Posted on March 02 2022
Hello, books fans, we’re so excited about this one today, and we hope you are as well. Few things beat the wonder of sitting down with a good book and getting lost in a storyline filled with remarkable characters in exciting places, dealing with the human condition. There may be a million streaming services out there where you can watch anything at any time, on any device, but nothing pulls focus and immerses you fully in a story like a good book and your own imagination.
When looking at sheer numbers, there have been 10 Fast & Furious films, and for a franchise, that’s impressive, but it pales in comparison to the number of books published. As of this writing, there have been 129,864,881 … 882, 883 books published.
Of those 129,864,880 (and counting) books, some stand out. Like Tom Brady standing out as one of the 1,696 players in the NFL, some books are just a cut above and have inspired readers and writers for a long time. In this article, we have decided to name the top five, ten, twenty, however many we have time for, best books of all time.
What is a Book
This may seem like an odd question; however, it’s an excellent place to start. We are looking mainly at novels in this article, so defining a book and a novel seemed a good idea.
Simply put, all novels are books, but not all books are novels.
Maybe that wasn’t so simple. Okay, let’s break that down.
A book refers to the published account containing information specific to the subject, printed on pages held together between coverings.
The materials that make up a book cover do not play into the definition of a book, but there are so many rabbit holes to go down when writing an article like this; we just thought we’d indulge ourselves a bit here. Paperback books are glued with a paper cover. Hardback books are sewn or glued into a “case” made of cardboard and then covered with cloth or paper or leather, but always with love.
The definition of a novel is an invented prose narrative of considerable length and a certain complexity that deals imaginatively with human experience, usually through a connected sequence of events involving a group of persons in a specific setting.
The heading “book” includes novels, comic books, textbooks, journals, workbooks, and many other types of books.
And thus, all novels are books, but not all books are novels.
In this article, despite there being some wonderful graphic novels, journals (The Bolivian Diaries, by Che Guevara, pops into mind immediately), textbooks, and more, in the world, we are going to focus on the novel.
This list has been culled from reading lists, personal experience, and research. For us, books can be like children, so the list is in no particular order. They are all remarkable books, and we cannot say we love one of our children more than another, so there is no “best” book ever. We will refrain from numbering the list and state these are in no particular order.
It is good to note that most of these books we have read several times and each time we’ve gone to them, they have given us something new to think about or a new view of the world around us. So, very much like children, books are never dormant; they grow and change as we do. Seriously, that is just so amazing!!!
Enough of the book fawning, off we go!
Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
Gambling, adultery, marriage plots, money, and Russian Fuedelism are components of this incredible novel. Published in 1878, this is a monumental work of fiction that weaves the story of two main characters, Anna, a tragic, disenchanted housewife, who runs off with her young lover, and a lovestruck landowner named Konstantin Levin, who struggles in faith and philosophy. Mr. Tolstoy winds together thoughts on love, pain, and family in Russian society with a cast of characters forever lauded for their realistic humanity.
Madame Bovery, by Gustave Flaubert
A lush and profoundly intimate tale of a young woman destroyed by the reckless pursuit of her romantic dreams. Flaubert was able to look into the heart of an adulteress and catalog its contents with such dispassion that he was put on trial for “Offenses against morality and religion.” Penned in opulent prose, the novel is remarkable for so many reasons, not the least being how the minor characters that populate the world are as vital and rich as the heroine Bovary. Published in 1856, it still shocks and compels today.
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Published in 1960, it became an immediate classic of literature. The book examines racism in the south through the eyes of an innocent, curious, bright young girl named Jean Louise (Scout) Finch. One of the main characters, Scout’s father, the iconic, sympathetic, and just lawyer, Atticus Finch, had such a profound impact that he changed the views in the United States on race and class during a very turbulent time. Ms. Lee published only this one book in her lifetime, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961.
War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy
Told through the eyes of five Russian aristocratic families, this is the story of the events leading up to Napoleon's invasion of Russia. Told in graphing detail, we get a tale of the impact of the Napoleonic era on Tsarist Russian society. We feel the pain and hope of each character in Tolstoy’s detailed and loving prose. Published in 1867 and still going strong.
Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
Although often confused with the book of an almost identical name, H.G. Wells; novella is THE Invisible Man, the content of Ellison's book is far from what Mr. Wells has penned. Ellison's book is groundbreaking in its expression of identity for the African American male. The story is of a man who moves from the South to college and then on to New York City. The narrator is never named as he believes, due to many factors, including his race, that he is invisible to others in society. The novel is heralded for its surreal and experimental style that hints at the work of some of the Beats, particularly William S. Burroughs. Ellis employs the symbolism that surrounds African American culture and identity. Published in 1952, the book was awarded the National Book Award for Fiction in 1953.
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
If you’ve read this one, you probably read it in school, and there's a good reason for that. Gatsby is known for, among other things, introducing students to the art of reading literature critically. Told from the perspective of Nick Carraway, a recent denizen of New York City, who is befriended by the wealthy and somewhat mysterious Jay Gatsby. The book has a dual theme; it gives the reader insights into the famed Jazz Age of the 1920s while providing a stark critique of the so-called “American Dream.” Published in 1925, this story still haunts and fascinates us.
One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez
Probably the most famous book published by the Columbian author, this is the story of seven generations of the Buendía family. We follow them from the establishment of their town, Macondo, to its destruction along with the last of the family’s descendants. Márquez highlights the power of myth and folklore and notes its prevalence in the characters' lives. It’s written in a wondrous, fantastical form, and Márquez explores magical realism by throwing light on the extraordinary nature of commonplace things while showing mystical things to be commonplace. Published in 1967, the novel garnered much acclaim and numerous awards and was cited as one of the reasons his body of work was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1982
Ulysses, by James Joyce
I know this one may ruffle some feathers for its inclusion on the list, but what the heck, right. Some say this is undoubtedly one of the greatest novels ever written, while others claim it's impossible to read and boring. On its surface, it is simple. June 16, 1904, the main character Leopold Bloom passes through Dublin on an ordinary day. The book's title is a wonderful bit of humor, paralleling and alluding to Odysseus, Latinised to Ulysses, the main character of Homer’s epic, The Odyssey. The book's strength is certainly in the depth of character portrayal and its humor; Ulysses is also famous for its use of a variation on the inner monologue known as the stream of conscious technique. This technique is what some readers will site when they call the book difficult. Published in 1920, the book was actually banned in 1922 in the United States and England due to “content deemed obscene.” The ban was lifted in 1936; however, it still has a reputation. For many, June 16 is still celebrated as Bloom’s day.
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
Undoubtedly the most well-known and influential work of Spanish literature. This novel feels relevant and familiar, and it was first published in its entirety in 1615. Didn’t get a ton of “likes” on social media, but it has lasted a long, long time. This is the story of a man who takes the name “Don Quixote de la Mancha” and sets off in a fit of obsession over romantic novels about chivalry to revive the custom and become a hero himself. Don Quixote has become such an iconic character and has influenced writers, musicians, filmmakers, and the like for decades. Pretty much the textbook (not a novel) definition of influential.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
The plot and subject matter are why this book is popular; however, Nabokov’s prose is the real reason. This story's protagonist and unreliable narrator is the middle-aged Humbert Humbert, who becomes obsessed and sexually involved with a 12-year-old girl named Delores Haze.
Humbert calls her variations of her name Delores, including Lo, Dolly, and Lolita. Interesting to note that Lolita is Spanish, and the name’s meaning is “sorrows,” which the misguided Humbert experiences his share of. Humbert is driven to murder by his obsessions, and his desire to control young “Lo” and Nabokov’s prose is so enticing that the reader is seduced into seeing Humbert’s outrageous and criminal point of view. Published in 1955 and was banned as “obscene” in France from 1956-1959, England in 1955-59, Argentina in 1959, and New Zealand in 1960. The Cincinnati Public Library banned it on September 17, 1959, and the following week, it reached number one on the bestseller list. Many believe the fervor over the subject matter boosted sales worldwide.
The List Goes On
Alas, alack and woe, we’ve run out of time. This list is by no means complete or even universal. There are so many influential, lovely books that we didn’t get a chance to mention here. Books like; Jane Eyre, The Color Purple, Middlemarch, Huck Finn, In Search of Lost Time, and Great Expectations will certainly populate some people’s best-of list.
And we cannot forget to at least nod to the work of the Beat writer’s, On the Road, by Kerouac and Naked Lunch, by William S. Burroughs. Both influential books and writers.
Again, the beauty of books, so many, thoughtful, inspiring, and we are not done writing either. More writers will be influenced by works on this list and give us books that will come to rest on the best-of lists in time to come.
If you have a desire to read and don’t know where to start, the best place is Marissa’s Books. Stop in, go online and start an adventure in imagination and literature today. You will never be sorry you’ve read a book.