Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Top Ten Novels of All Time, According to Moi

A meme seed sorta ganged up on me.

First, Syaffolee announced her favorite book ever in this post*, so I went out to procure it from the library (I will always attempt to read someone else's favorite book, unless it's Ulysses), and on that same day, the "brand new" non-fiction shelves had The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books** out. (Btw, if'n yer curious, "top ten" is searchable on Amazon.com, so if you want to see if your favorite writers were included, or if a particular book was, just search for it.)

(*Thumbnail review of The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley: 'Twas a fine read. The language was regal in a unique way, and once the story started (it took a while), it was fun.)

So, I felt this was a sign to put up my top ten favorite novels of all time (thus far in my life). My old vanity site has an older, longer list, if you are interested.

1. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving (see below for his top 10**)

This one has it all. No other novel has moved me as much as this one did. I'd be trying not to weep on one page, and guffawing on the next. This is one of the few books I was so hooked on, I snuck it into work and buried it in another book so I could keep reading. I doubt I'll read a better novel in my life.

2. Texasville by Larry McMurtry

Another perfect novel. I laughed on every page. Many say Lonesome Dove is his masterpiece, and it probably is because of the scope, but this is the best sustained comic novel I've ever read. McMurty nails that time in middle-age where a man just kind of pinballs around in his life, bouncing off family, friends, pets, and the wonder of it all.

3. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (see below for his top 10**)

This doorstop of a novel has vast charms and I fell hard for all of them. Even though this monster is 1,000 pages, with 300 pages of end notes, I grieved as I drew near the end - one of the only novels (save for the two above and the set below) where I've done that; which appropriately compliments the title. I think that perhaps it may not age well, because the language and the particular mindset it beautifully and accurately portrays is a generational one that ones before and after will probably not share. Another way of saying that is: this is one of those you either "get" or you don't. Test-drive it here.

4. The "Harry Potter" series by J. K. Rowling

Few worlds have been as much fun to visit - and such a joy to read - as the Harry Potter novels. I've been clearing off my calendar at the latter part of July, and I've warned my family that I'm gonna be distracted, so the usual "Are you listening to me?!" invective will not be met with an apology, but a slightly miffed, "Of course not! It's Harry time!" I am convinced that we have witnessed the creation of a new classic that will do down through the ages.

5. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy "Trilogy" by Douglas Adams

Much like Robert Fulghum's old, infamous "All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten," this series contains a lot more truth that you realize at first. Don't let the recent dismal movie throw you. Even the TV series didn't really capture the novels well (which themselves were based on an original radio show). My mom, who I could never convince to read sci-fi novels, read this. She once got laughing so hard a neighbor came by and asked if she were OK. (Psst. You can borrow it here.)

6. Robots of Dawn by Issac Asimov

Before reading this, I had no reason to expect that sci-fi could be everything to everyone. To me sci-fi was usually nifty gadgets and concepts with the occasional cool twist ending, but not much else. This novel is moving, funny, and has a great mystery. Believe it or not, it's written beautifully, too - something Asimov was not known for. I recommend if you're going to give this one a go, read the two prequels first: 1) The Caves of Steel and 2) The Naked Sun. Or, if you'd rather, read them after, if you liked "Dawn."

7. The Stand and The Shining (equal favorites) by Stephen King (see below for his top 10**)

Top-notch stories with an even grander style. No one writes like King. Even if you're not generally a fan, these ones should thrill anyone who digs great writing.

8. Good Grief by Lolly Winston (Her 10 top ten can be found here - see? It's just a meme waiting to happen.)

This, like Bright Lights, Big City (McInerney) and Catcher in the Rye (Salinger), perfectly conveys the internal atmosphere of the narrator and her situation. Sophie's husband has died of cancer (most of which we are spared, thank God), and she slowly caves in to grief. The mixture of humor and an honest depiction of what it's like to go through intense grief is unmatched elsewhere. Surly the upcoming movie won't be able to convey this as well as the words do.

9. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

As with Good Grief, above, The Lovely Bones tackles a difficult subject honestly without making the reader regret taking the voyage. A teenage girl is murdered by a serial killer, and narrates the book from Heaven (don't worry - all trappings of religion are completely avoided). "Graceful" is about the only word I can think of that comes close to defining this novel.

10. A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore

One of the rare reads that didn't flag once, or make me look at a clock. It also builds a perfect fictional world, which is a feat unto itself because it's a very absurd one. See, Charlie learns he is a Death Merchant - a sort of grim reaper who must transport "soul vessels" that contain said soul from the previous owner to the new one (the ontology is very Buddhist). Hilarity ensues. The whole shtick on what a "beta male" is could in itself comprise a novel, but it's just one of the many layers in this tricky story. My wife, who can sit through most standup with a straight face, giggled about every 10 minutes when reading this.

**Some of the authors' from above top tens:

Alas, the site that contained these is no more. However, you can still see each list by going to the book link, and searching for "John Irving", "David Foster Wallace", and "Stephen King" respectively.


Sya said...

I'm glad that you liked The Blue Sword. For me, McKinley's prose is certainly addictive.

Infinite Jest is still in my, er, infinite to-be-read pile. I'm hoping I'll be able to get to it sooner rather than later.

I'm not sure I would want to attempt Ulysses either.

Whisky Prajer said...

I'd say Irving's list could probably have been predicted by any of his avid readers. But Wallace and King? I'm still shaking my head. What do you think: any chance King threw in Satanic Verses as a joke?

Yahmdallah said...

Sya, save "Jest" for when you're out of school. It'll wait. It's too big to tackle when you've got real stuff to do. I read it during my wife's first pregnancy, when I was sympathy loafing.

Yeah, ALL of King's list is odd. I've discovered through his recommendations in his EW column that he and I do NOT have the same taste in fiction. However, DFW and I do. "Fuzz" has moved to the top of my reading list.

Whisky Prajer said...

Actually, DFW's list has more books I'd care to read than the other two combined. Kinda sheds a more pleasant light on DFW.