I’m not going to give you a list of what most people consider great literature, because much of it is not fun to read (although I’ve read far more of it than most people have) and it’s somewhat out of touch with today’s world. That includes Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Joyce, Hardy, James, Melville, Cervantes, and others. But there are a few classic novels that I will include on this list. Mostly, I’m recommending books that, as a 26-year-old, well-educated young man, you will enjoy and not find too highbrow or two lowbrow. As you will see, I tend to like historical fiction, but there’s a scattering of everything. What all these books have in common is that they are a pleasure to read. So here’s my list:
1. Captain Alatriste, by Arturo Pé-rez–Reverte, a contemporary Spanish writer. This is the first of several novels, set in 17th century Spain, in which the main character, Alatriste, is an ex-military swordsman who now takes odd jobs. They’re well written, but they’re fun, educational, and enjoyable to read. Pé-rez–Reverte also does some serious literature, but those works of his can get boring. The Alatriste books don’t.
2. The Religion, by Tim Willocks, a contemporary British writer. This is the best book I’ve read in a long time. I would have put it as number one, instead of two, except for the fact that it is incredibly bloody. It deals with a battle in 1565 between the forces of Suleiman the Magnificent and Knights of Saint John the Baptist over the island of Malta. Mama read it after I raved about how great a book this is even though I warned her about how bloody it is. She agrees it is a great book.
3. Trustee From The Toolroom, by Neville Shute, a British writer from the mid-20th century. This is the best of Shute’s books, although On The Beach is his most famous and the one that became a movie. That one is depressing; this one is fun and a good read. It is not historical fiction. It was written in 1960 and it is set in about 1960.
4. Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas. It’s a classic, but it’s a very enjoyable book. If you’ve read it already, read The Three Musketeers by Dumas.
5. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. This is usually considered science fiction, but it doesn’t read like science fiction. It is about an unintelligent person who is given medication that gradually makes him smart and then he gradually goes back to being not smart. This may sound depressing, but it’s a great book. Algernon, by the way, is a mouse.
6. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. This is the only novel by Hemingway that I like, and I like it a lot. Yes, it’s about an old fisherman, but it’s about struggling to survive, and struggling for honor. It’s the last thing Hemingway ever published while he was alive, and it is what earned him his Nobel Prize in literature.
7. The Turkish Gambit by Boris Akunin. The author is sort of a Russian Agatha Christie. His Erast Fandorin character solves crimes in the 1870s or so. Most of his books are about as good as Christie’s, but this one is much better than the rest. This one is set in a war between Russia and the Ottoman Empire, and it centers around a woman and several men she’s involved with, including Fandorin, as well as a general and a master spy. This is another book that I told Mama about and she loved it.
8. Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. Yes, I know you think Dickens is wordy and overdone, but this is by far the best of Dickens. It’s about the French revolution and it’s very educational, but also very interesting and you’ll enjoy it.
9. Enemy at the Gates by William Craig. This became a movie (a very good movie), but I read it long before the movie, and I loved it. It’s essentially about a dual between a German sniper and a Russian sniper at the battle of Stalingrad, but it’s well written and good to read.
10. The Camel Club by David Baldacci. Most of Baldacci’s books are formulaic, meaning that they are formula thrillers with very similar plots and not great writing. But what makes this book special is the camaraderie he creates between social misfits who come together to help each other out of some serious problems. It makes this a fun book to read. Baldacci very kindly tried to help me get an agent so I’ve read a lot of his books. Other than the Camel Club books, and there are about 3 or 4, the other very good book he wrote is The Forgotten, which is based on a true story. Incidentally, he is a lawyer and some of his books are law-related.
11. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. This became a great movie starring Humphrey Bogart, but Hammett was known for his style of writing, giving his characters personality through his use of language. His plots also are powerful, and he’s fun to read.
12. Tourist Season by Carl Hiassen. This book is very funny, but it is also a good serious novel that I enjoyed reading. It had murder-mystery qualities to it but also got into conservation, Florida Indians, and a bunch of other Florida things. All his books are about Florida. Hiassen is a Florida newspaper columnist. He grew up reading Hardy Boys books. He also writes young adult novels.
13. The Firm by John Grisham, the major writer of legal thrillers today. The Firm is not his best book, but it is his second book and the one that made him famous. I read it years ago. His best book is his first book, A Time To Kill, but I didn’t list it first because it has a very brutal beginning, so I thought you might have misgivings about it. For me, though, I liked it a lot better than any of his other books and most people agree with me.
14. Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow. Before Grisham, Turow was the major writer of legal thrillers. With the exception of Grisham’s A Time To Kill, Turow’s novels are probably better than Grisham’s. They’re fun. They’re interesting, but you may enjoy them or hate them more than I do because of your legal training.
15. Startide Rising by David Brin. Sorry, but I just couldn’t resist including my favorite science fiction novel. Unlike Flowers for Algernon this is true science fiction. At the heart of it there’s a love affair between two dolphins uplifted by man to have intelligence. They are in a space ship fleeing others trying to kill them for discovering secrets as to who the first intelligent beings in the galaxy really were. It’s a great book. It’s a fun read. And David Brin is another famous novelist (one of three) who was very nice to me.
I know I’m forgetting a lot of other novels I really liked. But this list will keep you busy for a while.