Quincy Wheeler’s Top 100 Novels (Part 10: 10-1)

A HUGE thank you to Quincy for the time and effort of creating this list, I have greatly benefited from your work. I can’t wait for long conversations about this list in the future.

This is our tenth 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, Part 9. (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).

10. Cry, the Beloved Country (Also read: Too Late the Phalathrope) by Alan Paton
Summary
: In the pre-apartheid 1940’s, A black South African pastor travels from his rural home to the city to find his lost son, there confronting the murder of a prominent white South African’s son.
Analysis: In one sentence, my opinion on this book can be expressed as, “Believe the hype.” Cry, the Beloved Country is an emotional and gripping tale of fathers and sons, of a people divided, of rural and city, poor and rich, and love and loss. Paton doesn’t offer easy answers or create convenient villains when it comes to the problems of colonialism, racism, traditionalism and modernization. Instead, he invites us to recognize the real people whose lives are at stake when humans struggle to figure out how to love each other in such a way that fullness of life is possible.

9. Manalive (Also read: The Man Who Was Thursday, The Club of Queer Trades, Father Brown Mysteries, the Paradoxes of Mr. Pond, The Ball and the Cross, Napoleon of Notting Hill) by G.K. Chesterton
Summary
: A man who is fanatically committed to appreciating life fully, with all of its joys, loves and goodness, is accused of burglary, desertion of a spouse, polygamy and attempted murder
Analysis: Chesterton is an absolute genius at presenting ancient truths in new ways, and turning the sinful ways of the world on their heads to show you the path to find the holy ways of God that can redeem the human race. Manalive is the creed of Chesterton’s life which is well expressed in the following poem: “Here dies another day / During which I have had eyes, ears, hands /And the great world round me; / And with tomorrow begins another. / Why am I allowed two?” Also, another quote from a Chesterton novel: “Being good is an adventure far more violent and daring than sailing around the world?” Every time I read Manalive I laugh, I cry, and I long to be a better husband, father, and person, and you can’t ask much more from a novel than that.

8. The First Circle (Also read: Cancer Ward, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich) by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Summary: Middle-class society political prisoners in Stalin-era Soviet Union navigate conflicts of conscience while fulfilling duties to the state.
Analysis: Solzhenitsyn’s works are the epitome of the expression “triumph of the human spirit.” He is willing to show readers the worst of the cruelty that human beings are capable of in the Soviet Union’s brutally oppressive techniques and he is effective at showing how ordinary people committed to faith, self-sacrifice and love create a goodness that no evil designed by humanity can overcome. Nowhere are Solzhenitsyn’s talents as a writer more clearly seen than in this semi-autobiographical work. Books like this are also particularly poignant as we confront a newly aggressive communist regime in Russia led by Putin; Solzhenitsyn offers a useful guide to us and empathy for the Russian people who have endured so much in their history. Also, there is a scene with a cartoon cat on a paper cup in this novel that devastated me. And, I don’t know if I can offer a better tease to wade into a long, Russian novel than that!

7. Jubilee by Margaret Walker
Summary
: A work of historical fiction focused on Vyry Brown, an American slave-woman fathered by her mother’s slaveowner, who lives through the Civil War and Reconstruction while trying to establish a future for herself and her family.
Analysis: I am probably the world’s foremost proponent of this book, which I think encapsulates the character, strength, and admirability of the uniquely American experience and faith of Black Americans like the novel’s protagonist. The novel doesn’t offer easy answers to the problems of hate, prejudice and violence in our world, but it points us to the only hope for any human being – radical love and transformative forgiveness. The story is engrossing, the characters linger in your mind, and like most of my favorite books, it made me cry and commit to being a better person.

6. Till We Have Faces (Also read: Screwtape Letters, Chronicles of Narnia, The Great Divorce, The Space Trilogy, Pilgrim’s Regress) by C.S. Lewis
Summary
: A re-telling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche from the perspective of Orual, sister of Psyche, in a fictive version of Ancient Greece.
Analysis: I love C.S. Lewis in all things, but I think Till We Have Face is by far his most mature work of fiction. In it, he deals with love, loss, being an outsider, faith, doubt and all through the lens of one of the oldest myths in human history – the god who falls in love with a human. The result is a daring effort to bring the story of the Divine Pursuit of Humans into a different cultural context than the one familiar to us within the pages of the Bible, and I adore the result. It’s impossible for me to read lines like “Are not the gods just? Oh no, child, what would become of us if they were?” Or, “I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?” without choking up as tears come to my eyes. This book shows definitively that Lewis did not lose faith late in life – instead, his love and devotion to Jesus grew as he entered eternity.

5. Grapes of Wrath (Also read: East of Eden, Of Mice and Men, Winter of Our Discontent) by John Steinbeck
Summary
: During the Great Depression in the U.S., the Joad family leaves Oklahoma for California.
Analysis: I’m not sure there’s a better writer in the English language that John Steinbeck. He never seems to choose a wrong word, and his plots and characters are exquisitely developed and put in place. The story of the Joads is one of people on the other side of progress… when human ambition and sheer grit just are not enough to secure life, security and happiness. My good friend, now with the Lord, Ron Cramer marked this book as his favorite novel, and I have grown to appreciate it more and more with the passing years, as I learn how crucial it is that we care for each other and believe that the only hope for our world is that we learn how to put aside our selfishness to think of the common good (a message the early church was clear about communicating, incidentally).

4. To Kill a Mockingbird (Also read: Go Set a Watchman) by Harper Lee
Summary
: Scout, a pre-teen daughter of a widower lawyer and sister to his only other child, a son, confronts the prejudices and perspectives of the residents of her small Alabama town.
Analysis: To begin with, I want to acknowledge that To Kill a Mockingbird is written from a white person’s perspective, so it is sometimes viewed as a novel that presents a white savior, Atticus Finch, here to save the black man. But, I believe this is a wrong viewing of the novel (further backed up by its sequel which showed the perspectives of Atticus that were racially off-base), as Atticus, despite his best efforts, is, ultimately, unable to save the Black man falsely-accused from paying the terrible price of racism’s evils. At its heart, this timeless story is about learning to climb inside someone else’s shoes and walk around in them. This book has influenced who I am as a person who follows Jesus and attempts to make good, ethical choices every day of my life since I first read it. I will also note that Harper Lee is a writing genius whose prose seems almost musical every time I read it.

3. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
Summary
: An escaped prisoner is redeemed from a life of crime by a priest and proceeds to share that redemptive love with others during the French Revolution.
Analysis: I love how Hugo noted that in this book he set out to create the priest he wished truly existed. I hope I can be the kind of spiritual leader that the Bishop of Digne is, as it is his astonishing love that saves Jean-Valjean and sets him on a path to redeem and save others. I will note that Hugo is not afraid to take detours into chapters worth of description of the Parisian sewer system and wars the world has forgotten. These detours do not, ultimately, detract from an entrancing, sprawling tale that shows both the best and worst of humanity and will have you on the edge of your seat at many moments. I’m not even much of a fan of the musical, but the novel is one of the greatest artistic achievements in human history.

2. The Brothers Karamazov (Also read: Notes from a Dead House, Short Stories, Demons, The Idiot, The Gambler, The Adolescent, The Double) by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Summary
: Three brothers deal with the escapades and untimely death of the family patriarch in 19th century Russia.
Analysis: Dostoyevsky is almost unequaled in his ability to be funny, profound, provocative and touching, and nowhere is it more clearly seen than in his seminal work, the Brother’s Karamazov. Readers will likely find echoes of their own personalities in one of the brothers, Alyosha, Ivan or Dimitri, as well as the numerous other characters, both male and female, who flash in bright colors across the pages of the novel. The Grand Inquisitor chapter is without a doubt the best examination of the concepts of free will and love ever written, and it is just a chapter within a long story that includes comedy, mystery and philosophy. I love Russian literature, but the Brother’s Karamazov is one of the few Russian novels I have re-read several times. Sheer genius that will make you a better person for spending the time to read it. Most importantly, the book reveals life-changing truth about Jesus.

1. The Lord of the Rings (Also read: Silmarillion, Morgoth’s Ring, Beren and Luthien, Children of Hurin, Fall of Gondolin, Unfinished Tales) by J.R.R. Tolkien
Summary
: In an imagined pre-history of earth, men, elves, dwarves and hobbits join forces to defeat the fallen angel, dark Lord Sauron who has poured his will to dominate all life into a magic ring.
Analysis: For those who know me well, it is likely no surprise that the Lord of the Rings tops this list, as it’s the only novel about which I co-host a monthly podcast. Before I gush about it, first, a preface:
Something that has come to the forefront lately because of the casting of the upcoming Amazon show is the Lord of the Rings’ attitudes toward race. Tolkien wrote an English myth, and he did so from the perspective of an Englishman who grew up in the early 20th century. There are definitely some problematic physical descriptions of some characters. But, we do know from Tolkien’s letters and other writings that he abhorred racism and I am confident that were he alive today, he would be thrilled to see people of all races and ethnicities embracing and updating his work, as he said in one of his letters “I care not which of my characters you think White” (though I doubt he’d like the movies and shows for other, non-race-related reasons). I also believe there is a timeless nature to the myth Tolkien created that transcends gender and skin color.

The Lord of the Rings is unrivaled in the realm of fiction because of the time and effort Tolkien spent in building a world that exists in an imagined pre-history of our own earth. Stepping into these pages, you are immediately aware of countless layers of lore that provide a rich background for every moment of the story. The characters are noble yet nuanced, and Tolkien knows how to provide humor and sadness at just the right moments. In critical circles, his writing ability is severely underrated, as I find his many of his phrases to “pierce like swords”, as C.S. Lewis noted. The Lord of the Rings, at its heart, is an ode to world that is dying, and a call to believe in the hope of a new world just beyond our grey shores. So, yes, it has elves, dwarves, goblins, trolls and balrogs… but we, ourselves, live in a world of elephants, platypuses, whales, angels, demons and, the most miraculous thing of all, humans (of whom hobbits are, ultimately, a subset). Tolkien’s work is equal parts fantasy, adventure, romance, epic narrative, poem, and linguistic guide. At the heart of the story is a message of the grace of God that we find in the most unexpected places when we hold to hope, love, and faith. For me, no work of fiction quite compares.

Quincy’s Full List of 100 Novels:
1.           The Lord of the Rings (Silmarillion, Morgoth’s Ring, Beren and Luthien, Children of Hurin, Fall of Gondolin, Unfinished Tales) by J.R.R. Tolkien
2.           The Brothers Karamazov (Notes from a Dead House, Short Stories, Demons, The Idiot, The Gambler, The Adolescent, The Double) by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
3.           Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
4.           To Kill a Mockingbird (Go Set a Watchman) by Harper Lee
5.           Grapes of Wrath (East of Eden, Of Mice and Men, Winter of Our Discontent) by John Steinbeck
6.           Till We Have Faces (Screwtape Letters, Chronicles of Narnia, The Great Divorce, The Space Trilogy, Pilgrim’s Regress) by C.S. Lewis
7.           Jubilee by Margaret Walker
8.           The First Circle (Cancer Ward, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich) by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
9.           Manalive (The Man Who Was Thursday, The Club of Queer Trades, Father Brown Mysteries, the Paradoxes of Mr. Pond, The Ball and the Cross, Napoleon of Notting Hill) by G.K. Chesterton
10.         Cry, the Beloved Country (Too Late the Phalathrope) by Alan Paton
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.

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