I have been keeping track of all fiction books that I have given 5/5 stars since I have started reading. I finally have made it to 50 and have put them in order (as best as possible) of how much I liked them. I hope this serves as an elite list of my favorite books.
*disclaimer about the list making: I did not include any books based on author representation. This is purely a list of books I picked up and gave five stars to regardless of the author’s race or gender. I am not trying to provide a comprehensive list of books others should read, in a list like that, equal representation is important.*
I first decided whether a book was five stars and then what order they should appear in.
I used the following four categories when rating and then sorting all books I have read. But books do not need to be great in all categories. For example, I didn’t love the story in One Hundred Years of Solitude, but the writing and impact were so mind boggling it’s a five-star book and ranks in the top half of the fifty.
- Story– Books tell stories, I value engaging plots and stories. If the plot is intriguing and well-paced (not ham-fisted and cheap) that’s a huge credit to the book.
- Writing– A book of this quality’s writing should be impressive. The choice of words, construction of sentences, and structure of the book should be interesting and conducive to the story and significance of the book.
- Enjoyment– I should enjoy reading a book. I am not about giving five stars to books purely because it was a beautiful piece of art. I enjoy reading, so I should enjoy a great work of fiction. If it is super boring and unengaging that does not speak well for the quality of the craftsmanship.
- Impact– A bit of an x-factor, the book should be one that can be read over time. That has something to teach about truth in our world. I shouldn’t be reading a book merely for a good time, but to grow in my ability to empathize with humanity or understand it in some new way.
All of these are subjective, but it’s my list of my favorite fiction books, so that’s okay. I just wanted to give you a peek into the thought process that got me here.
So here are my top fifty books that I have read so far, with one sentence of description each.
1. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
An incredible story with so much internal and external conflict for the men in the psyche ward and the horrible Nurse Ratchett that it creates a profound look into a unique hero and the people he saves.
2. Lolita by Vladamir Nabokov
An emotional gut punch, Nabokov tries to seduce us with Humbert Humbert’s narration as HH is busy abducting the life and story of Lolita.
3. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
As the greatest series ever written, these three books will change your sense of being.
4. The Rabbit Angstrom Series by John Updike
One of the greatest accomplishments in writing, Updike wrote a book a decade from 1960-2000 giving us a view of American development through the eyes of one man, Rabbit Angstrom.
5. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
The best book by my favorite author (he is overrepresented on this list), the simple story of a man driving home from work expands into a look at service and dignity.
6. The Godfather by Mario Puzo
A book so fun we can look over some of the lack of significance, it may be even mor enjoyable than the film that spawned from it, which may be the greatest film of all time.
7. No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
Time catches up to all of us, and that is especially true for cowboys in the west who try to catch up to ever-evolving means of evil.
8. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
Written with an intelligence that makes its plot and accessibility a delightful surprise, this book takes us through a medieval version of a Sherlock Holmes story.
9. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
The most ‘novel’ of his novels, a story that takes place in an unidentified future where memory and identity clash.
10. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
Writing that keeps you locked in to one day in the life of a soldier returned from the Iraq war as America tries and fails to ’thank’ him through the excess and spectacle we do so well.
11. Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler
From the perspective of a high ranking official in jail during the Moscow Show Trials, this book takes the reader through the thought process of how dictators justify their actions, and why governments work like they do.
12. Thomas Cromwell Trilogy by Hilary Mantel
Writing that places wrestles readers into a different century, this trilogy is historical fiction at its finest as Mantel creates a sympathetic Thomas Cromwell who plays a deadly game of politics for Henry the VIII and his search for a wife.
13. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
There may be no more beautiful book written, this story does justice to the beauty of humanity even amidst such awful death as WWII, narrated by death himself.
14. The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson
This book, that tackles identity and power in North Korea where propaganda and messaging are king, will have your brained tied in nots as you unravel the storyline that reveals a value system so unfamiliar to our own.
15. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
A post-apocalyptic novel that blends genre fiction and literary fiction, this book uses a pandemic to create a before and after that displays what truly lasts and is essential.
16. I, Claudius by Robert Graves
A work of historical fiction written from the perspective of Emperor Claudius and his unlikely rise to power, this book reads like an immaculate political drama with Game of Thrones vibes.
17. The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem
Lethem portrays a young man coming of age in Brooklyn and discovering his inner being while the streets of Brooklyn pulse to life in graffitied language and images.
18. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
With sentences that can provide the finest detail or span decades sitting side by side, this book tackles the entire history of one town through one hundred years.
19. Blindness by Jose Saramago
A pandemic of blindness destroys civilization as we know it, this book works with what remains, when the entrapments of society no longer makes people act a certain way and when a person cannot see the people they are impacting.
20. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
An in-depth epic of a hermaphroditic-born woman who should have been a man, this book was a breakthrough novel through a now more common type of literature.
21. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt
Written with the simplicity that makes DeWitt special, this is a western for modern audiences as it follows the Sisters Brothers through a tale that even people in the 2000s can relate to.
22. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay by Michael Chabon
Chabon’s writing is on full display with his nerdiness as he creates a story about boys in New York who are saved by the superheroes in their comic books, as they try to live their own lives of heroics.
23. The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
A powerful display of the impact of growing up in middle-America for a group of teenage daughters in a highly conservative household, Eugenides tells the story with his keen insight and engrossing writing.
24. The Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
The quintessential Western novel, The Lonesome Dove provides a template for western characters and archetypes.
25. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
The coming of age novel that made coming of age novels a thing, Salinger created Holden Caulfield who is as much a little shit as he is a sympathetic youth just trying to fit into a big world he doesn’t understand.
26. The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings
A book with a heart and beauty to match Hamaii, where this book takes place, The Descendants takes a look at the other side of paradise as a father fights to keep his family together as his wife is in a coma.
27. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
In a dying pastor’s letters to his son, Robinson guides us through a kind, tender, and profound look back on a changing world.
28. The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth
This book is written in a mind-blowing mixture of old English and modern English (the author calls it a ‘shadow tongue’) that immerses you in the foreignness of a time when William the Conqueror invaded England.
29. The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
Ishiguro’s take on high fantasy, the story dives into collective memory of a group of people and how they are affected by the things forgotten and what lies beneath.
30. Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
Russell paints a scene in the Florida Everglades that would make any plot interesting, but the story of a family trying to save their home, tourist attraction, and alligator farm while still maintaining their honor and dignity is the perfect tale of how time and nature catches up to us all.
31. Misery by Stephen King
An author trapped in a bedroom with a loony bin psycho-fan threatening harm upon him unless he adds another book to a series with a dead main character…sold.
32. The Postmortal by Drew Magary
Magary, a fun mind, imagines a world where immortality is the problem, not death, and creates a plot that is so engrossing and the problems so familiar.
33. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Maybe the greatest feat in writing mechanics, the book is written in a combination of Russian, English, and a slang vocabulary that makes it nearly incomprehensible in the beginning but slowly connects the reader to a gang of awful people.
34. The Vegetarian by Han Kang
The Vegetarian is an unfiltered and devastating book about power dynamics in Korea through the aggression a women experiences when deciding to no longer eat meat.
35. It by Stephen King
An epic coming of age tale for a selection of youth in Derry, Maine when they are haunted and attacked by a killer clown that morphs into all their childhood fears.
36. Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
We do not talk about Fight Club.
37. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
This book is imagined in a world where the underground railroad was an actual place and transports us to various times of slavery and slave catching.
38. The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
The story of the Vietnam war and its fallout told from the perspective of a Vietnamese man who worked as a mole for the American government.
39. Trust Exercise by Susan Choi
Your head will hurt after the twists and turns of this book based on a high school relationship that is one scene in a grand play of grand high school drama.
40. Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson
Denis Johnson, who writes about the forgotten and disenfranchised, writes a tour de force that takes place during the Vietnam War and captures the complexity and bureaucracy of a war fought by and for a government.
41. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
In classic Murakami style, the story itself is bizarre, the writing is irresistible and the emotional journey is more memorable than the stops along the way.
42. The Circle by Dave Eggers
An engaging story that takes someplace in the future and imagines what would happen if the fictional equivalents of Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook were all merged into one company (hint: it’s not great).
43. The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
A black boy navigates life in a correctional school for troubled youth and reveals a system set against him.
44. A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick
Dick’s science fiction stories always has readers guessing, but A Scanner Darkly will have you questioning your own reality when exiting the mind of the most untrustworthy narrator around.
45. Atonement by Ian McEwan
One girl’s hunt for forgiveness and another man’s hunt for exoneration spans decades and wars and lifestyles.
46. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
This book about books will have you falling in love with stories all over again in a soap opera style plot that leads a boy looking to discover another book through an entire love story that was buried along with it.
47. The Collector by John Fowles
The grandfather of crime fiction, this book tells the story of an abduction from the chilling mind of the hunter and then the hunted.
48. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
A crime noir that hits all the right notes and spots, it reads with a haze of sepia.
49. Native Son by Richard Wright
The story of Bigger Thomas who is lead into a crime through systems that may lead many others into crimes as well.
50. An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreyser
Dreyser writes every moment that could lead a young man with the whole world before him into committing a murder.
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