Top 10: Literary Novels

As I read a little bit of a book my scholars read, Sold, I prepare for tomorrow with thoughts of literature in my head.  While I think it is intriguing that I am preferring a Top 10 on novels over films, it makes sense when I break down my reasoning.  My film list is constantly fluctuating in its ranking and its location.  Thus, I think it would make more sense to give my concrete thoughts about literary novels and which ones have the strongest merit towards me.

Anyways, Top 10 Literary Novels by my preference and reasonings:

1. Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man: First of all, there are so many reasons why I like this book, that it is hard to pick just one.  However, it is a novel that did not alter my thinking as much as some of the other novels on the list so much as it satisfied much of what I already knew. Similar to Roots, Invisible Man tells a story of the African-American condition long before media outlets thought it was relevant.  Basically, Invisible Man discusses nearly every aspect of being an African-American in America and even more so if one is a male.  From HBCUs, Gospel Church, getting high with music, institutionalism, riots, orators, secret societies, reverends, south to north flight, police brutality and so much more nearly every aspect of being an African-American America is covered by this novel. Moreover, the novel doesn't give the main character a name which in essence makes the novel completely relatable to put yourself into the novel. There is so much more I could say but ultimately it all makes sense on this grand journey of literally every aspect of African-American life. I highly recommend this novel for anyone and it's a necessity if you're African-American.

2. Aldous Huxley's Brave New World: This is my favorite novel about false utopias/dystopias and what the future may hold for us.  While it is not as bleak as 1984, it still has a fair share of tragedy and despair.  Beyond that, the novel paints one of the greatest representations of free capitalism run rampant.  With crosses as Ts for Ford Model Ts, the car and embodiment of the factory system, it shows how essentially using a myriad of theories and paradigms from the early 20th century have influenced society. As such, society is a false utopia of selecting humans of different "rankings" which have been further separated by those without the gifts of intellect.  Imagine cordoning off anyone with a learning disability or any other disability and pushing a rigid, unpredictable, caste system worldwide.  Either way it is a novel that is ripe for discussion and one that I don't often find many to discuss it with. I highly recommend it, if you want to be on an intellectual kick.

3. F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby: This is the novel that is solely responsible for getting me back into reading so I hold it with a high regard.  I personally find this novel to be enchanting and yet melancholy it's story of the folly of the American Dream. With aforementioned novels, it seems that I have a penchant for America being portrayed as a lie.  The Great Gatsby supports this claim with its titular character, narrator and several others having a variety of quandaries over how to rich and happy. It is a wonderful look at high society and showing unhappy the rich may be. Though they sound like characters who wouldn't appeal to me, I enjoy seeing the very rich come into misfortune while showcasing the pitfalls of the American Dream.  I highly recommend this novel to anybody and all those who keep chasing that green light.

4. J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. This novel is cliche, but it, along with The Great Gatsby, is what solidified my return to reading.  The reason for this is that at the time of reading it, it related wholeheartedly to my mixed emotions of being a pessimist.  Although, I would argue now that I am just cynical for my age, in high school I had not matured into that progression of thought and was stuck in pessimism. As such, I probably had some slight bouts of depression, which I should have received therapy for.  Still, this novel related to me then and still does in some ways now.  The main character, Holden Caulfield is a curmudgeon before his time extraordinaire and often rants and raves about the world he lives in.  If you really know me, you know how similar this character is to me in how perturbed about issues that he cannot change he becomes.  While I recommend this novel to figure out what the hype is all about, I also recommend this novel because it is simply that good and it really taps into that late teenage/early 20s mindset that many of us had.

5. Anything from John Irving. As I posted awhile back, I stated how much I love John Irving.  This love continues in reading four of his novels.  All four cover nearly every issue you can think of from rape, incest, religion, race, class, feminism, abortion, orphans and more.  However, what makes his novels special is his characters and how they work for and against the ideologies and themes he writes about.  As such, his characters are probably the most memorable out of any work of fiction I've ever read. I could go on and on about how much I love them and how I really cannot pick a favorite out of them.

6. Richard Wright's Native Son. When deciding to put this novel on my list, I had to distinguish between putting a novel on this list because I like it, putting a novel on this list because it has literary merit, and putting a novel because of both.  Thus, Native Son satisfies the third option in totality. The novel is not in as large a scope as Invisible Man, but it covers many of its themes while adding communism into the mix.  I'm also a big fan of how much more graphic in its expression the novel is than many other novels about racial issues.  As such, the novel has far more ambivalent stance on its main character.  While Invisible Man was a look into African-American issues, Native Son is a look into the issue of racism as seen through South-Side Chicago and one fairly unsympathetic African-American.  I highly recommend Native Son to anyone as it doesn't sugarcoat its characters, their actions and the racism still prevalent in America.

7. Mark Twain(Samuel Clemens)'s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I'm sure this novel would be considered highly stereotypically back in the day, but I don't think that this novel is as known as it once was in common knowledge. However, it is part of the set of novels that got me back into reading There are two huge aspects of this novel I love.  The first aspect of this is a child's sense of racism; which was repeated in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, and how petty the initial concept seems from a sense of morality.  The second aspect is how the novel is also a coming of age story in how the eponymous character learns about life on the "river of life" Mississippi.  As such, this novel influenced a variety of media works since its creation that show how much a seemingly simple novel can be an extremely complex work of fiction.  I highly recommend this novel for everyone, especially if you're ever to consider yourself a reader.

8. William Golding's Lord of the Flies. Perhaps it's because I'm a teacher, but I think the regression and complete anarchy of my students when given a chance to fend for themselves would be a fascinating social experiment. Either way, Lord of the Flies was one of my favorite novels that I got a chance to really dive deep into in school.  This novel would introduce me to the brilliance of Freud's Ego, Superego and Id along with the concept of devolution.  The disturbing and at times surreal deterioration of society as seen by children living in solitude is a frightening truth of what could happen to any society without structure.  As such, the novel is a great metaphor for how a well-managed or unmanaged classroom, workspace, mindset and collective group can work or fail miserably.  I highly recommend its novel for its universal themes.

9. Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns. Let me first say that I love Khaled's first novel, The Kite Runner.  However, I think his second novel does much more from a literary aspect while still keeping a heart wrenching story.  A Thousand Splendid Suns was an introduction to me in how much Afghani women must endure their society and how some of the workings of Muslim religion work.  As such, it was an introduction for a much more pro-feminst novel and how ignorant I had been of the female struggle.  Moreover, the literary aspect that sets this novel about Khaled's first is the switching perspectives of the female leads and how their lives intertwine. Most importantly, the struggle of the female is portrayed in all its multiple layers in this novel and it is that gives it a high spot on list and a high recommendation for all.

10. James Baldwin's Go Tell it on the Mountain. A slight re-edit here, but I think that this novel is more deserving of the #10 in the grand scheme of my ideologies.  This novel has so much more than at first glance. The first part of the novel is a struggle as the detail is meticulous and you're confused on the relationship of the characters. However, keep reading and the various perspectives of the family members on race & religion become interwoven.  Beyond that, it seems that the family has a strained relationship with each other due to the trials of each of their pasts.  This has the added effect of giving a large amount of depth for each character and their motivations.  As such, this novel satisfies much of my racial discussions with different perspectives, but also it is a wonderful character analysis through religion & historical contexts.



HMs:
Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon.  I struggled with this entry because I feel that The Bluest Eye whenever I read it may take its place and many people feel that Beloved should earn this spot.  However, this is the Toni Morrison novel I started with and I enjoyed it a lot more than Beloved,  This novel does deal with African-American themes but most importantly that of family.  It is some of the strangest occurrences of being set in a modern day, but also having imaginative ideals that seem so far off from its reality.  Along with that, I love how dysfunctional and yet loving Milkman's family is. I recommend this novel as an introduction to Toni Morrison in which you can really jump off from there.

Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake. This novel is quite enjoyable for what it tells about not only Indian culture, but also adolescent culture. As someone who has always had hangups about his "namesake" I was able to relate to the importance of a name. Beyond that, the novel has a great deal of discussion for immigrant families and the trials of adolescent relationships. It is a novel filled with emotion and a story of the ups and downs of trying to relate.

 S.E.  Hinton's The Outsiders. This quintessential middle school novel covers the wonderful world of differences, life, death, community and how we deal with each.  Although this entry may seem like a lower reading level than the above, it still satisfies many aspects of what I enjoy in a novel while being a wonderful examination/introduction to societal differences between people and how we cope with them.  Not only is it one of the few novels I enjoyed during my tenure in middle school, but it is one of the "coolest" novels to introduce youth into the concept of thematic ideologies that are relevant in today's society. I highly recommend this novel for the pure act of enjoying reading and a novel for kids to enjoy.

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter Series.  This series is special to me in that besides the 7th novel I grew up with the character (nearly the same age as him while the series was being created). However, the real reason for this entry is how vivid a universe filled with symbolism both in- and out-of-unniverse that Rowling created. This is the funnest entry on my list and while everyone has a favorite, the series as a whole is filled with a whirlwind of themes, concepts and characters that have become as nearly as big as the Star Wars universe.

While I recommend all the novels on my favorites list, many are classics that I enjoyed reading but did not feel as strong a connection to the novels as the aforementioned.