This is our ninth 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, Part 8. (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).
20. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery (Also read: All of the Anne Shirley Series The Story Girl, the Golden Road, Kilmeny of the Orchard, Emily of the New Moon, Pat of Silver Bush, The Blue Castle, Jane of Lantern Hill)
Summary: A red-headed, orphan girl is mistakenly brought to a farm in a small town in Prince Edward Island and ends up staying to help an aging brother and sister.
Analysis: The delight of discovering the character of Anne Shirley, as well as Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, Rachel Lynde, Gilbert Blythe and so many others has been criminally underrated by many literature experts. Montgomery provides a vivid glimpse into the lives of good people who work hard and love each other in small towns all over the world. The novel doesn’t shy away from asking deep questions of life, but it’s also not concerned with solving the political and ethical challenges of the day. Anne’s story is one of laughter, joy, grief and wide-eyed wonder, and I never fail to enjoy re-reading it.
19. If Beale Street Could Talk (Also read: Go Tell it on the Mountain) by James Baldwin (Adult language and situations)
Summary: A young, African-American couple in Brooklyn set roughly in the 1960’s-1970’s attempts to preserve their relationship and protect their family amidst the challenges posed to them by racist structures within their society.
Analysis: Perhaps a good pairing with Anne of Green Gables, Baldwin presents to us a couple who is just as deserving of our affection and admiration, who are not given the path to a happy ending. Yet, in their trials they demonstrate the inherent value of their humanity and the strength of their character which no unjust societal structure can mar. This is a beautiful story that moved me to tears and challenged me to seek to hear more stories from those whose lives of desperate hope are too often forgotten.
18. Angle of Repose (Also read: The Spectator Bird, Crossing to Safety) by Wallace Stegner
Summary: A wheelchair-bound U.S. historian struggles with conflicts within his immediate family while researching the lives of his frontier-era grandparents.
Analysis: This novel is an ambitious combination of real history and fictional narrative that will stick with you for a long time after you finish it. The geological metaphor that exists at the heart of its title is subtly woven within the fabric of the tale. Reading it will leave you longing for your own place of respite and peace and wondering how the decisions we make in this life further or detract from that vision.
17. Gilead (Also read: Housekeeping, Lila, Home, Jack) by Marilynne Robinson
Summary: An Iowan Presbyterian minister with a fatal heart condition reflects on his life, while caring for both a wayward adult son and a 7 year-old son from his second marriage.
Analysis: And now begins a portion of the list which includes the three greatest living authors of 2022, in my humble opinion – Robinson, Ishiguro and Munro. I’m surprised (and disappointed) that every Christian bookstore doesn’t stock copies of Gilead as well as the other novels from Robinson, whose faith is prominent and deftly woven into all her stories. This is story is heart-warming and yet unsettling in all the right ways, leaving us to wonder if God’s grace is enough, and whether faith and doubt co-exist in a place where Jesus will inevitably find us. I think of the Savior who responded in love when He heard a father cry out, “I believe; help me in my unbelief,” when I read this gorgeous novel.
16. Remains of the Day (Also read: Buried Giant, Never Let Me Go, Klara and the Sun) by Kazuo Ishiguro
Summary: A butler from 1920’s-1930’s England reflects on his experience in loyal service at Darlington Hall with a colleague.
Analysis: I want to note that everyone should read the four books I list here from Ishiguro, because all are excellent, and each person may choose a different book as their favorite. My preference continues to be Remains of the Day, which perfectly achieves a happy-sad feeling that I think is incredibly difficult to evoke artificially (i.e. not arising from just living life). The novel asks a lot of great questions about sacrifice, honesty, meaning, and courage, all while presenting a simple man just trying to have a life of significance of love. I will also note that the specter of human selfishness weaponized in the name of progress is a repeated theme in Ishiguro books, and one that is well-worth our careful reflection.
15. Everything that Rises Must Converge (Also read: The Violent Bear it Away, All other Short Story Collections) by Flannery O’Connor
Summary: A collection of short-stories dealing with the shocking appearance of grace among the violence and sin of human experience in the American South.
Analysis: Kurt Vonnegut wrote an essay where he described the rules for telling a good short story, and then noted that Flannery O’Connor breaks all the rules and still writes better short stories than almost anyone. O’Connor’s feisty southern voice is willing to cross lines and upset all kinds of literary apple carts, all the while presenting the grace of God breaking into the messiness of all kinds of human experiences. Get ready for a wild ride when you pick up an O’Connor book!
14. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas
Summary: Falsely imprisoned for treason, Edmund Dantes escapes and begins a quest to wreck vengeance on those who wronged him.
Analysis: This book is an epic in the true sense of the word, and a joy for any reader. The story you get here is equal parts Batman, Dickens, and Robin Hood, and will keep you on the edge of your seat. I can’t wait to read this story to our boys, and I can’t give a book much higher of a compliment than that.
13. Too Much Happiness (Also read: All other collections of Short Stories) by Alice Munro
Summary: A short story collection comprised of first-person narratives of individuals dealing with the trauma and surprising endurance of hope in life.
Analysis: If you’ve never read a Munro short-story collection, I find it hard to believe that your life will not be richer for the experience. She is able to somehow evoke thoughts and feelings about life that you’ve always had but never recognized with every sleight stroke of pen, to turn a phrase. You could really choose any of her collections, but this one has stuck with me daily since I read it. She is our greatest living author in my humble estimation.
12. Anna Karenina (Also read: War and Peace, The Death of Ivan Illych) by Leo Tolstoy
Summary: A sprawling narrative showing faith, family, betrayal, and fidelity in metropolitan and rural scenes of late 19th century Russia.
Analysis: Tolstoy is a genius, of course, and he navigates his way through questions of happiness, depression, faith, and selfishness effortlessly in this classic novel. The story is about far, far more than an adulterous affair, and I love the contrast Tolstoy is able to draw between the quick and ephemeral reward of self-gratification and the lasting, sturdy foundation built by a life of self-sacrifice and love.
11. A Christmas Carol (Also read: David Copperfield, Great Expectations, The Old Curiosity Shop, Nicholas Nickleby, Hard Times, A Tale of Two Cities) by Charles Dickens
Summary: The miser Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by four ghosts who plead with him to embrace the true spirit of Christmas.
Analysis: I love Dickens and debated choosing any one of the many classics he has penned, but I came to conclusion that his best is his enduring tale of the redemption of a covetous, clutching, old sinner. It should be noted that Dickens’ novels are not especially race-sensitive (sometimes offensive caricatures of Jews and people of African descent), but the heart of what is good about his work is reflected here – a belief in the goodness that can be found in humanity when our hearts turn towards the love of those around us, especially those less fortunate. The story of Christmas is one of the Son of God who though he was rich became poor for our sakes, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians, and Dickens recognizes this message as the core one of Christmas in this legendary novella.
Quincy’s List So Far:
11. A Christmas Carol (David Copperfield, Great Expectations, The Old Curiosity Shop, Nicholas Nickleby, Hard Times, A Tale of Two Cities) by Charles Dickens
12. Anna Karenina (War and Peace, The Death of Ivan Illych) by Leo Tolstoy
13. Too Much Happiness (All other collections of Short Stories) by Alice Munro
14. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas
15. Everything that Rises Must Converge (The Violent Bear it Away, All other Short Story Collections) by Flannery O’Connor
16. Remains of the Day (Buried Giant, Never Let Me Go, Klara and the Sun) by Kazuo Ishiguro
17. Gilead (Housekeeping, Lila, Home, Jack) by Marilynne Robinson
18. Angle of Repose (The Spectator Bird, Crossing to Safety) by Wallace Stegner
19. If Beale Steet Could Talk (Go Tell it on the Mountain) by James Baldwin
20. Anne of Green Gables Series by Lucy Maud Montgomery (Also read: The Story Girl, the Golden Road, Kilmeny of the Orchard, Emily of the New Moon, Pat of Silver Bush, The Blue Castle, Jane of Lantern Hill)
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.