Not long ago I was pointed to a peculiar book. This guy asked independent booksellers around the country to work up lists of their fifty favorite reads, the books they feel most passionate about hand-selling. The results were published in a collection called Read This! Handpicked Favorites from America’s Indie Bookstores.
Some of you might know I have a weakness for lists. In the back of the book, the editor, Hans Weyandt, invites the reader to list their own fifty favorites. I couldn’t help myself. My list is below.
A few notes about the list that follows.
• There’s a difference between “best” and “favorite.” To make a list of the 50 best books in English, I’d have to think about what has done the most to expand the possibilities of literature and what stories have had the deepest cultural impact. That’s hard. It’s much easier to figure out favorites; you know something is a favorite if you get excited thinking about reading it again. It doesn’t have to have deep cultural impact. You just have to love it.
• I’ve organized the books in alphabetical order, by author. It was just too much effort to try to put them in order of preference.
• I have not included graphic novels. That feels like a different list.
• I have included books by people I’m related to. Look, the people I love have written a lot of remarkable books, books that deeply shaped how I think about story myself. To leave them off would require dishonesty, and if yer gonna be dishonest about something like this, why even do it?
• One of the following choices is a big fuckin’ cheat. It has been noted. As the old song goes, it’s my list, I can cheat if I want to. Also, I would (and do) argue that the cheat is possibly the most important selection on the whole list.
Case Histories • Kate Atkinson
The House With A Clock In Its Walls • John Bellairs
Josie & Jack • Kelly Braffet
Wonder Boys • Michael Chabon
A Christmas Carol • Charlie “Chuck” Dickens
Slouching Toward Bethlehem: Essays • Joan Didion
The Collector • John Fowles
Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders • Neil Gaiman
Lord of the Flies • William Golding
Marathon Man • William Goldman
I, Claudius • Robert Graves
Warlock • Oakley Hall
The Short Stories • Ernest Hemingway
The Friends of Eddie Coyle • Geroge V. Higgins
Jesus’ Son • Denis Johnson
The Haunting of Hill House • Shirley Jackson
The Liars’ Club • Mary Karr
Double Feature • Owen King
The Dead Zone • Stephen King
The Shining • Stephen King
The Green Mile • Stephen King
Under the Dome • Stephen King
One on One • Tabitha King
To Kill A Mockingbird • Harper Lee
Swag • Elmore Leonard
The Assistant • Bernard Malamud
The Complete Stories of Bernard Malmaud
The Fixer • Bernard Malamud
Life of Pi • Yann Martel
I Am Legend • Richard Matheson
The Border Trilogy • Cormac McCarthy
Angela’s Ashes • Frank McCourt
Atonement • Ian McEwan
Lonesome Dove • Larry McMurtry
Terms of Endearment • Larry McMurtry
Cloud Atlas • David Mitchell
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet • David Mitchell
The Aubrey-Maturin Novels, books 1 – 4 • Patrick O’Brian*
Animal Farm • George Orwell
True Grit • Charles Portis
The Harry Potter novels • J.K. Rowling
The Riverside Shakespeare **
The Grapes of Wrath • John Steinbeck
Slayground • Richard Stark
Dracula • Bram Stoker
Dog Soldiers • Robert Stone
Ghost Story • Peter Straub
The Hobbit, or There and Back Again • J.R.R. Tolkien
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer • Mark Twain
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn • Mark Twain
* I’ve only read the first four books in the series, but it’s already the best continuing series I’ve ever come across. The rest of the O’Brian books could suck (they won’t) and I’d still think these first four are some of the most magnificent things I’ve ever read.
** Okay, so this is the cheat. But it is a single book, and if I started picking my favorite works of Shakespeare, 20% of this list would be Lucky Bill. Besides: I say to you honestly that I think the Riverside Shakespeare is the one book that ought to be in every home. It isn’t a holy book, so it isn’t limited to believers in one faith or another. You need only believe in stories and that language can be beautiful.
There’s a comment section below… plenty of room for you to list your own best fifty. No one’s more innerested then me, so go right ahead.