My Favorite Novels of All Time (or, Am I a Male Chauvinist Pig?)

Due to intense pressure by one Jennifer Luitwieler, here are my top ten favorite novels. This list is always subject to change, depending on the day or the mood I’m in (all except the top three, which are always the first three books I mention as my favorites no matter the day or mood):

10) Gilead Marilynne Robinson

“I’m writing this in part to tell you that if you ever wonder what you’ve done in your life, and everyone does wonder sooner or later, you have been God’s grace to me, a miracle, something more than a miracle. You may not remember me very well at all, and it may seem to you to be no great thing to have been the good child of an old man in a shabby little town you will no doubt leave behind. If only I had the words to tell you.”

9) David Copperfield Charles Dickens

“My meaning simply is, that whatever I have tried to do in life, I have tried with all my heart to do well; that whatever I have devoted myself to, I have devoted myself to completely; that in great aims and in small, I have always been thoroughly in earnest.”

8) All the Pretty Horses Cormac McCarthy

“She looked up at him and her face was pale and austere in the uplight and her eyes lost in their darkly shadowed hollows save only for the glint of them and he could see her throat move in the light and he saw in her face and in her figure something he’d not seen before and the name of that thing was sorrow.”

7) Catcher in the Rye J D Salinger

“Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.”

6) Lord of the Rings JRR Tolkien

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

5) Blindness Jose Saramago

“I consider books to be good for our health, and also our spirits, and they help us to become poets or scientists, to understand the stars or else to discover them deep within the aspirations of certain characters, those who sometimes, on certain evenings, escape from the pages and walk among us humans, perhaps the most human of us all.”

4) Angle of Repose Wallace Stegner

“I wonder if ever again Americans can have that experience of returning to a home place so intimately known, profoundly felt, deeply loved, and absolutely submitted to? It is not quite true that you can’t go home again. I have done it, coming back here. But it gets less likely. We have had too many divorces, we have consumed too much transportation, we have lived too shallowly in too many places.”

3) The Brothers K David James Duncan

“–I truly and deeply wanted to kill him. And I believe I could have done it, with nothing but my hands. But all of a sudden, out of nowhere, Peter had an arm around me. “Let it go, Kade,” he was whispering very gently, though his arm was nearly crushing me. “Open your fists,” he said, “and let go of the coals.”

2) East of Eden John Steinbeck

“There is more beauty in truth, even if it is a dreadful beauty. The storytellers at the city gate twist life so that it looks sweet to the lazy and the stupid and the weak, and this only strengthens their infirmities and teaches nothing, cures nothing, nor does it let the heart soar.”

1) A Prayer For Owen Meany John Irving

“When someone you love dies, and you’re not expecting it, you don’t lose her all at once; you lose her in pieces over a long time — the way the mail stops coming, and her scent fades from the pillows and even from the clothes in her closet and drawers. Gradually, you accumulate the parts of her that are gone. Just when the day comes — when there’s a particular missing part that overwhelms you with the feeling that she’s gone, forever — there comes another day, and another specifically missing part.”

* * * * *

I’m still trying to decide what to make of the scarcity of women author’s on my list. Am I a male chauvinist? Is it that, relatively speaking, many fewer women than men were published during the years when most of my favorite books were written (due to lack of privilege, not lack of talent)? As a man am I drawn more to the way men tell stories? I encountered most of these books in high school or college – was I simply presented with an overwhelming number of books written by men? I don’t know. It has me thinking.

Have you read any of these? What’s your favorite novel of all time? Your top three? Top ten?

29 Replies to “My Favorite Novels of All Time (or, Am I a Male Chauvinist Pig?)”

  1. I love A Prayer For Owen Meany. I have wanted to read Cormac McCarthy because of his Knoxville connection, but I just haven’t pulled the trigger. As far as the scarcity of women authors, I don’t even think about that kind of thing. I read a book if I want to read a book. If a woman wrote or a man wrote doesn’t even enter my thought process. I read The Time Traveler’s Wife because I like time travel stories. I have never read Harry Potter because I simply never wanted to read them.

  2. I share many of these titles, Shawn. When I make my lists like this, they usually include more women then men. Maybe we read what we relate too. I also realize in doing these lists that my reading is usually very white and western. I’m trying to change that.
    Thanks for this.

  3. Hm. Very nice list, brother. You and Maile both referenced Blindness, I think. Wonder if the feminine thing has to do with your teachers’ preferences? When I am at liberty to choose my reading material, I like to alternate, male/female, fiction/ non fiction. May I suggest Kathleen Norris, The Cloister Walk, though it is non fiction. Now you’ve got me wondering about a new topic….gee thanks!

    1. Ironically, 99% of my English teachers were women. Perhaps they were working with the accepted canon of writers/books that had been handed to them.

  4. 0. “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” C. S. Lewis. I can’t think of a top 3, let alone a top 10. You would think that for as many books as I have read in my lifetime, these lists should be easy to make. I believe I’ve read so many, I can’t remember. I’m sure most of my favorites are in the genre of children/juvenile fiction. Oh…some books are coming to mind… “A Wrinkle in Time,” Madeline L. Engle. “Island of the Blue Dolphins,” Scott O’Dell. “Stuart Little,” E. B. White. 3 series I have enjoyed are “The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency,” Alexander McCall Smith; “The Sisters Grimm,” Michael Buckley; “The Russians,” Michael Philips and Judith Pella. I’ll stop there.

    1. I know what you mean about books meant for children. The series by CS Lewis and Medeline L’Engle, as well as many Newberry Award winners like “Island of the Blue Dolphins” have a special place in my memory.

  5. Oooo, I thought of some more. “The Seat Beside Me,” Nancy Moser. “The Time Lottery,” Nancy Moser. “Second Time Around,” (sequel to “The Time Lottery”) Nancy Moser. Actually, I haven’t met a book by Nancy Moser that I haven’t liked. “A Dangerous Silence,” Catherine Palmer. Another series: “The O’Malley’s” by Dee Henderson. Another favorite author: Terri Blackstock. Ok, now I’ll stop.

  6. I don’t think you’re list says that you’re a male chauvinist…perhaps, simply a victim of the established Western literary canon that favors male writers. I have Lord of the Rings, Gilead(at your recommendation and loved it..so thank you), but the rest I haven’t. I have had several people urge to read Owen Meaney.

    On my list–Pride and Prejudice, A Visit from the Goon Squad, Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, Incarceron, Til We Have Faces, Jane Eyre, She, and The Woman in White…I would have to search my bookshelves since my list changes quickly…

    1. Thanks for your thoughts on this, Sarah. Definitely the Jane Austin books are right up there, as well as Jane Eyre and The Hobbit. I could probably have put 20 books in my top 10.

  7. Ha! When I piled up my books to do my list I was surprised at the lack of women in that stack too. Of course there were others I could add, Annie Dillard, Barbara Kingsolver, Toni Morrison, Anne Lamott, etc. They just didn’t fit onto the Top Ten list.

    I like your list. I remember you talking about the Brothers K when you were at my house and kept meaning to get my hands on a copy of it, and now I see that David James Duncan wrote it! He wrote The River Why, which was a favorite book of mine in high-school. Now I KNOW I have to get my hands on a copy of K!

    1. You know, i’ve been knocking this gender idea around in my head today, and after reading Lore’s comment, I have to wonder, too, if it’s generational. You younger whippersnappers read different works in college than your elders (not that I’m in that group). But really, even how literature is taught, both in high schools and colleges, and the goals of those classes will differ from teacher to teacher and generation to generation. Contemporary Lit in college for me was late 80s works, and many women were being published by then. Who knows

      1. Lore – you MUST read The Brothers K. We named our firstborn after the narrator.

        Jen – you crack me up with these “old” jokes. As if. I do think that high school teachers, at least when I was there, had less flexibility in the books they could assign than the professors I had in college, where I found myself exposed to a wider variety of writers.

  8. Good list. I’ve read 6 of the 10. Love Tolkien, Salinger, and the Brothers K. A Prayer for Owen Meany is also a favorite of mine. One of these days I’ll make my own list…

  9. Great list! A prayer for Owen Meany is at the top of my list, Persuasion by Jane Austin a close second and the third is a book of short stories The Stories of Eva Luna by Isabel Allende.

  10. I’d also add “Where the red fern grows” — read it in fourth grade and sobbed like a FOOL at the end. It was THE book that moved me in such a way I knew that words and stories were powerful.

    1. Yeah, disappointing. I’ve read every book he’s ever written (except for the most recent two). I did enjoy Cider House Rules and what I remember of Until You Find Me, but nothing ever came close to Owen Meany.

  11. Thanks for sharing your list!

    When I first saw “The Brothers K,” I thought that you meant “The Brothers Karamazov” by Fyodor Dostoevsky. I read that one in high school and remember enjoying it.

  12. I love reading, when I take the time, and your question sparked a different answer than what was probably expected….I’m reading The Catcher in the Rye before my daughter reads it for an English class and I have to admit, it’s hard to read. The negativity, the swearing. I’m sure there’s a point to this story since it’s considered a great novel but quite frankly, I’m struggling to get through it and would love to pick up something more inspirational.

    1. Amy, I can definitely understand why you would respond that way to Catcher in the Rye. I’ve read it many times throughout the years. Here are a few things to consider as you read it:

      – it was one of the first popular coming-of-age novels. Holden so genuinely captures the tension that so many teens feel at that point in their lives: some confusion, some rebellion, some tenderness. It might make it easier for you to read if you keep in mind that this is the angst that many teens feel, and perhaps it can give you a better sense of their confusion and desire to reconcile the mixed messages they receive from the world.

      – Holden’s anger is very common in the people around us. As you read through the book, perhaps, instead of getting too caught up in the language, you could try to figure out why he is so angry? How does his view of the world lead to his response? I think that could give you some valuable insights into the world we live in today.

      At the end of the day, all readers have to decide what they want to subject themselves to in regards to literature. I think that if you can try to look deeper into the psyche of Holden, you might fight the read more rewarding.

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