Quincy Wheeler’s Top 100 Novels (Part 4: 70-61)

This is our fourth 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 posts Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. (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).

70. The Great Gatsby (Also read: Tender is the Night) by F. Scott Fitzgerald
: A Midwesterner becomes friend with a mysterious millionaire who is fixated on reuniting with a former lover.
Analysis: While the Great Gatsby is top 10 for many readers, I find Fitzgerald to come across as slightly full of himself. He knows he is a great writer (and he IS) and wants to make sure everyone knows. But, his characters are stunningly portrayed here as he strips the veneer off the Gilded Age and leaves us wondering what will last when all we are left with is the reality of who we really are underneath. Jesus is constantly pushing people to confront their true selves with His transforming love… I think reading this novel helped me in that journey.

69. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (Adult situations)
: A woman with a highly romanticized view of the world refuses to be content with the life she is living, leading her to affairs and extravagances with devastating consequences.
Analysis: An early novel that focused on the desires and agency of a woman. Madame Bovary isn’t a particularly sympathetic character, but she also shows how little control women of her time period had over their happiness and future. Emma Bovary makes terrible decision after terrible decision, but the world she lives in doesn’t exactly make space for her to learn, grow and become her own person. This story does fine work in examining how society can trick us into letting our selfish natures rule, so that even the most vivid personalities among us turn into soulless ciphers. Just look at social media influencers to see that the novel is very relevant today (and Jesus loves influencers, too!).

68. The Earthsea Cycle by Ursula K. Le Guin
: A young mage named Ged travels the collection of Islands and seas known as Earthsea, coming to terms with his power and the reality of death.
Analysis: An innovative and original fantasy trilogy, Le Guin provides space for her characters to confront despair and darkness without giving them convenient, tropey outs from the magic they possess. These stories are thrilling adventures that will leave you wondering what shadows you are trying to outrun and pondering where the light you need to live will come from (the Christian knows that light is only found in Christ). My dad has rightly pointed out an important note – Le Guin does not share a Christian worldview. She sees light-dark, death-life as equally admirable forces in the world. So, be aware of this dynamic while engaging her work, and you can find reasons to love and appreciate the Christian view.

67. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (Adult language and situations)
: In a dystopian future World State in which scientific advancements provide humans with an easy, pleasurable existence, one man challenges the status quo.
Analysis: The two great dystopian novels are 1984 and a Brave New World, and I find a Brave New World’s vision of the future far more realistic. While we face dangers from totalitarianism from all political angles, the easiest one for me to imagine is a Wall-E type future where some government/corporation entity provides for all our needs, wants, and fears, eliminating the need for our personal involvement. Huxley asks whether we would find this future acceptable or not. The God who created humans with free will and seeks them with love, freely given, makes clear that we are meant to have full investment in the human experience.

66. The Power and the Glory (Also read: The Heart of the Matter, The Quiet American, The Tenth Man) by Graham Greene
: In Mexico during a widespread persecution of Catholics, a priest addicted to whiskey both runs from his calling and fulfills it while eluding an inevitable and reluctant martyrdom.
Analysis: Greene’s stories are always surprisingly humorous amidst scenes of dark despair, and the Power and the Glory invites us to consider whether our heroes are saints or just men and women who ended up doing the right thing whether they liked it or not. More importantly, Greene challenges us to see how God gives us Himself even in the middle of our brokenness and failures; then asks us to think about whether that is enough, in the end.

65. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
: Soldiers in the German army in World War I come to realize that the war they are fighting removes all hope and light from their future.
Analysis: This is a remarkable account of the real experiences of soldiers who realize that the causes of patriotism, nationalism and heroism cannot cancel out the horrors of human beings killing other human beings. Though the novel was not written as a pacifist tract, it is hard to find a more compelling argument in all of literature against excusing the damage war does to the spirits and lives of soldiers.

64.   The Princess Bride by William Golding
: A farm-boy turned adventurer teams up with an expert fencer with a strange grudge and a loveable giant to rescue the Princess Buttercup (is this a kissing book??).
Analysis: If you’ve seen the Princess Bride but haven’t read the book, you NEED to read the book. If you’ve read the book but haven’t seen the movie, you NEED to see the movie. If you haven’t done either, what are you waiting for? Besides being a refreshingly original and hilarious version of the fairy tale, the novel also asks some deep, philosophical questions about the meaning of life, love and loss, and the redemption of suffering. As you can tell from my list, I’m not opposed to a book full of heavy themes and stark despair – this novel is a welcome and fun change from all that, without being at all escapism.

63. The Source (Also read: The Chesapeake) by James Michener (Adult language and situations)
: A team of archaeologists excavate an ancient city in Israel while the narrative traces the lives, faiths and civilizations of the people who have lived there.
Analysis: Michener is the master of the historical novel format, and it is a joyous ride to follow the rise of the Hebrew, Christian and Muslim faiths in this story filled with solid historical and archaeological information. The careful student of Scripture will find this novel a helpful and informative read while seeking to understand better the sacred texts that guide our lives, while also including an engaging narrative populated by interesting characters.

62. The Trial (Also read: Amerika) by Franz Kafka
: A man is put on trial for crimes of which he is unaware.
Analysis: Kafka’s novels were published after his death, so it is difficult to know exactly how he would have wrapped them up if he had been given the chance. The Trial is a wild, psychological ride that also addresses the arbitrary manner in which societal authorities can upend our lives. The ending is also an incredibly memorable and brave artistic achievement.

61. Beloved by Toni Morrison (Adult language, adult situations, graphic violence and intimate scenes)
: The children of a former slave in the United States confronts the ghost of a child killed by their mother when she was on the run to keep the child from living in slavery.
Analysis: Some controversy erupted about Beloved recently, as it is an incredibly graphic book that is difficult to read. Similarly, slavery in the United States was incredibly graphic institution that is difficult to imagine or conceptualize. Morrison offers a warm yet haunting ghost story to put the truth of slavery into our consciousnesses in an important effort that should be embraced by mature readers. I’m still trying to decide if I am mature enough to really understand it, but someday, I’d like to be.

Quincy’s List So Far:
61.         Beloved by Toni Morrison
62.         The Trial (Amerika) by Franz Kafka
63.         The Source (The Chesapeake) by James Michener
64.         The Princess Bride by William Golding
65.         All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
66.         The Power and the Glory (The Heart of the Matter, The Quiet American, The Tenth Man) by Graham Greene
67.         Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
68.         The Earthsea Cycle by Ursula K. Le Guin
69.         Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

70.         The Great Gatsby (Tender is the Night) by F. Scott Fitzgerald
71.         All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren
72.         True Grit (Also read: Norwood) by Charles Portis
73. A Canticle for Lebowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
74.         No Country for Old Men (Also read: The Road, Blood Meridian) by Cormac McCarthy
75.         A Morbid Taste for Bones (Also Read: All Brother Cadfael Mysteries) by Ellis Peters
76.         Right Ho, Jeeves! (Also Read: All Jeeves and Wooster and Mulliner Short Stories and Novels) By P.G. Wodehouse
77.         Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
78.         The Time Quintet by Madeline Le’Engle
79.         The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
80.         Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
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.

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