Semicolon’s 100 Best Fiction Books of All TIme

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a round-up of everyone else’s book lists made mostly in response to TIME Magazine’s publication in October of its 100 Best English-language novels from 1923 to the present. I’ve been working on my list for quite some time, but TIME scooped me. Only their list wasn’t as good as mine, partly because they limited themselves to the twentieth century and this century. Also I have better taste. So to kick off the holidays (Yes, the holiday season begins this week; the Christmas holidays are not allowed to start until after Thanksgiving day), here’s Semicolon’s Unfinished List of the 100 Best Fiction Books of All Time.

I have a few rules for this list. No author may be represented more than once, even though he or she may have written more than one very good book. I list only the books and authors that I like, not those I’m supposed to like but don’t. Children’s books that make the list must appeal to me as an adult, too. (I actually like lots of children’s books.) No short stories or short story collections are on the list because I mostly don’t care for short stories. They’re too short. I only list books I’ve actually read; there are certainly others out there that I haven’t yet managed to read that will be added to the list eventually. That’s why there aren’t 100 books on the list–only 68 so far. The definitive list will have to be made upon my deathbed –or beyond.

1. Alcott, Louisa May. Eight Cousins. This one is better than Little Women, and it has a sequel, Rose in Bloom.
2. Alexander, Lloyd. Taran Wanderer. Good quest fantasy. The first book in the series of five is The Book of Three.
3. Austen, Jane. (b. 1775, d. 1817) Pride and Prejudice is the best of her six novels, but the rest are all worth reading, too. Try them in this order: Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Mansfield Park, Persuasion, Northanger Abbey. Then watch some of the movies and miniseries based on Austen’s novels. Think A&E.
4. Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. Talk about strong female protagonists. Jane is the champion. She holds onto her moral standards and her sense of self in the face of all the storms that life can throw her way.
5. Bronte, Emily. Wuthering Heights. Darker and more romantic in a way than Charlotte’s books, Emily’s classic novel of two wild lovers who are meant for one another appeals to the wildness in me.
6. Bunyan, John. Pilgrim’s Progress. It’s not exactly a novel; it’s an allegory of the Christian life. A good introduction to this story with great illustrations is a book called Dangerous Journey: The Story of Pilgrim’s Progress.
7. Burns, Olive Ann. Cold Sassy Tree. Wonderful story, a Southern novel, funny and thoughtful at the same time.
8. Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alice may seem like a children’s book, but its humor is for adults, too.
9. Cervantes, Miguel. Don Quixote. Engineer Husband and I just went to see a local production of Man of La Mancha a few nights ago. The play was really my first introduction to Don Quixote when I saw it long ago in college–and loved it. The book is just as good, better, but much longer.
10. Christie, Agatha. The Murder of Roger Akroyd. I like almost all of Dame Agatha’s mysteies, but this one has one of the most satisfying plot twists of all.
11. Dickens, Charles (b. 1812, d. 1870) David Copperfield. Oliver Twist and A Tale of Two Cities are close contenders. But there are too many memorable characters in DC: Mr. Micawber, Uriah Heep, Little Em’ly, Mr. Peggotty, Betsy Trotter, and David himself.
12. Doestoyevsky, Feodor. The Brothers Karamazov. Profound, and both my eldest urchins think it’s hilariously funny.
13. Douglas, Lloyd. The Robe. The sequel is The Big Fisherman.
14. Dreiser, Theodore. An American Tragedy.
15. Dumas, Alexandre. The Three Musketeers. The musketeers are just fun. D’Artagnan schemes and works to become a musketeers as the original three, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, engage in swashbuckling adventures and espionage, and generally get themselves into trouble –all in the service of the king.
16. Du Maurier, Daphne. Rebecca. Better than the movie–although the movie was great.
17. Elliot, Elizabeth. No Graven Image. This story of a missionary in South America might disturb your evangelical preconceptions–if you have evangelical preconceptions. I know it made me think about what constitutes “success” on the mission field or in life in general.
18. Eliot, George. Adam Bede. I’ve read others of her books, but this one is my favorite, probably because of the themes. This book is another one about sin and forgiveness. It reminds me a little bit of The Scarlet Letter, but much more hopeful.
19. Enger, Leif. Peace Like a River. I just read this one this year and really liked it. Go here for a review.
20. Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. I wrote here about carelessness and The Great Gatsby.
21. Gaskell, Elizabeth. Cranford. Such a simple little story, Cranford is for all the lovers of decent, well-written Victorian fiction.
22. Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. Golding’s novel of English schoolboys gone to the dark side is, on the other hand, postively indecent, but true.
23. Grahame, Kenneth. The Wind in the Willows. Once more, A.A. Milne says, “One does not argue about The Wind in the Willows . . . The book is a test of character.”
24. Hardy, Thomas. Far From the Madding Crowd. It’s hard to choose one of Hardy’s novels above all the others, but Far From the Madding Crowd has such good character names: Bathsheba, Gabriel Oak, Mr. Boldwood.
25. Hawthorne, Nathaniel.The Scarlet Letter. I just re-read this one last year. Did you know that Hawthorne gives advice on blogging?
26. Herriot, James. All Creatures Great and Small. I don’t even like animals very much, but these books aren’t just about animals. They are about a Yorkshire veterinarian, and his eccentric co-workers, and his even more eccentric clientele. These stories are funny, touching, and memorable, and I guess I’m cheating since these are kind of short stories. But they’re all connected by the same characters.
27. Hugo, Victor. Les Miserables. I stayed up reading this book all night once upon a time when I was in college because I couldn’t wait to see what happened to Jean Valjean and Cosette and Marius and the rest. What a wonderful story! Favorite quotations from Les Miserables.
28. Hurnard, Hannah. Hind’s Feet on High Places. If you liked Pilgrim’s Progress, you might enjoy this similar allegory of the Christian life.
29. James, P.D. Cover Her Face. Again, it’s hard to choose one, so I chose the first Adam Dalgliesh novel. If you read it, you’ll probably be hooked and go on to read the other thirteen. Children of Men, reviewed here, is not a mystery, but rather an excellent dystopian novel set in the future.
30. Karon, Jan. At Home in Mitford. Who wouldn’t enjoy a leisurely visit to Mitford? Father Tim is the most likeable Episcobaptist I’ve ever met.
31. Lawhead, Stephen. Byzantium. His fantasy series are good, too, but this historical novel about the Eastern Roman Empiire is rich with historical detail and interesting characters.
32. Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. Great book.. Great movie, but even better book. Lots of nuances and subplots are in the book, but couldn’t be included in the movie. And you can imagine Gregory Peck while you read about Atticus Finch.
33. L’Engle, Madeleine. A Ring of Endless Light. This one is my favorite of L’Engle’s books about the Austin family. A Severed Wasp is also enjoyable and thought-provoking with engaging characters.
34. Lewis, C.S. Till We Have Faces is a profound retelling of the myth of Cupic and Psyche. Lewis is an accessible genius. His children’s books are great, and his adult books are even better. His science fiction trilogy, starting with Out of the Silent Planet, is full of rich analogy and modern day application.
35. Macdonald, George. The Princess and the Goblin. George Macdonald was C.S. Lewis’s literary mentor, andboth of them were excellent writers of fantasy literature.
36. Malory, Sir Thomas. L’Morte d’Arthur. Arthur, Guinevere, Merlin, Lancelot, and the other knights and ladies of the Table Round are a part of our mythology. Wonderful characters and themes.
37. Michener, James. Hawaii. I like Michener. His later novels became boring and predictable, but Hawaii was a great read.
38. Miller, Calvin. The Singer Trilogy. Great fantasy, allegory, Christian inspiration. Mr. Miller is a Baptist pastor, but his writing is nevertheless rather poetic.
39. Mitchell, Margaret. Gone with the Wind. Once again, the book is better and richer than the movie.
40. Montgomery, L.M. Anne of Green Gables. Anne Shirley is the best young adult heroine in literature–smart, funny, dreamy, and freckled.
41. Nordhoff, Charles and James Norman Hall. Mutiny on the Bounty. Whether they got the story right or not, the authors tell a good version of the most famous of mutinies.
42. Orwell, George. 1984. Scary, really scary.
43. Paton, Alan. Cry, the Beloved Country. C.S. Lewis talks about ‘joy’ as an elusive longing for Something that is just out of reach. Tragedy is also an elusive feeling that depends on just the right combination of circumstances. Paton’s book about South Africa under the apartheid system and about the power of forgiveness to redeem, sometimes, is truly tragic. Some of what I like about Cry, the Beloved Country.
44. Peters, Ellis. A Morbid Taste for Bones This one is the first of the Brother Cadfael mysteries; go here for a list of all the Cadfael books in order.
45. Renault, Mary. The King Must Die. This book and its sequel, The Bull from the Sea, tell the story of the Greek hero Theseus. The story is Greek mythology, but the symbolism is richly Christian.
46. Robinson, Marilynne. Gilead.. I read this book this year, too,. Here are some quotations and a bit of a summary/review.
47. Saint Exupery, Antoine de. The Little Prince. To read Le petit prince, one must become a child for a little while. It’s an enjoyable transformation.
48. Sayers, Dorothy. Clouds of Witness. Actually, the next to the last book in the Lord Peter series, Gaudy Night, is the best one in my opinion. However, if you’re going to read these mystery/romances, you should really start at the beginning with Clouds of Witness.
49. Scott, Sir Walter. Ivanhoe. Rowena and Rebecca, Ivanhoe, Richard the Lion-hearted, Prince John, chivalry,romance and adventure.
50. Sewell, Anna. Black Beauty. Again, I’m not even an animal lover, but Black Beauty is a great horse story.
51. Shaara, Michael. The Killer Angels The Battle of Gettysburg as a novel makes for high tragedy.
52. Shellabarger, Samuel. Prince of Foxes. Set in renaissance Italy, this historical fiction novel is filled with intrigue, suspense, and truth.
53. Stevenson, Robert Louis. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
54. Stout, Rex. If Death Ever Slept. I don’t know if this murder mystery is the best of Nero wolfe’s and Archie Goodwin’s adventures, but it’s one of my favorites.
55. Swift, Jonathon. Gulliver’s Travels. I re-read this one for a British literature class I was teaching, and it was even more thought-provoking than I remembered. Gulliver certainly points out many of the weaknesses in British society and even in our own.
56. Thackeray, William Makepeace. Vanity Fair. I also knew and loved this book before there was a movie. Thackeray is more ascerbic than Dickens, and that fits with my sometimes more ascerbic and biting personality. Becky Sharp is one of the most memorable female characters in all of literature.
57. Tey, Josephine. Daughter of Time. Tey proves once and for all that Richard III did NOT murder the princes in the tower, and she does it by telling a suspenseful mystery story.
58. Tolkien, JRR. The Lord of the Rings. The best fantasy novel ever written, better than The Odyssey, better than anything. I knew Tolkien before Tolkien was cool.
59. Tolstoy, Leo. War and Peace. Better than Anna Karenina, this book is about families and about romantic love that fails and romantic love that succeds in spite of the imperfections of the lovers. (Anna Karenina is good, too.)
60. Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I just re-read this one for an American Literature discussion group that I was leading, and it was just as good as I remembered. Huck is a a good kid—in spite of himself and everyone else around him.
61. Uris, Leon. Exodus. An epic novel of the founding of the modern state of Israel. If you like this book, his other novels about the Jewish experience during WW II are good, too: Mila 18 and QB VII, especially. About Leon Uris on his birthday.
62. Voigt, Cynthia. Homecoming. Sequels are Dicey’s Song, Seventeen Against the Dealer, Sons From Afar, The Runner, and Come a Stranger.
63. Wallace, Lew. Ben-Hur. Subtitled “a tale of the Christ,” it really is about how Christ works in the life of an unlikely follower.
64. Wharton,, Edith. The Age of Innocence. Or maybe The House of Mirth. I liked them both. Thoughts on House of Mirth.
65. White, E. B. Charlotte’s Web. The best story about friendship ever. Here’s a birthday post about E.B.White and Charlotte’s Web.
66. Wilcock, Penelope. The Hawk and the Dove. These are stories that a mother tells her daughters about a monastery and the monks who live there.
67. Wilder, Thornton. The Bridge of San Luis Rey. I haven’t read this one in ages, but I still remember the basic premise: a researcher tries to find out whether and why God intended for some to die and others to survive in a disastrous bridge collapse.
68. Wodehouse, P.G. Right Ho, Jeeves. Bertie Wooster and his manservant, Jeeves, live a life of hilarious adventure and romance in aristocratic British society. Some quotations from Right Ho, Jeeves. Another blog post about P.G. Wodehouse.

8 thoughts on “Semicolon’s 100 Best Fiction Books of All TIme

  1. Good list of books. I’d add “The Moonstone” by Wilkie Collins, maybe Alcott’s “An Old-Fashioned Girl,” and “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” I was wrong before when I said TLTW&TW was not that great. I re-read it and cried terribly. It was worse than when I read “Charlotte’s Web” aloud to the children. Thanks for encouraging me to give it another chance.

  2. Mindy

    I linked here from Mental Multivitamin and I think I love you now. I agree that your list is much better than Times!!! Maybe I just like it better because I’ve read most of these books. 🙂 I would have put together such a similar list and I’m very excited to read the ones I haven’t read yet.

  3. Love your list!!!! Many of your titles are already favorites, and quite a few I’ve never even picked up. But now will. Thanks for the suggestions and the descriptions of why you liked each one.

  4. Gem

    I also hopped over from MMV and love this list! So many I read long ago, but for a literature class and didn’t truly absorb them. Some I have started and just didn’t perservere to get through them. Some I want to read, to get ready to read them to my girls. I’m printing out the list, and checking out at least one a month.

    Oh, and Byzantium — I checked it out from the Science Fiction section at our library where it was shelved with all of Donaldson’s other books. As I was reading, I kept waiting for the alternate history or fantasy elements or something — I didn’t know it wasn’t one of his SF books! Once I stopped waiting for the shoe to drop, I really enjoyed it. It seems he left room for a sequel, but I haven’t seen any follow-up.

  5. jngriffith

    Semicolon: As a first time visitor, I look forward to seeing your site. It looks wonderful. Let me throw some ‘books every child should read’ at you. My interest is chldren’s fiction before 1980. 1–Paco’s Miracle, by Ann Nolan Clark. A tale of St. Francis as a boy in America; a Christmas story. You will want to read all of Clark’s works; she loves the Southwest. 2–King Horn, by Kevin Crossley Holland. A very early work of his; it’s a readable Christian hero tale for 12 to 72 year olds, especially those adults who had trouble with Beowulf/Early English Literature. 3–A Tide Flowing, by Joan Phipson. An Australian writer who deserves a wider audience. Disdaining the belitting of teens so popular today, this older teen tale is a soaring testament to the spirit.
    4–The Lark in the Morn/The Lark on the Wing, by Elfrida ( Foulds Brown) Vipont. A 1940’s award winner that introduces the great joy that singing and music add to our lives. A good way to open classical music to younger readers.
    Your homeschooling friends may know these books. Good used bookstores will offer them, too

  6. David Thompson

    Do yourself a favor and read some Hemingway or Melville, even Elmore Leonard. Your list reminds me of the Nobel Peace Prize: what’s not on your list is better than what is on it. (Nominations: Mussolini, 1935, Stalin, 1948, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Hitler 1939).

  7. Ashley

    As soon as I saw, Eight Cousins and A ring of endless light on your list, I knew I could trust the rest as good reading suggestions. I tend to get stuck on authors like alcott, and l’engle, rowlings, and tolkien. I highly suggest Alcott’s sequal to Eight Cousins, “Rose in Bloom” I think it’s one of the most romantic stories of all time, and my favorite! Also I suggest “An acceptable time”, by L’engle.

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