Lord of the Rings, Wheel of Time (very curious if the TV series will be any good), Sword of Truth, Game of Thrones, The Death Gate Cycle, The Saga of Recluce and the Riftwar Cycle.
I eventually shaped my core value system after the heroes in those stories.
The cool thing is that many of them bring up concepts that are quite deep and make you think about the nature of the universe, god, life and so on. Take the Wheel of Time with its masculine and feminine energy and how you have to submit to one and dominate the other (not to mention the sensitive topics like oppression, discrimination, slavery and some of the harsh realities of war). Sword of Truth is somewhat similar in that.
The Death Gate cycle was a long time for me, but figuring out the history of that universe near the end was quite a surprise.
The Saga of Recluce has the concept of Order and Chaos and how neither is good or evil but how they must be in balance, the explanation is quite powerful and something I use often to explain duality. I don’t really like the writing style though.
The Riftware Cycle (a series of trilogies) have a few really neat things. For one, even though it is a medieval fantasy on another world, the cultures are borrowed from ours, so you recognize cultural references to western, eastern and middle-eastern cultures and religions. Even ancient Rome at some point. You get that feeling that it is familiar but you can’t quite place it.
There’s also a monk that joins at some point who talks about the nature of the universe (and magic) which I have also come to believe may just be the truth.
And the first trilogy (Riftwar) has a spinoff trilogy (Empire) where the entire war can be experienced from the other side. Suddenly you start realizing what motivated the war and why things were done in a certain way. You see losses and victories and politics from both sides of the conflict.
There’s also a series that takes place in Valhalla that seemed interesting, but I forgot what it was. I think I still have the book in a box somewhere.
Past my teens I read some more complicated stories.
I can recommend Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles series. That storyline is quite extensive (and goes back to long long ago for obvious reasons) and is just the right amount of vampire mythology for me. I like seeing the seductive, vicious and human side of vampires.
In the science fiction department, there’s the exploration-based ones, like the Rama books (you know it’s good when Morgan Freeman wants to make movie for it) and the Odyssey books (2001 actually was a movie first).
And the conflict stories, like Dune (Forget C&C, give me a new Dune RTS) and Ender. Ender is really dark, so I never got into it (they also won’t make the second movie because of that reason). If you don’t know Dune, please find your way out from under that pile of Star Wars merchandise. If you don’t want to read, don’t watch the movies. Instead, get the two mini-series (Dune and Children of Dune). They are quite true to the books. Pretty much the only really good SciFi broadcast SciFi channel ever did, probably because they didn’t make them (Hallmark, really?!).
I would love more scifi books, but I don’t know that many.
And finally in the more reality department, I will definitely second the Count of Monte Cristo. Incredible story. Here also, don’t watch the movies, instead get the french mini-series with Gerard Depardieu. It stays true to the book and is quite good.
Robinson Crusoe is also a great book (1719, wow!). Actually made me want to get stranded on a tropical island.
I never got into the spy genre or the dystopian stuff, although some of them I would really like to.
But a mention here should be the Robert Langdon books and the Ryanverse, most of which have been turned into movies. Not to mention the Bourne series
I find I have little time to read, so I sometimes run an audiobook (unabridged of course) at 2-3x speed while I’m doing other things. Like speedreading, the inability to focus on the words creates a movie screen in my mind that plays out the story. Really cool, also a really long movie.
Phew! Waaaaaay too much, what have I been doing with my life?! But hey, you asked.
EDIT: Forgot about Eragon and another fantasy for which I almost remember the name. To be further edited…
I think it was Earthsea.
And because it was surprisingly entertaining even for adults, A Series of Unfortunate Events. The TV series was also very true to the books and recommended. I couldn’t stop watching since it is one continuous story.