This is the portion of the program where I claim to be smarter than you and try to tell you what you should and shouldn't be reading to be more like me.
Anyone who's had to put up with me for any length of time will likely have noticed that I have a different bunch of books on my desk, stuffed in my pack, or scattered across the table nearly every day. You've heard of the "voracious reader"? I'm more of a snacker, to stick with the eating metaphor.
I like to read a section or a chapter of a book, put it down, read something else, put that down, read something else entirely, and eventually pick up the original book and read the next bit. This habit is hard on the bookmark supply. Worse, I'll resume a book at a different spot than I left off and end up with two or more bookmarks in a book.
We keep our bookmarks in a 1.5 liter beer mug. Gathered all together, I don't think they'd fit. And I'd lose all my places!
So where most people have a To-Read list, mine is a literal Reading list, emphasis on the present tense. I have a stupid number of books in process. For every book I finish, I've started two or three more. An author recommends another author or makes an interesting reference, or I just stumble on a promising title, and I'm off to the bookstore.
This habit probably makes me the worst book reviewer ever. By the time I've finished a book, I've stopped and started probably at least five times, read from several other books during the process, and have all their styles, tones, and contents blurred together.
Not like I'm going to let that stop me. What follows are some books that I think are important for any student of games to read. Whether your discipline within games is writing, design, development, programming, testing, or studies, most of these books will have something for you. You might have to stretch the boundaries of your specialty, but all of these topics begin to merge at their apex. An experienced game professional knows a little something about the adjacent disciplines, or they haven't been paying attention and are worse at their job for it.
A Theory of Fun for Game Design Raph Koster knocks it out of the park in the best investment of your reading time you'll make this year. This book is so short that I read it in a single sitting. (See above if you skipped straight to the reviews.) I have an issue with his choice of the word Fun in his central thesis, as Fun carries a lot of baggage. Engagement would have been a better choice, I think.
Patterns in Game Design If you're a game professional, do yourself and the industry a favor and read this book. I cannot give this book a higher recommendation than it deserves. Bjork and Holopainen break games into individual atoms and then give them the design patterns treatment. Each pattern comes with discussion of its use, consequences, and relations to other patterns. Not only will it take your analysis of games to a new level, this book makes a large contribution toward a shared vocabulary of game design. Patterns that were cut for space considerations appear with the rest on the included CD in a wonderful cross-referenced hypertext document.
Mathematics and Physics for Programmers Afraid of numbers? Don't be. This book assumes no prerequisite knowledge and starts off with the nature of numbers, including numbers as understood by computers. A baseline understanding of the math of game programming and the physics of simulations is valuable to even the most non-technical contributor to the modern game studio. Imagine the look of surprise you'll get when you speak knowledgeably of quaternions. That alone should be worth of the effort of this surprisingly accessible book.
Designing Virtual Worlds You might think that a book on this topic from before World of Warcraft released would be hopelessly outdated. Not so fast. Richard Bartle, virtual world luminary from the MUD1 days, give us observations that hold true even after Blizzard's literal game-changer rocked the world.
Understanding Comics This book is amazing. Replace the word Comics with Games as you read the book, and let the insights flow. Scott McCloud explores the Jedi mind tricks of how your readers -um- players become your willing allies in making your game work. Do not underestimate this book for its graphic novel format. McCloud's pictures really are worth a thousand words.
Reinventing Comics The spiritual sequel to Understanding Comics, this book should be read with the same find/replace trick. McCloud discusses the roadmap to success for the individual creative professional, as well as an entire creative industry, along twelve separate axes. After reading this book, you will have a new perspective on your career.
Note: McCloud's Making Comics is not written for you unless you are interested in actually making comics. The Comics/Games replacement trick does not apply here.
These are my top recommendations for your reading pleasure. Now that I have the Amazon widgets working, expect a couple more of these, with different emphases, later in the month. (just gotta figure out why some of the cover images are broken)