Jurassic Park by Michael Crichten (1942-2008)

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton (1942-2008)

Don’t you ever just read for enjoyment? You can’t read Faulkner all the time! It’s too difficult, too depressing. You must unwind and relax a bit sometimes.

That’s the argument, anyway, and I hear it a lot. Of course I do. Like I said, there are plenty of books I love that wouldn’t necessarily make my top novels list. So to that end, I hereby present my 25 favorite novels to read, the ones I read over and over again. And there’s no Faulkner.

There is Michael Crichton, though. For a long time he was a very enjoyable author to read. I read Jurassic Park in high school, knowing that Spielberg was working on the film, and I not only loved it, it actually changed the way I view the world (seriously).

So, to the author of Jurassic Park, The Great Train Robbery, Sphere and The Andromeda Strain (all highly enjoyable), in honor of his untimely death yesterday, I dedicate my following list.

There are a few books that in the end, surprisingly didn’t make my list, some brilliant but damn enjoyable (Catch-22, 100 Years of Solitude, The Stranger), some more of a pleasure (The Big Sleep, Hound of the Baskervilles, The Golden Compass), some because I love the author but couldn’t pin down a specific book (Kurt Vonnegut, Christopher Moore), and, then, the Harry Potter series, because I just couldn’t figure out which one, yet didn’t want to put the whole series, because the last four books are so much better than the first three.

HONORARY MENTIONS: The Collected Stories of Roald Dahl, The Philip K. Dick Reader, Night Shift and Different Seasons

These are honorary mentions, of course, because they are not novels. They are collections of short stories (or novellas). Dahl and Dick go together, because so many of their stories have a twist at the end, Night Shift is the first of King’s collections, and the strongest (Skeleton Crew has a few stories that are better, but overall, doesn’t hold up as well), and I’ve read the first three novellas in Different Seasons at least ten times each.

#25 – Dracula (Bram Stoker) – 1897

The book that sparked my interest in vampires, and specifically, in Dracula. I also love the format (the letters, the diaries), and the underlying horror / eroticism.

#24 – Empire Falls (Richard Russo) – 2001

Such a dark conclusion, but such a magnificent novel, with so many wonderful characters and a town that completely comes to life.

#23 – Winesburg, Ohio (Sherwood Anderson) – 1919

The book that made me a writer. One of the easiest to read novels on my top 100 list.

#22 – Jurassic Park (Michael Crichton) – 1990

This book changed my way of thinking, as I said before. It introduced me to the concept of Chaos Theory, something which I became (and remain) a big believer in. How often do you get your world view changed by a Science Fiction novel?
#21 – The Risk Pool (Richard Russo) – 1988

Russo’s towns are so brilliantly designed. I wish I could travel to one of them. I owe my love of this book to Joe Lopata.

Nova - Samuel Delaney's forgotten masterpiece

Nova - Samuel Delaney's forgotten masterpiece

#20 – Nova (Samuel Delaney) – 1968

The brilliant Science Fiction version of the Grail Quest, brought into my life because of Academic Decathlon in 10th grade, but I still love it. Hard to find because it goes out of print. It needs to be made into a movie.

#19 – To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee) – 1960

Everyone’s beloved book. “Why, Atticus, he was real nice.” “Most people are Scout, when you finally see them.”

#18 – The Wind Up Bird Chronicle (Haruki Murakami) – 1995

I still remember borrowing Jill Owens’ copy and reading the first few pages waiting to pick up Veronica, and being hooked, from the strange phone call and the description of making spaghetti at ten in the morning. Hey, Nobel Committee! Since you seem determined not to award an American, how about giving it to Murakami! He’s earned it!

#17 – Good Omens (Neil Gaiman / Terry Pratchett) – 1990

The closest thing to Douglas Adams outside of Douglas Adams.

#16 – The Hotel New Hampshire (John Irving) – 1981

Probably the weakest of Irving’s major novels, but so funny and heartbreaking. And it has one of my all time favorite ending lines – “Iowa Bob was right. You have to get obsessed and stay obsessed. You have to keep passing the open windows.”

#15 – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Hunter Thompson) – 1961

Never has there been a person so utterly unlike me that I so wanted to have met.

#14 – Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell (Susannah Clarke) – 2004

The best novel so far this century. Nuff said.

#13 – The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger) – 1951

I read this at the right age (16, going on 17) and it has stuck with me. I reread it every year.

#12 – Our Gang (Philip Roth) – 1971

Roth’s hilarious send up of the Nixon administration, a good year before Watergate even happened. Damn, I wish I could write satire.

#11 – High Fidelity (Nick Hornby) – 1995

I am Rob Fleming.

#10 – The Maltese Falcon (Dashiell Hammett) – 1930

I may be Rob Fleming, but I so desperately want to be Sam Spade. Unlike everyone else in my generation with a Fedora, I didn’t get it because of Indiana Jones. I got it because of The Maltese Falcon.

#9 – The Princess Bride (William Goldman) – 1973

How many novels other than A Tale of Two Cities get a brilliant opening line (“This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it.”) and a brilliant closing line (“I just want to say for the umptee umpth time that life isn’t fair. It’s just fairer than death, that’s all.”)

Ignatius Reilly - one of literature's greatest characters

Ignatius Reilly - one of literature's great characters

#8 – A Confederacy of Dunces (John Kennedy Toole) – 1980

Obscenely funny. Made me want to go to New Orleans, see it, then flee at top speed.

#7 – Wonder Boys (Michael Chabon) – 1995

Not as great a book as Kavalier and Clay, but it’s closer to my heart. Aside from the academic setting and the writer narrator, there’s the fact that I’ve met Chabon several times.

#6 – Straight Man (Richard Russo) – 1997

As with Wonder Boys, I love books set in academia. And I rarely laugh as much as I do when I read this. Richard Russo, obviously, is one of my favorite authors. And of course, the brilliant final paragraph:

“Clearly, the only solution was for all of us to take one step backward so that the door could be pulled open. By this point a group of plumbers, a group of bricklayers, a group of hookers, a group of chimpanzees would have figured this out. But the room contained, unfortunately, a group of academics, and we couldn’t quite believe what had happened to us.”

#5 – The Eyre Affair (Jasper Fforde) – 2001

The amazing blend of Science Fiction and classic Literature. A series of books made for me. And of course, the author is charming and witty and very likeable. I’ve met him several times and hope to meet him several more.

#4 – The World According to Garp (John Irving) – 1978

One of those books that I return to again and again because it makes me laugh and it makes me feel warm and I can sleep at night.

#3 – The Stand: Complete and Uncut (Stephen King) – 1991

Of course, I can’t sleep at night when I read this. This director’s cut version is 300 pages longer, but actually much better as it has better detail, a more intricate examination of the societal breakdown, and the brilliant final ending that I quoted a couple of weeks ago.

#2 – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams) – 1978

I so wish he had lived to write more. I truly believe that 42 IS the answer to life, the universe and everything. I’m not sure of the question, but I like to think it’s How many roads must a man walk down before they call him a man?

No Balrogs allowed.  And don't cross the double yellow line.

No Balrogs allowed. And don't cross the double yellow line.

#1 – The Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien) – 1956

Could you not see this one coming?