Top Tens: Novels

As expected, I had a difficult time choosing only ten books to stand as my favourite novels. The first problem I encountered was a purely logistic one. Out of the 1200 or so books I have listed on GoodReads, 191 have a five star rating. I had to choose ten. Logically, I needed to pick my favourite favourites. Logic flies out the window when confronted with a trip down memory lane, however.

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein appeared twice. Not sure how or why. It is an important book; I own several copies and I knew going into this that it would have a place in the top ten. What I couldn’t quite articulate was why. I’ve read some terrible reviews. In fact, a lot of Heinlein’s books receive terrible reviews. But, the purpose of this article is not to defend a single author, or my choice of books. I will say I am somewhat hesitant to reread Stranger in a Strange Land, though. It would be terrible if it didn’t live up to my twenty year memory of it.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley was not on the list. WHY? This book was utterly pivotal in my development as a reader. It changed my life, which is much the reason Stranger in a Strange Land is on the list, not once, but twice. A visit to my library answered the question. I don’t actually own a copy. WHY? Even though many of the books I’ve listed on GoodReads were library books or remembered reads, it’s a ghastly oversight.

Such issues aside, I still had nearly two hundred books to consider. Some could possibly be downgraded to four stars. Looking back, I remembered being captured at the time, but the memory wasn’t as fond. I’d read something better since. By the same token, some of the titles in the four star list could be upgraded. But again, that was not my purpose.

See how difficult this was?

Emotions in check (squeals of joy and querulous clicks of the tongue aside), I rated the top 191 with a goal of reducing the list. I ended up with 63 absolute favourites. Another pass and I had 52. Another left me with 44. Of those 44, I had given 13 a ‘1’, the majority a ‘2’ and a handful a ‘0’, meaning I had thirteen contenders for the top ten slots, about twenty books I had a sentimental attachment to and a handful of books that felt like honourable mentions.

I set myself a new task. I sorted the top thirteen, intending to use only the top ten for this article (which is already longer and probably more boring than I intended). Oh, the pain. Then I sat back and studied my list. There were books missing, authors too, and I had to concede that while Drizzt Do’Urden is one of my favourite characters, his books are merely among the best, not The Best. Same with Anne McCaffrey. Dragonsong and the Harper Hall Trilogy captured my imagination enough for me to obsessively collect every Pern title (until fairly recently) and to read McCaffrey’s many other series. I have guides to Pern and I role played in a Pern MUD. But none of those books ended up in my top ten.

The final list contained a lot of science fiction, which didn’t surprise me. Returning to the problem of logic versus emotion, I decided that if I had compiled the list ten years ago, the list might have been very different. As with five years ago, or twenty years go. Which led me to conclude this is not an ultimate list, it’s simply representative of how I felt, at a point in time, about the books I’ve read over the last twenty years or so. Which led to another question: If I were to reread these books, would I still give them five stars? Would they continue to occupy a slot in my Top Ten?

Another project and another post.

So, without further rambling, here is my “current” Top Ten, in order, my absolute favourite book being the first on the list:

Dune by Frank Herbert
Glasshouse
by Charles Stross
Stranger in a Strange Land
by Robert Heinlein
The World Inside by Robert Silverberg
The City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke
The Catch Trap by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Make Room! Make Room!
by Harry Harrison
Oryx and Crake
by Margaret Atwood
March by Geraldine Brooks
Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance
by Lois McMaster Bujold

 

And the three that fell off the bottom, which are fabulous books:

The Stars My
Destination
by Alfred Bester
The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
The Companions by R.A. Salvatore

 

4 thoughts on “Top Tens: Novels

  1. cnmill August 10, 2013 / 8:41 am

    I’m going to be completely honest and admit that I have never read a single one of the books mentioned before in your top ten.

    I get what you’re saying though. I can’t imagine trying to narrow it down. And then you’d run into the issue of, “What am I actually making this list about?” I have favorite books that I don’t love because I love the book (because it’s amazingly well written or has an exceptional plot), but because of what was going on in my life at whatever given time and how the book made me feel.
    I would probably base my list off of that, if I were to make one.

    Now you can wave the shame fan in my face for never reading your favorite books. And I’m probably one of the only people in the world who’s never read Dune.
    Shame fan.

    But I was laughing with this one too. Your thought process was much more elaborate than – though not entirely dissimilar to – what mine would have been.

    • sisimka August 10, 2013 / 9:17 am

      I tried to read ‘Dune’ as a teenager and put it aside halfway through the first or second chapter. I just didn’t get it. It was too weird and I could already tell the scope of the novel was going to be beyond me. I tried again about five years ago…with an audio copy. HUGE difference. I had also seen both versions of the movie by that time. (A comparison of which is another blog post entirely.)

      I loved it.

      I think part of the difference was the maturity I’d gained in the meantime and the fact I’d become a much more dedicated science fiction fan. Also, having it read to me seemed to take a lot of the work out of it. (That might be a weird observation.)

      I have found that audio books are a great way to tackle books I’ve had difficulty reading, but really want to read. The best part is most of the good and notable titles are available free through my library’s e-lending service. Whoo!

      As for the rest of the list, it’s a lot of science fiction. I’m not surprised you haven’t read them. It’s also a rather peculiar list and some of the entries are purely emotional. ‘The Catch Trap’, for instance. I remember sobbing throughout that book. Being so moved. Who knows if it’s that good or not. It was to me, and that’s why it’s on my list. ‘March’ horrified me in places. Brooks has a gift for prose, she really does. I adore all her books. This one was such an incisive depiction of the American Civil War, though. From the gruesome to the simple human issues of men and women at war. I loved it, or the experience of reading it.

      I think any list is going to be intensely personal, eh? All the books on this list have a story attached. Why I chose to read it, the experience of reading it.

      What I really tried not to do was put a book on the list because I thought it “should” be there. A book I was supposed to read. A classic I’d be booed off the stage for not enjoying.

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