Saturday, June 07, 2008

Must Read Novels

Lacking substantive education in literature (a few elementary undergraduate courses), I do not have all of the distinctions to properly appreciate certain works (James Joyce), and I find Nathaniel Hawthorne, Theodore Dreiser, or Thomas Hardy downright painful. However, I read a novel recently, John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany, and it was fantastic.

What makes a good novel? In one opinion, first, a novel is pure fiction, so all bets are off and the author has the freedom to create vast realities entirely removed from our own that operate according to different principles. Second, the author has complete freedom to craft both the lens and the distinctions used to interpret the events. Third, the capability of diving into the deepest thoughts and feelings (or not) of different characters sets up the ability to interplay conflicting perspectives and views amidst misunderstanding and miscommunication in dramatic situations. Fourth, the author can introduce unprecedented connections and concepts that leave the reader profoundly provoked and intrigued in the consideration of ideas not previously considered. Finally, the ability to introduce multiple levels, almost without limit, provides for rich artistry and the refinement of mastery of a truly remarkable craft.

Most of my reading involves non-fiction, so a novel is a rare treat. Restricting only to novels (maybe a play or two), below are the must reads in the opinion of a certain blogger. The list is NOT ordered. All should be considered top tier works that richly participate in all of the above concepts. If you don’t believe me, consider reading Irving’s book. What a brilliant, fantastic read. I am still thinking about Owen Meany, an exquisite literary experience.

Atlas Shrugged – Ayn Rand
A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain
The Tin Drum – Gunter Grass
Crime and Punishment – Feodor Dostoevsky

Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
A Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
1984 – George Orwell
Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut
Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
Lord of the Flies – William Golding
A Fairly Honourable Defeat – Iris Murdoch
The Day of the Locust – Nathanael West (Miss Lonelyhearts is even better)

Waiting for Godot - Samuel Beckett
No Exit – John Paul Sartre
The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
Mrs. Dalloway – Virginia Woolf
The Awakening – Kate Chopin
The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
The Plague - Albert Camus
The Sound and the Fury – William Faulkner
Lord of the Rings Trilogy – JRR Tolkien
His Dark Materials Trilogy – Philip Pullman
Dune – Frank Herbert
The Foundation Trilogy – Isaac Asimov
Stranger in a Strange Land – Robert Heinlein
Childhood’s End – Arthur C. Clarke
Snowcrash – Neal Stephenson

10 Comments:

Blogger The Navigator said...

Good list, and Owen Meany is a terrific novel.

You forgot Battlefield Earth.

6/07/2008 5:29 PM  
Blogger Sirocco said...

No one who has read Battlefield Earth can possibly forget it ...

6/07/2008 7:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

sirocco,
Nav is clearly joking. Battlefield Earth is one of the worst novels ever written. Only a Scientologist is capable of writing such nonsense, or worse, making a movie about it.

Love the imagery, x4mr.

6/08/2008 1:22 AM  
Blogger Sirocco said...

Heh ... I know quite well Navigator was joking. BE has been discussed before. :)

I haven't read seven books on this list ... of course, some of the ones I have read don't necessarily quailfy as must-read either ...

6/08/2008 11:25 AM  
Anonymous observer said...

Most of the novels you listed have been made into films, another expression you appreciate. I think Jackson did a good job with Lord of the Rings, certainly better than I ever would have thought possible. I was also very impressed with the first film made for Nabokov’s novel (with James Mason and Shelley Winters) and the film version of Catch 22 was quite good.

Lynch confessed that his botching Dune is one of his greatest career regrets, and I think someone else tried as well (probably also bad).

When I heard about The Hours (film adaptation of the Woolf novel), I feared the worst, but the movie is actually quite good. X4mr must agree since he has it listed with his favorite films.

The film version of The Tin Drum is weird and falls pretty short, but it is far better than Simon Birch, a disastrous attempt to make Irving’s book into a film. I do think the film version of his World According to Garp was pretty good.

6/08/2008 11:57 AM  
Blogger TexPatriate said...

I read A Prayer for Owen Meany while in college. My fellow students thought I was insane because I was always reading something ELSE besides what had been assigned for our classes. I was the geeky girl reading while crossing the campus with a satchel full of textbooks. (That was old hat to me, having read all the way through my school days -- always something OTHER than assigned.)

Come to think of it, it still applies. *shrug*

Anyhow, the point I am desperately climbing the mountain to make is. . . Owen Meany is the novel that made me fall in love with John Irving's ability to create characters who were definitely out of the mainstream, but who were able to demonstrate universal human truths.

I have gone on to read several other John Irving novels, for that exact same reason. His characters and settings are all a little "off", but they all fit together (although, again, not perfectly). It gives me hope for myself. =D

6/08/2008 3:56 PM  
Blogger Framer said...

"The Awakening," Seriously? I would rather watch "Battlefield Earth" three times in a row.

The Great Gatsby is probably the best novel that everyone has to read. It's a shame really because more people would enjoy it if it weren't force fed or over-analyzed.

I defy anyone to tell me that they really enjoyed "The Sound and the Fury." It is important, but not enjoyable.

You do have a lot of my favorites, however. I do notice a lack of westerns, which is unfortunate. If you take recommendations, you should try "The Virginian" by Owen Wister. It's historically important, but also possibly my favorite novel of all time. Also, you should get along famously with anything by Wallace Stegner, probally starting with "Angle of Repose."

I would have suspected you had already read Stegner, but I would bet money he would be on YOUR list in particular if you had.

6/08/2008 8:11 PM  
Anonymous Mariana said...

Jorge Luis Borges anyone?

6/10/2008 12:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you forgot the Hitchhikers Guide Trilogy.
TR

6/10/2008 9:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I haven't yet read Owen Meany, but the novel kept popping up in my research when I wrote a thesis on The World According to Garp. I first discovered Irving after reading The Cider House Rules (this is a must read!) and fell in love with his writing. So glad to hear there are other John Irving fans out there!

7/01/2008 6:25 PM  

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