MY TEN FAVORITE BOOKS by Jim Hitt
When I taught high school or community college English, I often had arguments with my colleagues over the purpose of novels and literature in general. My theory is that literature’s main purpose is to entertain. Of course, entertainment varies from person to person. Some look for intellectual stimulation, some for merely visceral excitement. But entertain it must, and in the following I became a part of these authors’ worlds. Except for Gatsby, which is my overall number one pick, the rest are in no specific order.
1.The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald— Many people I know, including my wife, hate this book, but this has become my all-time favorite novel. I also believe is the greatest novel about the American Dream, whatever that may be.
2.East of Eden by John Steinbeck — Steinbeck believed he would be remembered for this novel rather than Grapes of Wrath. I like this better. A coming-of-age story twice over and another examination of the American Dream. Also has one of the great villainesses in literature.
3. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry — The greatest American western.
4.My Antonia by Willa Cather — I love coming-of-age stories, and this is the best I’ve ever read. The characters in this book are people I would have liked to have met in real life.
5.You Must Remember This by Joyce Carol Oates — Oates seems to come out with a new book every week, and suffice it say I have read only a small amount of her output. This book includes the greatest boxing scene in fiction, and I don’t even like boxing, but the subject matter is difficult since it deals with a love affair between an uncle and a niece.
6.The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky — My vote for the greatest novel of all time, and proof that classic works that are challenging can also be rewarding as entertainment.
7.Bel Canto by Ann Paggett— A modern novel that by the end moved me to tears. Beautifully written, vibrant characters all built around a group of people taken hostage by freedom fighters in a fictional South American country.
8.Great Expectations by Charles Dickens — Dickens was paid by the word, hence his long novels, but this is his shortest major work, and in my opinion, his best. As usual, the author gives us characters to love and characters to hate. Only the happy ending forced on Dickens by his publisher mars the story.
9.Dune by Frank Herbert — Written over 50 years ago, this remains the greatest SF novel. Here I must add a caveat. I have read some SF the last 50 years, but not much. What I have read does not come close to Dune.
10,Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks — This is the only novel about war (WW I) that brought me to tears. The first 120 pages are a love story that is both erotic and moving, and the war sequences are terrifying and immediate.
Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson — Japanese internment camps combined a mystery.
The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy — A six volume British novel that I read in six days. I couldn’t stop. Family saga at its best.
The Ballad of Frankie Silver by Sharyn McCrumb — A mystery that goes way beyond the bounds of a mystery.
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton — The shortest novel on the list, a frame story, with a shocker of an ending.
The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell — Modern Library ranked this 70 of 100 greatest novels in the English language. Exotic, sensual, unforgettable.