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Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West... - Cormac McCarthy
I have read this book at least 20 times. And each time I find something new to love about it. It is not an easy book to read but it speaks so much on violence, civilization, and the nature of man. The characters in this book are some of the most fascinating but disturbing characters in literature. Judge Holden is one of the most terrifying villains of not only literature but of any medium of story telling ever. He is really like something out of a nightmare or another world. It is almost like he is a horror movie monster. Even though it is a hard book to read everyone should at least try once to read it.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Ken Kesey
Saw the movie first before I read the book and I love both. It paints a very interesting and scary portrayal of mental illness and what it means to be normal or human. The narrator Chief Bromden is clearly suffering from something but it never feels like exploitation and his narration helps understand what it must be like to live like that. But it is Nurse Ratched and Randall Patrick Murphy that capture the reader's attention. Ratched is a great villain and Kesey does a great job of making you understand her but still despise her. Murphy is charming but there is a hint of madness there. But you can't help but like him. The ending is also one of the most emotional endings to a book I ever read.
Of Mice And Men - John Steinbeck
Read this in my freshman year of high school and still love it today. Still my favorite of Steinbeck's novels. What I love so much is how you think the story will go one way but it ends up taking you another way. The two protagonists and their relationship is one of the best. One is basically like a big brother and his final decision is shocking but understandable. The film based on this directed by Gary Sinise is great but the book really paints the struggles of the Great Depression without being in your face.
Johnny Got His Gun - Dalton Trumbo
The best anti-war story of any medium of story telling. What it does so well is it focuses less on war and more on what the protagonist was like before the war and what life is like after the war. It helps you to actually care for the protagonist and make him seem like a real person you could know. What happens to him after the war is horrific and Trumbo goes inside his head and you really want him to try and survive. It has an oddly optimistic ending but there is still anger at those in power for what has happened.
Animal Farm - George Orwell
My favorite of Orwell! I was very intrigued by the premise when I first read it and I continue to find things to love about it as I read it more. Next to Judge Holden, Napoleon is my favorite literature villain. Even though he is described as not being much of a talker he perfectly represents every tyrannical leader/dictatorship. Having the story revolve around farm animals obviously leads to discussion of its symbolism and it makes for great topics of discussion after reading it. It's a great read for adults and high school students.
The Yiddish Policemen's Union - Michael Chabon
When I read this book, I really liked it but it kind of confused me at first. It helps if you know some of the traditions of Judaism. But even if you don't it still is a very intriguing science fiction book. It also is surprisingly funny and humorous and is great with word play. Filled with twists and turns like any good noir detective story you never really know what will happen next. Read it multiple times!
Invisible Man - Ralph Ellison
One of the truest and most brutal portrayals of racism and identity I have ever read. The narrator is never named in this book but you no less feel the pain that he goes through. The book is violent but it never is exploitative or not used responsibly. The book has an almost poetic quality to it and at times feels like a horrible dream someone is having. I read this book in college and I have not come back to it since but I really want to.
The Dark Tower 1: The Gunslinger - Stephen King
This includes the whole series. This series has everything: cowboys, demons, wizards, gangsters, monsters, etc. The series covers seven books and although it is a long series each book is worth it and each one surprises you. The "hero" of the series Roland Deschain is one of my favorite lead characters of a work of fiction of all time. He is badass and cool but there is a hint of sweetness and righteous to him. The world in this series also feels vast and King is able to explore it all without overwhelming you. I really would love to see it turn into a tv show some day.
Native Son - Richard Wright_II
This book does a great job of exploring why someone would commit a crime. Everything from racism, poverty, and systemic oppression is explored. Wright doesn't excuse the crime his protagonist commits but he is able to help the reader understand how someone would get at that point. When I first read it I was so invested in the story that the ending angered me when I first read it. Wright gets you so empathetic of the characters you actually care about the story and care about what happens. The themes in this story are complex but told in such a way that anyone can read it.
A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories - Flannery O'Connor
I know this is somewhat of a cheat but this collection is great. Flannery O'Connor is one of my favorite authors of all time. She has a very cynical, bleak look at life but it still is very darkly humorous. My favorite is "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" as it feels like one of those weird disturbing stories you would find in a newspaper. But all of her stories have their own charm and value.
The Talented Mr. Ripley - Patricia Highsmith
This book really disturbed me when I first read it. It is able to take you inside the mind of a psychopath. Ripley loves to play games with people and even though he is a very bad man you still enjoy reading this and kind of want him to get away with it. The journey it takes you on goes to unexpected places and I would have never guessed how it ended. The movie did a great job of adapting it but the book really needs to be read as well. Ripley appears in more novels but this one is my favorite.
Watership Down - Richard Adams_VI
I remember reading this novel in middle school and liking it. But I didn't love it or appreciate it till I read it again in my 20's. The novel is brutal even with rabbits as the main characters. But the themes it explores in the novel make it a great read for kids and adults. It explores everything from religion to war and often how conflicts lead to war. I would recommend this to ages 12 till adulthood but as an adult you really appreciate what it is doing with its themes. General Woundwort is also one of the scariest villains of all time.
The Lord of the Rings (3 Book Box set) - J.R.R. Tolkien
My favorite fantasy series of all time. What I love about it is how it is ultimately about good vs. evil. And how even though it takes great sacrifice and survival, good won in the end. There are many battles and fights in this series but it never gets tiresome. The world in this is complex and expansive and it takes awhile to get use to it but once you do it becomes a fulfilling read. The ending to this series is also one of the few that I think pleased me since endings are one of the hardest to get right. Also this has some of the best heroes in a book I have ever read.
This should be required reading for high school students. Probably for most people in general. Each story helps you understand what it is like to be a soldier and what war is like. All these men are heroes but they have a quiet dignity about them like most true heroes do. Major Dick Winters is one of those people and he is a true inspiration on what it means to be a person and what it means to be a hero. World War 2 is often explored in fiction but reading about true stories and what the war was actually like really got to me as a reader.
As I Lay Dying: The Corrected Text - William Faulkner
A very innovative novel for its time it still holds up today. Told from the perspective of different characters it really helps you understand each character and their point of view. I felt one way about a character and then completely changed once I read a chapter told from their perspective. It is hard for me to choose one character that is a favorite but Jewel was someone I enjoyed reading whenever he was in it. He seems angry but you understand him better as the novel progresses. I've read it a lot now and I still enjoy it each time.
Geek Love (Abacus Books) - Katherine Dunn
This was a recent read and I am shocked it took me this long to read it. The book is shocking and the images it paints are out of this world but there is a real sense of love between characters. It also is one of the best novels that captures what family love is. The characters in this are in a freak show but they are often more human than "normal" humans. I can't pick a favorite because all of them are so great and complex. The narrator Oly is also one of my favorite narrators of all time. She is a very sweet human being and what happens to her in the story really got to me.
I am including all of the series of novels in this as well. It is not well known as the other books on this list and I hope it gets more fans. This series of novels tells the story of a Korean American private detective named Allen Choice. Each novel has him solve a mystery and it takes you to so many unexpected places that my jaw was on the floor by each end. The crimes he is solving are intriguing and keep you invested. Choice is a great protagonist and you really root for him to succeed. I won't say much more but I hope more people read it. The first is called Over the Shoulder followed by Underkill and then Fade to Clear.
The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made... - Greg Sestero, Tom Bissell
One of the funniest true stories I have ever read. It tells the story of a man named Tommy Wiseau and his relationship with Greg Sestero. Wiseau is infamous now for writing, directing, and starring in one of the worse movies ever made called The Room. It is one of those so bad it's good movies. This book explores how Greg met Wiseau and how he ended up making the movie. Wiseau is a very odd but interesting man and he is like something of an alien. But what ultimately is great about the book is what it says about art and the people who make it.
Devils in Exile: A Novel (2011)
One of the best action thrillers I ever read. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time reading this. Read the whole book in one day just so I could see how it ended. It tells the story of an Iraq war veteran named Neal Maven who comes back home. He feels lost and lonely. He joins up with a group of veterans and they rob drug dealers using the tactics they learned in war. But Maven starts to suspect that there is something else going on with his new group. You really care about the heroes in this and really want to see the villains in this get their comeuppance. The novel also does a great job of painting a picture of what it is like for veterans who come back home.
Inherent Vice - Thomas Pynchon
About half way through this book I was so confused as to what was going on and how I got there. But I didn't care and continued to read and that is how this novel should be read. Go into it knowing you are going to be confused and just roll with the punches. The novel takes you to so many places and lets you meet so many characters and all of it is great even if it is jarring. Trying to explain this novel is hard but it is totally worth a read and it is my favorite of Pynchon.
These are twenty of my favorite books/novels of all time. A great book to me makes you think, stays with you, expands your imagination, and gives you an emotional reaction. I am including both non-fiction and fiction books as it does not matter if a story is real or not. What matters is how it is told and how well it is told.
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