There are lots of books on “100 best books of all time” or “greatest works of fiction” lists – you know… Tolstoy, Dickens, Morrison, Kafka – some I’ve read, some are on the “to read” list, and some I’m just not interested in slogging my way through. But, whether Pulitzer worthy or pulp, there are certain books that just stick with you. Here are my ten memorable novels. I also include the works listed on my My Ten Favourite Fiction Books.
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
Set in San Francisco, this novel is about four Chinese American immigrant families. The mothers and daughters meet to play mah-jong weekly and each section of the book, structured like the game, focuses on vignettes of their lives. I read this in high school English class and it’s memorable to me because I created a set of letters to represent some of the themes in the book: family, tradition, assimilation, and racism.
Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick
This story is about the relationship between two boys: Max, a huge boy who suffers from low self-esteem, and Kevin who has a physical disability and high intelligence. They become good friends and call themselves “Freak the Mighty”. Though this is a YA book, it deals with some challenging concepts. I won’t give any spoilers, but it’s one of those books that really made me cry.
Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo
This 1938 novel is about an American soldier in the First World War who wakes up in a hospital bed after being injured by an exploding shell. He has lost his limbs, face, and ability to communicate – he is a prisoner in his own body. It is a heart-breaking read.
Blindness by José Saramago
When an epidemic of blindness hits a city, society quickly crumbles. The book focuses on a group of people who are quarantined in an asylum including a Doctor, and his wife who is the only person to retain sight. Blindness is haunting dystopian work that uncomfortably highlights how quickly chaos can ensue when epidemics strike.
The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon
This book has stuck with me because of its honest narrative about racism and prejudice. I wrote a review, which you read on Summer Favourites 2019.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
One of my mom’s first grad students gave a copy to me for Christmas when I was a teenager, and I liked how the writing was darker and more pessimistic than semi-contemporary works like Pride and Prejudice.
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
I actually read this when I was tutoring a student and wanted to be able to help him better understand the themes of the book. Set during the Great Depression, two migrant ranch workers, George and Lennie, move from place to place, dreaming of independence and opportunity. Again, I don’t want to spoil it because I think everyone should read this book, but it also has themes of disability, prejudice, and racism and it also made me cry.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby
This is a memoir describing life before and after a stroke that left Bauby suffering from locked-in syndrome. The book was written by Bauby blinking and an assistant painstakingly transcribed his words. He died two days after it was published.
Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby
I don’t even like football/soccer and yet this book has stayed with me. I read it as part of an undergraduate course on popular culture in Britain and it was fascinating to read about how a sport can symbolise, consume, and unite people.
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Again assigned reading, though I can’t remember if it was high school or university, but this psychological voyage down the Congo River is an important historical narrative on colonialism. The unease of this work, both in regards to the plot and of our troubling history, are what have stuck with me.
For more book goodness, see books I read in 2019.
What are your memorable novels? I’m always looking for recommendations!