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Books - Fiction

Fictional prose, book- or novella-length (Top 10 Index)
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Catcher In the Rye - J.D. Salinger
Maybe it's just a guy's/teenager's book, but every time I read it I get something different out of it. That's a good thing, I think.

Centennial - James Michener
The story of the frontier West; the best of Michner's many books, this book taught me as much about history and geography as any class I can think of.

Invisible Man - Ralph Ellison
One of the most powerful - yet overlooked - books of the 20th Century, Ellison's tale of being black - i.e. invisible, overlooked - in America is probably the strongest of this genre, which includes James Baldwin's Another Country and Richard Wright's Native Son. Ellison's voice is reminiscent of Dostoyevsky: Deep, quiet, examining.

The book is an expansion of an Ellison short story ("Battle Royal"), which often does not work. Here it does, to great effect. (Note: Baldwin's Another Country is similar, with the first chapter having originally been a short story.)

More cerebral than Wright's powerful book, and more tightly integrated with black culture than Baldwin's book (which also examines, to a degree, homosexuality and blacks' status in France), Ellison's book is a tougher read. This - coupled with Ellison's less-than-prodigious literary output - has established Invisible Man as a lower-profile, more literary than popular classic.

That's unfortunate because it's as true today as when it was written, over 50 years ago.

Of Human Bondage - W. Somerset Maugham
Unlike Henry James, whose work reminds me a great deal of W. Somerset Maugham, Maugham - the author of Of Human Bondage - is highly readable.

I like James, but he is exhausting in a Dickens (detail) X William James (psychological/philosophical) way. Maugham is a literary heavyweight, but not in the James or Thomas Mann catagory.

That's not a ding - few have reached that apex (in this trajectory). A pleasurable read for the first 100 or so pages, the remainder of the book is brilliant. I've read this balance of the book half a dozen times or so.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich - Alexander Solzhenitsyn
This thinly veiled account of Solzhenitsyn's own time in the Gulag, this book made his name.

One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
One of the great books of the 20th Century. Go ahead - read the first sentence only and tell me you're not intrigued: "Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice."

Sophie's Choice - William Styron
Brilliant, heart-breaking. The movie won Meryl Streep an Oscar; her fictional counterpoint was a million times better than this great actress.

The Adventures of Augie March - Saul Bellow
I'm a Bellow fan, and this book - not his most well-known (that nod goes to Herzog, I'd venture) - is my favorite of his. Takes place largely in Chicago, so that's added interest for this suburban-Chicago boy, but there is so much more.

While the ending is a bit thin, to me, this is one of the finest books of the 20th Century.

The Agony and the Ecstasy - Irving Stone
Fictional biography of Michelangelo

The Brothers Karamazov - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
One of the all-time great books; what can I say?

The Naked and the Dead - Norman Mailer
Mailer - back when he was edited (but still wrote long-ass books) - turned in this brilliant, muli-dimensional tome that is a metaphor for war in general (set in WW II). It's a war book that isn't.

Extremely well-written, the writing is bested by the ideas and conclusions Mailer delivers/alludes to.

The ending is memorable for the irony it refuses to attach to the obscene waste deliniated there. I still remember it; decades later.

The Sound and the Fury - William Faulkner
Faulkner is ... obtuse.

And this book is no exception. When the Modern Library edition of this was published, Faulkner was asked to write an introduction to the book so folks could know just what the hell was going on.

This intro is a great piece of literature, as well.

Some tag Absolom, Absolom, Light In August or As I Lay Dying as his best (both great); to me, this is Faulkner's finest.

The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway
Possibly my favorite author, this is Hemingway's best book.

Hemingway is a tough one for me, as I like much of his work. And William Faulkner - famously in a Paris Review interview - said Hemingway's best book was For Whom the Bell Tolls because it was his largest failure (i.e., he tried/reached more, so strip away the bad and there is more good left than other books).

I don't know if I agree with Faulkner, though I do think that Hemingway primarily stayed with what he did best - simple language that has such deep undertones - and kept improving on this method. I still vote for this book.

The Trial - Franz Kafka
Especially in this post-9/11 world, Kafka's tale rings frightenly true on many levels.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being - Milan Kundera
One of the finest books of the last 25 or so years, Kundera's book is a story of love, lust, loss and life.

This book signaled the emergence of a great writer; unfortunately, subsequent books (such as Immortality) have not lived up the the promise of this work. However, all of his work is deeply layered and intellectual in nature, so it's always a pleasure to read him.

It's also one of the all-time great book titles.

To the Lighthouse - Virginia Woolf
There is much Woolf fiction to recommend, but this is my personal favorite. In this book, she really nails the interior monologue that she (and - separately - Joyce) developed to add another dimension to the novel. Elements of King Lear echo throughout the book, but it's generally quiet, subtext-focused and beautifully painful.

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