Flexing our muscles a little bit on a Sunday, this is a writing blog of sorts and as such I'm bound once in a while to talk a little bit about writing and reading and so on. Occasionally famous authors and pundits and such like to put together their top ten lists, with the understanding that such lists are more to generate discussion than anything else, and not to be taken as any kind of gospel. So, with the hope that my oft empty comment section will come alive, here's a list of my Top Ten Novels of All Time.
10. Dune by Frank Herbert
The seminal science fiction work. Often imitated, never replicated. Basically abrogated wholesale for Star Wars. Never before has poetry, history, ecology, science, and literature been so brilliantly blended. Would probably be much higher on a list that is strictly science fiction.
9. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Keeping it in the family, I had to include a Conrad work. It was a bit of a toss-up between this and Lord Jim, although, in the end, I think this was a little better. An important glimpse into the human soul, and what makes men treat other men cruelly.
8. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
An agnostic's prayer. What can I say? It's better than Slaughterhouse-Five (Slaughterhouse-5 is more for poseurs than actual Vonnegut fans, anyway.) Probably the best of all Vonnegut's books. Nihilistic and hopeful at the same time.
7. The Last Battle by Cornelius Ryan
This was a tricky one to add, but in the end, I feel comfortable putting it on a list of novels. I couldn't put this book down, some 500 pages or so and all gripping. A point of view of World War II that is virtually never explored, the final days of Berlin from both the Soviet and German viewpoints.
6. The Increasingly Inaccurately Named Hitchhiker’s Trilogy by Douglas Adams
I'll probably catch some flak for putting this higher than Dune, and a little more flak for shoehorning five (soon to be six!) books into one slot. But aside from the general consensus that So Long and Thanks For All the Fish is the worst book, how can you separate and analyze these except as a series? I have always thought that this is essentially a thesis on what a book can do that a movie never can. The wordplay of the narrator, the brilliantly pointless asides and incredible segues, the inner thoughts of the characters, and the outlandish outer space milieu can't be recreated for the screen. When it was, it lost 90% of what makes it great.
5. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
Makes Jossph Conrad look like Dan Brown. Dark? Check. Dense? Check. Full of a little o' the ol' ultraviolence? Check. Establishes a virtually brand new breed of philosophy? Check.
4. Poland by James A. Michener
What a novel. Michener is almost shamefully underappreciated. This basically tells the story of a single family from the first millennium through the 1980s in Poland and all the shared strife, pain, love, and joy. Every Pole owes it to himself to read this.
3. The Master and the Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
I love Russian literature. Dosteovsky, Turgenev, I can even tolerate Tolstoy. I came to Bulgakov a little later on, and had come to have some expectations about what Russian lit is. For instance, everyone inexplicably speaks French, and there are four or five names for every character. The Master and Margarita blew my every expectation out of the water. It was modern, almost post-modern, almost science fiction. It was about the devil without being trite, it was about Jesus without being preachy. It's kind of about the whole human condition.
2. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
It's probably easier to explain why it's not Number 1, rather than why it's so high. I mean, does anybody that went through high school English really not get it? Has nostalgia ever been portrayed better? Has anyone ever not felt exactly the way Gatsby did, and wanted to spend the whole world just to go back to the halcyon days of youth? It's not Number 1 though, because in spite of everything else, in spite of near perfection, there is one better novel written by man.
1. The Brother Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
The. Perfect. Novel. I could leave it at that, but I probably shouldn't. I'll put it to you this way: I have never gotten so much out of a book. Literally changed the way I view the world. Fixed my adult philosophy in a way few other ideas have. Inspired the modern science of psychology. The penultimate masterpiece of Russian lit (yeah, sorry about that, War and Peace.) What else can I say? Except to ask, what would happen to an axe in space?
Honorable mention: Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein, The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis, The Forgotten Soldier by Guy Sajer
"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov
Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."
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