Quincy Wheeler’s Top 100 Novels (Part 7: 40-31)

This is our seventh 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, Part 5, Part 6. (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).

40.         And the Mountains Echoed (Also read: A Thousand Splendid Suns, Kite-Runner) by Khaled Hosseini (Adult language)
Summary
: Part fable, part short-story collection, and part novel, And the Mountains Echoed follows the choices of parents and children of Afghanistan looking to love and care for each other in the midst of swirling changes among its war-torn people.
Analysis: I cannot recommend highly enough reading Hosseini novels. He knows how to tell a gripping story, and provides a voice for a people who are not commonly seen as protagonists by Western cultures. In this book, you will learn empathy for the people of Afghanistan, a greater understanding of the religion of Islam, and feel a call to be a more compassionate human being and, if applicable, parent in your context.

39.         The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Summary
: A young man serving as an artist’s muse becomes infatuated with pursuing pleasure, selling his soul to achieve an immortality of immorality.
Analysis: I think you could fairly call the Picture of Dorian Gray a horror story, but one written so cleverly that the horror slowly seeps into your subconsciousness until finally revealing itself in the drop of a painter’s cloth at the end of the narrative. Wilde certainly has something to say about sin, redemption, pleasure and pain… he doesn’t have the answers, but, in several spots, he points his readers to where the answers might be found… in a God who says, “Come, let us reason together, though your sins be like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18).

38.         The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (Sexual situations, although not graphically depicted)
Summary
: A dizzying tale of Soviet politics in the 1930’s, Pontius Pilate, Jesus, and the adventures of Satan manipulating the cowardice and selfishness of human beings wrapped up in social satire.
Analysis: Bulgakov was unable to publish his book during his lifetime, and it was only published 25 years after his death as a censored version in the Soviet empire. The story is wildly entertaining and provides vivid characterizations of Satan, Pilate and Jesus that are of interest to believers looking to see how all three figures were viewed at the beginning of the post-modernist movement within a Communist nation-state. We are left to wonder about the proper response to evil, and whether non-violent resistance and faithfulness to good is enough to combat the devil’s devotion to catering to the worst impulses of humanity.

37.         War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
Summary
: Humans attempt to survive and combat an invasion of extra-terrestrials that desire to take over the world at the turn of the 20th century.
Analysis: I would argue that War of the Worlds is likely the defining work of science fiction, which, aside from being a fun ride, offers its readers a chance to reflect on the consequences of imperialism by certain human nations against other human tribes and nations. A theme emerges that the world itself is designed in such a way that it will ultimately reject all attempts to misuse and abuse its inhabitants and resources; perhaps a useful reminder to the residents of a planet currently in the midst of a crisis of man-influenced climate change. Though Wells would not have articulated it quite this way, I will state that I believe Scripture shows us a God who is not absent when we stewards of this planet abdicate and exploit our role in caring for the earth, but will always cast down the proud and lift up the humble in the end.

36.         Nineteen Eighty-Four (Also read: Animal Farm) by George Orwell (Adult language and situations)
Summary
: An ordinary citizen begins to dream of and pursue an existence forbidden by the totalitarian state in which he lives.
Analysis: The quintessential sci-fi novel is followed here by the quintessential dystopian novel, Orwell’s attempt to warn humanity of the dangers of totalitarianism and societal oppression. Unfortunately, this book has often been offered as a capitalist tract, when Orwell, himself, was a democratic socialist. Personally, I don’t find any system of government or economics endorsed in Scripture, but I do find clear themes speaking for “obeying God rather than men” (Acts 4) and government existing to “do you good” (Romans 13). Christians from all sides of the political aisle should be vigilant against putting government in the place of God, conscience, or our mutual obligation to care for and love each other, and I think Nineteen Eighty-Four gives an excellent account of why this vigilance is needed.

35.         We Cast a Shadow by Carlos Maurice Ruffin (Adult language and situations)
Summary
: In a sort of black-mirror-type society reflective of our own, a father seeks to establish himself and his family as a unit distinct from the perceptions given off by the color of their skin.
Analysis: I was astounded by this novel, which has yet to receive adequate attention (doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page!) but evokes the race-consciousness of Ralph Ellison, the frenzied psycho-thriller nature of Franz Kafka and the satirical buoyancy of Kurt Vonnegut all at once. And, while the actual story is a great read, the meta-narrative that reminds us we live in a world that is only a certain unspecified number of steps away from the one portrayed in the novel may be even more impacting on a reader.

34.         Empire Falls (Also read: Bridge of Sighs) by Richard Russo (Adult language)
Summary
: A divorced, middle-aged manager of a small restaurant in Maine comes to grips with skeletons in his family closet and specters of a dying age of American aristocracy while trying to be an honorable man and a caring father to his only daughter.
Analysis: I’m not sure there is a better American writer alive today than Russo whose works manage to be hopeful while providing cutting analysis in story-form of the societal changes and family dynamic shifts that have defined the last three decades or so of American life. I appreciate having a protagonist who, while certainly not perfect, is worth rooting for and opposed by personalities I don’t have to squint too hard from recognizing in the world in which I live. I hope, when it is all said and done, people think of me as a good husband, a good dad, and a good worker – that is enough to make a good life.

33.         The Sun Also Rises (Also read: The Old Man and the Sea, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Farewell to Arms, Short Stories) by Ernest Hemingway
Summary
: An expatriate American journalist in Spain reckons with the post-World War I world amidst trials of love, loss and personal endurance.
Analysis: Hemingway is a necessary read, in my opinion, because of his unique ability to provide plot, characterization and emotion with the least amount of description possible. I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered a writer who feels more “manly” for lack of a better term… and yet, at the same time, one is led to wonder if masculinity, in the end, is worthy of admiration in reading his works. The background of this novel also leaves one to wonder about the countless untold costs of war that soldiers and those who love soldiers pay, in one way or another.

32.         The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
Summary
: The adventures of Rat, Mole and Toad in a world of natural wonders and modernistic intrusions.
Analysis: Grahame’s book is always an enjoyable read, filled with reminders to sit back and appreciate the beauties of the world in which we live, and lively characterizations of memorable heroes and dastardly villains who, when it comes down to it, end up teaching our heroes lessons to take time to appreciate the joys of life, home and friendship. I will note that Grahame was essentially a pantheist, so it’s important, in my opinion, not to read much into his work in the way of religious themes.

31.         Heart of Darkness (Also read: Victory, Lord Jim) by Joseph Conrad
Summary
: A river ferry-boat captain in Africa confronts an ivory trader who has used his position and power to exploit and abuse the inhabitants of the rivers’ shores.
Analysis: There is some controversy about how to view Heart of Darkness; one could view it as a tone-deaf portrayal of an-exception-to the rule-European sinking to some perceived animal level while lost in the jungles of Africa or one could view it as a stark indictment of the failure of imperialism to produce anything of value among the peoples of Africa or around the world. Given Conrad’s background as an oppressed Polish person, I fall on the side of the latter interpretation, which makes this novel an extremely effective look at the downfall of pride and greed when human beings look to enforce their will and their desires on other human beings and fail to recognize their existences as equal in value to their own.

Quincy’s List So Far:
31.         Heart of Darkness (Victory, Lord Jim) by Joseph Conrad
32.         The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
33.         The Sun Also Rises (The Old Man and the Sea, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Farewell to Arms, Short Stories) by Ernest Hemingway
34.         Empire Falls (Bridge of Sighs) by Richard Russo
35.         We Cast a Shadow by Carlos Maurice Ruffin
36.         1984 (Animal Farm) by George Orwell
37.         War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
38.         The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov
39.         The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
40.         And the Mountains Echoed (A Thousand Splendid Suns, Kite-Runner) by Khaled Hosseini
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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