It is difficult to make a top ten of these, because the list has to be personal. If you think of the top 10 most read books then The Bible and the Qu’ran have to be at the top of the list. However this list is purely about works of fiction.
1. Homer’s Odyssey
This epic poem has been the starting point for so many Hollywood films, and has interested people for centuries. If you haven’t read it then get a modern translation and see the “truth” behind the Hollywood blockbusters.
2. Dante’s The Divine Comedy
This is one of the best books to come out of the Renaissance, and is a remarkable work. You go through Hell and the inferno to reach Paradise and encounter characters from mythology and Homer on the way.
3. Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment
This is a superb tale of guilt and the need to find redemption which was the starting point for one of Woody Allen’s films, “Match Point.” If you loved the film, but haven’t read this then you should as it is much better than Allen’s film at delving into the recesses of a murder’s mind and his struggle to be punished.
4. Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”
Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” will take you into the world of the minor gentry of England in the 18th century and displays the values of the time with a wit and incisiveness that has not been matched by many authors. Jane Austen wittily writes about the morals of her time and her characters come to life on the page. If you enjoyed the films of the book, do yourself a favour and read the original work as so much of the humour is lost on the screen.
5. Norman Mailer “The Naked and The Dead”
This novel is a mixture of fact and fiction and one of the best to have come out of the Second World War. It is an honest account of a soldier’s feelings and portrays the horror and futility of war extremely well. Many people disliked Mailer because of his personal life, but his novels are well worth reading.
6. Thomas Pynchon “Gravity’s Rainbow”
This is one of Pynchon’s earlier work and is a surrealist masterpiece. It is very well written and combines so many themes that you have to read it more than once to take in the wonderful enormity of it. If you’ve never read his work, this is a good starting point.
7. Orhan Pamuk “My Name is Red”
Pamuk is a Nobel laureate in literature and the best translations of his work are done by Maureen Freely. “My Name is Red” is a detective story with several differences, one of these being that it is set in Istanbul in the dim and distant past, and centres on the rivalry of miniaturists who worked for the Sultans. It is full of intrigue and keeps you guessing about the identity of the murderer.
8. John Dos Passos “USA”
This is a huge tome which can be read as a history of the USA as well as a novel. If you are an American and haven’t read it, then perhaps you should. If you are from another nationality, then it is not only entertaining but educational.
9. JRR Tolkein “The Hobbit”
This was originally a story for children, but everyone should read it as it is an allegorical tale which is the background for Tolkein’s amazing trilogy, “The Lord of the Rings.” In this book Bilbo Baggins is a young Hobbit who finds the ring that is at the centre of the trilogy. It explains how Frodo came to be the keeper of the ring and introduces the wizard Gandalf, who delighted all young Hobbits with his displays of fireworks at Hobbit festivals. You could read it to your children as it’s a great book to read aloud.
10. JRR Tolkein’s “Lord of the Rings”
This massive trilogy has been made into a trilogy of films which were huge successes. However, although they were close to the books from which they were adapted, some parts of the story were left out. When you read them you see the allegory of Europe and the Second World War and the Orks and Elves are much better in your imagination than they were on screen. Tolkein was very erudite and he made up the language of the Elves for the book. If you buy the trilogy as three books rather than as one massive volume, you are more likely to read all of the story, and it really is worth reading it all.
No Charles Dickens or George Orwell?