Choosing a top 10 list of fiction favorites is an exercise in crazy-making. But I adore lists. I adore book lists. And I adore top favorites lists. So you see, it is inevitable. I’ll just have to weather the crazy.
It is also inevitable that my choices shift over the years. Isn’t it interesting how one can read a book at various stages of life and feel differently about it each time?
And, oh, how personal is the experience of reading a book! Everyone comes to a story with his or her own set of ideas and experiences as well as personality, emotions, and associations. This means that not everyone will love my top ten as well as I do.
I’ve grouped this list by similarities rather than rating them from one to ten.
The Art of Grace
Marilynne Robinson writes art. Her command of words and phrases is exquisite, but it is the human-ness and grace in her books that bring me to tears. I’ve read Housekeeping (my least favorite) and Home (so painfully beautiful), but Gilead is my favorite. I love the narrator, John Ames. I love the moments of humor (oh, I laughed out loud) mixed with the quiet memories, the intellectual and theological musings, the community life, and the unexpected plot revealed toward the end of the book. I have dipped my toes into Lila and look forward to finishing it soon.
What can I say about Mockingbird that has not been said before? Beautifully written. Strong characters (who doesn’t love Atticus Finch and Scout?!). Compelling plot. Relevant social issues. I am eagerly anticipating Harper Lee's newly discovered manuscript, Go Set a Watchman, on my to-read list this year.
I just re-read this one this past week. It occurred to me that it is the best of Gilead and To Kill a Mockingbird all rolled into one. Exquisite and entertaining writing, grace-filled theology, a strong father-figure (Jeremiah Land rounds out my top three literary fathers), an interesting plot, moral dilemmas, and a compelling child narrator (with a precocious sister).
Epics (Redemption and Revenge)
The history, the powerful metaphors and imagery, the first and last lines, and the tale of redemption propel A Tale of Two Cities to favorite status above David Copperfield.
The intricate plot of The Count astounded me the first time I read it. Revenge has never been so complete. I first read this one in high school and have re-read all 1,200 pages a few times since.
I will confess that I read this first (and only) at the age of thirteen. It was a formative experience, however, and one that sparked my love of literature. My love of the story has since been kept alive by the Broadway musical. It stirs my soul. I’ve attended two live performances and often watch the 10th Anniversary Concert on DVD (on YouTube below). Most recently, the movie version with Hugh Jackman has moved me yet again. What a masterpiece. Victor Hugo has given us a timeless and gripping picture of grace and redemption.
Adams convincingly constructs a world in which rabbits have their own language, history, culture, and mythology, and it is shockingly captivating. This is not a sweet children’s story. It is a story about exceptional leadership in the face of danger and upheaval.
Everyone is familiar with The Chronicles of Narnia, which every child should read, and Lewis’s non-fiction book of Christian apologetics, Mere Christianity, which every adult should read, but Perelandra is a brilliant mix of both fantasy and theology. Lewis imagines a garden of Eden story set on the planet Venus. It is the second book in Lewis’s Space Trilogy, and another must-read from Lewis.
About a Girl (Obscure Favorites)
This is my most obscure favorite, but at least two people with exceptional taste in books love it almost as much as I do (my mom and my friend Susan Keller) so I know I’m not completely crazy. It is not a children’s book due to slightly mature themes. The story explores the differences between the French and English cultures in the early 1900s (it was published in 1924) through the experiences of a young woman who leaves France to live with an English family, the move due in part to her mother’s lifestyle. The writing and mood of the story are simply iridescent.
Maggie Rose is the only children’s book on my top ten list. It was a family favorite during my childhood and it still delights and moves me. The simple illustrations by Maurice Sendak have so much life and personality.
Your turn to play along! Share your top ten list of favorite fiction novels! I look forward to the conversation in the comments.
[Next up: more book lists!]