I’ve been a bit remiss in blogging lately. That’s because I’ve been doing a lot of writing. I have a feature coming out (possibly today), and my interview with Anne Lamott (yes, the Anne Lamott) is going to be published with Electric Literature on November 1st.
I’m still editing my own damn novel. The biggest problem with learning to write better is that you really get to see how much your early drafts suck. I guess I learned a lot in my MFA.
Going back and working on it has me thinking about the things I really love in fiction. Recently, I asked my Twitter followers to share their favorite books with me.
What is your favorite book?
— Rebecca Renner 🌈 (@RebeccaRennerFL) October 15, 2018
Now, I’ll share mine. I’ll do a separate list for nonfiction, because that’s a whole ‘nother ballgame.
My Top 10 Favorite Novels
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss:
This was the first book I read after my father died. It got me through that rough time, and I’ll always remember it for that. Bonus points: it’s also one of the most brilliant fantasy novels I’ve ever read.
From Goodreads: “Told in Kvothe’s own voice, this is the tale of the magically gifted young man who grows to be the most notorious wizard his world has ever seen…A high-action story written with a poet’s hand, The Name of the Wind is a masterpiece that will transport readers into the body and mind of a wizard.”
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett:
I read this book during my MFA program. My comment on Goodreads then was: This was one of the best books I have read so far this year. It made me want to press the book to my chest and sigh. Can I have her talent for descriptions? I want it. I’m jealous.”
From Goodreads: “In an unnamed South American country, a world-renowned soprano sings at a birthday party in honor of a visiting Japanese industrial titan. Alas, in the opening sequence, a ragtag band of 18 terrorists enters the vice-presidential mansion through the air conditioning ducts. Their quarry is the president, who has unfortunately stayed home to watch a favorite soap opera. And thus, from the beginning, things go awry.”
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk:
Once upon a time, I made a bet with a professor that I could reference Fight Club in every paper I wrote in every class for an entire semester. Either my teachers didn’t notice, or they already thought I was bonkers enough for this quirk to seem pretty tame. Either way, I did it. I wrote some pretty good stuff, if I do say so myself.
Oh, and in case you didn’t know: even though bros seem to love this book, it’s actually a homoerotic critique of toxic masculinity. Joke’s on the bros, I guess.
From Amazon: “In his debut novel, Chuck Palahniuk showed himself to be his generation’s most visionary satirist. Fight Club‘s estranged narrator leaves his lackluster job when he comes under the thrall of Tyler Durden, an enigmatic young man who holds secret boxing matches in the basement of bars. There two men fight ‘as long as they have to.’ A gloriously original work that exposes what is at the core of our modern world.”
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving:
This huge tome of a book sat on my shelf for years before I read it. It was one of my dad’s favorite books, and he thought I would love it, too. He was right. I still have his copy. It’s one of my prized possessions.
From Goodreads: “Eleven-year-old Owen Meany, playing in a Little League baseball game in Gravesend, New Hampshire, hits a foul ball and kills his best friend’s mother. Owen doesn’t believe in accidents; he believes he is God’s instrument. What happens to Owen after that 1953 foul is both extraordinary and terrifying. At moments a comic, self-deluded victim, but in the end the principal, tragic actor in a divine plan, Owen Meany is the most heartbreaking hero John Irving has yet created.”
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole:
This is another novel I resisted reading until a friend finally convinced me. It’s difficult to describe, and in most of its descriptions, it honestly sounds pretty terrible. Just trust me though: it’s a gem. You won’t regret it.
From Amazon: “A Confederacy of Dunces is an American comic masterpiece. John Kennedy Toole’s hero, one Ignatius J. Reilly, is “huge, obese, fractious, fastidious, a latter-day Gargantua, a Don Quixote of the French Quarter. His story bursts with wholly original characters, denizens of New Orleans’ lower depths, incredibly true-to-life dialogue, and the zaniest series of high and low comic adventures” (Henry Kisor, Chicago Sun-Times).”
Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
Housekeeping is one of those quiet novels that you don’t quite see coming. It sneaks up on you, but after you’re done, you see the world more clearly.
From Goodreads: “A modern classic, Housekeeping is the story of Ruth and her younger sister, Lucille, who grow up haphazardly, first under the care of their competent grandmother, then of two comically bumbling great-aunts, and finally of Sylvie, their eccentric and remote aunt. The family house is in the small Far West town of Fingerbone set on a glacial lake, the same lake where their grandfather died in a spectacular train wreck, and their mother drove off a cliff to her death. It is a town “chastened by an outsized landscape and extravagant weather, and chastened again by an awareness that the whole of human history had occurred elsewhere.” Ruth and Lucille’s struggle toward adulthood beautifully illuminates the price of loss and survival, and the dangerous and deep undertow of transience.”
A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O’Connor:
Okay, so I know this isn’t a novel, but I had to include ol’ Flan. Just like they say all Russian novelists came out of Gogol’s “Overcoat,” I think all southern novelists cut their teeth on O’Connor.
My favorite story in the collection is “Good Country People.” My former creative writing students always remember reading it with me, even if I don’t remember assigning it.
From Goodreads: “This now classic book revealed Flannery O’Connor as one of the most original and provocative writers to emerge from the South. Her apocalyptic vision of life is expressed through grotesque, often comic situations in which the principal character faces a problem of salvation: the grandmother, in the title story, confronting the murderous Misfit; a neglected four-year-old boy looking for the Kingdom of Christ in the fast-flowing waters of the river; General Sash, about to meet the final enemy.”
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
This book holds the title as the book I’ve read the most. I used to teach 11th-grade English, so I re-read it every year. I usually hate re-reading books, but not Gatsby. Every time I read The Great Gatsby, I see something new. I think I may be about due to read it again. My dad bought me a new hardback copy when I became a teacher. It’s another one of my prized possessions.
From Goodreads: “THE GREAT GATSBY, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s third book, stands as the supreme achievement of his career. This exemplary novel of the Jazz Age has been acclaimed by generations of readers. The story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his new love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when The New York Times noted ‘gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession,’ it is an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920s.”
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
This one only came out a few years ago, but it’s stuck with me ever since. I think I’ve included it in 20,000 book lists. I just can’t help it. It’s that good.
From Goodreads: “When, in 1922, he is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, the count is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him a doorway into a much larger world of emotional discovery.”
Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli:
This one isn’t due out until February. (I have it because I’m special.) But it just feels like the book, you know? The book of a generation.
From Goodreads: “Told through the voices of the mother and her son, as well as through a stunning tapestry of collected texts and images–including prior stories of migration and displacement–Lost Children Archive is a story of how we document our experiences, and how we remember the things that matter to us the most. Blending the personal and the political with astonishing empathy, it is a powerful, wholly original work of fiction: exquisite, provocative, and deeply moving.”
What is your favorite novel? Leave a comment with your favorite — or two or ten. I won’t make you choose.
If you want to stalk my future reading habits, follow me on Goodreads.
If you missed it, check out the first installment of my blog series Electric Sheep. It’s a chronicle of searching for my erstwhile famous neurosurgeon grandfather’s story, and it’s kind of like the Spark Notes/soon-to-be podcast version of the nonfiction book I’m writing.
That’s going slowly though, because I have to keep the lights on by writing other things. If I can get only a fraction of my followers to contribute just a dollar each, I can focus on finishing the book.
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Great list! I have some things to add to my TBR! I’ve tried Bel Canto before (the audio), but may try reading it “for real,” since so many readers who share my taste love it. A Gentleman in Moscow is one of my favorites as well. My favorite, if it’s possible to choose, is The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan. I also love The History of the Rain by Niall Williams (a close runner-up; honestly, I can’t choose between them). Jonathan Strange & Mr Norell is up there as well. Must stop now or I’ll list 100 books!
I have Jonathan Strange & Mr Norell, but it looks so daunting! I need to buckle down and read it.
‘Mysteries’, by Knut Hamsun (also Henry Miller’s favourite book); ‘Notes From the Underground’ by Fyodor Dostoevsky; ‘Steppenwolf’ by Hermann Hesse; ‘Under the Volcano’ by Malcolm Lowry; ‘If This Is a Man’ by Primo Levi; ‘Life and Fate’ by Vasily Grossman. Just a flavour of the books closest to my heart.
I think you’d like Edith Pearlman a lot…