THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy
McCarthy is hands-down my favorite novelist. I have yet to read one of his books and come away disappointed. From the blazing morality play in No Country for Old Men, to the violent poetry of Blood Meridian, McCarthy has long since established himself as one of the greats. That said, if I had to choose only one of his works to call my favorite, it would be The Road. It’s a post-apocalyptic saga, both epic and intimate – a tale of survival, depravity, and remarkable courage. Above all that, however, it’s a love story; fierce, beautiful, gritty depiction of the bond between father and son.
“My job is to take care of you. I was appointed to do that by God. I will kill anyone who touches you. Do you understand?”
CRIME AND PUNISHMENT by Fyodor Dostoevsky
My first taste of Dostoevsky, and what a taste it was! Crime and Punishment is one of those classic classics; a book I can’t help but recommend to every single person who crosses my path. It is at once a gut-wrenching morality play, a brilliant psychological study, and a gripping crime thriller (not to mention a stunning refutation of Frederic Nietzche’s “Superman”). It’s dark and heavy, yes, but also shot through with hope; a story that affirms both the lostness of the human condition and the power of Christ to save.
“We sometimes encounter people, even perfect strangers, who begin to interest us at first sight, somehow suddenly, all at once, before a word has been spoken.”
FAHRENHEIT 451 by Ray Bradbury
Bradbury one of those storytellers I can return to over and over again without tiring. He’s a master wordsmith, a spinner of tales wonderful, wise, and bizarre. And Fahrenheit 451 is his tour de force. It doesn’t revolve around aliens, robots, or mutating viruses. The primary focus is mankind… and the dangers inherent to a society that’s gone almost completely brain-dead. If you haven’t read it, you must. It’s an example science fiction at its very finest: thrilling, chilling, and smart.
“We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?”
THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak
The Book Thief is the literary equivalent of Roman Polanski’s film The Pianist: artful, absorbing, devastating, beautiful. Quite simply, unforgettable. And though it is classified in the Young Adult section of the bookstore, it deserves the consideration, not only of older teens, but of adults as well. It is a story of love and loss, tragedy and hope, wrapped in prose that will take your breath away.
“I’m always finding humans at their best and worst. I see their ugly and their beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be both.”
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee
This acclaimed novel is ostensibly a courtroom drama, but such a description does not really do this profound and multifaceted book justice. Through the eyes of a child, Lee explores the evils of racial prejudice with subtlety and power, gracing her story with an elegance so unspectacular it’s spectacular. More than once, I had to pause and read passages aloud, just for the pleasure of rolling them off my tongue.
“Before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”
So I’m curious… what are your favorite novels? Leave a comment below and share your choices with the rest of us!
Set deep in the Depression-era South of the 1930s, the story covers three years in the life of young Jean-Louise “Scout” Finch and her brother Jem… three years marked by the arrest and trial of Tom Robinson, a black man falsely charged with the rape of a white girl.
Scout and Jem scarcely notice the goings-on until their lawyer father, Atticus Finch, agrees to take the case and defend Robinson in court: a fact that the two children (and the other inhabitants of Maycomb, Alabama) are staggered by.
Harper Lee’s acclaimed novel is ostensibly a courtroom drama, but such a description does not really do this profound and multifaceted book justice. At once poignant, wise, and humorous, Mockingbird is a tale of such excellence that, to quote the Chicago Tribune, “it will no doubt make a great many readers slow down to relish more fully its simple distinction.
Lee’s writing is graced with an elegance so unspectacular it’s spectacular; more than once, I had to pause and read passages aloud, just for the pleasure of rolling them off my tongue.
The book concerns itself with a number of weighty, adult themes, but Lee chooses to tell it through the eyes of a small child. It is within this context – the coming-of-age story or bildungsroman – that she explores the evils of racial prejudice. The result is both subtle and potent; a morality tale that never succumbs to didactic preachiness.
We’re also presented with an unforgettable picture of moral courage in the character of Atticus Finch. To most of the white folks in Maycomb, Tom Robinson was tried and condemned the moment he was accused. Atticus not only believes differently, he acts differently. Even when the odds are stacked against him, he takes a stand for justice and equity. One man contra mundum – against the world.
“This case, Tom Robinson’s case, is something that goes to the essence of a man’s conscience – Scout, I couldn’t go to church and worship God if I didn’t try to help that man.”
“Atticus, you must be wrong…”
“Well, most folks seem to think they’re right and you’re wrong…”
“They’re certainly entitled to think that, and they’re entitled to full respect for their opinion,” said Atticus, “but before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.” (p. 120)
Scout and her brother, and many others in Maycomb, come to respect him for that. One of the most touching scenes in the book occurs after the trial, when the town’s black minister tells Scout, “Miss Jean-Louise, stand up. Your father’s passin’.” (p. 241)
Stand up, indeed.