I’m nervous about making this post as now I have to declare to the world what are my ten favorite books of all time. I fear I’ve forgotten something important or I’m revealing too much about myself. Certainly the little blurbs I have describing these books are inadequate to describing their greatness. As I’ve mentioned before, this ranking is not a scientific enterprise. When determining the rank I decided that twelve different books could be number one, so really books 1-12 are a tie or have very small increments between them. The rest of the hundred or so books are in 4-5 tiers of clustered ranks.
So for better or worse, here are my top ten favorite books of all time.
10 The Complete Works of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
I’ve read a lot of Sherlock Holmes stories in my life, including many not written by Conan Doyle and I’ve loved them all. In a high school production of “The Hound of the Baskervilles” I portrayed Watson. I loved the Jeremy Brett series of Sherlock Holmes adventures. So one day back in 200o I decided to read every single Conan Doyle story back-to-back. I was richly rewarded and think everyone should read all of Holmes’ adventures at least once in their life. It’s great to see Conan Doyle’s story evolve and the friendship of Holmes & Watson that is the heart of the
9 In Small Things Forgotten: An Archaeology of Early American Life by James Deetz
This book is an absolute classic of historical archaeology literature. Deetz examines what small, seemingly insignificant artifacts can tell us about the lives of people of the past and complement — or even contradict — what is missing from the written historical record. My favorite chapter on the evolution of headstones in New England cemeteries and how their evolution reflects changes in religious belief. I also once met the author, a larger-than-life historical archaeologist, on a tour of Flowerdew Hundred in Virginia.
8 The Eyre Affair: A Thursday Next Novel by Jasper Fforde
I’m cheating again, because I’m not recommending just one book, but a whole series of five (and counting) books about the Special Operations agent Thursday Next. She lives in an alternate universe of England in the 1980’s where people love literature so much they need a police unit to prevent book crimes, where time travel and regeneration of prehistoric creatures is commonplace, and the Crimean War never ends. The books are full of literary allusions yet they are also the most original thing I ever read. And also very, very funny. So if you’re into detective/sci-fi/literary/satirical/humor books, I guarantee you can’t go wrong.
7 Jazz by Toni Morrison
This is a complex novel in which story lines are repeated and improvised much like a jazz piece. It’s also a unique novel in which the book itself is the narrator. It’s fun to read both for its creative style, interesting storytelling, and even its humor. I also have fond memories of writing a kick-ass paper for a college course in which I found a quote from Morrison that proved me write and my professor wrong. Very satisfying.
6 Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
A magnificent novel in which the mundane, the everyday are given great significance. It’s a work of art that beautifully illuminates humanity and human relationships. It also makes for a good walking tour as I have fond memories of the day my wife and I spent following Clarissa Dalloway’s footsteps through London.
5 Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
So there are two Toni Morrison novels in the top ten, and the thing is, there probably should be more. She’s that good. This novel is about many things including people learning to fly, and more importantly about the protagonist finding his “people” and place in the world. This also is one of the more accessible Morrison novels so I recommend it if you’re reading her work for the first time
4 The Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger
I haven’t read a more honest novel about the experience of being a teenager, one’s childhood slipping away and the realities of adulthood losing their luster when you realize things are more complicated than the grown-ups ever told you. This is a really moving and funny story of Holden Caulfield running away and wandering aimlessly around New York for a couple of days that change him, and the reader, forever.
3 The Once and Future King by T.H. White
This is the absolute best modernist adaptation of the Arthurian legend. Written in the context of the Second World War, White offers a commentary on the extremes of humanity: peace, beauty, and love versus war, treachery, and hatred. If you’ve seen the Disney film “The Sword and the Stone” adapted from the first book of this work, dismiss it from your mind. White’s novel is a deeper, darker and thoroughly more rewarding work.
2 Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
I read this book in three different courses in college and it got better and more revelatory with each reading. The story is a journey of awakening of Janie from her childhood through three marriages, through joy and tragedy, and ultimate self-realization.
1 To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
I have a feeling that people are going to get to this point and think that this is just like listening to the top 100 songs of all time on the classic radio station only to hear “Stairway to Heaven” at number one. Again. What can I say about this book? It’s probably the best canidate for the Great American Novel. It’s a novel about awakenings, growing up, the racial divide in America, and the core of humanity. Among other things. And that only begins to explain why it’s the best book I’ve ever read.
So that’s it. I hope you enjoyed this list and get some good reccomendations out of it.
If you liked reading this list, I ask that you take a moment to write a comment below and include the name of one of your favorite books of all time.