(I limited myself to twelve which was much more difficult that I'd thought.)
First, a few things. These are just some of my favorite books and not a list of "Greatest Novels of All Time" or anything. Also, I would LOVE to hear what your favorite books are! So feel free to shoot me a message with your own agreements, disagreements, addendums, and any other comments. I can talk about/write about books ALL day so it’s likely some of your faves are also books I cherish but just didn’t have time to post about. It’s also likely some of your faves are books I haven’t yet read and your recommendation may be what I need to finally make the purchase! Either way, drop me a line.
The Gentleman Bastard series (Scott Lynch)
This series follows Locke Lamora and his best friend, Jean Tannen. It’s an incredibly immersive experience set in a world that feels as real as our own. The characters are fun and I’ve certainly been influenced by the way they’re constantly jibing at each other. One of the common complaints was Lynch’s near-obsessive detailing, but I fell in love with the descriptions. Everything about the city of Camorr and the fascinating people that populate it. Following the first book, “The Lies of Locke Lamora”, we are given the second in the series: “Red Seas Under Red Skies”. It seemed to be received more negatively than the first but, again, I actually liked it more. I felt Jean came alive in this one and the obstacles made sense. Structurally, the novels are sound and provide a great set up for the twists and turns the stories take. Although I wasn’t as excited by the third novel in this series, I still can’t wait for the fourth one to come out.
To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
Two stories that are perfect in there portrayal of understandable characters experiencing something bigger than themselves. Though I love both of these novels, I do find myself reading “The Great Gatsby” more frequently. Perhaps it has something to do with its length (it’s just under 50k words). Even so, I’ve never read a book so able to move quickly without making the reader feel as though they’ve been left behind.
Dune (Frank Herbert)
Though I’m not a big fan of the sequels, the first book is incredible. The first half especially captures me and, for such a long book, it’s amazing how little exposition is given. Instead, the reader is thrust right alongside Paul straight into the meat of the plot. Bonus points for the effective use of third-person omniscient. Normally that style cuts off suspense, but Herbert uses it to masterfully add suspense to his famous work.
Realistic Science Fiction:
The Martian (Andy Weir)
Speaking of style, this was is also written in an incredibly fun way. Mark Watney’s daily logs held just enough science jargon for me to be engaged but not so much that I felt I was lost and couldn’t understand what was happening. This book meshes laughter with seriousness in such a unique way and, even with frustration after frustration, the reader is shown the protagonist’s resolve. It’s a modern classic example of throwing everything you can at your main character so that the audience can see what they’re made of.
Byzantium (Stephen R. Lawhead)
Byzantium tells the story of Aidan, a high-born man who becomes a part of a monastery. This book has everything. The main character, whose origin is already interesting, later becomes: a slave, a seaman, a warrior, a spy, and warrior. It also features an very powerful romance that I won’t spoil. If you haven’t read it, pick it up.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Luo Guanzhong)
Oof. What do I say about this? I was exposed to the stories when I was a young boy by my father. The first one I remember was about the legendary warrior, Zhao Yun, and his struggle to save his ruler, Liu Bei’s, son. I was drawn in by the duels and battles and subterfuge but I found myself coming back to this novel several times because of the characters. They were certainly blown out of proportion for the sake of literature, but I still found them so real. One day if I ever become one of those people that own too many dogs, I’ll name one “Liu Bei” and then give five others the names of the five tiger generals (Guan Yu, Zhang Fei, Zhao Yun, Ma Chao, Huang Zhong). I love this story and no matter how many shows or movies are made from its material, I always find myself wanting more.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams)
Very few books can make me laugh out loud, but this one did. Douglas Adams’ humor really shines on every page and the levels of ridiculousness that are presented are so fantastically hilarious that the jokes never get old no matter how many times I read them. I’d love for the whole series to be made into a series of movies. The first one was great, but man it’d be nice to get more.
The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexander Dumas)
Before I read this book I saw the movie version with Jim Caviezel. I loved that movie and even now I believe it is an excellent adaptation of Dumas’ classic. Its strength, however, is not in that it stays faithful to the source material, but instead that it strays so far. It’s an entirely different story and I love it because it is. But even with my love for the movie, the book is far superior. This superiority rises not from the differences in story but in the differences in length. The book holds far more content than the movie and that simply allows me to exist in that world longer.
Watchmen (Alan Moore)
On the topic of novels that became movies, “Watchmen” is another beast altogether. Unlike the previously mentioned work, the movie is incredibly similar to the source material (with the only major difference being the squid-free ending). That being said, I didn’t love the move until after I’d read the graphic novel (thanks again, John Raymond!). This work does such an amazing job of showing multiple perspectives on morality without ever pointing at one as “best” or another as “worst”. I love that.
The Stand (Stephen King)
Like Tarantino is to cinema, so Stephen King is to literature. Go on any film-based subreddit and you’ll find critiques of Tarantino’s over-reliance on dialogue and how he’s “not that great of a filmmaker”, or, “he’s all style and no substance.” In the same vein, on literary subreddits you also find people posing the question, “How did King get published? He is the most basic writer ever.” Once a month I see people wondering how King became who he is. They talk about his writing style, his metaphors, even the subreddit r/menwritingwomen (hilarious subreddit, to be fair) receives posts centered around his work —even though the context of the writing posted are almost always from the point of view of a character that’s supposed to be chauvinistic. All of this is to make the point that when choosing from literary genres I felt it pertinent to make an entire category for the man himself. And in that category I am sorry to say I am as basic as they come and have chosen his novel, “The Stand”.
Everything about "The Stand" from the first page to about eighty-five percent of the way in is fantastic. The characters are interesting, the threats are weird and engaging, and the story unfolds in a way that mesmerizes me. The ending isn’t fantastic in my opinion, but getting there was still more than worth the journey simply because everything else about the story is so fun—in a horrific way. If you’re one of those people who’d come across negative posts about King and are turned off by him, give this book a read. And if you do, drop me a line. Stephen King influenced me more than any other writer and I would love to fanboy with you about him.
1984 (George Orwell)
Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
In my opinion, these two paint only half of a picture when looked at individually. When looked at together, though, I think the readers can get a much fuller look at what governmentally-created dystopia could look like. One the one side you have governing bodies maintaining power through fear and control and distrust. On the other, you have them maintaining power through distraction and pleasure. I believe governments practicing only one of these styles are doomed to fail eventually, but that a government that’s able to balance these two—keeping a distracted populace afraid-yet-entertained—is one that’ll not easily fall. I believe there are even a couple of real world examples of such governments in the world today. As a result, these books aren’t useful just in that they tell a good, well-written story, but that they also encourage the reader to open their minds and observe the world around them with a critical eye.
Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
One of the greatest opening lines in any novel written in the English language. Not only that but it’s consistently on “Greatest Novels of All Time” lists. But the reason it’s on my list is not because it’s literary or clear or beautiful. No, the reason it’s on this list is because it’s enjoyable. I love the characters. I empathize with them, I root for them, I struggle with them. This book takes me to a deeply personal place where I feel like my friends are suffering from the tortures of love and status and greed and loathing and throughout the entirety of this class novel I forget that I’m reading. And that’s why it’s on my list.