Quincy Wheeler’s Top 100 Novels (Part 6: 50-41)

This is our sixth 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, Part 4 and Part 5. (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).

50.         Dracula by Bram Stoker (Violence)
Summary
: A group of adventurers hunt down a vampire menacing Transylvania.
Analysis: We are probably all familiar with the general outlines of the Dracula myth, but I’m here to tell you that the original novel is great fun and an excellent read. The story illuminates the seductive and infectious nature of evil while shining a light on the heroism inherent in resisting and confronting evil. Plus, it has a good guy named Quincy and you can’t go wrong with that!

49.         Treasure Island (Also read: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) by Robert Louis Stevenson
Summary
: A coming-of-age story follows a boy seeking buried treasure amidst conflicts between pirates and legitimate naval officers.
Analysis: Speaking of iconic stories that offer defining images of popular culture, there is not much in the way of sea-faring adventure stories to compare with Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale of buried treasure, secret maps, deserted islands, and pirates. To add to the high-spirited adventure of the tale, we also are presented some moral complexity in the character of Long John Silver and Jim’s growth in understanding both the merits and deficiencies of the legendary pirate. I recommend the Muppet adaptation of this story in film form, though Disney’s futuristic, space version also deserves a viewing.

48.         The Sound and the Fury (Also read: The Reivers) by William Faulkner (Adult language)
Summary
: Former Southern aristocrats face their fall in financial and social graces.
Analysis: I admire Faulkner’s attempt to present a “chickens come home to roost” story in a way that neither villainizes its protagonists nor sympathizes with them. His stream of consciousness form that takes place in a large portion of the novel will challenge a reader, but I found he pulled it off, enabling me to imagine the perspective and plight of someone with mental challenges I don’t face. The moral of the story is something akin to the one Jesus offers us when he describes the rich man who places his worth in his full barns and stocked storehouses – the wealth of this world is a fragile foundation for spiritual, mental, and moral health.

47.         Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (Adult language and intimate situations)
Summary
: An unnamed, Black man reflects on the social invisibility he has experience in his life in the United States due to the color of his skin.
Analysis: This story effectively incorporates styles from Dostoyevsky, to Faulkner, to Elliot, to create a unique voice for a character who presents the pressures and influences that constantly confront many Black men in America. Ellison does not offer a sermon here or a racial commentary – instead, he presents the tragedy and absurdity of being both denigrated and overlooked due to skin color through a compelling narrative.

46.         Little Women (Also read: Little Men and Jo’s Boys) by Louisa May Alcott
Summary
: Four sisters grow up and experience love and loss during the end of the Civil War in the United States.
Analysis: The vivid personalities and heartwarming adventures of the March girls have been indelibly etched on my psyche from the day I first opened Little Women as a pre-teen. Their story is a page-turning read while at the same time offering readers inspiration to pursue compassion, creativity, loyalty and individuality. If you haven’t read Little Women and its sequels, I don’t see why you shouldn’t put down whatever book you are reading and correct this egregious gap in your reading.

45.         All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Summary
: A blind, French girl and an orphaned German boy attempt to find their respective futures during World War II, all while a mysterious stone with reported powers to prolong life hangs in the balance.
Analysis: A affective story that provides a clear picture of the glories in humanity that are destroyed by war. The characters both inspired me and broke my heart, making me want to be a better human being. It is in reading novels like this that I am reminded why God chose human beings as the bearers of His image – with all our flaws, we are also endowed with the most potential to create true beauty. My sisters and mom are getting on me about my list being full of too many sad books, but I find it hard to believe that someone could read this book and not feel hopeful about humanity, even in the middle of all our messiness.

44.         The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (Also read: Al other mystery novels and short stories) by Agatha Christie
Summary
: A doctor guides us through his personal narrative of Detective Hercule Poirot’s attempts to discover who murdered a certain, distinguished British gentleman.
Analysis: I don’t want to spoil what is the tremendous twist of this novel, but, instead, I want to expound about how tremendous a writer Agatha Christie is. There is not a better mystery writer to be found, save for perhaps one author just ahead of her on this list. Christie’s plots are intricate and innovative. Her characters are memorable and poignant. And, when it is all said and done, Poirot’s motto of “I do not approve of murder” guides the ethos of her tales, which is an extremely pro-life message when it’s all said and done. Don’t take the life of another – or God will surely see and exact vengeance in one form or another. A special shoutout here to my mom who taught me to love mysteries!

43.         The Nine Tailors (Also read: All other mystery novels and short stories) by Dorothy Sayers
Summary
: A British Lord helps to unravel a mystery involving the death of an unknown man found in the grave of knighted British gentleman’s deceased spouse.
Analysis: Lord Peter Whimsy may be the most nuanced character presented as a mystery protagonist in all of literature. The plot of The Nine Tailors is so well-crafted and the mystery so perfectly hidden within its untangling that I remember giving a small gasp when the ending unfolded. Sayers is a delightful writer and her mysteries are well-worth the time, always containing reminders of the need for empathy and for redemption in any human interaction.

42.         Descent into Hell (Also read: War in Heaven) by Charles Williams (Frightening scenes)
Summary
: A theological thriller, Pauline Anstruther confronts her doppelganger as two men in her life provide her support emerging from dramatically different motives.
Analysis: A member of a group of 20th Century British authors known as the Inklings, along with Tolkien and Lewis (and, from a distance, Sayers), Williams has his problematic issues as an author, having been revealed in his personal life as being involved in the occult. However, in this book, I believe he does an excellent job of identifying true love from a Gospel-sense and how that love can dispel any demon. I will never forget this novel’s portrayal of the need to “bear one another’s burdens in Christ” (Galatians 6:2), a portrayal which I believe rings true to the call of Christ on the life of every believer. As with any author or artist, it is important to recognize that truth and beauty can be recognized and conveyed by people with tremendous flaws.

41.         Pride and Prejudice (Also read: Sense and Sensibility, Emma) by Jane Austen
Summary
: A young woman of little means and a man of immense means cross paths and personalities in a tale of romance that offers satirical commentary on early-19th century British society.
Analysis: In my mind, Pride and Prejudice is the premier romance novel. In the term, I don’t mean the sappy Amish kind, or the erotic kind, but a good, solid love-story that shows how opposites attract, and how wildly different human beings living in a crazy world can find in a mutual embrace a joy and happiness that is unparalleled in human experience. Love, according to Austen and according to Scripture, isn’t easy or self-indulgent… it is, as G.K. Chesterton once said, “a duel to the death which no man of honor should decline” (duel, in this sense, not meaning a violent conflict, but a mixture of love and struggle with life). The novel’s humor is also one of its highly underrated features, in my humble opinion, and Austen offers pointed critiques of her society and its issues along with her stories.

Quincy’s List So Far:
41.         Pride and Prejudice (Sense and Sensibility, Emma) by Jane Austen
42.         Descent into Hell (War in Heaven) by Charles Williams
43.         The Nine Tailors (All other mystery novels and short stories) by Dorothy Sayers
44.         The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (All other mystery novels and short stories) by Agatha Christie
45.         All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
46.         Little Women (Also read: Little Men and Jo’s Boys) by Louisa May Alcott
47.         Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
48.         The Sound and the Fury (Also read: The Reivers) by William Faulkner
49.         Treasure Island (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) by Robert Louis Stevenson
50.         Dracula by Bram Stoker
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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