Earlier in life, I was so inspired by passages in Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek that I started seriously attempting to write. One of my college-professors slammed me for giving her "belle-lettristic" essays and after she explained the meaning of the term I had to admit that writing pretty letters sounded like a plan.
For the Time Being is the philosophy of being and mortality by a writer capable of beautiful letters who can also strip subjects down to startling fundamentals. The metaphors for the differences between single tragic deaths and mass catastrophes will stick with you forever. I reread the book after the Japanese tsunamis and I suspect I'll look at it again soon. Not my original copy: that I left on a plane after I'd started writing poetry in it, so someone out there has a copy that's plus/minus my interstitial poems.
The summary of For the Time Being on Amazon is excellent, and will tell you if you're interested if my words have not.
Banks' last Culture book is about a civilization figuring out how and if it's going to transcend. It's also about a musician and the instrument she carries that's devoted to attempts to perform a single impossible piece. I've had other Banks fans tell me they didn't like this book that much, but I love it, and some of its observations are right up there with Dillard, not to be forgotten.
If you can order from your local bookstore, do it.
And if you read on Kindle, The Hydrogen Sonata is on sale today as a Kindle deal.