Top 21 Favorite Novels
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen (1813), #41 on the Novel 100 list. I love this book for so many reasons. First of all it was the first classic romance I ever read back in junior high, and from then on I absolutely had to read it at least once a year until sometime after I was married. I so enjoyed the conflict between Elizabeth and Darcy that turns into love–first time I had experienced a story like that–so it is a sentimental favorite. Second, memorable, well-rounded characters drive the story, rather than a gripping plot–my favorite kind of book. Third, I admire Jane Austen so much for making a living (though meager) doing what she loved, writing about what she knew, not giving into her society’s norm of women marrying, whether they were in love or not, in order to survive–an early 19th century feminist! She would be so amazed to see how her books have become a mainstay in literary circles as well as inspiring countless modern imitations and parodies.
LES MISERABLES by Victor Hugo (1862), #90 on the Novel 100 list. Here’s a book I probably never would have read without the list, just because of it’s length and title. Who wants to read about miserable people? Well, all I can say is this would be my #1 favorite if I weren’t such a loyal Jane Austen fan. The compelling plot line and larger than life characters would be enough to make this a great book, but there is so much more! Hugo covers just about every topic known to man within the 1,000 or so pages. I typed out 10 sheets of favorite quotes from this book. If you’ve only seen the movie or musical, you have not really experienced Les Mis.
CHARLOTTE’S WEB by E. B. White (1952). Another sentimental favorite, and my first experience with how a story can evoke emotions. This is the first book that made me cry, back in 5th grade. And over a spider’s death! (Hope that wasn’t a spoiler for anyone.) Only a great writer could do that.
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee (1960). Unaccountably this Pulitzer Prize winning book isn’t even in the top 100 on the novel list, which just goes to show that whatever literary types consider greatness doesn’t always jibe with what regular people think. Great story, great characters, great themes, great quotes, and it’s still taught in hundreds of 9th grade classes!
THE SOUND AND THE FURY by William Faulkner (1929), #23 on the Novel 100 list. Here’s another one I most likely would not have read without the list, because I had read Faulkner before and he can be a challenge. This book grabbed me by the throat and surprised me with an epiphany about halfway in. With four narrators telling the story, much of it in stream of consciousness and not in chronological order, this is not an easy read. But let me tell you, when I finally figured out what was going on, my head exploded and I felt like I was back in college. (That’s a good thing.) Faulkner’s brilliance as a writer blows me away when I think about this book. The disjointedness of the storyline and the different perspectives all meld into one major impact that would not be possible with a mainstream kind of telling. Great literary work of art!
JANE EYRE by Charlotte Bronte (1847), #52 on the Novel 100 list. The best gothic romance ever. Oh, Mr. Rochester! Nuff said.
GONE WITH THE WIND by Margaret Mitchell (1936), #100 on the Novel 100 list. Epic historical fiction at its best. From the first page to the last, Scarlett O’Hara and the Civil War take center stage, making us want to throttle both of them. In the end, though, we don’t want to say goodbye.
BREATHING LESSONS by Anne Tyler (1988). To me, Anne Tyler is a modern Jane Austen. Her character-driven novels often have very little happening in the way of plot, but they always entertain. It’s what goes on in her quirky characters’ minds that make her stories come alive, and this is my favorite. I laughed hysterically in parts and grinned through the rest, wishing I could meet all these people who reminded me of family.
THE PILLARS OF THE EARTH/WORLD WITHOUT END by Ken Follett (1989,2007). Another couple of epic historical sagas, these set in 12th Century England. Ken Follett is a master at page-turning plot and well-developed characters. These books are large volumes but they leave the reader wanting more, because they are so enthralling. And even though the Middle Ages has never been a favorite time period of mine, these two books pulled me into their whole plague-infested, cathedral-building, church-corrupted world like it was all happening in my own backyard, like a Gone With The Wind pre-pre-pre-prequel.
HARRY POTTER SERIES by J.K. Rowling (1997-2007). This modern fantasy classic of good versus evil is loaded with lovable and sinister characters, imaginative settings and creatures, and hilarious adventures. Although the fight between good and evil becomes darker and scarier with each book, making it inappropriate for young children, this series espouses the same morality of all the great fantasy series and makes reading a delicious treat for anyone over the age of 10.
THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN by Mark Twain (1885), #14 on the Novel 100 list. Talk about a road trip, how about one floating down the Mississippi on a raft with a runaway white teenage boy and a runaway black slave during the 1840s? Twain has a way of portraying social conflict and moral dilemmas in the midst of hilarious adventures like no other. Love my fellow Missourian!
A WRINKLE IN TIME SERIES by Madeleine L’Engle (1962-1989). I barely remember this one, except that I know that I loved it when I read it back in college, I think. And that was just the first three books in the series, which I read aloud to my daughters and husband one summer back in the ’90s. A mixture of science fiction and fantasy that takes the reader on wild adventures that seem almost possible, this series covers the universal themes of good versus evil and individualism versus conformity, while bending the mind with science-based imagination.
TESS OF THE D’URBERVILLES by Thomas Hardy (1891), #34 on the Novel 100 list. The title of this book doesn’t do justice to this riveting tale of a poor young woman in 19th century England. When I first decided to read it, I was expecting a boring story, but let me tell you, this is anything but boring. Tess and her life will draw you in and cause you to shake your fist at fate and scream! It’s a doozy of a story.
THE POISONWOOD BIBLE by Barbara Kingsolver (1998). I’ve just in the last couple of years discovered this author and I love her books! Her lyrical writing style, humor and quirky characters speak to me. This story, set in 1959 Belgian Congo, revolves around the Price family–a missionary, his wife and their four daughters. As the five females narrate the story, complicated family relationships and attitudes are revealed amidst the backdrop of a nation heading for a bloody revolution. A compelling tale!
FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON by Daniel Keyes (1958, 1966). First published as a Sci-Fi short story, then a novel, this book follows the progress of an experiment involving Algernon, a mouse, and Charlie, a man. Charlie narrates his own story through journal entries he makes during the course of the experiment. I can’t even think about this book without crying! So memorable.
THE HOBBIT/THE LORD OF THE RINGS Series by J.R.R. Tolkein (1937, 1955). This was my first experience with fantasy literature. Quite a good introduction, I would say. Who doesn’t know about this series? The movies are good, but of course, the books are better.
LOLITA by Vladimir Nabokov (1958), #47 on the Novel 100 list. The most controversial book on my list and another one I never would have read if it hadn’t been on The List. Since I could not bring myself to buy this book in my local bookstore lest someone see me, I had to go elsewhere for it. So why is this book, narrated by the pedophiliac main character, on my list? Because while getting into the head of this disturbing, sick man, Humbert Humbert, I found myself feeling sorry for him, even liking him at times. Talk about a freaky experience! Any writer who can bring about something that incongruous and disturbing in a reader must be a genius. It gives me the creeps to think about it.
THE SCARLET LETTER by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850), #42 on the Novel 100 list. Another one of those great books that continues to be taught in high schools and colleges all over the country for its themes of love and morality, conscience versus convenience, and legalism versus compassion. A memorable study of the human condition.
DAVID COPPERFIELD by Charles Dickens (1850). I’ve never been much of a Dickens fan, even after reading nearly all of his books, three of which are on the Novel 100 list. David Copperfield, the most autobiographical of Dickens’ novels, is the first one I read and I still like it more than any of the others, with Great Expectations coming in a close second. I’ve concluded that I enjoy his first person narrative style much more than his third person. Dickens himself said, “Like many fond parents I have in my heart of hearts a favourite child, and his name is David Copperfield.” Have to agree with the author on that.
THE GRAPES OF WRATH by John Steinbeck (1939) #54 on the Novel 100 list. I read this years ago and I can’t say I actually enjoyed it. How can anyone enjoy such a sad story about desperate people in desperate times? I can say that I experienced those desperate times right along with the Joad family. The gut-wrenching emotions as one family’s American dream falls apart have stayed with me all these years. I think this may have been the first major novel I ever read without a neatly tied happy ending, but my, what a memorable one. Not a fun read, but a worthy one.
FRANKENSTEIN by Mary Shelley (1818) #92 on the Novel 100 list. Here’s another one I never would have read without The List. All I knew about Frankenstein was that the name referred to the creator of the monster, not the monster himself, whom I envisioned as a scarier version of Herman Munster. I had no desire whatsoever to read the book or watch the movie. So I was astounded by how much I enjoyed the book when I finally sat down to read it. Much more than a horror story, Frankenstein blurs the line between monster and victim in an enthralling tale.