Quincy Wheeler’s Top 100 Novels (Part 5: 60-51)

This is our fifth 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, Part 3 and Part 4. (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).

60.         Nickel Boys (Also read: The Underground Railroad) by Colson Whitehead (Adult situations, violence, and graphic descriptions of abuse)
Inspired by a true story, a Black protagonist navigate life in a boys’ school in Florida in the Jim Crow era and life following his time there, having experienced tremendous trauma and racial violence.
Analysis: In following the experiences of Elwood Curtis and Jack Turner, readers are invited to consider whether we are doomed to a world guided by genocide, racism and violence, or if we can work together to make the world a better place if we don’t give up. There are no easy answers given, which is like life. As Christians, we pray “Your kingdom come” but what are we willing to sacrifice and for whom are we willing to stand up to bring that actual kingdom to fruition? Nickel Boys encourages us to ask these questions in a gripping tale.

59.         God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (Also read: Slaughterhouse 5, Cat’s Cradle, Short Stories, Player Piano, Breakfast of Champions) by Kurt Vonnegut (Adult language)
The heir of a wealthy U.S. senator with a social conscience confronts the forces of greed in American society.
Analysis: If you’ve never read Vonnegut, be aware that he has no regard for literary conventions. He can be humorous, dark, sarcastic, whimsical, warm, and cynical all at the same time, and he is in this novel. I love all Vonnegut works, but God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater is the most moving of his corpus to me. Vonnegut asks the question of whether love can defeat the desire for wealth and personal gain woven into the fabric of the United States and invites readers to consider the implications of their answer for themselves, all while delighting with memorable characters and a rollicking plot. I always say Vonnegut was not a Christian, but he understands Jesus a lot better than many Christian writers. I recommend many of his other books if you want to be challenged on the issue of pacifism and war.

58.         Life of Pi by Yann Martel
A teenage boy from India who loves multiple world religions is stranded on a lifeboat with a tiger.
Analysis: Life of Pi is just a joyous read, every page a new surprise, and every development an opportunity to stop in wonder at the world in which we live. I will note that I do not share the polytheistic approach of the novel’s protagonist, but I do believe that there is immense value for the Christian in learning to appreciate the beauty and, yes, truth that can be found in other world religions. If we are to share of the fullness of truth and beauty found only in relationship with Jesus, it is helpful to see how fragments of that image have been reflected in other religions and culture. Filled with self-deprecating humor and surprising twists, this is a gorgeous story that rewards careful reading.

57.         Quo Vadis (Also read: Fire in the Steppe, the Deluge, With Fire and Sword) by Henryk Sienkiewicz
A romance between a Roman nobleman and a barbarian slave unfolds before the backdrop of Nero’s persecutions of the early Christians.
Analysis: Sienkiewicz is an absolute master of the historical fiction form, and I believe Quo Vadis to be his seminal work. I also love his Polish Trilogy, but I find Quo Vadis to be more accessible and more moving for the Christian. Unlike many Christian authors who look at the history of our faith in fiction, Sienkiewicz isn’t interested in hagiography, but in grappling with the real-life struggles and passions of the people whose faithfulness brought the message of Christ to us. This is the kind of novel that makes you want to love Jesus better, and you can’t give a much higher compliment than that.

56.         The Moviegoer (Also read: The Last Gentleman, The Second Coming) by Walker Percy
A man living in the south of the United States struggles to connect with people while finding joy and vitality in watching movies.
Analysis: Pearcy invites readers into the classic dilemma of whether the unexamined life is worth living, but with a twist – can you be devoted to understanding the meaning of life while being disconnected from the people around you who are living that life? How does art interfere with or, conversely, assist in living, loving, and finding meaning? These are questions you can read about in a philosophy book, or, as I prefer, you can find an interesting story with a fascinating protagonist with this one to help show you the way to think through these kinds of questions.

55.         Fahrenheit 451 (Also read: Something Wicked This Way Comes) by Ray Bradbury
In a dystopian future society, a man charged with burning books becomes dedicated to preserving them.
Analysis: Fahrenheit 451 is a story that has aged well, as we enter into an age of digital media where the value of the printed word is diminished. As Christians, the importance of God revealing Himself through physical, printed words is hard not to think about as we imagine with Bradbury a future where humanity reading and remembering their memories, dreams, thoughts, ambitions and questions is considered dangerous.

54.         The Scarlet Letter (Also read: Blithedale Romance) by Nathaniel Hawthorne
A story of one woman’s rejection by her society because of a forbidden romance with a guardian of that society’s moral standards.
Analysis: The Scarlet Letter is one of those books that was so widely read and assigned that our appreciation of it has become fatigued as a result. In the book, Hawthorne examines the influence of shame, denial, legalism and populism that have been strong undercurrents in American society since that society’s inception. Freedom and life come from living in the truth and standing up for those who have been marginalized by the world around us. That sounds like a big part of the message of Jesus.

53.         I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream (Also read: The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World, Strange Wine) by Harlan Ellison (Adult situations, adult language, graphic violence)
A collection of science-fiction (and horror?) stories, including the title story in which a master-computer tortures humans.
Analysis: Ellison is a genius and has an endlessly creative mind that he turns to realms both fantastical and futuristic. A key feature of most science-fiction and fantasy (and some horror) is that the stories stare unblinkingly at the biggest questions in life – humanity’s purpose, love, death, the value of existence, ethics of things like artificial intelligence and genetic engineering, utopianism, and so much more. Ellison is uniquely able to put vivid characters in outlandish environments and make the philosophical quandaries of our existence come home in an intensely personal fashion, all while you eagerly turn the page to see how his stories will end.

52.         The Sign of the Four (Also read: All Sherlock Holmes stories and novels) by Arthur Conan Doyle
Detective Sherlock Holmes and his companion and chronicler Dr. John Watson attempt to solve mysteries surrounding the disappearance of the father of a female client.
Analysis: I’ve reached the point in my list where I am starting to run into some of my first loves. I have a photo of my mom and myself dressed as Sherlock Holmes and Watson for a Bible Quiz Meet when I was 11 (thank you for wearing a mustache, mom!). I just adored the mystery in these books, and in his stories, and the unforgettable personality of Sherlock Holmes as he swept through my imagination. The plots hold up, Doyle’s willingness to allow Holmes to be human and vulnerable holds up (this aspect is especially seen in the Sign of the Four), and the simple triumph of right over wrong will never fail to thrill me as a reader.

51.         Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
An allegorical tale chronicling the journey of a Christian through his earthly life to his heavenly home.
Analysis: Now, if we could count Bunyan’s hymn “To Be a Pilgrim” as a novel, it would definitely make this list, but, as it stands, his story of the journey of Christian through life while confronting the snares and temptations common to every human being stands the test of time. This book is notable not only for providing an engaging adventure but also being an inspiration for believers in Jesus for hundreds of years, encouraging them that, as in the words of the apostle Paul, “not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we faint not” (Galatians 6:9). (Note: get an annotated version in Modern English, make it a little easier on yourself).

Quincy’s List So Far:
51.         Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
52.         The Sign of the Four (All Sherlock Holmes Stories and novels) by Arthur Conan Doyle
53.         I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream (The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World, Strange Wine) by Harlan Ellison
54.         The Scarlet Letter (Blithedale Romance) by Nathaniel Hawthorne
55.         Fahrenheit 451 (Something Wicked This Way Comes) by Ray Bradbury
56.         The Moviegoer (The Last Gentleman, The Second Coming) by Walker Percy
57.         Quo Vadis (Fire in the Steppe, the Deluge, With Fire and Sword) by Henryk Sienkiewicz
58.         Life of Pi by Yann Martel
59.         God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (Slaughterhouse 5, Cat’s Cradle, Short Stories, Player Piano, Breakfast of Champions) by Kurt Vonnegut
60.         Nickel Boys (The Underground Railroad) by Colson Whitehead
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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