Your Favourite Novels - Literally the best

What are your favourite novels and what do you love about them.

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Johnny Got His Gun - Dalton Trumbo

Passionately anti-war and the level of detail from inside the desperate veteran’s mind is mesmerizing as he relives the war and its aftermath.

Cats Eye - Margaret Atwood

A successful woman painter comes to her hometown for a retrospective. She “has it all,” in the best beach novel sense. But she can’t forget a prolonged spate of girlhood bullying which shaped her whole life, though the worst of the perpetrators has long since vanished. Again, a lot of detail which slowly builds to color in the protagonist. (Who isn’t the most ethical adult but you can sort of see why.)

Mr. Bridge and Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Connell.

They really should be read back to back. The order doesn’t matter. This is 1930s Kansas City and though the couple spends their lives together raising their kids, their respective experiences really do give a feeling that they’ve never known their own minds, much less one other. What you pick up between the lines is as powerful as what Connell actually writes down.

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Aubrey/Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian. – Now before you get all upset that the title of the thread was ‘novels’ the way O/Brian wrote these books was one continuous story. The next book literary picks up where the last left off. As for why, O’Brian’s use of language is just beautiful. He builds two amazing characters, and their friendship throughout the Napoleonic War is a joy to read.

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Phew, that would take some doing, that would make for a long list, and I think I’d do better with favorite author’s. But here’s a few.

The why’s? I dunno, because they are good?

Fully realized or fascinating characters are a big draw (they don’t have to be likable, just interesting) and many of these have that in common. Like the one at the top…

  • Muriel Sparks: She’s a recent discovery - I wanted to read something on my birthday, that was released on my birth year, so I tried The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie - I loved the movie, but the novel was much more complex. The Girls of Slender Means is another, right there with Brodie for the character work. The pokes at society, and people, the absurdity of it all… you can see why Waugh liked her work. Speaking of him…

  • Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited and Decline and Fall - Scathing commentaries on religion and British society and politic. - Decline is hilarious, Brideshead is oft misinterpreted (the last big screen adaption really didn’t understand the Catholicism, it simplified it - the miniseries however, got it, did it right)

  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov - went in prepared to hate it due to the subject matter, but was immediately seduced by the language, the wordplay… especially in its first half. Unfilmable, though several have tried… you need the words, you need to see them dance on the page.

  • Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky - intoxicating read - the mind, body and spirit, each represented by a brother, powerful philosophical explorations on each.

And I could go on with works by Shirley Jackson, Tolstoy, Austen, Graham Greene, Chandler… oh, Stalker by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, that was a knockout - and a bunch of classic westerns by Le May, Oakley Hall, Portis, Walter Van Tilburg Clark…

Yeah I’ll shut up now.

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Johnny Got His Gun
1984
Lord Of The Flies

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American Gods I have read more times than any other novel. I was spellbound the first time I read it.

Ditto with Good Omens. I’ve used this one as a pick-me-up many times.

I read Lamb by Christopher Moore around the same time and that one sunk deep into my soul.

All the Light We Cannot See ranks up there too. That’s another one that I came across at the right time.

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I’m an aesthete. I can seldom explain exactly why I like something, just that I do. That’s why I’m a lousy reviewer.

My favorite novel is, and always has been, The Lord of the Rings by Tolkien.

Among the “classics” by favorites are Les Miserables by Hugo, David Copperfield by Dickens, and Huckleberry Finn and The Prince and the Pauper by Twain.

I love the Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series and the Otherland series by Tad Williams; the Majipoor series by Robert Silverberg; the Amber books by Roger Zelazny; Narnia books by C.S. Lewis; The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells; Foundation series by Asimov; A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole; God Stalk by P.C. Hodgell; The Devil Rides Out by Dennis Wheatley; the Earthsea trilogy by Ursula LeGuin; American Gods by Neil Gaiman; Good Omens by Pratchett & Gaiman; the Elric novels by Moorcock; the Oz books by L. Frank Baum; The Face In the Frost by John Bellairs; the Gormenghast trilogy by Mervyn Peake; the Harry Potter books by Rowling (sorry, but still…), Millennium by John Varley; the Mythago books by Robert Holdstock; The Princess Bride by William Goldman; Snow Crash and The Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson; The Stand and The Green Mile and the Dark Tower series by Stephen King; The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White (the original version, not the revised Once & Future King version); the Hitchhiker books by Douglas Adams, The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame; A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle; the works of Paula Volsky, and the Marla Mason novels by T.A. Pratt.

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There are two lesser-known authors I really love, one is Fredric Brown, who mostly wrote short stories, but also wrote sci-fi and mystery novels, the best-known being Martians Go Home, and the British comic mystery author Pamela Branch, who only wrote four novels before dying prematurely, but all four are a lot of fun. Three of them are about a society of murderers that got away with it who come together to solve a murder. The best one is the first one, The Wooden Overcoat.

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Good Omens is just so much fun. I’m glad the Amazon series did the book just justice.

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In the realm of fantasy and sci-fi, I’d have to include Watership Down by Richard Adams. I’m just gonna’ assume that’s well-known here. But I also have to say that I adore Downbelow Station and 40,000 In Gehenna by C.J. Cherryh.

The first is foundational to her Downbelow Series, and helps set up the conflict between two space-faring superpowers: The Union and The Alliance. It’s very much got a Russian novel feel to it, with dueling family dynasties and old rivalries simmering in the military as well. Through a stationer who marries a spacefarer, you get a good feel for the culture clashes at work, too.

40,000 begins as one superpower creates a colony on a planet only inhabited by large, sentient lizards, in order to try and “own” its rival. Things go pear-shaped, for assorted reasons. As generations pass, a new human culture is formed, and the earlier rivalries within become more about the personal rivalries of two researchers: each of which takes up camp with a different tribe or faction which evolved from the wreckage of the former colony. Reading the earlier-mentioned novel will help give you a good grounding, but it isn’t strictly necessary.

I’ve reread all of these countless times. It feels like they’ve always been part of my life. <3

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When I was younger, I read A Canticle for Leibowitz multiple times, so I’d put that up there.

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Proust’s Recherche. I don’t know what I can say about this that hasn’t been said better, but most registers of human experience are captured from the inside here, and from the outside in language.

Best first novel? William Gaddis, The Recognitions. He was, IIRC 34 g-d years old when he wrote this. That’s odd. I suspect he spent a lot of time in the libraries as a youth. A delightful obscurantist.

I don’t know what else. The Three Musketeers? It amuses me. The Great Gatsby. Is it a novel? A prose poem? Something else? Not sure. But it’s a staggering miniature with pretty good words, I’d say.

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I tend to like series more than individual books, which will move up and down the list depending on my mood. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, or the first four of the trilogy anyway. Both Dirk Gently books are also fantastic. More broadly, the Discworld books and Nero Wolfe are pretty much in constant rotation on my Kindle, with individual books being higher or lower on the list.

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Rex Stout is another one whose use of language is a joy to read. I was reading his books at 13 and loved all the interesting words I learned as a result. (I think the first one I read was Some Buried Caesar.) And Archie’s perspective is such fun as he grumbles his way through cases. My husband decided years ago we needed a Frittz.

Douglas Adams had a wonderful ability to see how ludicrous our existence could be and then poke that feeling with a stick. Man I miss him.

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There’s a reason his writing was praised by P. G. Wodehouse, another master of words. And, yes, we all need a Fritz. I got a copy of the Nero Wolfe Cookbook a while back, and a lot of it just isn’t possible to make without a Swiss chef.

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Here are the some of the novels I’ve given 5 stars on Goodreads:

The Innocents Abroad — Mark Twain
Frankenstein — Mary Shelley
A Christmas Carol — Charles Dickens
The Journey to the East — Hermann Hesse
The Grapes of Wrath — John Steinbeck
The Hobbit — J.R.R. Tolkien
A Death in the Family — James Agee
Catch-22 — Joseph Heller
To Kill a Mockingbird — Harper Lee
Dandelion Wine — Ray Bradbury
Something Wicked This Way Comes — Ray Bradbury
Mother Night — Kurt Vonnegut
Cat’s Cradle — Kurt Vonnegut
A Wizard of Earthsea — Ursula Le Guin
Moominland Midwinter — Tove Jansson
Moominpappa at Sea — Tove Jansson
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy — Douglas Adams
The Princess Bride — William Goldman
One Hundred Years of Solitude — Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Fifth Business — Robertson Davies
Beloved — Toni Morrison
The Memory of Old Jack — Wendell Berry
Parable of the Sower — Octavia Butler
The Sparrow — Mary Doria Russell

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We make the scrambled egg occasionally. My god they are divine. And Wolfe is right on with the corn on the cob too!

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Throwing my two cents into the discussion, here are a few of my favorite novels. They are:

  • The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
  • Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone - J. K. Rowling
  • Watchmen - Alan Moore
  • The House of the Spirits - Isabelle Allende
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Will a Swedish chef do in a pinch?

great job fox GIF by MasterChef Junior

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That’s one I need to re-read this summer.

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