This is our eighth 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, Part 7. (The two intro paragraphs below are the same for each new addition to the list, but reviews will be new with each additional post).
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).
30. Phantastes (Also read: The Princess and the Goblin) by George MacDonald
Summary: Through an avenue of dreams, a man enters fairy land and undergoes adventures as he pursues a vision of his beloved.
Analysis: The book that had an immense influence on both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien provides plenty of fuel for the imagination, and a brilliant study of what truth and beauty are and what one should be willing to sacrifice to protect them. It’s not an easy read, but, with some annotations, well-worth your time and will linger with you, “sanctifying your imagination” as C.S. Lewis said.
29. The Fall (Also read: The Stranger, the Plague) by Albert Camus
Summary: A defense lawyer relates his experience of the darkness of life to a stranger.
Analysis: Camus is an absolute genius, but I want to be clear that in his works he is searching for an answer he cannot find. One of the most interesting anecdotes about Camus’ life is that he spent time in a village in France where during the German invasion during World War II it is estimated that every household was hiding at least one Jewish refugee. During a rally for Hitler put on by German soldiers, the residents of the town were completely silent until at the end of the rally, one of the village’s men shouted, “We have no king but Jesus.” I mention this story to help readers know that Camus is trying to reconcile in all of his books the reality of this kind of goodness and the kind of evil he saw in the Holocaust and World War II. The Fall, more than any other book, devastatingly reveals the broken, sinful nature of human beings. The key, in reading it, is to remember that even though all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God, we are also all justified freely by the blood of His Son, Jesus (Romans 3:23-24). I hope Camus came to know the justifying love of Jesus before his untimely death.
28. The World Doesn’t Require You (Also read: Insurrections) by Rion Amilcar Scott (Adult language and situations)
Summary: In the community of Cross River, established after the only successful slave revolt in mid-nineteenth century Maryland, characters struggle to find life, love and freedom as they conflict with fantastic and all too realistic spirits of the past and the future.
Analysis: Part-satire, part-fantasy, part-historical fiction, I believe Scott has provided a real work of genius in this 11-part short story collection, tied together with the location of Cross River, which becomes a character in its own right. The collection powerfully addresses the reality of racial identity in the United States, but only in the context of telling stories that will surprise and haunt you.
27. Far From the Madding Crowd (Also read: Tess of the Dubervilles, Under the Greenwood Tree) by Thomas Hardy
Summary: A common shepherd falls in love with a beautiful, proud heiress, and offers friendship to her through her trials as a wife and landowner.
Analysis: I have come to realize that my list contains a lot of fairly dark books, but I will note that my Thomas Hardy choice is the only one of his major books that can be fairly said to have a happy ending. Hardy has a cynical view of life, and his story reminds us that even in the idyllic countryside, the madding crowd finds its way to disrupt peace and love. But, with all that said, self-sacrifice, friendship, and goodness find a way to redeem the one who is willing to recognize and cherish these virtues.
26. The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder
Summary: The stories of characters who died suddenly in a bridge collapse in Peru are presented with the purpose of finding meaning in their tragic passings.
Analysis: I find this to be a beautiful and hopeful story that leads us to ask whether the events of life ultimately reveal a just and loving God, or not. Wilder doesn’t answer this question, but in offering a clear view of the beauties and intricacies of a human life, he provides, perhaps unknowingly, an answer. God is the one who has made the beauty around and inside each of us; it is too much of a miracle to be a production of chaos or caprice.
25. Huckleberry Finn (Also read: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Short Stories) by Mark Twain (Racial epithets are used in context of the times)
Summary: Ignorant, unwashed, insufficiently fed Huckleberry Finn lives free from the influence of parent or adult influences and shows that the pure in heart will see God as he acts to rescue an escaped slave and experiences other adventures on the Mississippi.
Analysis: The moral of this story reminds me of how G.K. Chesterton once said that the problem with humans is that “we have sinned and grown old.” Huckleberry Finn constantly does good and right things that he knows the adults around him have expressly condemned and prohibited, and the result is that readers are left wondering about the validity of society’s moral code. It’s no wonder the book has been controversial since the day it was published. But, it’s a joyous, funny, and exciting read that no booklover should overlook. Note: it is crucial to read Huckleberry Finn in context. I believe that the author and the protagonist view people of color as equals in humanity, but the language and descriptions use reflect the time of composition and the society Twain is critiquing, so discernment is needed on this end.
24. Watership Down (Also read: Stories from Watership Down) by Richard Adams
Summary: A small group of rabbits escape the destruction of their den in the English countryside and go on a journey to seek a new life, confronting perils and temptations along the way.
Analysis: A truly epic story featuring visions, prophecies, heroes, and courageous battles, Watership Down also finds time to teach us lessons about righteousness and about what being a good leader and a responsible follower look like. These rabbits are just as memorable and admirable a group of heroes as any found in English literature.
23. Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes
Summary: After reading accounts of the chivalry of the knights of old, a man of low nobility loses his mind (or does he?) and embarks on a quest to prove his love to a woman and loyalty to a country, accompanied a simple farmer as his squire.
Analysis: Don Quixote has a deserved place in the forefront of world literature, as it is both comedy and tragedy, social commentary and romantic fantasy, philosophical critique and a love letter to a bygone age. The characters of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are immortal in a way few other literary creations have achieved. Even four centuries later, it can make you laugh, cry and think in ways few other novels can. Its length and density is a challenge, but rewarding to all who make the effort to read it.
22. The Chosen (Also read: I Am the Clay, In the Beginning, My Name is Asher Lev) by Chaim Potuk
Summary: Two youths grow up in orthodox and ultra-orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn, New York, in the 1940’s-1950’s.
Analysis: I cannot adequately praise this novel without giving away the beautiful metaphor that undergirds its touching narrative, but suffice it to say that this story asks the question that defines most of human theology – where is God in suffering? It is a coming-of-age story, a story of fathers and sons, and one that I think about almost daily, and I believe has helped me to be a better person, follower of God and parent.
21. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (Adult language and situations)
Summary: Holden Caufield is a 17-year-old in California after the end of World War II confronting the advent of adulthood in a world where he stands out as different.
Analysis: I view Holden Caufield as an emblematic example of “the other” – someone who, whether from some sort of mental condition or his background or a combination of the two – just doesn’t fit into a world of people who are more neurotypical. I was surprised to discover that the basic image of the story – the Catcher in the Rye – is an image of who Holden wants Jesus to be, and it is an image that reflects who I believe Jesus truly is. I also love Holden’s discussion of Judas and the disciples; he may not be what we think of as a Christian, but I think Salinger shows us in this book the truth of Jesus’ saying that “no one will enter the kingdom of God unless they become like these little children.” Finally, Catcher in the Rye, at its core, is an ode to a world that is fading away, and I feel like that is a core reality of all human existence. The Garden of Eden we’ve known has disappeared and is now guarded by a flaming sword – let us mourn.
Quincy’s List So Far:
21. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
22. The Chosen (I Am the Clay, In the Beginning, My Name is Ashe Lev) by Chaim Potuk
23. Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes
24. Watership Down (Stories from Watership Down) by Richard Adams
25. Huckleberry Finn (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Short Stories) by Mark Twain
26. The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder
27. Far From the Madding Crowd (Tess of the Dubervilles, Under the Greenwood Tree) by Thomas Hardy
28. The World Doesn’t Require You (Insurrections) by Rion Amilcar Scott
29. The Fall (The Stranger, The Plague) by Albert Camus
30. Phantastes (The Princess and the Goblin) by George MacDonald
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.