Best Fiction I’ve Ever Read

I recently received an email from a friend that was one of those "get-to-know-each-other" chain letters. Normally, I would send those straight to the bit bucket. But this one actually made me sit and think for a bit. Instead of replying to the email, I've decided to turn this into a blog post to give me a little more breathing space to explain what I like about these books.

I'm well aware that few (or possibly even none) of you will care about this. If you fall into that mammoth category, feel free to skip this post. But for the few who do care, here is my list, with the books listed in order of increasing wonderfulness. Also note that I've leveraged a self-imposed rule on myself to not include more than one book from any one author. Otherwise I would have to include all three Lord of the Rings books, as well as a slew more from Orson Scott Card - which would make for a boring list.

5. On the Road - Jack Kerouac
This book has been on my radar for a long time. I first heard about it in high school. It was supposed to be "a classic", which in high school I took to mean "incredibly boring". A few years ago, I went through a nostalgic period and began re-reading all of the books I had read in high school, to see if any of them were actually any good (hint: some were). After getting less than an hour into it, I was in love. I can completely conceive of how this book could have inspired a generation of young people to adopt the Beat lifestyle. It made me more than a little sad that I was born too late to have experienced it. After every reading session, it was all I could do to not jump in my car and just start driving. Kerouac's style is more than just energetic - it's frantic.

4. Dandelion Wine - Ray Bradbury
This book is a pretty significant deviation from Bradbury's typical fare (which I also enjoy, by the way). This book is more of a collection of Bradbury's actual childhood memories, all mashed into one magical, fictional summer. I read it at least once a year, and I read it much more slowly than I typically read a book. I like to savor the feelings this book triggers in me, and stretch out that rosy nostalgia as long as possible. I always finish this book with an audible sigh. As soon as the kids are old enough to be read "chapter" books, I plan to start reading this book to them.

3. Dune - Frank Herbert
For a long time, I avoided the established sci-fi classics. I think high school had turned me off to anything labeled a “classic”. So even though I was a sci-fi nut, I didn’t read Dune until I was in my late 20s. This book has done a lot to influence some of my views on life, including the realization that self-reliance is one of the most important traits a person can foster in themselves. Conviction, loyalty, cleverness, ability - these are all qualities present in the heroes of this book, and qualities that I am at least trying to build up in myself.

2. Fellowship of the Ring - J.R.R. Tolkien
Since the day I first finished the Lord of the Rings trilogy, it has been the yardstick I have used to measure every story touted as "epic" by its reviewers. It was this series that led to my early interest in Dungeons and Dragons - all I wanted was to capture just a little of the grandeur and scale of Tolkien's world and share it with my friends. When it was announced that the books were being turned into movies, I was very skeptical. Almost every other Hollywood-interpretation of a book I had loved had ended in disaster. And while I am not keen on every decision Peter Jackson made in creating the films, I will definitely say that he wrung every ounce of "epic" out of those books as he brought them to the screen. Just writing this now makes me want to go back and watch the trilogy again.

1. Speaker for the Dead - Orson Scott Card
Much of Orson Scott Card’s work speaks to me on a very fundamental, emotional level. Two of the strongest themes in his books are personal strength and compassion. His protagonists are individuals who discover untapped wells of strength within themselves to overcome nearly insurmountable adversity. This is a trait that I value highly in people, and is also one of the reasons I challenge myself constantly. Card’s characters also heavily influenced by their compassion for others, almost to a fault. Some of his characters are almost completely driven by compassion, as is Ender Wiggin in Speaker for the Dead. Every time I read this book, I reevaluate my personal relationships, and try to reconsider how much compassion I am showing to the people I care about. I’d bet that if Lori kept a journal, you’d be able to go back and guess when I had read this book again. 🙂

I've found that when it comes to reading for pleasure, there are two types of readers. Some people read a book once, and then are done with it. And some people will read a favorite book over and over. I fall into the second camp. Between every 3 or 4 new books I read, I re-read at least one old favorite. I've probably read each of the books in the list above at least a half-dozen times - some probably many more times than that.

Runner's Up:

Bluebeard - Kurt Vonnegut: My favorite of Vonnegut's books. For a long time Vonnegut was my favorite author, in fact. Aside from a few odd books, you really can't go wrong with anything he's written.
Fight Club - Chuck Palahniuk: While I actually like several of Palahniuk's books even better than this one, Fight Club makes a good introduction to his work. Anyone who has seen the movie will already be familiar with his style, which will make the book easier to follow.
Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates - Tom Robbins: My dad recommended this book to me. For the longest time I didn't bother to check it out - based on the title I had assumed it was a non-fiction book chronicling someone's globe-hopping trip. Boy was I wrong. This book was my gateway to modern absurdist fiction, which is a genre I've come to love.
Lord Foul's Bane - Stephen R. Donaldson: I found this book in our attic, when I was about 15 years old. I have since read all of Donaldson's work. He tends to write about anti-heroes, and the depth of his characters are usually quite staggering compared to other authors of the genre. Definitely a thought-provoking book.
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams: I've probably consumed the Hitchiker's Guide dozen of times, in its various forms. I've read the book, listened to the original radio serial, seen some of the TV show, and watched the movie. It was this book, read as a teenager, that introduced me to the dry wit of British humor and I've been hooked ever since.

2 thoughts on “Best Fiction I’ve Ever Read”

  1. Nerdicus, have you ever read “Ender’s War?”
    Not that you need any more reading recommendations, but try “The Mote in God’s Eye” and the “Ringworld” series.

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