Over the past few years I’ve been making a concerted effort to dive in to a lot more “classic” literature. I’d already read a fair amount of it, mixed in with modern day thrillers and adventure stories, but until less than a year ago, I hadn’t even read a book by Steinbeck. Huxley has been a favorite of mine for quite a while, and I’ve slowly been working my way through his entire bibliography, but last year at a sale at the local library I picked up a few other books by authors like Camus and Sartre and Dostoevsky that I hadn’t touched before, and it spurred a return to the classics for me.
In High School I took a class called “AP Critical Response to Literature” and we read quite a few classics then, including ‘A Farewell to Arms,’ ‘Catch 22’ some short stories by O. Henry, and others – but due to taking this class, I also missed some of the classics everyone else reads in high school. I first read ‘Of Mice and Men’ last year, and I’ve still never read ‘To Catch a Mockingbird’ or anything by Dickens, but I’ve worked my way through quite a bit of classic literature – and as much as I love modern works, I find myself drawn more to the classics lately. I think it’s mostly due to the fact that in order to become a “classic,” a work has to be magnificent.
And so, as I stare at my to-read pile and thoughts bounce around my head for my own writing, I thought it might be a good time to share with you a list of what I consider to be the five best books ever (aka my favorite books). Bear in mind this is a totally subjective list, purely my opinion, and is also likely to change in the future as I hope I only discover even better books as time goes on. It would be a shame to have already read the best there will ever be.
#5 – ‘The Age of Reason’ by Jean-Paul Sartre
I was a Philosophy major in college, and have made my way through quite a few existential works, but ‘The Age of Reason’ was my first piece of existential fiction. It’s probably the best existential fiction I’ve read, and drew me in to reading quite a bit more, both by Sartre, as well as others – but The Age of Reason marks the high point in the genre for me. (Note: some people call a few others on my list “existential” as well, but I don’t know that they are as purely existential as this).
#4 – “Cannery Row” by John Steinbeck
After finally deciding I should read ‘Of Mice and Men’ I found myself in love with Steinbeck. No one has been able to capture such honesty and simplicity in their stories like him, and as such I’ve been cranking through many of his works. Now, I’ve been focusing on his shorter ones so far, so no I haven’t read ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ or ‘East of Eden’ yet – but ‘Cannery Row’ was an utterly fantastic book. Just the story of some people living on Cannery Row, it sounds at the synopsis to be a book without a story – and it somewhat is – but that’s what makes it so believable. These characters seem real, and they are just living their lives. And those lives are told in only the way Steinbeck can tell them.
#3 – ‘As I Lie Dying’ by William Faulkner
When I first read ‘As I Lie Dying’ I hated it. I mean, I absolutely loathed it. It was hard to read, due to Faulkner’s style, and I didn’t really care all that much about the story. But I kept getting drawn back to it, and slowly, over time it somehow sunk into me. It wasn’t until several days after I finished this book, actually, that I all of a sudden fell in love. It’s a strange experience, falling in love with a book after reading it, but I liken it to those movies that stick with you long after you’ve seen them. The ones that grow on you, until you realize there was so much more going on than you ever noticed. I don’t read a lot of books twice, but I plan on going back to ‘As I Lie Dying’ sometime soon.
#2 – ‘The Genius and the Goddess’ by Aldous Huxley
Up until last fall, this was my favorite book ever. For a long time I’d actually listed ‘Brave New World’ at my number one spot, but it has since moved down the list as I’ve discovered books like this, and others on this list. ‘Island’ by Huxley is another favorite … but ‘The Genius and the Goddess’ is my favorite of all because it’s just so simply beautiful. Very short, for Huxley, it’s almost a novella and it can be read easily in one sitting. But like many others here on this list, there’s a simple sense of truth and beauty found in those pages. It’s the one book I recommend most to others, as I feel it’s not too “heavy” (like some might argue my #1 is), it’s a quick read, and it’s the best love story I’ve ever read.
#1 – ‘The Fall’ by Albert Camus
Over the last few months I’ve gone through a lot of Camus: ‘The Fall,’ ‘The Myth of Sysphus,’ ‘Exile and the Kingdom,’ ‘The Stranger’ and others (but still not ‘The Plague’). But it was when I read ‘The Fall’ that I became enamored with his work. It was my first Camus (I picked up a falling-apart paperback for less then a dollar) and it was like nothing I’d read before. Through the simple story he told, he got across the majority of his philosophy, as well as engaged the reader to think about themselves along the way. It’s the kind of work I strive to create on my own, and I can see this one staying at the top of my list of “Best Books Ever” for a long, long time.
Have you read any or all of these? What do you think are the best books ever? Did any book change your life? I’d love to find out in the comments below.