Humorist Ryan North is the creator of Dinosaur Comics and the award-winning writer of Marvel's Unbeatable Squirrel Girl comic series. His new book, How to Invent Everything, is a survival guide for time travelers stranded in the past.
The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (1895).
Though not the first time-travel story, Wells' novel gave us the term "time machine." It's not my favorite book in terms of structure, but its ending — the time traveler prepares for a new journey, promises to return shortly, and then never does — still gives me chills.
One of the great allures of time travel is the chance to go back and fix things, and this novel builds on that brilliantly: Someone from a utopia of jetpacks and flying cars goes back with the best intentions and accidentally makes things so much worse that the time line that results ... is ours.
It's hard to do something new with time travel, but North (no relation) had me gasping at tricks I'd never imagined before. Harry August is born in 1919, dies, and is reborn in 1919 with all his memories intact. From this simple premise, North spins a wild story that escalates logically until the fate of the world hangs in the balance. I made everyone in my book club read it.
Vonnegut's novel is brilliant, heartbreaking, hilarious, and features space aliens who look like toilet plungers. There's literally nothing not to like here. My friend who owns a bookstore once told me that this is one of the most perennially shoplifted books.
A graphic novel about Ada Lovelace (the world's first programmer) and Charles Babbage (who conceived of what we'd now consider to be the first mechanical computer). The book begins with the truth: Both Charles and Ada died before realizing their work's full potential. But then it goes back and explores what could've happened if things had gone differently, while illuminating the intricacies of computational machinery in a fun, thoroughly accessible way.
This is a short story that's only a few pages long but spans many millennia and stays with you for a long while. Asimov considered it the best thing he ever wrote.