My Top 30 Books/Novels
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God is a Bullet - Boston Teran
Boston Teran has a real talent for writing some of the best prose of any current author. He truly does transport you to these bizarre and horrifying worlds as you walk alongside these characters. This novel is probably one of the best examples of that. It isn't an easy one to get through but it greatly rewards you and the third act pays off beautifully. Also has one of the nastiest villains I have ever read. If you are into noir pulpy crime thrillers, this should be right up your alley.
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.
One of the most messed up books I have ever read. This is a violent book and it is filled with very bad characters common with noirs. It has one of the most vile, depraved villains I have ever read. Raymond gets inside his mind and it is truly something that will haunt your nightmares. Even with all that, you can't help but read every inch of this. It's the classic detective noir and although the "hero" might not always be heroic, you can't help but root for him. The other books in the series are good but this one is the best and you can feel how this has influenced other noirs in the past years now.
This includes the whole trilogy too. I did not read the other Penn Cage novels but I loved this trilogy. It's a long and complex read filled with conspiracies and mysteries upon other mysteries. Iles though knows how to keep your attention and never gets away from what's at the heart of this series. Cage himself is a complex man and you can't help but root for him. Even side characters become cool and fun. The trilogy ends on a high note and the overarching mystery wraps up wonderfully.
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 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.
Silent Joe - T. Jefferson Parker
In a lot of works of fiction we get a lot of anti-heroes. Basically people who work outside of the law and/or morals cause they believe they are doing it for the right reasons. Often these people are not very good and just plain angry. This book shows you that you can write an ultimately good person and can write good heroes but still make it compelling. I like that the protagonist is a horribly scarred person as that is something you often don't get in a lot of novels. This is a compelling mystery but you will probably find yourself more interested to see what happens to this character and the people in his life. I was very satisfied with the conclusion and it is one you will enjoy reading again and again.
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.
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.
It's a shame Vern Smith didn't write more novels cause this is brilliant and it both is a great pulpy read but also highlights some real social issues that are still going on today. All the characters even the antagonists are interesting and you like spending time with them. I wasn't sure how this one was going to end when I first started reading it but it did not disappoint. Kind of surprised this hasn't been made into a movie cause it has the perfect template for it.
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!
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.
Shaker: A novel (2016)
Scott Frank is carrying on the spirit of Elmore Leonard. Seriously though, I read this one in one sitting. It's that good. I don't want to give away anything so I'll just say it has everything a good crime thriller needs: compelling characters, excellent pacing, quotable dialogue, and an emotional core that will keep you hooked. The villain in this is also one of the best modern villains I have read. This novel has a third person narration for 5 characters and each one is just as cool and interesting as the last. Just get this book and become as obsessed with it as I am.
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 worst 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.
LaBrava - Elmore Leonard
Elmore Leonard is the best crime author there ever was and this is the best of that in my opinion. It has everything that he was great at and there is never a dull moment. One of Leonard's greatest strengths was his ability to write for any character and never let it seem fake. They all feel like real people with real goals and even the bad ones are given time to feel like they are important to the story. As you can tell from this list, I like a good villain and this one delivers that on two accounts. This is just one of those classic books where the bad guys get what's coming to them while being a blast to read.
This felt like one of those stories where you find diaries and photos from a loved one’s life and you slowly put together the things you didn’t know about them. It’s a beautiful book about family, love, friendship, and loneliness. The book is about a mystery and murder but even if you are a mystery fan you will care more about the characters and their story. But the mystery is solved and has a satisfying conclusion. The two protagonists in the book are people you want to spend time with and get to know. It’s a cliche to say but Franklin really makes his writing seem effortless.
The Bottoms - Joe R. Lansdale
Lansdale has this ability with storytelling to make it like one of those great stories you hear around the campfire. It's simple yet demonstrates a lot of the complexities of life. I never feel like a character is wasted in any of these stories and even the supporting characters could be the protagonists in their own story. Lansdale also a real knack for blending different genres together without giving you whiplash. This novel blends horror, mystery, thriller, drama, history, and even comedy all in one. He does this all while incorporating themes of racism, sexism, religion, family, and poverty too.
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.
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 literary 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.
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
What can be said of this that hasn't been been said before? There is a reason this is a classic and I am sure most people could write something a thousand times better than me saying why. But the reason I think I love this so much, is it perfectly captures that age and what you are going through. Scout is one of my favorite characters of all time and she is someone you could see being real. Of course Atticus Finch has become a classic hero for a reason and I think we all wish there was more people like him. And that is why I think this novel is still popular. The book even with all the horrible things that happen, has an optimistic tone to it and it asks you to strive to stand up for what is right.
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 Devil All the Time (2011)
Pollock is a new author that I hope more and more people check out and this book is a great introduction to him. His works tend to show the dark side or the hidden side of society we often don't see. It's often disturbing, dark, and difficult to think about it. But he has a real ability to never make it seem too overwhelming or fake. This novel has multiple characters and they will commit acts they will make you question their humanity. But he always provides a reason or at least an explanation of how the story got there. Seriously though, any novel that has a preacher that eats spiders automatically gets a thumbs up from me.
Native Son - Richard Wright_IV
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 troubling 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.
The Crying of Lot 49 - Thomas Pynchon
One of the best conspiracy thrillers I have ever read. The book has a great atmosphere and a very interesting mystery that gets in your head. Oedipa Maas is one of my favorite protagonists in a work of fiction. Most of the other characters too are very interesting and you will want to spend more time with them. The book also feels more like an experience as the story feels like a weird dream you are having. Pynchon is really good at this kind of stuff so I recommend checking this and his other works out. If you are a fan of the shows True Detective and Fargo then you should enjoy reading this and others.
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 interesting human being to say the leasy and what happens to her in the story really got to me.
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.
These are thirty 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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