While this is predominantly a movie blog, I do like dabbling in my other pursuits, namely reading and video games. The latter has been discussed a few times on this blog, but the former not so much. Now I have reviewed non-fiction books about movies, but never novels, so to give you a sample of my literary tastes, here is a list of my current top eleven favorite novels. Feel free to share your own favorites in the comments!
- Beautiful Ruins – Jess Walter
After reading the wonderful anthology We Live in Water, I got my hands on Beautiful Ruins, which I read in two days. Switching between the present day and 1960s Italy, this is a bittersweet, lifelong love story between an aspiring American actress and a lovelorn Italian, set against the disastrous production of the 1963 Cleopatra. I was bawling by the end. Wonderful characters and Walter’s word magic: who could ask for more?
- The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror – Christopher Moore
TSA is about a Christmas miracle gone wrong, resulting in a cemetery-full of zombies being raised from the dead on Christmas Eve. Filled with over the top humor and eccentric characters, this is a book I read every Christmas without fail.
- The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
A masterpiece for its characters and imagery alone. Just seeps of the 1920s culture, both the good and the bad of it.
- A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy
One of the funniest novels I have ever read, full of horribly hilarious characters. Its depiction of 1960s New Orleans just draws you in completely and the satire is spot on.
- A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
Who knew anyone could make you sympathize with a creation as horrendous as the vile Alex? Though I have mixed feelings on the controversial final chapter, the book is undoubtedly one of the finest of the last century, making you consider big philosophical questions while also being darkly hilarious in some bits.
- The Scarlet Pimpernel – Baroness Orczy
Swashbuckling, the French Revolution, romance, an intelligent female lead—this one had me chomping at the bit. I love the 1934 film with Leslie Howard too, but if you have not read the original book, you must.
- McTeague – Frank Norris
Most people now more about Erich von Stroheim’s 1924 adaptation of McTeague than they do of the original novel, which is a shame as the novel is also a classic. The epitome of naturalist literature, it features characters struggling to escape the evil within themselves and the world they live in. Almost every character is unlikable, yet you never quite come around to despising them or viewing them as one hundred percent monstrous. About its only flaw is one character who is created from anti-Semitic stereotypes.
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – JK Rowling
Harry Potter was a major part of my adolescence and Deathly Hallows was the perfect conclusion. Tense and melancholic, while still possessing Rowling’s wonderful humor. The chapter with Harry walking alone in the woods still gives me chills.
- The Red Necklace – Sally Gardner
Set during the French Revolution, The Red Necklace (and its also excellent sequel The Silver Blade) is high melodrama, complete with tender romance, supernatural powers, and swashbuckling action. Gardner’s prose is sumptuous and rich. The characters could have easily fallen into stock types but she endows each with great humanity, even the mustache-twirling villain. (If you can listen to the audiobook with Tom Hiddleston, then definitely do so!)
- A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
There’s a pattern going on with the sheer amount of French Revolution based books here. Two Cities is one of Dickens’s most beloved books, though the critics are not as keen on it. I can see why (and I really dislike how the female characters are drawn so simplistically), but I can’t help loving it and the character Sydney Carton, who reigns supreme among my literary crushes. It’s atmosphere, epic scope, and themes of redemption have kept me enraptured with it.
- Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
Most of you know this is my favorite novel. I reread it at least once every year when the weather turns cold. The language alone reveals Emily’s roots as a poet. This could have easily been a sappy melodrama, but Bronte makes it raw and brutal, deconstructing the Byronic hero through the enigmatic Heathcliff and even romance itself. It’s a novel of great complexity and ambiguity, certainly more than a mere love story; I still discover new things every time I revisit its dark world. Literature was robbed when Bronte died so young! But at least we have this book, a gem of gothic literature.