This is our second in a ten-part series in which Quincy reveals his top 100 novels and offers summaries and analysis that help point Christians to the timeless truths contained in these stories. Check out the previous post here. (The two intro paragraphs below are the same for each new addition to the list, but reviews will be new, each time).
Why Christians Should Read Novels: I believe it is significant that one of the primary ways that God has chosen to communicate Godself to us is through story. From the first page of Scripture, we are brought to the realization that God wants us to see Who He is by inviting us into the narrative that He is creating in the world we know. In the Bible there is poetry, there is history, there is storytelling – and in many cases – there is fantastical imagery inviting us into a world that is far greater than what we can see with our physical eyes. Notably, when God Himself comes to earth as a human being in Jesus, He chooses – most often – to communicate what He wants people to know in parables – stories He makes up to convey timeless truths about Himself and about ourselves. I believe that all great stories give us insights into our existence in a way that mirrors the storytelling that God Himself does. We are, after all, made in God’s image, as sub-creators in this universe of wonders He has placed us in as His representatives. So, it should be no surprise to Christians to find human beings – even those who are not believers in Jesus – creating stories that display truth about life, the world, humanity, love, God, and everything in between; all of this can bring us closer to our Lord Jesus if we bring it to Him, with minds taken captive to Him and thoughts made obedient to His Will.
In this series, I will be going through my current list of top 100 novels I have read. I fully expect this list to grow and change over the course of my life, and I hope you, friend reader, will help me grow it by recommending books I have overlooked to me after you read my selections. I have tried, especially over the past decade of my life, to diversify my novel catalog, looking for books written by folks who are not white men of European descent, but I’m sure my list as it currently exists still slants that way. Fortunately, my reading of great literature has HELPED to show me the need to seek culturally and ethnically diverse stories. To qualify for my list, a book has to be either a continuous fictional narrative or a series of short-story form fictional narratives. Additionally, each author can only have one entry on my list (other books written by an author that I’ve read will be listed in parentheses following my favorite title from each writer).
90. Americanah by Ngozi Chimamanda Adichie (Adult language)
Summary: Adiche tells the story of two Nigerian immigrants – one to the U.S. and one to the U.K. – in their time away from their home country and after their return.
Analysis: Americanah effortlessly combines the reality of racial dynamics in our world, the lasting nature of romance, and the tension of becoming an adult. Adichie gives her characters memorable voices which help readers experience the perspective of Nigerian immigrants in Western societies in a manner that increases both compassion and understanding in the flow of a dramatic and captivating story.
89. The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson (Adult language)
Summary: An orphan attempts to live amidst the propaganda-driven, totalitarian regime of North Korea.
Analysis: Johnson did extensive research to try to understand as much as possible of the reality of life in North Korea, and he puts it in a gripping narrative that leads us into a place of compassion and a desire to help those who are hurt by the North Korean government. This would be a better story if it were told by a North Korean… but we are not permitted to hear those stories, and that is enough reason to read this novel, and to pray for those in nations like that who have no one to advocate for them.
88. Three-Fifths by John Vercher (Adult language and situations)
Summary: Amidst the cultural setting of the O.J. Simpson trial, a mixed-race teenager is caught up in a violent racial incident involving a family member and reckons with the fallout.
Analysis: I will never know the experience of being Black in America. I will never know the experience of not being white in America. So, I seek novels that help me understand how those who are Black, those who are not white, experience life around me and in different places than I live. Do I have to agree with their perspectives? No, but I should seek to understand and empathize before I seek to distinguish my own viewpoint. With that said, I find Vercher’s narrative a compelling expose of how the ethnic identity and color of someone’s skin is not something that many in the United States can take for granted, sadly. This book pushed me to be a better advocate for hearing those who experience racism and to find ways to use whatever voice I have to speak up for them – all just in telling a thrilling story. I appreciate that.
87. On the Road by Jack Kerouac (Adult language and situations)
Summary: A coming-of-age story combined with a road trip narrative, this novel defined a generation of baby boomers as they entered adulthood.
Analysis: Believe it or not, On the Road is a story of people looking for salvation, salvation they can only find as God gives it to them. I know, I was as shocked as you probably are now to discover that as I read it. I’m glad Jesus is in pursuit of hippies, beatniks, drug users, vagabonds, and lost souls (like me).
86. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (Adult language and situations)
Summary: A satirical account of military life during World War II, highlighting the absurdity of war.
Analysis: As we honor the Greatest Generation and appreciate their sacrifices, we should not glorify or sanitize the horrors of war. Writers like Heller use humor as a sword to pierce defenses we’ve built to quiet our cognitive dissonance about what we know killing each other does to our souls. It’s a funny read and a sobering one, which is a difficult dynamic to pull off.
85. Moby Dick by Herman Mellville
Summary: A crazed sea-captain sacrifices everything to hunt an elusive, murderous white whale.
Analysis: It’s important to be aware that Melville is attacking the capriciousness of God and of nature in this novel. It is blasphemous… but so are parts of Ecclesiastes. So is Psalm 22, in parts. We can learn something when we listen to the cries of the human who is frustrated at the seemingly uncaring nature of Providence revealed in the reality of suffering. Moby Dick is too self-important, yes, but it is well-written and it (unintentionally) directs us to run to Jesus for the relief and salvation only He can give.
84. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (Adult situations)
Summary: The granddaughter of a formerly-enslaved woman tries to make her way in life and find love.
Analysis: This story is heart-breaking and difficult to read… so why read it? First, many people from backgrounds like mine wonder about some of the issues facing families in cultures different from their own. This novel helps demonstrate how American culture and white society tried to force Black Americans into situations in which stability and health was impossible to establish. Yet, Black woman endured and were victorious in winning the right to live, love, and care for their families. This is a victory worth celebrating and appreciating.
83. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Summary: Shelley’s monster reveals that the true depravity is found within humans.
Analysis: Shelley tells a good, frightening story and leaves readers with good questions about how we pervert nature and misuse others in pursuit of a life we find preferable. This book is far more than fertile grounds for a monster movie; it reveals the monster lurking inside each of us.
82. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
Summary: A ghost story in which a man’s second wife discovers her new home is haunted.
Analysis: There is something to be said about a story that frightens, mystifies, and entices you to turn pages as quickly as you can to reach the conclusion. In this case, Du Maurier is also talking to us about the chains of our past and the hidden realities we try to ignore that refuse to be forgotten. Scripture talks about this reality as well, and says, “Bring those burdens to Jesus, because He cares for you.” This is an exciting and chilling mystery worth a careful reading.
81. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley Also Read: All Flavia de Luce novels)
Summary: Incorrigible, precocious and loveable, 11-year old genius Flavia tries to help solve a murder in her family’s post-World War II English countryside estate.
Analysis: Flavia de Luce is a delight. She shows that girls can love science, love life, and love their family while terrorizing them at the same time. This mystery is a delectable ride at every turn of the page. (All Flavia books are great, but this one is the cream of the crop). Flavia reminds me of the joy we should take time to stop and appreciate the world that God has given us and in the unique human beings He has created to populate that world. All should be treasured, examined, protected, and prodded.
Quincy’s List So Far:
81. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (All Flavia de Luce novels) by Alan Bradley
82. Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
83. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
84. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
85. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
86. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
87. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
88. Three-Fifths by John Vercher
89. The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson
90. Americanah by Ngozi Chimamanda Adichie
91. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (Short Stories) by Raymond Carver
92. Before the Fall (The Good Father) by Noah Hawley
93. Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Marukami
94. Everything is Illuminated (Here I Am, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) – Jonathan Safran Foer
95. Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
96. There, There by Tommy Orange
97. Fathers and Sons (Home of the Gentry) by Ivan Turgenev
98. In His Steps by Charles Sheldon
99. Track Series by Jason Reynolds
100. The End of Baseball by Peter Schilling, Jr.