Okay, first let’s acknowledge that I haven’t read everything. It’s a big planet with millions of monkeys pecking away at millions of keyboards (including this one). I haven’t read all the classics. Not even close. No Jane Austin. No Ulysses. No Tolstoy. (Plenty of Hardy Boys.) Yet, somehow, I’ve managed to read my share of good novels. Certainly I can pick five of my favorites. Can’t I?
With so many contenders, it’s not as easy as you might think. With the classics out-of-the-way, I don’t need to pander to expectations nor give off a whiff of pretension. I can just be me. Which leads to a different kind of whiff.
The first three novels listed are locks. They stand (no pun intended) head and shoulders above all other novels I’ve read. The last two I agonized over. I had to contemplate, compare, contrast, categorize and consequently flip a coin. With much ado about nothing, read on.
Time and Again (Jack Finney, 1970) – A simple, elegant tale of love and mystery with the intriguing idea that one can travel back to 1882 by simply re-creating, all around you, the trappings of that time long gone. And when you’ve immersed yourself completely and you wholeheartedly believe you are in the past, you are.
The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas, 1844) – Revenge may not be your favorite weekend activity (or I may have mis-judged you), but there are very few things more satisfying, more demanding of your sense of right, then Edmond Dantès executing his intricate, complex web of retribution against his mortal enemies. In the final analysis, unless you’ve had everything ripped from you and then forced to spend 14 years in a souless prison stewing it over, you should, at the very least, have a hard time condemning his actions.
The Stand (Stephen King, 1978) – I’ve probably only read a handful of books more than once. This is one. Massive in scope, epic in execution, humbling in concept, the only thing missing is time to read it once more. It’s the story of the few survivors of a devastating virus, coming together, taking sides and the ultimate battle between good and evil. As Tom Cullen would say, “M-O-O-N spells excellent!”
Battlefield Earth (L. Ron Hubbard, 1982) – I enjoy a good science fiction yarn time and again. I’ve read Asimov, Verne, Heinlein, yada yada, but this 1,000 page behemoth by the creator of Scientology (insert Tom Cruise joke here) is brilliant. It’s about a boy that overcomes incredible odds and kicks some alien butt. It’s no literary masterpiece. Its better, because the action doesn’t let up long enough to feel like homework. Never, under any circumstance, watch the movie with John Travolta. The movie adaption is so terrible, so miserable, that the title is the only thing in common with the book.
Cryptonomicon (Neal Stephenson, 1999) – It’s hard to describe this 928 page-turning, black-covered tome using actual words from the English language. It’s really a journey you have to take on your own. It’s the emotion, the sense of awe, the spectacle, and the satisfaction of an experience well enjoyed. The plot, if it has a core, is too many things to summarize in a paragraph riff. It’s multiple stories take place during World War II and ‘today’. Look it up. Take the journey.
Honorable mentions: (okay, the coin flip didn’t take. I also cheat.)
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell (Susanna Clarke, 2004), The Road (Cormac McCarthy, 2006), and Wicked (Gregory Maguire, 1995)