It should probably come as no surprise (based on the diverse subject matter I post here) that I have a broad range of tastes when it comes to fiction. I enjoy strange narratives in unconventional forms, books that comment on culture and society, stories that are complex and not always easily understood. That being said, I’m sharing my ten favorite novels today (I left out Never Let Me Go and As I Lay Dying since I covered them recently).
I read Cloud Atlas last year and experienced, for the first time, the feeling of not wanting a book to end. I was so immersed in the worlds, with stories woven together through reincarnation, and I’m interested to read more of David Mitchell’s novels. In Fahrenheit 451, the importance of literature and original, individual thought is prevalent, and I enjoyed the main character’s struggles with society’s mandates vs. his own morals. It’s been a long time since I read Slaughterhouse Five, and I definitely need to reread it soon, but its strangeness has always stuck with me. As someone who is interested in WWII history though is often bored stiff by tedious textbooks, it gave me some interesting context through Vonnegut’s satirical perspective.
Though The Golden Compass is considered a young adult fantasy novel, that should not hinder anyone—its narrative is suspenseful and exciting; I couldn’t put it down and read the trilogy as fast as possible. But it also doesn’t feel like a children’s/YA book. As I made my way through the entire His Dark Materials trilogy at fifteen, there were some concepts that I couldn’t quite wrap my head around (and no wonder, since it draws inspiration from Milton’s epic poem, Paradise Lost).
DeLillo’s satire of commercialism and death in White Noise is absurd and hilarious. It seems to elicit polarizing opinions from people, including myself, which is why it’s so interesting to me. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, considered by many to be Murakami’s masterpiece, is a sprawling story of a struggling man’s search for his cat, wife, and identity, among other things. Crafted with mysterious and dreamlike prose is a WWII narrative, politics, and ideas of romantic love… but it is so much more.
What I love most about In the Lake of the Woods is its ambiguity. Told through multiple perspectives, the novel follows the disappearance of the narrator’s wife. There are no definitive conclusions, and I think the book’s form really fits the narrative in a way that leaves me wanting to write my own story of mystery and conflicting testimonies. In Habibi, Craig Thompson creates a visually vivid graphic novel that focuses on the dark world and complicated relationship of Dodola and Zam, two child slaves. It is tragic, uplifting at times, and poetic. Though some have challenged its portrayal of Arab culture and women stereotypes, I think it itself challenges our perceptions, and remains a noteworthy work, even if it is from a Westerner’s point-of-view.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being, set in Prague during the Communist period, follows two men and women, and their various overlapping relationships/infidelity. I read this awhile ago, and there were a lot of philosophical themes that I didn’t pick up on, but it intrigued me on multiple levels and is definitely worth your time. The Outsiders, which became a fast favorite, was also a fast read. The book is about teenagers in two rival gangs, divided by social status. This is where that famous “Stay gold, Ponyboy” line comes from. I was hooked from the start by the narrator’s voice, and wished I could inhabit that world for a little longer than two hundred pages.