I've read a LOT of books in my day. Hundreds, even. Maybe even a thousand. I haven't counted, but it's definitely somewhere in that figure. And along the way, there have been very few books that I would call awful, and even fewer that I would call outright masterpieces. But these ten on this list are definitely in the latter category, and I recommend that you read them all. So, well, here they are.
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10. Drawing of the Three by Stephen King
The Dark Tower series really must be read as a whole to be truly appreciated. But if I were to choose one book out of the entire saga as a great standalone read, I'd have to choose the second book in the series, Drawing of the Three. I mean, talk about a page turner. The book moves so fast that it took me about two days to read 400 pages, and it's a stark contrast to the first book, which takes place mainly in Mid-World. This book takes place primarily in New York and jumps back and forth between there and the beaches of the other world, and the stakes are really high here. Roland's hand runs into some trouble and two fan-favorite characters in the series are introduced in this book in Eddie Dean and his future wife, Susannah. A great, great book. But you really should read the whole series. It's worth it.
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9. The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov
Everything that's great about Asimov (And seriously, what's NOT great about Asimov?) can be found in this book. Robotics? Check. A deep layered, scientific mythology? Check. A great central character? Check. And it's even got a whole detective story at the core of it. Really, what's not to love? And while I must say that Asimov's Foundation series is his magnum opus, unlike The Dark Tower series, I really can't think of one book in Asimov's series that's better or worse than any of the others in saga. The Caves of Steel is great book with a stellar setting. Definitely one of his best.
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8. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
One of my female friends back in high school said that this was her favorite book. I asked, how. It's such a masculine story and I couldn't quite grasp back then how anybody but a guy could like it. That said, as an adult, I can certainly see where it can be looked at as a much broader story that can be analyzed and enjoyed (If you're cynical) by all. It provides a darker, more mechanic future than those seen in other dystopian novels like 1984 or Fahrenheit 451, and as a futuristic story, it doesn't get much more depressing than this. An interesting read by a crazed, doped up novelist. I love it.
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7. Uncle Tom's Children by Richard Wright
Richard Wright is one of the few people who make me proud to be black. Besides having a name that sounds almost exactly like my own, he wrote eloquently and militantly, making his black contemporaries look like they didn't have the guts to write like he did. Native Son is a better book, by far, but I like this one more, mostly because it's told in short stories. But also because I think he gets his points across better about racism, segregation, and fighting back more clearly here. He was a Communist who wrote like a Communist. So it's no nonsense writing. No fluff, no bluff. Love this guy.
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6. The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis
I remember having a very hard time reading this when I was younger. Not because it was hard to read or anything like that, but more because I felt like I was committing blasphemy when I was reading it. That was foolish. It has a very bad reputation but it's unfounded. Half the Christians who hate on it probably never even read the book in the first place (Or saw the Martin Scorsese adaptation, for that matter). If they had, then they would know that it actually humanizes Christ much more, and shows Him as a much more rounded, three dimensional figure than the one who was always talked about at the pulpit. Liberal-minded Christians would actually LOVE this book. But I'm not going to spoil it for you. It's the ending that really sells it, and it really is quite beautiful. If you see yourself losing your faith, I think you should check it out. It might just make you remember why you continue to be a Christian in the first place. It did for me, anyway.
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5. The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut
In a lot of ways for me, Kurt Vonnegut is kind of like Stanley Kubrick. I've indulged in everything that they ever did, and I think that they were the greatest at their respective jobs. But I have a hard time picking one individual work in their oeuvre that I'd put above the rest. If you forced me at knife point, though, I'd have to say it's Paths of Glory for me with Kubrick, and with Vonnegut, I'd have to go with The Sirens of Titan. Next to Slapstick, it's the strangest work that he ever did, and also the most philosophical. But I think it also epitomizes the brain of this man, which was entirely out there but also painfully down to earth. And it features the first mention of Tralfamadore, which in itself is something spectacular. Vonnegut, wherever you are in your eternal dirt nap (Even, though, I'm sure you'd say 'in the ground, so let me sleep') you're still my hero. Always has been, always will be.
4. Shogun by James Clavell
Before I read James Clavell's Shogun, which is just the chronological first story in his Japanese saga, I was team Ninja all the way. But after reading this book, I was team Samurai all the way. No question. They're just such cooler historical figures than their black suited contemporaries. James Clavell fully explored the lives of gaijin (foreigners) in this story and also their presence on Japanese soil and what they meant to the integration of a new culture. Oh, and it had some really awesome action scenes that were all the more poignant because I really got engrossed in the characters and story. It's actually the first (and only) book that has ever made me cry. For serious. If you like Japanese culture at all, then you HAVE to read this book. You owe it to yourself. It's that good.
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3. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
Anthem and The Fountainhead are marvelous books, but after reading Atlas Shrugged, you feel that the other two were just warm-ups for this one. Every thing about Atlas Shrugged is empowering, and I can understand why the Conservative party would grab a hold of it and use it as the backdrop for their beliefs. Hell, I think ANYBODY who wants to believe that mankind can accomplish anything should read this book. From its opening line ("Who is John Galt?") to its glistening conclusion, I can't think of another story where I felt that nothing was impossible after reading it. A classic amongst classics. Even if you don't agree with her philosophy, it's still an outstanding story. Definitely check it out. And ignore its length. Every single page is worth it. Every single page is important.
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2. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
You might think this is sick, but I actually identify with Crime and Punishment's protagonist, Raskolnikov, more than any other character that I've ever read about. And that's not saying much on my part, being that Raskolnikov is a murderer. But the journey that he goes through in this story is the one that I feel that I would probably go through, too if I murdered someone. First, from feeling like some people don't matter in the world and deserve to die, to feeling both remorse and selfishness afterward when you realize that you have no right to play God and that every life has purpose. Dostoyevsky made a masterpiece of moral choices, and I think you should check it out if you ever saw someone on the street and thought bad thoughts about them. Because really, who are you to think that way about somebody? Like you're more important than anyone else. That's how this book makes you think. Written well over a century ago, it still holds up today. Now THAT'S a novel.
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1. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
The greatest comic novel I've ever read, this was Mr. Toole's second and final novel because he committed suicide before it was ever published. And it's a shame, too, because I've never read anything as hilarious as this book. I was seriously crying when I was reading it because I was laughing so hard. Crying! It has probably the greatest opening scene ever in a book and throughout the entire story, you just can't help but think that things can't get any worse for the pudgy, pedantic protagonist, Ignatius J Reilly, but they do! And the funniest part is, is that he actually deserves everything that comes to him. You never feel sympathy for him. Not once. He's entirely likeable and loathsome at the same time, he's just great.
This book has my favorite character ever and it's just too damn funny to pass up. If you read any book on this list, read this one. Read this one, please. It even won the Pulitzer Prize. And that's saying a lot for a book that's really just one long gag after another. Best. Book. Ever.