Okay, so maybe the title’s a little hyperbolic, but ever since I read Josh Hanagarne’s post about The Greatest Book of All Time at World’s Strongest Librarian, I’m in the mood for a little hyperbole.
Normally, I don’t try to classify books. I love them because I love stories. It doesn’t matter if the book is a franchise Star Wars novel or serious, classic literature like The Sound and the Fury or The Canterbury Tales. If the story engrosses me, I’m happy. There has never been a need to pick the beset of the best because I don’t typically think about books that way.
So picking the cream of the crop out of the myriad of books I’ve read during my life seems a nearly impossible task. But since Josh listed his with such certainty, I started thinking about my favorites. He had some good choices:
Mine are a bit different.
When I was a kid, I read this book at least once a year without fail. It introduced me to the idea that science does indeed have a place in mainstream literature. Just because the novel was directed at youth did not mean that it had to be dumbed down. While Meg Murray and her family are interesting, A Wrinkle in Time’s primary draw for me has always been the concepts, the science. L’Engle’s high ideas were executed perfectly; they were integrated into the narrative instead of being asides, which some books (Ringworld, I’m looking at you) have a hard time with. I’m sad that I haven’t read this in a decade. I’ll have to rectify that soon.
When someone asks me if I’ve read The Time Traveler’s Wife, I generally tell them that the book “might be the best novel I’ve ever read.” I qualify it like that because it does not hold the nostalgia that A Wrinkle in Time does, but it provides a very clear feeling that my life might be different had I not read it. I’m not sure how, but I know that this book affected me. Maybe because it was so honest. Maybe because it uses SF conventions in a way that proves SF should have no stigma anymore. Maybe because Claire and Henry’s relationship is the single most realistic representation of a relationship I’ve ever read about. The movie did an okay job of adapting the novel, but it didn’t have quite the same feel or voice. Do yourself a favor and read it.
Required reading for my American Novels class during my final semester of graduate school, The White Boy Shuffle is everything that good American satire should be. It’s hilarious. Really hilarious. The prose is tongue-in-cheek so much that I’m not sure when Beatty is seriously antagonizing a person or concept or just trying to get a laugh out of the reader. And that’s wonderful. There is really no part of America that Beatty doesn’t attack and make seem ridiculous. Absurd racial stereotypes, friendship, family, and what it means to be a “writer” are among my favorite running themes. Still not sold? Here’s the quote I have on my Facebook page:
Each model will carry a sign with a grammar lesson on it. I can see the enthusiasm on the children’s faces now. Imagine with me, if you will, the fine and sexy pre-med major light-skinned Linda Rucker, in a little one-piece bathing suit carrying a sign that reads ‘i before e except after c.’ There’ll be booty and learning for days.
So there are my top 3. I find it odd that I did not list anything by Stephen King or even J.R.R. Tolkien on my list. They are certainly two of my favorites, but I couldn’t find any room between these three that actually impacted the way I think. That’s what good literature does, I reckon, and why it needs to be on a list in the first place.
What about y’all? What books fall on your Top 3 lists?