Top 10 Novels Everyone Should Read

People often ask me for book titles and author suggestions. I read a lot, and I think I read a fairly wide variety of genres, and so I've decided to list the top 10 books I think everyone should read. These are not necessarily my favourites, although most of them are. I think a lot of authors can write spectacularly or tell an interesting story, but rarely are they good at both. This list is a set of books and authors that I think write well and tell a great story simultaneously.

10. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson: This book is an autobiography of Winterson's life of being adopted into a strict protestant family, her discovery of her sexuality, and reconciling her life with the God her family says exists and the God she believes loves her. The story is heartbreaking and beautiful, and she writes in pure poetry.

9. The Help by Kathryn Stockett: I received this book as a birthday gift from my friend Stephanie, and she is definitely pro at picking out great novels! This is the story of a white woman in the South who decides to interview black maids about their relationships with white women. It's narrated from several points of view, both black and white women, and it's an incredibly different take on the civil rights era. There are so many elements to every story, yet nothing is neglected and everything matters. I couldn't put it down!

8. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie: I read this book for a class last year, and it had such an impact on the way I think about the relationship between Aboriginal and white government in North America. The story is about an Aboriginal American boy who is "too smart" for schools on the reserve, and decides to go to a school in a rich, white neighbourhood, where he is the only "Indian." It's told through the eyes and drawings of the young protagonist, and it's a powerful and moving book that highlights the beauty and struggle of being a Native American.

7. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: This is the story of a young German orphan who loses her mother and brother just after the outbreak of WWII. She is sent to live with an middle-aged couple, where she builds a special bond with the father and he teachers her how to read. The Book Thief is an incredible story about WWII and how it affected non-Jewish Germans living in a small town, and also how literature connects people across races, religions, and economic status. It's a dense read, but it is so, so worth it.

6. Blue Like Jazz: Non-religious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality by Donald Miller: When someone asks me my favourite book, I always say Blue Like Jazz. I read this book when I was 16 and it changed my life. The whole time I was reading this collection of essays, I kept thinking "He's writing everything I'm thinking but so much more eloquently." This book basically takes everything that makes the idea of Christianity unappealing, throws it out the window, and talks about a God that not only loves us, but likes us, too. It's so beautiful and profound and absolutely everyone on this planet should read it.

5. The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid/In A Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson: I had a hard time picking just one Bill Bryson book, because they are all brilliant. Ultimately, The Life and Times and In A Sunburned Country are my two favourites, because I think they are where his style of historical writing, nostalgia, adventure, and humour combine into the perfect book. The first is his memoir of growing up in America but also a tribute to 1950s American, and it's so funny and quaint; the second is a travel guide and made me want to visit Australia more than I've ever wanted to before. Bryson's books are entertaining, interesting, and informative, and without a doubt he's one of my favourite writers.

4. Atonement by Ian McEwan: I think this book is the perfect example of good story and good writing combining into a perfect book. Atonement is the story of how a young girl's naivety causes a whole family to fall apart, and how, in her older years, she tries desperately to put them back together. McEwan is a brilliant writer but not always a great storyteller, but Atonement is captivating, profound and moving.  I heard a prof once say: "Atonement isn't one of the the great novels of our day; it's one of The Great Novels."

3. A Separate Peace by John Knowles: I've read this book several times, and I am still discovering new things about it. It's the story of Gene and Finny, best friends at an American boarding school in the 1940s. Finny is a star athlete until the day a dare causes him to break his leg badly, and Gene becomes his surrogate, becoming what Finny never can. My favourite quote from any book ever comes from A Separate Peace.
"The winter loves me," he retorted, then, disliking the whimsical sound of that, added, "I mean, as much as you can say that a season can love. What I mean is, I love winter, and when you really love something, then it loves you back, in whatever way it has to love."

2. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: I've blogged about this book before, and I talk about it all the time, and so many people have read it so it feels sort of redundant to put it here. BUT, if you haven't read The Hunger Games yet, you do not know what you are missing! When I finished reading it, I felt almost depressed, because I legitimately wished I had thought of and written this story first, because it is one of the best novels ever. The story is incredible, the writing is good, and it draws readers in on every level: romance, drama, action, horror, suspense. It is amazing. Read it.

1. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer: This book is number 1 on my list because I am honestly floored every time I read it. Foer knows how to write poetry while writing prose, and still telling a story that is so painful and beautiful that it's probably true, at least for someone. This book is two stories: Oskar, a roughly-10-year-old boy with Asperger's, goes on a quest to finish a "game" his father left him before he died in 9/11; Oskar's grandmother relives her past and slowly unravels the story of her and Oskar's grandfather. It is an incredible book that made me laugh and cry, sometimes simultaneously. I don't know of anyone who has read this book and not loved it.

Happy reading!!


Steph said…
Woo, thanks for the shout-out!
The Help is on my permanent favourite books list :)
But now I am having a super hard time finding something I want to read as badly as I wanted to read The Help!!
Jana said…
It appears I have some reading to do.
Anonymous said…
Hey Jilly!

I also LOVED "The Help," and am currently reading "In a Sunburnt Country" by Bill Bryson.. so good!

Let's start a book club in September.


Kim said…
Nate Berkus was talking about "The Help" on his show the other day. He also said everyone should read it.

I own "Hunger Games" but have yet to read it! Maybe once I'm done this course....

I last read "The Pact" by Jodi Picoult, and I really enjoyed that! I haven't been really into a book since Harry Potter (and embarrassingly Twilight....) until I picked this one up. I couldn't lay it down!
Unknown said…
I have read one and a half books on that list, and two other ones are on my own future book reading list. yay!?
ps. i like your labels/tags. haha.

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