October 21, 2017

My Five Favorite Novels

Ok, so I am answering a question you didn’t ask. For some reason I think you want to know this anyway. You have been sitting there thinking, What is Jeff Dunn’s favorite fiction title of all time? What else would he recommend? And if you haven’t been thinking that, now you are. So I am now obligated to answer your question. Glad to do so.

(By the way, each of these books are available by clicking on the links below and ordering through Amazon. When you do, you help support InternetMonk.com. Or you can also visit our resource center, iMonkPublishing. Thanks for your help!)

A couple of honorary mentions before we get to my top five. And, yes, I am going to cheat by lumping some books together as a series and calling them one book. Why? Well, why would you read only one book in a series? Besides, this is my list.

The entire Harry Potter series is fantastic. Yes, you can see the Gospel clearly if you are looking for it. Or you can settle for simply the issue of good vs. evil. The virtue of loyalty is on display in every book. Or you can simply read them to see how simple prose can be made to sing and soar. Jo Rowling does not waste a single word, at least not until she gets to books six and seven. And even those, while somewhat uneven compared to the rest of the series, are better than 99% of everything else you will find on store shelves these days.

Please put down your Twilight series books. If you want to read vampire lore and have already read Dracula five times, move on to The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. It is the search for Dracula who happens to be very much alive. The first time I read it I slept with the lights on for a night.

The other honorable mention is Edward Abbey’s Brave Cowboy. This was made into the movie Lonely are the Brave staring Kirk Douglas, who said it was his favorite role of all time. The hero is a cowboy who refuses to enter into the modern era. Set in the 1960s, Jack Burns refuses to accept modernity, instead holding onto the life of a roaming cowboy. I can’t tell you some deep lesson I learned from this (message books are, for the most part, poor reads. If you want to send a message, call Western Union. Great fiction relies on a great story, not trying to preach a message.), but the characters will stay with you for a long time.

Ok, now to the top five in reverse order:

5. Death Comes for the Archbishop (Virago Modern Classics)by Willa Cather. This is not what won her the Pulitizer (that was One Of Ours) or her most famous work (My Antonia). But I would say it is her best by far. The simple tale of the very real first bishop of the New Mexico territory, this is as relaxing and enjoyable a read as you will find. Definitely hammock material. Don’t go looking for some involved plot. It is more a series of vignettes strung together. If you want to read the real story of this bishop, you can check out Lamy of Santa Fe by Paul Horgan.

4. C.S. Lewis’s space trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength). Again, you cannot read just one of these books. And yes, you need to read them in order. Otherwise the character growth you see in Elwin Ransom doesn’t make sense. At first, Ransom was patterned after J.R.R. Tolkien. But by the end of the series, Lewis has in mind Charles Williams as his model for Ransom. Lewis was a huge fan of both space and time travel literature. He was not pleased with the first and third books in this trilogy, but he considered Perelandra one of his best efforts. Warning: I love the final book in the series above all, but I have never recommended it without that person coming back and saying “I don’t get it.” Just so you know.

3. Ok, I am going to break my little rule on a series of books. Karla’s Trilogy (John LeCarre’) is made up of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; The Honourable Schoolboy; and Smiley’s People. Skip book two. It is long and pondering and laborious. The ending is not worth the work it will take to get you there. And it is not needed in the least for the other two books to take hold. That said, TTSS and Smiley’s People are the best spy novels ever written. Don’t bother debating that–just take my word for it. LeCarre’ spent time in the British Secret Service in the late 50s/early 60s. When he first read Ian Flemming’s James Bond books, he thought, “What a crock! This is nothing like real spy work.” So he set out to create the anti-Bond. George Smiley is one of my favorite literary characters. There are no fancy gadgets, no car chases, no beautiful babes. There is a lot of thinking, of reading of files, of putting two and two together to come up with “purple.” If you think it sounds boring, then go back to your Bond books. Or more likely, your Bond movies. If you want to enjoy a journey you will want to take again and again, get TTSS and Smiley’s People. I read each of these books once a year just because.

2. Back to Lewis. Chronicles of Narnia (Books 1 to 7), This is not children’s literature. Don’t let anyone fool you. It is some of the deepest theology you will ever tackle. You could read each of these books 20 times or more (as I have) and not get close to plumbing the depths. If you think, “I saw the movies. I don’t need to read the books,” then turn in your iMonk decoder ring as you leave. Get this series. Read them. Read them to your children. Read them to your grandchildren. There is not a bad book in the bunch, not even a good book. There are only levels of greatness. I personally think The Last Battle is 1) the best view of Heaven we will have on this side of life, and 2) perhaps Lewis’s greatest literary effort.

1. Susanna Clarke is a cookbook editor living in England. Her first–and to date, only–full-length novel was released in 2004, making it the newest book on this list. (The first Harry Potter book was released in 1999.) Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is the history of English magic and the two men who restore it to England. Set in the early 1800s, it helps to know a bit about the Napoleonic wars going on in Europe at the time, but that is not a requirement. I don’t know much about Clarke other than her father was a Methodist pastor in England, but after reading this book at least four times, and listening to it on audio at least that many times, I am fully convinced she must be a believer. This is the most “Christian” novel I have ever read. (You will not find it in the Christian section of your local store. It is filed under science fiction/fantasy.) By the fourth paragraph I knew just what she was writing about. (“In short, he wondered why there was no more magic done in England.” Read that and tell me what she means.) Read this book, then let’s discuss just who Gilbert Norrell and Jonathan Strange each represent. And for bonus points, who is the Raven King?

Ok. There’s your list. Hit the library, or order online to have them delivered to your door. Yes, I know I left off this list your absolute favorite. But that’s what the comment section is for below.

Happy reading!

Comments

  1. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.

    Breathtaking.

    • Been meaning to read that. She was a guest on Mike Horton’s White Horse in radio program and Piper (before he stopped tweeting) tweeted a bunch of quotes from it. Sounds pretty awesome.

  2. I love, love, love C.S. Lewis’ space trilogy. I wrote my British Lit thesis on the character development of Ransom throughout the trilogy, stayed up all night the night before it was due typing straight from my note cards to typewriter. (You know, that old clunky machine where you couldn’t go back and change stuff after you wrote it.) Got an A. Not that anyone on the internet cares!

    I’m now downloading the audio version of your #1 selection from our library because it sounds fascinating. Perhaps it will distract me in the days ahead when my youngest heads off to kindergarten…

    • I would love to read your thesis! I wish my students (when I taught) could have been able to synthesize Ransom’s growth like you apparently did. Amazing how he goes from victim to sacrifice to leader. Another one of my favorite characters in fiction.

      Enjoy JSMN!

      • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

        I’ve been meaning to reread that series. I was in Jr. High when I read it and just didn’t get the third book. Admittedly, though, I was a bit burnt out on series at that time in my young life.

        • One important thing to realize, Isaac, is that the three books of the trilogy are three different genres. The first is classic science fiction, the second mythology, and the third an apocalyptic cautionary tale like 1984. They are all excellent books, but I sometimes think it’s better to read them separately, so the style shifts aren’t jarring — kind of like going directly from “The Hobbit” to “Lord of the Rings.” “That Hideous Strength,” I now think, is a truly great book. The older I get the more truth I see in it.

          • That Hideous Strength is my favorite of the trilogy. One of the many things I love is the numerous allusions to George Macdonald’s fantasy novels. And speaking of Macdonald, Phantastes is one of my all time favorites.

          • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

            I think that’s what got me when I read it in Jr. High. It was really hard to figure out how That Hideous Strength related to the others. At least at that time. One of my friends and I tend to use each other as our alternate libraries. As soon as she finds ’em I’ll reread ’em. Or I’ll borrow my mother’s copies next time I visit.

          • Read ‘The Abolition of Man’ along with ‘That Hideous Strength’, though not sure which should come first.

    • The first time I read That Hideous Strength I had to stop around page 30 then started over. I found that the difficulty with that story involves running into so many new characters within the first few pages that it’s easy to forget who is whom and/or space out while reading because of it. I found that by starting over made all the difference in the world. I need to read the Trilogy again. This will be my third or fourth time.

  3. Oh, and there would definitely be something by Madeline L’Engle on my top 5 list. I’m not sure what, but she’d be there.

  4. Tolkien – Lord of the Rings, of course. Well developed characters and the ability to keep multiple timelines straight, all within the framework of the basic story of good vs. evil.

    • LOTR was my favourite – till I read the Silmarillion. The latter is exceptional.

      • Oh, the Silmarillion. T’is either considered a masterpiece, or the most confusing book on Earth. I think a little bit of both 🙂

  5. David Cornwell says:

    Without spending a lot of time thinking about it here are the ones that I’ve always loved:

    I share a love for John LeCarre’s books with you.

    Tolkein’s: The Hobbit and “Lord of the Rings” as well as others

    When I was around 14 I started reading C. S. Forester’s Hornblower series in the Saturday Evening Post in serialized form. After that I had to have everything I could find about Hornblower and his adventures. I learned about every British ship of war, how many guns, how large, etc. and the hardship of life in the Royal Navy.

    In high school during my senior year English Lit class we read a bit of John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress.” It made such an impression that I had to read it all. I’m assuming that allegory falls into this fiction classification. I couldn’t put it down until finished.

    These are at least among my favorites and had an impact on my life from early on (except for LeCarre, which I read later. I always think of these first because they come to mind so easily.

    This summer I’m reading Swedish thrillers (in English!) Plus a couple of other books.

  6. I am a Walker Percy fan, especially Love in the Ruins.

    • I have The Moviegoer, but have yet to crack the cover. I also have his non-fiction Lost In The Cosmos, which is deep…

      • The Moviegoer…read it as a college student…still think about it to this day. Percy’s understanding of Kierkegaard and despair is amazing.

  7. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell sounds right up my alley. I’ll have to check it out.

    Outside LOTR, Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin is perhaps my favorite work of fiction. Its set in a fantastical version of turn of the century New York City and is a beautiful story of love, adventure, grief, and an ultimate search for justice. Underneath it all is an innate magic that comes from the city itself as well as the characters. And Helprin’s prose is almost lyrical. I highly recommend it

  8. I’m with you on the Perelandra books, absolutely. And That Hideous Strength is Lewis at his terrifying best.

    But why does no-one ever seem to mention Charles Williams’ own books? Descent into Hill and All Hallows’ Eve are utterly wonderful novels. (The other five novels aren’t bad either…)

  9. The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco. Captivating. Much better than the movie.

    • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

      Ah yes… we read that in college. Absolutely great. For the same class we read William Gibson’s Neuromancer which is absolutely fascinating. It was a strange class.

    • Couldn’t agree more – superb book. Definitely one to read and reread.

      • Sorry – should have made it clear I’m refering to ‘The Name of the Rose’ – I haven’t read the other one…

        • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

          Neuromancer is typically considered to be the first cyber-punk novel and is often credited with coining the term “cyberspace.” Futuristic, dystopian, highly technological. And waaaay ahead of its time.

  10. The Road and Peace Like a River are both great novels that I read this summer.

  11. I’m not a big fan of westerns, but the Lonesome Dove trilogy is tops. McMurtry is the western Melville. And add me to the list of Tolkien fans.

    I have recently been reading Faulkner and that is some wild stuff.

  12. Kenneth Mullis says:

    Wow! I knew we were on a similar wavelength, but this blew me away! I read the Narnia series to my boys when they were 5 and 7. But more important my wife and I read them to each other in bed in the first year of our marriage, sometimes I read, sometimes she read, but we were seriously helped and blessed! When the boys were faced with the death of a very favourite “uncle” in our church, their first response was. Uncle ….is in Aslans land isn’t he? btw I have read all the Le Carre books. And of course the Lord of the rings trilogy is great. I read the JKRowling masterpiece as it emerged volume by volume, and my 12 year old granddaughter has read the lot!!!!! We have seen the films, but the books are brilliant. Btw I agree with Michael Bell about the Name of the Rose. C.S.Lewis Space trilogy I re-read recently after a good few years, and was captivated again! I think Votage to Venus is the best of the three! I think Jeff has hit a gold seam here!!!

  13. Kenneth Mullis says:

    Wow! I knew we were on a similar wavelength, but this blew me away! I read the Narnia series to my boys when they were 5 and 7. But more important my wife and I read them to each other in bed in the first year of our marriage, sometimes I read, sometimes she read, but we were seriously helped and blessed! When the boys were faced with the death of a very favourite “uncle” in our church, their first response was. Uncle ….is in Aslans land isn’t he? btw I have read all the Le Carre books. And of course the Lord of the rings trilogy is great. I read the JKRowling masterpiece as it emerged volume by volume, and my 12 year old granddaughter has read the lot!!!!! We have seen the films, but the books are brilliant. Btw I agree with Michael Bell about the Name of the Rose. C.S.Lewis Space trilogy I re-read recently after a good few years, and was captivated again! I think Voyage to Venus is the best of the three! I think Jeff has hit a gold seam here!!!

  14. Christiane says:

    “Chronicles of Narnia (Books 1 to 7), This is not children’s literature. Don’t let anyone fool you. It is some of the deepest theology you will ever tackle. You could read each of these books 20 times or more (as I have) and not get close to plumbing the depths.”

    Yes, ‘by knowing Aslan there, we may know Him better here . . . ‘sneaking past those dragons . . . ‘
    (this will only make sense to those who know the Narnia books and C.S. Lewis’ observations about his own writing.)

    ““Dearest,” said Aslan very gently, “you and your brother will never come back to Narnia.”
    “Oh, Aslan!!” said Edmund and Lucy both together in despairing voices.
    “You are too old, children,” said Aslan, “and you must begin to come close to your own world now.”
    “It isn’t Narnia, you know,” sobbed Lucy. “It’s you. We shan’t meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?”
    “But you shall meet me, dear one,” said Aslan.
    “Are are you there too, Sir?” said Edmund.
    “I am,” said Aslan. “But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”
    from ‘The Voyage of the Dawn Treader – Chapter 16’

    • Debbie W. says:

      This brought a tear to my eye. Thanks for quoting that passage, Christiane. It’s been many a year since I’ve read that, but that flood of emotion just hit me again full force.

  15. I don’t think I can cut it down to a Top Five and I know as soon as I hit “submit comment” I’ll go “I should have remembered X!” but…

    The one novel I’m always raving about and the one I’m always coming back to is G. K. Chesterton’s “The Man Who Was Thursday”.

    “The Ball and the Cross” by G.K. Chesterton. MacIan’s temptation dream is so perfectly pitched to appeal to my besetting flaw in cast of mind, as well: the lure of the beautiful and the orderly, and all we have to do is hand over the messiness of human free will.

    Naturally I am in agreement on “The Lord of the Rings”, “The Silmarillion”, and Lewis’ Space Trilogy.

    Dickens’ “Our Mutual Friend”. I have no idea why; I can’t say I like this one better than others of his, but something in it just draws me.

    This is cheating, but the Collected Sherlock Holmes (oh hush, there are novels in there as well as the short stories).

    “Lilith” by George MacDonald. I know very well there are allusions in this that have gone, and are still going, over my head, but it’s wondeful and strange and wonderfully strange.

    The Zimiamvian Trilogy (Mistress of Mistresses, A Fish Dinner in Memison, The Mezentian Gate) and the not-quite-a-prequel “The Worm Ouroborus” by E.R, Eddison (for obscure fantasy geek points).

    “Là-Bas” by J.K. Huysmans. Not exactly pleasant in its depiction of fin de siècle French Satanism, but weirdly Catholic for all that, particularly in its proposal of the genuine repentance and forgiveness of Gilles de Rais.

    “At the Mountains of Madness” by H.P. Lovecraft.

    I know, I know; don’t I read any normal books?

    Okay, that’s probably enough obscure/strange stuff for now 🙂

    • “The Ball and the Cross” by G.K. Chesterton.

      Yes! I’m a huge Chesterton fan but The Ball And The Cross is my favorite Chesterton novel. I think most on this site would love it too.

    • Great list, Martha! The Ball And The Cross is my favorite Chesterton novel. I think most on this site would love it too.

    • I think I’ve read far too many of the books on this list for my comfort.

      Anyways, I don’t know what it is about Lillith. Or the Phantastes. Take a step back, and I don’t think they’re actually very good as works of literature. But every time I read them, all the world seems to be remade.

    • Speaking of Chesterton, Manalive remains my favourite of his.

  16. Glad to here anther person who loved Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. That book captivated my attention the entirety of reading it.

    I never thought of the Christian elements to it, but now that you bring it up, it all makes sense now. I would love to sit down and discuss this book with some people. It is a wonderful, wonderful novel.

  17. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

  18. SearchingAnglican says:

    Two of my less famous favorite authors include Arturo Perez-Reverte (cultural/historical thrillers) and Jasper Fforde (especially the Tuesday Next Series – love the whacky British humor and alternate reality where literature is king).

    Of course, on the more classic lit side, I have to read Pride and Prejudice, Little Women, Catcher in the Rye and a few others fairly regularly…

  19. Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities. Of course, a close second is the 2nd greatest theology book ever written: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams. 🙂

    • Oh, how could I have forgotten Douglas Adams? I like his Dirk Gently series better than Hitchhiker’s to tell the truth…Long Dark Teatime Of The Soul is a fantastic read.

      • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

        I usually read the Hitchhiker’s “trilogy” (all five books in it) once a year or so.

      • Terry Pratchett! I knew I’d be going “I should have remembered X!” 😉

        Specifically, for the purposes of religious edification *ahem* “Snall Gods”, “Carpe Jugulum” and “Monstrous Regiment”.

        I like the Witches novels best, but Sam Vimes is up there with the great literary coppers – yes, Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, Sherlock Holmes and Sam Vimes.

        A snippet of a quote from “Carpe Jugulum” regarding music in church and the new hymnody 😉

        “The singing wasn’t very enthusiastic, though, until Oats tossed aside the noisome songbook and taught them some of the songs he remembered from his grandmother, full of fire and thunder and death and justice and tunes you could actually whistle, with titles like ‘Om Shall Trample The Ungodly’ and ‘Lift Me To The Skies’ and ‘Light The Good Light’.”

        • The witches are good, but Vimes is best! “Jingo” and “The Fifth Elephant” are my favorite. Have you read “Good Omens,” written by Pratchett and Neil Gaiman? Really good and very funny, especially how every bit of recorded music in the devil’s car turns into an eight-track tape of the best of Queen.

        • The Tiffany Aching books are my favorite. This isn’t an opinion I’ve ever heard echoed, and I’m not sure why. Are they considered a sort of extension of the Witches books? I could see that.

          • I don’t know, maybe it’s because they’re perceived more as children’s/YA books. But pretty much every PTerry has written could go on this list, so we’re all just cherry-picking our favourites.

            🙂

  20. Lloyd Alexander’s “Chronicles of Prydain.” The second book, “The Black Cauldron” is stunningly good. It’s a wonderful series to expose your children to, particularly young boys.

    Patrick O’Brian’s “Aubrey/Maturin” series – starting with “Master and Commander” (the book the Russell Crowe movie was named for). The pillory scene in “The Reverse of the Medal” was beautiful.

    Well, that’s 26 books, so I’d better stop.

  21. All right, guys, this is eerie. You’ve gone through my bookcase. Sheesh, even Dirk Gently! I almost quoted that book on Chaplain Mike’s Bach post. The favorites of mine that you’ve missed are “Watership Down” and “The Gate to Women’s Country.”

    • Ah, Watership Down! I read and re-read that one several times. Brilliant.

      • Amazing Book!

      • If you’ve not read Shardik by Adams, it’s well worth it. I still remember the quote at the beginning, “Circumstance and superstition manifest the will of God.” Or something like that. The book poses the question as to whether something is circumstantial or truly God’s will. By the end you never find the answer, but you realize it doesn’t matter. God’s will is not something to be discovered or even discerned but something to be lived. This book was wonderfully instructive in helping me interpret the Old Testament.

  22. This is hard.

    ‘A Wrinkle in Time ” by Madeline L’Engle
    “A Warlock in Spite of Himself” by Christopher Stasheff
    I had and loved the Horatio Hornblower series
    I enjoyed the Narnia series.

  23. Thanks Jeff. So much of Lewis is delightful and profound. I agree w/ so many, but no one mentioned The Great Divorce. One shld read it every year. Pastor M thanks- Walker Percy if my favorite as well and, like you, Love in the Ruins my favorite of the novels. Jeff…open up The Moviegoer-soon. And The Last Gentleman is as good as Movieigoer or better. The great Peter Kreeft shows us how the trousered ape the Lewis predicted is best addressed by Walker in the late 20th century.

    • John, I love Great Divorce, but I think of it as a non-fiction. I know, but I just do…but you are right–it’s a great book!

    • David Cornwell says:

      I think about the Great Divorce often. It greatly impacted my way of thinking, along with Lewis’ other writings.

  24. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card is probably one of the best science fiction that has ever been written. It talks about the “Nets” long before the conception of the Internet, and I believe influenced the writers of “Lost” with the characters of Locke and Desmon(thina).

    • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

      Oh, I can’t believe I forgot about the Ender’s novels! I’ve got pretty much all of that series. I actually thing I like the “trilogy” that starts with Speaker for the Dead even more than the original, ‘cuz of the interesting theological stuff it brings up.

      • I’m beginning to like you Isaac. 🙂 You obviously have a good taste in books.

        • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

          Well, I have to give a lot of credit to a friend who works at an independent bookstore. I like to think of her as my “literary pusher.” Every time I need something new to read, she has just the right stuff to get me hooked on another series, author or whatever! There was a time when I was dead broke and in between series…. she turned me onto the free download section of the Sci Fi publisher Baen. Downloaded tons of great new Sci Fi and Fantasy that way.

      • I need to thank both of you for introducing me to that series. I’m now on the last book.

        Many, many thanks.

    • Also one of my favorites. “The enemy’s gate is down”

  25. My top five is different, but here are a few novels I’ve loved:

    The Chosen, Chaim Potok (I love his other books, too)
    The Accidental Tourist, Anne Tyler (one of my favorite authors)
    The Life of Pi, Yann Martel
    Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier
    The Natural, Bernard Malamud

    • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

      Been a long time since I read The Chosen or it’s sequel The Promise. Really fun on both accounts.

    • SearchingAnglican says:

      Your bookshelf looks a lot like mine! Another one of my favorites is “Crossing to Safety” by Stegner.

    • Have you read In the Beginning by Chaim Potok? So far I have loved everything of his that I have been able to get my hands on!

      Life of Pi is also excellent.

  26. Reading list? But you’re already making us read Between Noon and Three! And it’s a good read, too. A bit extreme in the portrayal of grace, but… we’ll talk about that later in the month.

    Lewis’ Space Trilogy is fantastic. My favorite of the three is That Hideous Strength, and even though many believe this to be his best work, he didn’t like it as much as Til We Have Faces, which is very different from anything.

    Chaim Potok’s novels, particularly My Name is Asher Lev and the sequel, The Gift of Asher Lev; also Davita’s Harp.

    Susan Howatch’s “Starbridge” or “Anglican” novels, a series of six interlocking stories about clergy families from the 1930s to the 1960s and the theological challenges of the period as well as personal scandals. Something like the PBS TV series Upstairs Downstairs.

    I just picked up 1984 again. Probably on account of something the Headless Unicorn Guy said… And don’t forget Animal Farm.

    • I’d forgotten about the ‘Starbridge’ novels by Susan Howatch. They are really good with a theological and psychological depth to them. It’d be interesting to see what I make of them now I’ve studied a bit of theology – I think a lot of it went over my head before.
      I read ‘1984’ at school and the images it left me with were so disturbing I used to have nightmares – don’t think I will be revisiting that one again!

      • The fourth novel of the Starbridge series, Scandalous Risks, is my favorite, and if there’s a “stand-alone” novel in the series, this is probably the one, but it would be better to start at the beginning of the series.

        Scandalous Risks might even be a good “antidote” to Between Noon and Three [insert shouting match here] because it charts the utter destruction of a young woman mixed up with a married clergyman who deludes himself into a very liberal interpretation of a very liberal theology that allows him an adulterous affair while denying that he’s in one. Great character studies. The people in the novels become like old friends to the reader, at least to this one.

  27. Well, I, for one, definitely had a hard time with the space trilogy. Add my voice to the chorus of people saying, “I don’t get it…” Of course, it may have been just a little over my head in the junior high. It’s been on my re-read list, and I’m hoping to get a lot more out of them this time. I just remember that part from the last one about objectivity vs. subjectivity and thinking, which one is which now? Ya, I think I’m read to do ’em over. Can never get enough Lewis (…or Packer, or Webber, or Wright, or Capon… those darned Anglicans!).

  28. Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

    There are a bunch of stuff mentioned above that I regularly re-read (usually on an annual basis). But here are a couple of series that haven’t yet been mentioned:

    The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. This is probably my favorite current series. Every time a new one comes out it’s like Christmas for me. I usually reread all the others a few weeks before the new one also.

    I also read a lot of stuff by Christopher Moore. They’re not technically series’ (most of ’em, anyway), but the characters do tend to overlap into each others’ stories. His stuff is irreverent, a bit bawdy, and very, very funny. His last couple have been a little too bawdy for my tastes. But overall, I really dig ’em. The best, of course, is Lamb: the Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal. An old girlfriend bought me a copy of that in bonded leather with gold leaf and a ribbon… i.e. looking like a bible.

    • SearchingAnglican says:

      I don’t know how many people I’ve gifted with a copy of “Lamb”. Didn’t know it came in a leather cover and all. That’s classic. Enjoy Christopher Moore a lot, too.

  29. It’s To Kill a Mockingbird’s birthday. Gotta give that one props.

    If I aim for novels that haven’t been mentioned yet:
    Kingsolver’s Animal Dreams and Poisonwood Bible
    McKinley’s Blue Sword
    McCall Smith’s #1 Ladies’ Detective Agency
    Hugo’s Les Miserables

    Oddly, I keep very few books in the house, and check them out from the library for re-reading. But of my maybe 50 novels, I would say 25 of them were listed here 🙂

  30. Brother Bartimaeus says:

    Huh… Jeff, I wouldn’t have pegged you as a fantasy kind of guy, but C.S. Lewis of course explains it.  Strange & Norrell and the Historian are great.
     
    1) A Christmas Carol – by far my favorite, as I read it every few years.
     
    2) To Kill a Mockingbird – simply perfection.
     
    3) The Killer Inside Me (Jim Thompson) – yeah, I wrestle with the dark side sometimes.   It makes you appreciate the light even more.
     
    4) A Lesson Before Dying (Ernest Gaines) – probably the only book that made me cry.  Oh wait, Of Mice and Men did that too… but this is the better book.
     
    5) City of Truth – takes place in a dystopian future where people have been conditioned to only speak the literal truth, so a father who’s son has developed a terminal illness tries to learn how to lie to provide words of comfort and hope.

    Peace

    • Brother Bartimaeus says:

      Also for all you Douglas Adams fans, have you tried Haruki Murakami? Not quite as laugh out loud, but more sophisticated humor and surrealism.

  31. I credit The Last Battle with being the first book that ever made me look forward to heaven. Though I never would have admitted it at the time, the view of heaven that I was taught in fundamentalism never sounded that great to me. Lewis completely changed that.

  32. A couple that haven’t been mentioned:
    The Sun Also Rises by Hemmingway
    The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald
    The Solitaire Mystery by Jostein Gaarder (author of Sophie’s World, this one is his masterpiece)
    The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (I’m 28 years old and I still try to re-read this regularly)

    For those of you who like both spy thrillers and H.P. Lovecraft, check out Stross’s Laundry books: The Atrocity Archives, The Jenifer Morgue and The Fuller Memorandum.

    Recommendation for all of Lois McMaster Bujold. She’s won one less Hugo than Heinlein did, and frankly, she’s a better writer. I’m particularly fond of The Curse of Challion and The Paladin of Souls. The third in the series (The Hallowed Hunt) is still pretty good, but not nearly as masterful as the first two. The Curse of Challion is a fantasy retelling of the ascent of Isabella of Spain.

    And I’m well past my five.

  33. I can’t believe no one has mentioned Flannery O’Connor’s novels, Wise Blood and The Violent Bear It Away. Two of my favorites.

    This post would never occur at Jesus Creed because Scot McKnight doesn’t read fiction. Another reason I gravitated to Michael Spencer.

    • If the list had been about short stories, Flannery O’Connor would be first on my list, and A Good Man is Hard to Find at the very top. Flawless.

      Her two novels are good, but I didn’t quite get them, as some people have said about Lewis’ That Hideous Strength (which I love) . Flannery’s character Hazel Motes is pretty memorable, though, the preacher who started “The Church without Christ—where the blind don’t see, the lame don’t walk, and what’s dead stays that way.”

  34. David Cornwell says:

    Jeff, this has been lots of fun, thanks. The morning I read all the new entries. My reading list now extends far beyond this life and into the next. Can we take our books with us?

    • Lewis said the only books we will have in heaven are those we either loan out or give away here on earth. That’s why I give so many books away–I want a library in heaven!

    • By the way, David, do you know John Le Carre’s real name? Yep–David Cornwell.

      Say…are you actually HIM? Do we have the one and only spymaster himself as a commenter on iMonk?

  35. The mention of Cather delightfully surprised me. She doesn’t often make it to people “favorite” lists. I read “Death Comes for the Archibishop” and enjoyed it, although I prefer “O, Pioneers” and her short stories.
    My mom read the Narnia books to my brother and I when we were in elementary school – a chapter each morning, over breakfast. I have read them on my own at least 10 times since then. My favorite quote of all time comes from “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” – Safe?” said Mr. Beaver, “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
    I would add Lewis’ “Till We Have Faces” as one of his best as well.

    As far as my favorites, I highly recommend

    Lying Awake by Mark Salzman (I re-read this one every 6 months)
    Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
    The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
    The Underneath by Kathi Appelt
    The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
    The Ear, the Eye and the Arm or The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

    Happy Reading!

  36. Jeff: GREAT post….I wouldn’t mind hearing your list #’s 6 thru whatever…… don’t be shy. I don’t read nearly enough fiction, so I need good recommendations because I don’t want to waste my time with mediocre reads…though I quickly waste it with mediocre “self-help” and “church-help”…..go figure.

    some that might not have been mentioned:

    Ken Kesey: “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”
    “A Separate Peace”
    Keller’s “Catch-22”
    London’s “White Fang”

  37. cermak_rd says:

    I love anything by Chaim Potak (The Chosen, The Promise and My Name is Asher Lev mentioned above). I also love anything by Agatha Christie as well as the Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Lord Peter Wimsey stories by Dorothy L. Sayers and the Father Brown mysteries by Chesterton.

  38. Here are five I’d recommend to just about anyone:

    The Little World of Don Camillo, Giovanni Guareschi (and yes, count this as standing for the whole series)
    A Canticle for Liebowitz, Walter Miller, Jr.
    Reaper Man, Terry Pratchett
    Perelandra, C.S. Lewis (fwiw, I’ve read That Hideous Strength and am pretty sure I got it, but I didn’t much care for it)
    36 Arguments for the Exisitence of God, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein

    • A Canticle for Liebowitz… wow… I loved that book.

    • Oh, the Don Camillo books! I read them and loved them a long time ago! Yes, add my recommendations to yours.

      This is a great post – reminding me of all my favourites and giving me new ones to check out.

  39. So many of the books we count among our treasures are there because we read them at an important time in our lives. Just like our favorite songs can be tied to pivotal times in our lives, so can books. They become “milestone” books. So many have said, “My mom read this to me when I was young.” Thus the book reconnects you to the safety of your mother’s lap. Amazing that a book can have such power in us. Well, maybe not so amazing considering how much importance God places on words–and The Word in us.

    I could list many more books that have meaning to me, but you all are doing a great job. Someone mentioned Wallace Stegner. He is on my list to read, starting with Crossing To Safety. Yes, I could have placed Flannery O’Connor on this short list, though I think her short stories are her best work and thus didn’t meet my own requirement of a novel.

    Next up when I get a chance…my favorite non-fiction titles. But I think for now you have plenty of reading to keep you busy! Great job, monks. Great, great job…

  40. C.S. Lewis… Till We Have Faces.

  41. Hearty amen and hallelujah to mention of those books mentioned I already know and love, and thanks for all the recommendations. Our local CSLewis group is discussing The Great Divorce tomorrow night- it is both fiction and non-fiction IMHO. Love all of his books (well, almost all) and am enjoying getting in to books by some of the other Inklings. One book that I have read recently, and found deeply affecting, is The Reader. The movie is also amazing; for once, the movie and book seem to complement each other, telling truth and asking questions in different forms.

  42. …and I thought there hadn’t been a decent NOVEL written since Michener passed away! I have some catching up to do, so I’m off ot the library …right after I burn all those old history books on my shelf. :>)

    Would if be fair to say that novels teach “depth” while history teaches us the “breadth” of the human condition?

  43. Wow…just mention books, and we all come out of the woodwork!

    1) The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings Trilogy (Tolkein)
    2) The Education of Little Tree (Forrest Carter…I’ve given this one as a gift many times)
    3) All the King’s Men (Robert Penn Warren)
    4) The Sure Hand of God (Erskine Caldwell…my mom was almost expelled from high school in the 1950’s for bringing in a copy of “Tobacco Road”)
    5) Lamb in His Bosom (Caroline Miller)

  44. Nothing by Chesterton??

    • I’ve seen two mentioned so far: ‘Ball and Cross’ and ‘The Man who was Thursday.’

      I would add ‘The Poet and the Lunatics,’ personally.

      • I would also add Manalive.

        I read/enjoy more of Chesterton’s nonfiction but The Ball And The Cross would easily make it at into my all time top ten list in fiction. Loved Manalive and Thursday as well.

  45. 1. Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoevsky. I read this book in college and thought about it for years afterwards. There’s an updated translation of it I intend to read one day.
    2. All the King’s Men – Robert Penn Warren. It was assigned in American lit class as an example of a political roman à clef, but I remember it as a story about grace
    3. Instance of the Fingerpost – Iain Pears. Historical murder mystery with a huge payoff.
    4. A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving. Made me cry.
    5. Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas. Historical page-turner, all 1,000-pages of it.

    Honorable mention:

    1. To Your Scattered Bodies Go – Philip Jose Farmer
    2. Curious Incident of the Dog at Nighttime – Mark Haddon
    3. Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
    4. Farseer Trilogy – Robin Hobb
    5. The Wishbones – Tom Perrotta

  46. Duuuuude…no way. I thought I was the only one who would say his favorite Lewis Space Trilogy book is That Hideous Strength. As a matter of fact, I call it my favorite book I’ve ever read.

    AND Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell? Can we discuss that one on iMonk? The theology in it is sooooo freaking rich. God’s sovereignty versus our free will…the concept of choosing hell…crucifixion. And who do Strange and Norrell they represent to you? I didn’t pick up on any comparison, but I’m a novice by any standard…

    • Oh, and the Raven King is God the Father. I got that one right I think…

      • Perhaps we will have a mini-writers’ roundtable on JSMN. I know a few of us have read it. The Raven King as God the Father. Interesting…

        • Well, I say that because it was The Raven King’s spell that brought Norrell and Strange onto the magic scene in the first place, at least that’s what Vinculus (ie. the Book) thought.

          So in other words, it was the Raven King’s sovereignty over Briatian that motivated the whole story. When I thought of it like that, I thought of the concept of God’s sovereignty over our free will. Norrell and Strange both chose their paths, but at the same time there’s the tension of their choices versus The Raven King’s spell. Ultimately they both make choices that send them into outer darkness, but again, was it the Raven King’s choosing or their own? The book would seem to me to indicate that it’s both. (I’m a compatibalist, can you tell?)

    • Re: That Hideous Strength- it is one of my favorite books. First couple times through, it felt like plodding through a lot initially just to get to the really great stuff at the end- especially Merlin casting the spell of Babel on the assembled bureaucrats and wanna-be’s and self important so-and-so’s, and Mark with the fake Merlin, and Mark’s transformation from “whatever the inner ring says” to recognizing and wanting the real and the true. Each time through, I get more out of that book – but I do love Perelandra at least equally as much.

  47. Wow, so many of my favorites already here 🙂

    1. LOTR and the Hobbit. The Silmarillion I don’t believe I’ve ever really read all the way through, I just use the book as a reference when applying for my Tolkien geek membership renewal.
    2. To Kill a Mockingbird.
    3. All Jane Austen, all the time. I’m currently reading Persuasion.
    4. I read most of Lewis’ fiction and non fiction. I must say I think I like his non fiction better but maybe I need to re-read the Narnia series as an adult. I recently read ‘Til We Have Faces’ and I think I’m going to have to read that a few times for it to really sink in. I loved Pilgrim’s Regress.
    5. If poetry were allowed, I’d say Emily Dickenson. Oh, I did say it! Oops!

  48. The Baroque Trilogy by Neal Stepheson is one of the greatest things i’ve ever read.

    Perdido Street Station by China Mieville. In one fell swoop he inevents an entirely new genre of fanstay. (one that has nothing to do with Tolkien-esque worlds. I cannot agree more with Tolkien as being one the greatest things EVER, but he has been so imitated that it’s refreshing to see new visionaries go somewhere else.

    House Of Leaves by Mark Danielewsky. Simply amazing. And haunting. REALLY haunting.

    Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. Different stories from different points in history (including the future) that tie together in the most brilliant way imaginable.

  49. Hopefully there isn’t some sort of theological criteria for the list. If there is, then please ignore my post (though there is plenty of theology within it).

    The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. Simply epic.

  50. Dan Crawford says:

    Hi! This is also a DAC, Dan Crawford’s wife.
    I so agree about “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich”. And why has no one mentioned Le Carre’s “A Perfect Spy”. Beautiful