Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Response #1: Favorite Novels

Due before our first class meeting (section 003 meets on Monday night at 6:30 PM, section 002 meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 2 PM, both in 292 RB.)

What are your five favorite novels of all time? No more than five. No less that five. Five. Genre doesn't matter. How old you were when you read them doesn't matter. But they must be "novels" in whatever way you define that term. Find them and stack them up in front of you. Make a list of all the things they have in common. Not why they are different. What they have in common. 

  • How were they written? How were they structured?
  • What about the lead characters captured you?
  • What were the lead characters trying to get or get away from? 
  • When and how did the novels kick into high gear? Or did they?
  • What was the main opposition to the Lead's objective?
  • How did the ending make you feel? Why did it work?
  • What else appealed to you? The setting? Theme? The "realness" of it? The lack of realness? 
  • What kind of reading experience did these books provide?  
Reply below! I'm looking for 250+ words. 


  1. Dune, Frank Herbert
    The Easter Parade, Richard Yates
    The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien
    Absalom, Absalom, William Faulkner
    A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan

    When I think about what these novels have in common for me is that—for one reason or another—I loved the experience of being inside them for the days and weeks it took to read them. They don’t have a great deal in common in terms of subject matter, writing style, or structure. Perhaps what they do share is that they are deeply layered. Dune and Easter Parade are linear while the others are collages, but they all have a lot of things going on at once. I don’t mind a straightforward book that’s “easy to read,” but the ones that really get to me are the ones that sweep me away to another time and place and give me a lot of balls to juggle. Otherwise, I get bored. As much as I enjoyed reading The Hunger Games his year, it’s not my kind of thrill ride. I like my art a little complicated, I guess. Maybe too complicated. Lately, I've been reading books that are more traditionally and easily structured so that I can learn better how to "keep it simple." I'm one of those people who makes everything complicated.

  2. The Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan
    The Coldfire Trilogy, C.S. Friedman
    Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher, Bruce Coville
    Halfblood Chronicles, Andre Norton & Mercedes Lackeys
    The Bellmaker, Brian Jacques

    You said to pick only five books, I say that's impossible. I have three separate series listed here, simply because I don't think any one novel in that series stands on it's own- they are all part of a massive story that is simply too large to be contained in one book.

    As for the similarities the five stories I have listed have, I would immediately say fantasy. I love the fantastical. Magic, dragons, knights with swords- these things ignite my blood. They also all follow a linear pattern of story telling, from a third person limited, typically jumping between multiple sets of characters (Jeremy Thatcher being the only one that stays consistently with one character, if memory serves). Four of the five happen in some sort of pseudo-medieval world (Wheel of Time, Bellmaker, Coldfire, Halfblood), and four of the five have magic present in some form(Jeremy Thatcher, Wheel of Time, Coldfire, Halfblood). Three of them involve world-endangering/altering events that the protagonist(s) must overcome. Three of the stories involve some form of an anti-hero/redeemed villain in them.

    -Daniel Na

  3. Wild Card, Lora Leigh
    Play It As It Lays, Joan Didion
    Halos, Kristen Heitzmann
    The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
    Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen

    For me, what these novels have in common is the connection of relationships that show the challenge of a bond or the failure between two people. The focus for the Lead sways towards the deep layers in life: love, self discovery, purpose with another, facing tragedy, etc. The main character is usually an emotional drifter, one who begins the novel captured by loneliness and pain, numb to the pleasures of existence. I cannot read a novel without the slip of romance. Observing the romance between two people is the sappy reading experience I’m looking for. Or if the Lead chooses the loner path after a chance at love, I like the twisted ending as well. Plath and Didion show this loner path in both of their novels by giving the Lead the chance to look deeper into the relationships they have crossed, resisting the ideals of love, although never being quite able to disengage from such relationship. Leigh, Heitzmann, and Gruen stay true to what are my favorite pieces of the “romance novel”, the classic love story. All five novels are complicated, which is what I am fond of. This is what makes the novel feel real. Life is extremely complicated and so is love and romance. The concept of writing romance novels is usually looked down upon, certainly not considered literature, although for me these kinds of novels are the truest novels in our world.

  4. The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins
    The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
    Looking for Alaska - John Green
    Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell
    The Ersatz Elevator - Lemony Snicket

    For me, what these books all share is a common and complex character-to-character relationship that is meant to drive the plot forward. The characters in these stories don't simply exist within their universes with other characters; they depend on them for the plot's survival, especially in novels like Gatsby and Alaska where the narrator plays a covert role. Characters are what draw me to a book more than anything else, and to be honest I spend more time inventing new characters than I do writing full-fledged stories! The characters' stories don't even have to be particularly relatable; the Baudelaire children in The Ersatz Elevator experience a long string of unbelievable and frightful events, the likes of which I could never imagine happening to myself or anyone. But they endure, and that strength to endure is a huge draw to me as a reader. I think, too, that I'm drawn more to the ambivalent or tragic ending; all five authors seem to leave a shadow of a doubt that their characters are not quite finished with their circumstances, and while that would make sense for Hunger Games (as it's the first in a trilogy) and The Ersatz Elevator (the sixth of thirteen in a series), it's fascinating to me to read something like Looking for Alaska, where, after all the suffering, the closure reached is still not one of happiness, but more of acceptance, a growing of knowledge about the wicked ways of the universe. I see Nineteen Eighty-Four in much the same way. Finally, one last common thread of these novels is how their characters wrestle with how they understand the world. Gatsby and Alaska, both larger-than-life characters in their respective novels, meet their ends during the course of their stories, and force their covert narrators to grapple with their worlds and how they view them. In Nineteen Eighty-Four's case, it costs the narrator his life, and in Ersatz Elevator and Hunger Games, their struggle at the book's conclusion is not quite complete. But in that struggle, these characters grow, and I think I grow a little along with them.

  5. The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
    The Book Thief, Markus Zusak
    The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien
    Harry Potter Series, J.K. Rowling (Yes, I went there).
    The Princess Bride, William Goldman

    I know a lot of these are typical, streamline books, but most of these books grew up with me. I grow attached to characters a lot easier than I do with plot, and these characters are so easy to fall in love with. The main similarities would be a lot of these are part of the fantasy genre,which I love because it opens up incredible possibilities of where the characters can go. Tolkien and Rowling are the bigwigs of fantasy. You are never really sure what could happen next. There are also strong female characters, except The Hobbit, although the LOTR series has a few strong female characters. I chose The Hobbit over the series itself because I felt it was written much better, not as weighed down with too much description as the rest. Also, the characters find friendship in the most unlikely places! The journey the characters have to take are incredible, as Esther falls slowly into madness,Liesel tries to survive and understand the horrors of the Holocaust as a German girl, Bilbo steps outside the Shire to go on an adventure when he would rather be having tea, Harry sacrificing so much to defeat the Dark Lord, and Westley "coming back from the dead" to save Buttercup from the hands of Humperdink, and to prove that death does not stop true love, it only delays it for awhile. They have basically nothing in common in terms of structure and language, possibly due to the fact that these stories range from 1937 to 2007. These may not be the most complicated stories, but they made me love reading and writing, and I think that makes them worthy of being my five favorite novels.

  6. Gone, Michael Grant
    One for the Money, Janet Evanovich
    Piercing the Darkness, Frank E Peretti
    Stormbreaker, Anthony Horowitz
    Thr3e, Ted Dekker

    I’ll be honest, all of these books, except for Dekker, are part of a series. I cheated by selecting the first of each series, and most of the books are every bit as good as the first book. I spent some time debating on whether to include Peretti since I don’t remember it very well except that it sealed my decision to become a writer and proved to me that Christian fiction can be exciting and doesn’t have to be preachy. This selection of books has nothing to do with each other stylistically or by genre. Thriller, action, religious, comedy and science fiction gave me a variety of styles that satisfied my different interests depending on my mood.

    I was particularly enthralled by Grant’s ongoing series, which could be closely identified with “Lord of the Flies” with a supernatural twist. Although I start reading it for pure enjoyment, the depth of the characters that dealt with children when faced with responsibility while struggling with other common issues (i.e. eating disorders). All of these stories were page turners from the first page to the last until I’m turning the page of the next book. Just because the characters were so good and the storyline was so interesting, I was more accepting of writing, especially considering some of these books are meant for a younger audience.

    The biggest similarity I can see between these books is that they are grounded in reality. Even the supernatural elements of Grant’s novel is dealt with in a way I could relate with (if supernatural powers do exist). This is different than other novels that are more abstract and bury meaning so far into the story you wonder if the author did it on purpose or you just made it up. This may be desirable for some people, but since I want to write for a younger population (young teenagers) I prefer themes that are more prominent and don’t make the reader fish for it.

    Another common theme in these books is action. I like action mixed into the books I read because as Flannery O’ Connor said, violence “is the extreme situation that best reveals what we are essentially.” We overuse the phrase, “I would die for you,” but how do we know if that’s true or not unless we are put to the test?

    - Sarah Chaney

  7. Daughter of Fortune and The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
    Orlando and The Years and Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
    House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday
    One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
    The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse and Tracks and The Antelope Wife by Louise

    I have chosen authors as much as I have chosen books. Some of these have kept me engaged even while I wondered how that was possible, considering they dealt so much with the tediousness of living. I am thinking in particular of The Years and of Love in the Time of Cholera.

    What these books have in common is a sense of the presence of the storyteller, interesting (engaging) descriptions of environments and scenes (just enough and not more), beautiful prose, interesting and unique characters, a window into the thoughts and feelings of characters, an invocation of all the senses (yet each sense is only expressed when it has something to add or to define or is particularly vivid in evoking an experience in the reader), and a “magical” aspect that enriches the experience – the way sometimes the mind adds to real life with interpretations or metaphorical connections or even in experiencing the mystical amidst the tactility of the everyday world. These writers create an experience for the reader to live – to get sweaty and dirty and encrusted with.

    The lead characters are trying to get (or get away from) any number of things, but the real stories are the interior drama of the characters – the meanings they make from their interactions with other characters and with their environments and experiences (plot). The characters are, mostly, very real and unique people (flawed heroes) that are consequently easy to identify with or to have sympathy for.

    In addition most of the stories, while seeming at one level to be about mundane experiences and ordinary individuals, speak to a more global expression of humanity. The drama of the characters is at core the drama all humans experience: love, loneliness, jealousy, anger, pride, longing…. Their needs are our needs, their joys are our joys. The lessons they learn transform us.

  8. A Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin
    Battle Royale, Koushun Takami
    The Elfstone of Shannara, Terry Brooks
    The Phoenix Guards, Steven Brust
    The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger

    A few of these stand apart, but I believe all of these books tell a journey of some kind, whether it be a journey to save the world from evil or a personal journey. And through this journey I become attached to the characters if I am able to identify with how they handle their tasks, if they are held back by real demons or internal ones. And when they fall because of an obstacle or their own internal issues, I usually grow upset myself because of my attachment to them.

    Another similarity between these novels comes with the rawness, the fact that the characters can be resting easy one moment and then pressed with danger the next. Battle Royale, similar to what I imagine Hunger Games is like, kept the story intense with death around every corner. A Game of Thrones leads you into a false sense of security but can later lead to a character's downfall. Your favorite characters aren't exactly safe in their worlds, and you root for these characters because they could die at any moment; the authors don't exactly stick to the cliches of heroes surviving to the very end.

    As I said earlier, these books provided me five different journeys. Beyond that, though, they provided me companions I could sympathize with and who I wanted to succeed. Some of these journeys ended happily (The Phoenix Guards), others ended with pain (The Elfstones of Shannara and Battle Royale), and others had life continue on without an exact resolution (The Catcher in the Rye), but not every journey can have a happy ending.

    -Tyler Trosper

  9. The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
    The Three Musketeers, Alexandre Dumas
    Eldest, Christopher Paolini
    Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling
    Cask of Amontillado, Edgar A. Poe

    I too love the sheer idea of jumping into a world and disappearing for a few days or perhaps a week if I'm rather busy with other tasks. I love being immersed in the stories-each one of these stories was able to grab my attention and hold on to it until the very end. Once I finished reading a book I felt like I had achieved my goal, but at the same time I felt lost because I was thrown back into the real world.

    Each of these stories was able to entice and enthrall me because they all had a good deal of intrigue and conflict. The first times I read The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers there was a bit too much historical evidence for my liking, but the conflict and the drive were still there to compel me to read further. Likewise, in Eldest and Deathly Hallows there was a great deal of fighting that had me turning page after page, threatening to tear them right out of the book.

    Each of these books had a very structured approach, some more complicated than others. I love being able to see the rise and the climax, being involved in the story as I'm being bricked into a wall or battling Urgals with magic. Being able to clearly see where the story can progress is intriguing. I try to think for myself what will happen and I'm pleasantly surprised when it instead goes in a different direction.

  10. Where the Red Fern Grows – Wilson Rawls
    Don’t You Dare Read This Mrs. Dunphrey – Margaret Peterson Haddix
    To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee
    Holes – Louis Sachar
    Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix – J.K. Rowling

    This proved to be nearly impossible so I decided to just pick my first favorite novels. When I was in junior high, I read these, some for class and some at the suggestion of my school’s librarian assistant. The list above is the order I read them in. I credit them for the fact that I decided to keep reading and become a so-called book person. While they may not be books that I choose to pick up now and re-read frequently, I am still loyal to them.

    What they have in common (to me personally) is their strong characters and somewhat a bit of an underdog story in each. Who doesn’t love an underdog? When I first read these books as a child, I kept turning the page because I was dying to know how the characters were and if they were okay, not so much about how they were reacting to the situations they were in. I know many people would say that the fifth Harry Potter book is plot driven, but I chose the fifth book because it was the first and only one that made me cry. My favorite character wasn’t a main character, I was instead drawn to the story of Sirius Black, I felt that he had become the heart of the story and *spoiler alert* when he died, I was crushed to the point that I swore off the series, of course changing my mind a few weeks later.

    In Don’t You Dare Read This, Mrs. Dunphrey, I wasn’t concerned with the bills being paid, but how the girl was coping. I had never in my life related to any character whether they be from books, tv shows, or movies as I had that girl who was struggling with being the head of the household and only a teenager. Relating to or deeply caring about characters is what makes a book for me.

    I chose young adult fiction books because as I said, I picked some of the first books I read. Recent young-adult fiction books that I’ve read include the Uglies series, Hunger Games series, and the Twilight series. Altogether, they include eleven books and of them, I only like three: two from the Uglies series and one from the Hunger Games series. The reason for that is because I hated most of the protagonists for the duration of most of the books. All three of those series’ have very strong plotlines and crazy, fantastical stories, but I think they severely lack strong characters. Due to that, I don’t care about the story, which leads me to believe that as a writer, I should focus on character development.

  11. Waiting, Ha Jin
    The Lover, Marguerite Duras
    Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami
    Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie
    Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, Nick Flynn

    For my favorites I chose four novels that I read several years (read: up to a decade) ago that have managed to stick with me over time, and a new favorite that I read over winter break.

    Even though the first four are fiction novels (though Duras's certainly borrows heavily from her own experiences) and the last is a memoir by Nick Flynn, all of these works speak to me in several similar ways.

    Some commonalities I noticed: all of them deal with despondency of varying levels; characters in all five novels suffer feelings of disconnect; several are politically charged and/or have strong ties to major historical events; all have strong imprints of their authors.

    As a student leaning heavily toward creative nonfiction, I hear a lot about the "journey" that a narrator takes throughout the duration of a novel. As readers, we have to believe that these people on the page that we have invested in will take us somewhere beyond a simple ending of the book. We want to not only see the changes, but feel them as well. These five books I've chosen do that for me. There is always a conflict set up right from the beginning, and there is always a striving to meet or avoid that conflict, underscored by an intensifying sense of urgency. But in the end, the people inside these stories always change and the impact on me as a reader is extremely satisfying.

    A writer like Salman Rushdie always mixes the fantastical with the historical and the political, and he weaves multiple complex threads throughout his works, which makes it easy to feel overwhelmed by it. Then someone like Nick Flynn writes about his absent, alcoholic father and how he keeps coincidentally bumping into people who know his father well, and how Flynn winds up working at a homeless shelter in Boston and his father just happens to show up one night out of nowhere, needing a place to stay. All this sets Flynn up for his own self-examination, opening up about his addictions and short-comings. Duras is avant-garde, Murakami is Kafka-esque, Jin disagrees openly with politics of his home country.

    All of these writers weave very complex parts of themselves into their novels. However 'real' or 'unreal' a story may be, it's the complexity of the writer and the story that I love most about reading. These writers (and these particular works) deliver on that for me.

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  13. Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
    A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess
    Dracula, Bram Stoker
    The Talisman, Stephan King and Peter Straub
    IT, Stephan King

    Whenever I think of what these books have in common are that the lead characters are stronger than the other characters and have the strength to continue going. Gone with the Wind and The Talisman are the only two on the list that have similar writing styles. They both have one leading character, third person, and starts out with a goal and finishes with achieving the goal. Dracula and IT, however, show us multiple lead characters POVs while A Clockwork Orange only shows us the first person POV. All of these novels start off with the simple, normality with introducing the character or characters then they start to reach the high point. Each of these endings, for me, had a very "whoa" affect. After reading the books for so long, to see what happens, and comes to the end, I always got a "whoa" affect. What appeals to me that these books gave me was to put me in different situations, worlds, and adventures. I could feel Scarlet's struggles to keep above water and her desperate attempt to have money. Then there's Alex's pity after having the treatment and not being able to fight back. While reading Dracula I felt the horror that followed everyone with deaths and strange bite marks. With Stephan King's books, it upped the horror-thrillers to new standards. Each gave me the cocaine to always love them.

  14. Everything is Illuminated, Jonathan Safran Foer
    Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer
    The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
    White Oleander, Janet Fitch
    The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver

    One similarity among these novels comes in point of view. Within each novel, there is a first-person narrative. This--if written well--develops a definite and distinct voice in the narrator. It gives insight to his or her thoughts, opinions, and skewed points of view. While third-person narratives are able to develop characters effectively, first-person narratives appeal to me because of their depth. Again, if written well, first-person transports the reader into the narrator's mind. The skewed point of view, in particular, interests me. It presents a challenge for the reader to determine the truth in what the narrator says, where his or her biases are and where he or she is objective. This is seem most clearly in The Bell Jar, where protagonist Esther Greenwood attempts suicide but presents the action in such a rational way that the reader finds the option completely logical.

    In subject matter, each novel involves characters who leave home and/or are required to gain trust in strangers. It is in these situations that the characters are thrown from their comfort zone and forced to adapt, thus further developing their personalities. This is obvious in The Poisonwood Bible when the Price family leaves the United States for the Congo. They find themselves in an under-developed country where they must rely on the people of the tribe to help them survive.

  15. You Shall Know Our Velocity by Dave Eggers - This book stands out as an example of using a large theme, like constant movement, to unite the entire novel. It always felt like I was with the character experiencing the same anxieties. Eggers' is fantastic at writing with a lot of power and meaning.
    Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut - This novel made me interested my own relationship with the stories I'm writing. Vonnegut places himself inside the storyline and inside the fictional world that he created. He is one of my favorite writers because of his distinct voice and because of his style of storytelling.
    The Minds of Billy Milligan by Daniel Keys - This book told a true story in a compelling way. This is how I became interested in non-fiction and eventually, journalism. It tells the story of a man with multiple personality disorder. This showed me that great stories are all around us, and that sometimes being a great writer means having the ability to find and dissect them.
    The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – Adams introduced me to science fiction with a soul. He takes the reader places throughout the novel and really forces new ideas and experiences onto them.
    Brief Interviews With Hideous Men by David Foster Wallace - This book is a introspective look at societal definitions. Wallace is one of my favorite writers because he changes the rules in a lot of ways. He tells stories without telling without using conventional methods. Reading this made me reconsider how writing should work.

  16. The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
    Winesburg, Ohio – Sherwood Anderson
    Big Sur – Jack Kerouac
    As I Lay Dying – William Faulkner
    Coming Through Slaughter – Michael Ondaatje

    If I had to pinpoint one major similarity that runs through each of these novels, I think that the frailty of the human condition would have to be it. Many of the main characters fight against the people and places around them as much as they do against their own egos. These characters face problems that people struggle against every day which not only grounds them in reality but makes them relatable in some way to almost any reader.
    Another similarity between the main characters of these five novels is that each one is emotionally damaged from the start. Over the course of the novel, the characters are forced into situations that either improve their overall outlook on the world around them or send them slipping further and further into insanity. In the cases of Darl Bundren from As I Lay Dying, Buddy Bolden from Coming Through Slaughter and Jack Duluoz from Big Sur, the world around each of these characters is too much to handle in the end which causes mental breakdowns in all three. Characters like Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye and George Willard from Winesburg, Ohio deal with problems of alienation and connection to society as a whole which puts them in a state of isolation from which they must attempt to escape.
    Though each one of these authors has a distinct writing style, each one is able to walk the line between order and chaos. I think that this keeps the reader entertained and reading on.. Many authors tend to reveal too much too soon in their novels. These five give you just enough to begin with and then take you on a journey of self-discovery with characters that are relatable and captivating right up until the very end.

  17. Harry Potter Series - J.K. Rowling
    Sword of Truth Series - Terry Goodkind
    The Road - Cormac McCarthy
    Drood - Dan Simmons
    A Visit from the Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan

    I'm really not much of a reader, but I suppose the biggest aspect about books that interest me are ones that put me into new situations and keep me turning pages. With Rowling and Goodkind, I am thrown into a fantastical world full of things I probably would have never dreamed up on my own - and if I had, it would at least not have been as exciting. I used to stay up on school nights turning page after page when I had Harry Potter books. I could never get enough - I just wanted to know what was going to happen. As for the Sword of Truth series, there is a lot of character development throughout the stories along with dangerous and frightful journeys. When I read Goodkind's books, I felt apprehension for the characters. My heart would race for them. And I really just like being able to get that involved in a book.
    As for The Road, I really was impressed with McCarthy's style and descriptions. The story was good in itself, but they way McCarthy wrote the book was actually one I read more from a writer's perspective because I think he is really quite talented and different.
    Drood is just suspenseful and takes the reader into a crazy tale that keeps the pages turning to uncover the truth.
    A Visit from the Goon Squad was an enjoyable read for me because it was different and put together in such a complicated way. I tried to write stories like that myself after reading the novel and realized just how time consuming and difficult it really is to incorporate stories into other ones that are so different from each other. It's quite impressive and is one of the main reasons I enjoyed that book.

    Overall, I like to discover something. I like being in suspense.

  18. Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
    Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie
    The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien
    Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card
    The Alex Cross series, James Patterson

    What these books have in common is how different they are. All of these books are stylistically very different, even within their own genres. I love books that don't follow the traditional writing format. For example, I love The Things They Carried because it tells the same story several different ways, and at the end you have no idea which is the "true" story. You don't often see that sort of ambiguity in a novel. Hitchhiker's Guide and Peter Pan are stylistically all over the place. They jump around from topic to topic and you're given way more information about the world of the story than is actually necessary for understanding the plot. Usually books only give the information that is necessary. Ender's Game tells an adult-level story through a child's eyes. The Alex Cross novels are told from two perspectives, the cop and the killer. Both of these unusual perspectives are what make these books great. The way these five books are written is what makes them my favorites and is what they have in common.

  19. Apathy and Other Small Victories by Paul Neilan
    I'm not listing these in any particular order. Choosing five favorites is difficult. Typically the last book I read is my favorite at the time. With Apathy and Other Small Victories, the biggest thing that impressed me was the protagonist of Shane and his indifference to the world around him. The humor used in the novel was excellent and I often found myself laughing out loud at some of the scenes. I have not read anything else from Neilan, but if Apathy is reflective to his other works, I am upset I have not picked up anything else by him.
    Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison was recently lent to me, and though long-winded at times, the novel is an exceptional work. The symbols and motifs used in the novel are effective devices that give the idea of the metaphorical invisibility life.
    American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis was written as a reflection on the yuppie upper class of 1980's American Culture. To put it lightly, the book was disgusting and uncomfortable at times, and I loved it. Whereas Apathy had me laughing out loud, American Psycho made me appalled to the point I had to put the book down. The book is written from the point of view of Patrick Bateman who's mental stability diminishes as the book progresses.
    House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski is potentially the most pretentious piece of literature I have encountered. The process of reading this book is the main reason I chose to include it. The narrative is actually a story in a story in a story that becomes progressively more aggravating to read. Some pages are read at an angle with others contain a single sentence. Agoraphobia had never been a concern until this book with the house that is infinitely large on the inside.
    The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. This is a novel for younger readers, typically, but it is a story that stuck with me. Chbosky writes a young and inexperienced main character that felt easy to relate to, at least at some point in life. The issues of love and relationships in the novel are tackled pretty well, and don't get too caught up in being over dramatized or unreal. That's the main reason I enjoyed this book so much is the fact that it felt authentic and real. A movie adaptation is being made of it...and I am pretty upset. Chbosky is the director, so that may help, but I'm still skeptical.

  20. The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
    Holes by Louis Sachar
    A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
    The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

    All of these books were written in chronologically ordered chapters, but not always from the same point of view. I suppose what grabbed me about the characters in these books was their relatable personalities or how they faced their struggles. Their stories and how they were told really sucked me in, whether it be trying to make things right with someone they had wronged, trying to break their bad luck, struggling to survive after a series of losses, or trying to escape from or simply ignore a bad life.

    I guess each of these novels has a climactic moment when I couldn't put the book down if I wanted to, but each of them did it in a different way. Even the series I have listed had a main climax toward the end as well as one within each of the novels included. The majority of the novels I listed above grabbed me in with their harsh realities; they reminded me that even when I may think life sucks there is worse and it's important to be aware of those things in the world and keep them in perspective. As for Holes and A Series of Unfortunate Events, yes they have realistic aspects, but at the same time they have been infused with an element of pure fiction - such as a villain who is never caught and whose sad disguises somehow fool everyone but a few children, or a mystical old woman and a correctional camp built on finding buried treasure.

    I do like the fantastical and the obvious fiction, such as the Harry Potter series and some others, but I find myself mostly drawn to books that I can relate to in some way or that directly shed some light on an aspect of life. Of course, that's not saying the more fantastical books don't shed some light, too.

  21. A Song of Ice and Fire series , George R.R. Martin
    House of Leaves Mark Z. Danielewski
    Double Star Robert Heinlein
    The Dharma Bums Jack Kerouac
    The Silmarillion J.R.R. Tolkien

    In all of these novels, the most common thread I can find is that the setting is a primary character. This hits one extreme in House of Leaves, where the physical house on Ash Tree Lane is one of the primary characters in the book, and another extreme in The Dharma Bums, where the setting works through people, specifically the community of artists and writers in and around San Francisco in 1957. The Silmarillion and A Song of Ice and Fire both take a very good tack in the middle of that spectrum where Ea and Westeros, respectively, form a very active backdrop to the actions of the characters, heightening and highlighting their actions in very skillful ways. In both of those novels, the author's use of setting is skillful, and even at the expense of the occasional information dump, I am able to become immersed in the characters' actions and motivations, based on the world in which they were raised. That emphasis of getting into a character's head is essential in good fiction for me. Without understanding the place in which the people I'm reading about are functioning, I can't really justify it when they take actions that I would never consider taking.

  22. Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury

    Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas - Hunter S. Thompson

    Anthem - Ayn Rand

    Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut

    Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey - Chuck Palahniuk

    One of the common characteristics of these novels, aside from length, is the borderline science fiction or flat out crazy situations the main characters find themselves in. Of course every story needs the lead to be in some interesting predicament to drag the reader along, but these five each put the lead in very unique situations hardly attempted by other great writers.

    While none of them would be classified as a difficult read, they are all justifiably in my list.

    Four of these choices share a futuristic theme to them without any of them getting to sci-fi for my liking. I have a hard time sinking my time into something that goes overboard on the science side of fiction.

    Another thing some of them share in common is unique story structures. Rant and Cat's Cradle are the two best examples of this. The oral biography side of Rant is a really neat writing device not utilized enough by modern authors. Cat's Cradle just utilizes the idea of short, concise chapters giving the reader roughly 100 chapters in under 200 pages. If nothing else these styles help pace the story.

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  24. The Harry Potter Series, by J.K. Rowling (I just can't deny it)
    Percy Jackson & The Olympians Series by Rick Riordan (again can't deny it)
    Blue is for Nightmares, by Laurie Faria Stolarz
    Bleed, also by Laurie Faria Stolarz
    Elsewhere, by Gabrielle Zevin

    Although these books don't really have much in common in regards to theme or even structure, I list them because at one point in my life whether now or at a previous time, they all truly meant something to me. Some of the books have a subtle theme of the supernatural/mythological world that has become so common in novels released today, but on a deeper note they also have characters that have a true purpose in life and are striving to find just what that is. The odd ball in my list of books would have to be "Elsewhere", while the other books involve witches and wizards of some kind, "Elsewhere" is based in the "supernatural" theme because of its setting. I'll admit that while reading books a lot of people can begin to believe that they are truly being immersed into the world of the story and can sometimes believe that it's a real place. While I have to admit I am deathly afraid of dying (pun intended), this novel by Gabrielle Zevin kind of put dying into a better light for me. For the most part when I go about choosing a novel (as how I did with those listed above) I usually take an approach of reading the summary, then reading the first page or two. If they don't catch my eye then, I probably won't enjoy them, but there have been a select few that I have given a second chance with and ended up loving in the end. Like many people in choosing books I also want to find ones that have a world different from my own in some way. They can be similar with just a hint of difference, or completely off the beaten path, but as long as I am able to use the novel as an escape, I'll give it a chance any day. As for structure to a novel I feel that while being "simple" can make it easier to follow in the authors mind for creating a different world,I also can say that the more in depth and detailed the world is described as the more believable it can be. It also makes for an amazing creation that a lot of people can dive right into (Harry Potter).

  25. Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen
    Ella Enchanted, Gail Carson Levine
    Princess Bride, William Goldman
    Eragon, Christopher Paolini
    Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams

    As I thought about my five favorite novels, I could not decide on just five to be my favorite. I chose instead the five novels I have read or enjoyed the most. The majority of the novels are fantasy, with the exceptions being Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and Pride and Prejudice.
    Hitchhikers Guide and The Princess Bride I like because of the writing style. They both have a sarcastic, and sometimes metafictional, writing style that make fun of their genres while still telling a story within the defined genre. The other three novels just fit into their defined genre style.
    All of the novels have a very definite journey for the protagonist. Although this can be clichéd, all of the novels progress through the journey of the main character in a very unique way that bends the perception of the genre in some way or another.
    The lack of realness is what drew me to these novels; each exists in a world outside my own. For a long time I had very few experiences outside the narrow scope of a homeschooled only child. All of the novels I read during that time as a means of escaping from the narrow world of my own view.
    All of these novels are also connected for me in that they inspired much of my early writing. The fantasy or history scenes, the ironic or straightforward narration, and the ideas that challenge preconceived ideas of the genres of the novels all inspired my writing from my early teens onward.

  26. The Road, Cormac McCarthy
    The Stranger, Albert Camus
    House Of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski
    As I Lay Dying, William Falkner
    Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

    It’s funny, after making this short list, I realized that these books really are very similar in a variety of ways. I think most strikingly, these books contain incredibly simple narrative and form such as sentence structure but pack some of the biggest punches I’ve ever encountered in a novel. I appreciate how these authors demonstrate the power of language in a less-is-more way. They understand and have mastered the ability to create the widest array of and most powerful emotion and narrative using the least “fluff.” This isn’t to say there exist no examples of figurative language or descriptors. In fact, quite the opposite. Several of these books are among the most beautiful I’ve ever read. It’s also interesting that these books are among those which made me want to write whereas many others have made me want to read. In this way, they posit themselves in my memory in very intriguing ways. Finally, each of these books exemplify human struggle in an extremely abrasive and often “backward” way. Forgive the lack of a better word. I mean that the scenarios presented to the characters of these novels are those, which I believe a majority of humans have come to describe as wrong, or brutal, or in the very least undesirable. Horror, pedophilia, murder, cannibalism, and mental incapacity are a scant few highlights from the above list.

  27. Bastard out of Carolina, Water for Elephants, A Single Man, Are you there, Vodka? It’s me, Chelsea., and P.S. What I Didn’t Say

    I love these books due to the fact they all have one major theme in common. They represent the constant struggle of being a human being. Each book expresses how a human endures struggles in everyday life and achieves their goals. Each character in the book becomes stronger and overcomes obstacles. They have been an inspiration to me and have brought forth an emotional connection as I read them. I became connected to the characters almost as if I was watching a friend. Each book starts off with a “lost” individual and throughout the book the character goes into a stronger, more independent person. Each character struggle made myself want to keep reading to make sure that in the end everything worked out for them. I like more realistic stories. I like to know that not everything in life is perfect but in the end it can turn out better than planned. At the end of these books I felt such an emotional rush that I didn’t want to stop reading. I was actually upset that the characters weren’t real and I couldn’t watch their lives evolve outside of the book. I like being able to feel that connection to a character. These books have taught me it’s ok to be a little messy. We are all on our own individual journeys and not everything is perfect. It’s fine to mess up once in awhile because in the end it’ll bring you right where you’re suppose to be.

    -Olivia Guidi

  28. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard
    Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera
    The Hours, Michael Cunningham
    Other Electricities, Ander Monson
    While England Sleeps, David Leavitt

    While structure is not a concurrent theme throughout all chosen novels, the novels with strong and intriguing structures made the list. I just recently read Other Electricities and became incredibly excited about the possibility of a novel in stories. What Monson does in this book is amazing (he has a whole story that is structured around temperature and how it relates to the characters, environment, and physicality). The most common element in these novels would have to be the strong integration of fact with fiction. I love novels that take place in time or around an event or that are grounded by the very magical realism that exists in everyday life, even if backdropped by monumental events. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek astounded me with it's breath and beauty- even while discussing parasites and their incredible journey through species to find a host or the hunger of a wolf who would lick a blubber wrapped knife to death (I was constantly running up to someone after every paragraph saying, "did you know...?". While England Sleeps was set during the Anarchist revolution in Spain and The Unbearable Lightness of Being bordered on sometimes philosophical wonderings without feeling bothersome.

  29. Into the Wild, Sarah Beth Durst
    The Back Door of Midnight, Elizabeth Chandler
    Don't Tell, Elizabeth Chandler
    Monk, Lee Goldberg
    Crooked, Laura and Tom McNeal

    I chose these books because I find them each to be unique. All of them have some kind of suspense and adventure. The Back Door and Don't Tell have very much in common when comparing structures and theme. Both tell stories about a person realizing they are psychics. Their structure involves the person being completely oblivious of their gift at the beginning. However, they slowly develop knowledge of it and then use it to their advantage. All the different characters in these books have unique traits that draw the reader's eye and the suspense in the stories keep them turning the pages. Although some of these books are obviously very unrealistic and others could possibly true, they keep me intrigued with their mystery and humor. I love books such as Monk that have a lot of humor. He is a psycho who is a great detective but fears almost everything and is terrified of germs. It's hilarious! The more funny it becomes, the more I want to read. I do not like being left on a cliff when I reach the end of a book. Sometimes there is not even a series after that book. A few books by Elizabeth Chandler leave the reader hanging until the next book in the series. Sometimes I like to write my own ending so there are no more what ifs floating around. Overall, all these books leave me on my seat and I have to keep reading them until I'm finished. I enjoy books that leave me on edge. Otherwise, I become bored and forget to read the rest of them.

  30. Octavian Nothing, M.T Anderson
    IT, Stephen King
    Nicholas Nickleby, Charles Dickens
    The Road of the Dead, Kevin Brooks
    Jumper: Griffin’s Story, Stephen Gould

    The main thing all these books have in common is the excitement throughout each novel. The genres vary for each novel, but I found it easy to get into each book and not want to put it down. Story wise the one thing each book has in common, is that they all involve children in situations that are less than kind. In each novel the children come very close to death several times. IT, Nicholas Nickleby, and Octavian Nothing have a lot of detail throughout the story that can be a little complicated to catch the first time around. I found that the more I read these books the more new things I found, which I though was really fun. There is at least one character in each book that really grabbed my attention, in IT for example I was drawn to one of the more minor characters. All the main characters in these books seem to be after one type of freedom or another. In Octavian Nothing; Octavian is after his literal freedom because he was a slave who grew up as an experiment. But in Griffin’s Story, Griffin is more after revenge on the people who killed his parents, but they are after him as well, so he seeks freedom to not be chased by them anymore. Something I really love about all these books is that they really stuck with me, I find myself wanting to constantly reread them. Although most of these books are science fiction or horror they all have relatable themes in them, one thing I really loved about IT is that King has the same theories about monsters that I had when I was a kid and still hold today. All these books are really enjoyable, I love most of the books I read, but these seem to be the main ones I find myself always coming back to.

    -Chelsea Westbrook

  31. Harry Potter Series - J.K. Rowling
    The Mortal Instruments - Cassandra Clare
    The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins
    Peter Pan - J.M. Barrie
    The Shining - Stephen King

    One main thing that all of these books have in common is that they all take place in some kind of mythical place. With Harry Potter it’s the wizarding world/ Hogwarts. In the Mortal Instruments there’s the city of Idris. In The Hunger Games it’s the nation of Panem in the ruins of what was once North America. In Peter Pan, they travel to Neverland. While these first four are places that truly come from the author’s own imagination, Stephen King’s The Shining was based upon a hotel he once stayed at that was reported to be haunted – the Stanley Hotel. Other than using the hotel for inspiration, the places the father in the story – Jack Torrence – goes are completely from the imagination of Stephen King.

    The lead characters in each of these books have something different in them that captured my attention. In Harry Potter, Harry has to deal with so many different things in the very first book. He does not know anything about the wizarding world and how it works, but through it all he maintains this humble aspect about himself. He also has this unbelievable sense of faith in people.
    In the Mortal Instruments, it wasn’t so much the main character, Clary Fray, that drew me in, but the mystery of who these strange teenagers where, covered in odd tribal-looking tattoos, carrying strange weapons, and killing a boy at a nightclub. The most interesting character in this story is Jace, a Shadowhunter (a descendent of angel and human who hunts demons from other worlds to keep the peace in the “mundane” world). He is sarcastic, gruff, and dark – yet the hero of the story.
    The main character of The Hunger Games – Katniss Everdeen – is interesting because she does not put herself or her wants first, until she is forced to in the Games, and even then she can’t do it properly. It is this sense of selflessness that intrigues me.
    When it comes to Peter Pan, I am not really sure what about the main character draws me in, because there are so many things about his personality to pick from. He is bold, arrogant, and adventurous. He sees adventure in anything and everything, which is probably the most significant thing about his character.
    Finally, unlike the characters in these previous book, Jack from The Shining is the most selfish, self-loathing, self-destructive main character I have ever read about, and that is what drew me in, because it was not the typical “hero” character. While he is probably classified as the antagonist of the story, I don’t see it that way – not saying that I think he should have killed his whole family or anything like that – but in the end, he was the one who saved his family from the hotel and himself.

    Only one of the endings from my list really disappointed me: the end of The Shining. The book was great, it was intricate with all of the different story lines, and it was actually frightening. However, it ended with some oddball summer scene between the mom, the cook, and the boy which just didn’t work out so well for the story. It didn’t fit. The characters didn’t even talk about what had happened at the hotel. It would have been so much better without that last summertime chapter. Even Stephen King didn't like it, when looking back on the story. When making the 1997 remake of The Shining, he had the last scene cut out and replaced with a better one. Other than that I did not really have any complaints about the rest of the endings. J.K. Rowling did a wonderful job of tying everything up in that last chapter where she flashed forward seventeen years. I really don’t see how she could have finished the series without it, because we would have been left hanging at the end of the big battle scene at Hogwarts. The ending of Peter Pan, on the other hand, makes me sad, because Peter forgets about Wendy after a while, even though he said he wouldn’t. It’s a very sad ending, but it is my favorite book.