That “100 Novels Everyone Should Read” list got in my head a little bit. Not in a bad way — I’m not worried about my lack of numbers on the list — it got me thinking about the criteria for making such a list. The Telegraph list that I linked to the other day doesn’t give any reasons for the books on the list, or reasons for the existence of the list. That has lots of people around the blog-o-sphere scratching their heads. Search on 100 novels everyone should read and check out the posts!
Back to my thinking about the list. I decided that a book should be read by lots of people if it gets in my head and resonates in my imagination, if I remember it without difficulty long after I’ve finished it, and if it calls me back for a re-read now and again. With those criteria in mind, here is a list of 10 books that meet them, from my reading experience. After 1 and 2, these are in no particular order.
1. Possession by A.S. Byatt. Are you surprised? If so, read this. I think about this book a lot because I do research on 19th-century writers. The book is about academics who read and research 19th-century poets. It resonates. It is also well-written (won the Booker Prize), has loads of layers, and plays on the title word. Byatt is brilliant.
2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. This book hits most top 100 lists. It is a well-told tale that withstands re-reading. It can be an acquired taste, but once the taste is acquired, it is an addiction.
3. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. What? by Who? I hear you saying. Seriously, this Stephenson book has been in my head since I first read it. It is a cyberpunk novel, the first one I read. Mind-blowing experience.
4. Tigana by Guy Gavrel Kay. I’ve talked about Tigana before I think — it is an historical fantasy that deals with memory and the loss of memory/history and so the loss of identity for a people. I couldn’t stop thinking about it after I read it.
5. Runaway Jury by John Grisham. Really? A Grisham book? This one I liked because of the moral ambiguity in the characters, and the means-end conflict. The setting also spins around in my head, along with the way the characters hide and re-make themselves.
6. Snow by Orhan Pamuk. (No more titles with snow in them, promise.) The structure of the story and the poetry of language in this one blew me away.
7. Room by Emma Donoghue. How does this one not get in your head with the five-year-old narrator who has never been outside the room of the title?
8. Mystical Paths by Susan Howatch. Ok, all of Howatch’s Church of England books get in my head, but this one sticks out to me. All about spiritual gifts and their use and abuse, clearly a theological connection.
9. Children of Men by P.D. James. The mystery books are good, but this one is great. James portrays humanity on the brink of extinction very vividly. There are clear theological overtones in this book too.
10. Coming Home by Rosamunde Pilcher. I hesitated over this one, but it meets the criteria. The theme given in the title echoes through the book in lots of ways. This one sticks in my head.
You are not me. What are your top ten books that meet the criteria listed? Remember the criteria are: the book resonates in your imagination, you remember the story long after you are done, you want to re-read the book. Top ten. Or five even. With all of us together, maybe we can collaborate on a new top 100 list!