Certain novels are like good friends, and just like good friends, you want to visit them more than once. Here are the top ten novels I read again and again:
- Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
Like many of the entries on this list, Robinson Crusoe is a widely recognized classic. Aside from the compelling story of a man forced to survive on a deserted island, Robinson Crusoe is a true spiritual journey from the perspective of a man with no other soul to depend on. The true strength of the story lies in the realism of Crusoe’s struggle. It would not be difficult to convince readers of this story that it was based on actual events. At the end of the day, Robinson Crusoe is an epic story of the struggle of man against the elements and himself.
- The Complete Short Stories of Mark Twain by Mark Twain
As tempting as it might have been to pick either Tom Sawyer or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, when it comes to Mark Twain, I find myself going for the short stories every time. Twain’s creative ability was so off the charts that we have yet to see another writer quite like him since the comic genius laid down his pen. With stories ranging from jumping frogs to Eskimos, The Complete Short Stories of Mark Twain have entertained me time and time again. For a perfect example of Twain’s ability to entertain, check out “The Story of Grandfather’s Old Ram”. Any writer who can create a completely entertaining story consisting of nothing but an old man’s rambling has more than earned a spot on my list.
- The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
The only fantasy story in this list, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe for me sets the bar for all stories in this genre. Arguably one of the first of its kind, this story helped change fiction writing for all time. There is so much about this story that works that it’s hard to know where to start. Worldbuilding is difficult enough; world building in young adult fiction is especially challenging. The world of Narnia has come to inspire both children and adults alike, and to me will remain forever an unchallenged classic.
- Animal Farm by George Orwell
I still remember the first time I read Animal Farm. I sat down and began reading it…and did not put it down again until I finished. Needles to say, this allegory of government, politics, and human nature is unlike any other that I have ever had the pleasure to run across. Though probably better known for his dystopian masterpiece 1984, George Orwell hit a stroke of creative genius when he penned this relatively short novel about a mass of barnyard animals who take control of a farm. For a comprehensive view of Orwell’s thoughts on the flaw of all government, one need look no further than this immortal line from Animal Farm: “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”
- And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
Everybody loves a good old-fashioned mystery now and again, and when it comes to keeping you guessing til the very end, it’s hard not to go with Agatha Christie. Although there are a host of stories to choose from, I don’t know that any hold quite the complexity and suspense of the 1939 classic And Then There Were None. This novel is one that almost forces you to reread it once you know the ending. A story that continues to build in tension throughout the whole of the novel, this is one mystery that’s hard to look past as one of the all-time greats.
- The Valley of Fear by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Coming in from the same genre as And Then There Were None, this Sherlock Holmes novel is, in my opinion, one of the prominent jewels in Doyle’s crown. For any Sherlock Holmes buff, this novel has everything: a seemingly impossible crime, a complex and suspenseful backstory, an indirect run-in with the infamous Professor Moriarty, and, of course, the brilliant sleuth himself at the top of his game. In perhaps his most successful use of “a tale within a tale”, Doyle draws the reader into a seemingly unconnected backstory, which he suddenly ties together with the primary story in a twist reveal that will send shivers down your spine. For any Holmes or mystery fan of any age, Valley of Fear is an absolute must.
- Holes by Louis Sachar
Though no longer a book I currently read, the number of times I read this Louis Sachar novel as a young teen demands its inclusion on this list. When it comes to young adult novels, Holes is about the nearest to perfection you will ever find. From beginning to end, every line of this book is thoroughly entertaining. Carefully weaving the stories of four generations, Holes is a textbook example of the importance of timing, pace, and style. Another novel that I have more than once read cover to cover in one sitting, Holes deserves a place in any list of the best young adult fiction of all time.
- Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
When I first heard the music from the Broadway classic of the same name, I was instantly captivated by Les Mis. In addition to the beauty of the music, I was compelled by the stories of Jean Valjean, Javert, Cosette, Marius, and Eponine. I soon resolved myself to read the whole of the rather lengthy novel. I was not disappointed. Though written in something of a rambling style at times, Les Misérables is a classic of truly epic proportions. Tying in the struggles of a host of characters, this story is ultimately a refreshing tale of love and redemption. Filled from cover to cover with compelling storylines and beautiful imagery, it is a classic I have enjoyed time and time again.
- Like Melvin by Jonathan Vars
As strange as it seemed at first to include my own work in a list like this, I find it necessary for several reasons. For one thing, it is a novel I have read countless times since its completion. Secondly, though I can’t help but read it through a deeply critical eye, Like Melvin is still a story that I flat out enjoy. Toni Morrison once said:
“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
This is a sentiment I agree with one hundred percent. All of the elements of Like Melvin, the struggle of a character against difficult circumstances, sinister conspiracies, the film and television industry, separate characters uniting to fight a common enemy, and ultimate redemption through grace, are all elements that I thoroughly enjoy in fiction writing. I had a lot of fun writing Like Melvin, and to this day, I still enjoy reading it.
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Finally, no list of mine would ever be complete without the crème de la crème of fiction, To Kill a Mockingbird. Any attempt to describe how perfect this novel is from a fiction standpoint would fall grievously short, so I’ll just say for those few who have yet to read this masterpiece, stop reading this article right now and go download a copy. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve enjoyed Mockingbird; it is a classic I enjoy at least once a year. While many novels are classics because they are the best in their genre, To Kill a Mockingbird stands apart as maybe the greatest work of fiction of all time. A novel that captures the themes of childhood, racism, parenting, community, and social injustice in one irresistible story relayed through the eyes of a child, To Kill a Mockingbird has little fear of losing its place as my number one go-to for novels to be read over and over again.
So what novels fill out your top ten? What do you think is the best work of fiction of all time?
Jonathan Vars is a Christian fiction writer from New England, and founder of the writing website voltampsreactive.com. His latest novel “Like Melvin” is currently available on Amazon and Google Books. In addition to writing, Jonathan enjoys running, hiking, and trying not to freeze to death in the winter.