My Favorite Books (Fiction)

Following the recent blog comments on my favorite non-fiction titles (and thanks to quite a few who emailed me to say they had read several of them already), here are my favorites in the fiction genre. Of course there are so many good works, and not every one likes the same styles or subjects. But treading gingerly, here are the novels that stay with me as the best and/or most enjoyable I've read in the last ten years or so. Just for fun, at the bottom of this list (it's a teaser to induce you to read all the way to the bottom), I've listed three very well-known works of fiction that I did not like at all. In my book club, I was in the distinct minority as most to the guys were positive on them. But I detested them all. This probably indicated my judgement is flawed. Okay, here goes:
Top Three: (These stand out as my very favorite, and the ones I mention to people who ask me to recommend a very few.)
Breakfast At Tiffany's, by Truman Capote (My all-time favorite. It's only a bit over 100 pages, really a novella, and much different {and better} than the movie. Every word is perfect.)
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. (Clever plot, vivid scenery, twists and turns. None better.)
Atonement, by Ian McEwan (This story is so brilliant, and has a twist in it that many people, if not most people, miss. I had to read it a second time to fully grasp the clever clue and realize what it meant.)
The rest of the best, in no particular order:
Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier. (The story captivated me, and I actually took a "mental health" day to stay home from work, both to rest up from a difficult period at work and to finish it. I was alone in the house, and treasured the final 50 pages, slowly turning the pages one by one, almost hating to both reach the end, and also concerned about where the story was going. The last page was devastating to me, and—I'm not ashamed to say—I cried out loud for several minutes.)
Angle of Repose, by Wallace Stegner. (The story drags a bit with the continual relocations and hardships, but the fragile and doomed love story is dramatic.This one also requires a solitary moment for the reader at times. No one captures the wildness of the American west as does Stegner.)
A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole. (It's impossible to describe this classic other than to say it's about a confederacy of dunces. The ending is a bit strange yet satisfying. Toole was unable to get this published. His mother persisted after his suicide, fortunately for American literature.)
All the King's Men, by Robert Penn Warren. (Huey Long, as told in barely disguised fiction. The point-of-view is clever.)
The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hasseini. (Brutally honest and graphic story of Afghanistan culture. Actually provides good insight regarding the ethnic divisions that cleave that land.)
For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemmingway. (I could have listed other Hemmingway books, as several are brilliant. This one, along with "Homage to Catalonia" by George Orwell—yes that George Orwell—will tell you a lot about the impossibly complicated Spanish Civil War. This book has an ending that will leave you weak. Unfortunately, Hemmingway tends to kill off his heroes.)
Earth Abides, by George R. Stewart. (This book is a bit dated, but tells a story about what happens to our planet, and to our society, in the event that humanity almost, but not entirely, disappears. It's thought provoking.)
Macbeth, by William Shakespeare. (This one is so good, so brutal, so conniving, so wonderously full of the greatest sayings we now take for granted in the English language. Plus it's rather short. 'Nuff said.)
Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides. (Brilliant study of Greek recent history and culture in the U.S, and a difficult but informative study on people who are born between the two usual sexes.)
The Help, by Kathryn Stockett. (Most everyone has seen the movie, which is true to the  book. I really liked this novel. Talk about bitchy elites in the old South!)
Legends of the Fall, by Jim Harrison. (This author writes the most amazing tales of drama and vengeance. I thought the story—part of a trilogy in some books—was incredible.)
The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes. (A recent, complex book, a Booker Prize winner, with unfolding information as you read it. Not everyone likes it, but I felt it is brilliant.)
The Sojourn, by Andrew Krivak. (A brand new novel, which traces a person's life from the U.S. West to Europe and the war that ended the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. It's a brutal and gritty story about war, both in the trenches and between sharp-shooters in the mountains of the present-day Dolomites and Carpathians. This one vividly outlines the tremendous ethnic divisions between Europeans, and makes me committed to prevent any such divisions developing here in this country.)
Three Famous Novels I disliked:
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safrn Foer. (Nothing about this made any sense to me. Crazy plot line. Jittery writing with no punctuation. I just don't get it. He must have friends in the publishing industry.)
The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. (Lousy plot line, no character development. Who can like a book where the characters are "the boy," and "the man." Just did not work for me. Hated it. The majority of my book club liked it. I must not understand.)
Catch 22, by Joseph Heller. (Could not finish it, which is rare for me. I suppose it was going somewhere, but I didn't get there.)
If you enjoy this blog, please forward it to others who may be interested.
If you want to receive these emails, here's how:
1. toward the top right corner is a place to click on for email service — enter your email address and click on "subscribe."
2. you will recceive an email which will require you to click on a link to confirm that you want to be on the list
IMPORTANT: if you don't receive the email in step 2 or you don't click on the link, you won't be on the list. Sometimes, people who use corporate emails get blocked, so if you don't get the email, you know you need to use a personal email.

5 Responses

  1. Karl Bretz, K9BGL
    I'm not a big reader, but I have enjoyed what I have chosen to read, most notably "Atlas Shrugged," by Ayn Rand. This choice correctly reveals aspects of my character and opinions. It's always good to work you in the Sprint. 73, KARL
  2. Sara S.
    Happy Fourth of July, Jim! Your list of favorite books echoes some of mine, including Atonement, Angle of Repose, Cold Mountain, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and The Great Gatsby. But oh, we differ on two of your least favorites! I could not put either of these prophetic books down -- Cormac McCarthy's The Road and Joseph Heller's Catch 22. I believe I may have a preference for violence in my repertoire, but hopefully, not gratuitous. Keep up your great blogs, Jim I wonder what your other readers think about your list of books? This will be fun to read.
  3. Peggy
    I have just started reading "Cold River" and I think I am going to agree with Jim about it being so good. Hopefully I can get to some of the others I have not read.
  4. Peggy
    Always interesting how folks like different types of books. My reading life started out with the Bobbsey, Twins, and Four Little Blossoms. For some reason I never got into the more serious books. Guess that is why I enjoy Reunion types of books so much. I love the seriousness of all the things which go on his parents, and his life, yet, I like to hear it like a story which is really happening. I loved reading that style of book. When I went to college and had to analyze everything, it took away some of my love for reading..
    • I really like the essence of your comment. The range of comments regarding "Reunion" has been rather wide. Professionals critique it for the "prosaic-ness" of the experiences. But that's the nature of most lives. One (non-professional) review stated that it was just this feature, along with the warm and personal writing style, that endeared the story and the writing to him, as he said in the end, it was story about <strong>him</strong>. I hope that for many readers, it's a story about <strong>you</strong>.

Leave a comment