Lists like these are hard for me to write. Not only because it feels intimate – after all, what is more important to an avid reader than their favorite books? – but because it’s hard for me to know for sure. On any given day, I don’t know what my favorite books are. Some of the time, it’s the best book I’ve read recently. For example, I just finished reading the Wheel of Time series, so I was tempted to put the 14th book on this list even though it doesn’t belong.
Regardless, I’m going to try and do the impossible. Here are my five favorite books of all time.
Feel free to agree or disagree and tell me your favorite books in the comments.
Number One: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
It’s always hard to mention that this is one of my favorite books because it feels so pretentious. Like, of course this writer would say War and Peace is his favorite novel. He just wants to brag that he read it. But, I swear, that’s not the case. I picked up War and Peace because I wanted to challenge myself. I expected to hate it. Before this book, I read a series of easy, beach paperback reads and wanted something tougher.
I was blown away and couldn’t put this book down. Fine, the last section of the book is pretty boring, but the opening 3/4ths of it is phenomenal. I consider Tolstoy to be the master character writer, the best to ever live. The characters in this book were so real, so developed, so natural. I found myself so invested in the love lives of 19th century fictional. Russian teenagers. If you read Anna Karenina you’ll also see what I mean about his character work, though I like War and Peace better.
War and Peace, and Tolstoy in general, is considered a classic for a reason. There’s a reason it’s talked about in such high regard and makes you roll your eyes when your artsy friends talk about it. Because it earned that reputation. It is that good. Give it a chance.
Number Two: The Harry Potter Series
This is a bit of a change from the first one, isn’t it? I know what some people are thinking: “Nick, this is a series, not a book. What are you doing?” My answer: “I don’t care, it’s my list.”
For the longest time, I had no interest in Harry Potter. In fact, I had no interest in reading. My mother took me to the library when I was kid where I poured over children’s horror novels, but the required reading in middle and high school drove the love of story from me. Then I saw a girl I had a massive crush on reading the last Harry Potter book on the bus home from a field trip and decided to read the whole series. That summer, I picked up the first one and read all seven books in about a month. I have not stopped reading since then.
I credit Harry Potter for a lot of things. Like many people my age, it sparked (I should say reignited, my mother sparked it) my love of reading. It introduced me to the beauty of stories and other worlds. Perhaps most importantly, it gave me that itch. Readers know what I’m talking about. When I finished that last book, I entered into a period of despair. It was over. I would never read another Potter book for the first time again. There was no more of the story to experience. So I got the itch: I longed for a book to give me the same feeling I got when I read Potter for the first time. To this day, no book has given me that feeling. It’s an endless chase.
Now, I want to give that feeling to other people. In a large way, that’s why I started to write. I wanted other people to experience the feeling I got when I read Harry Potter, so I started trying to write stories that would help them experience that.
Because of the impact it has had in my life, I have to put the series in my top five. However, it did not help me get that girl.
Number Three: The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
I read this book because I wanted to read The Man in the Iron Mask. In fact, I purchased The Man in the Iron Mask first. And when I started reading it, surprise, surprise, it is the last book in a series. Who knew? Certainly not me. The d’Artagnan Romances starts off with The Three Musketeers and finishes with The Man in the Iron Mask.
So I started the series. Boy am I glad I didn’t skip to the end. In my opinion, The Three Musketeers is easily the best entry in the whole series. The Man in the Iron Mask ends the tale on a high note, but the starting book takes the cake. Full of adventure, intrigue, and mystery, this book kept me engaged and invested in a story line I never thought I’d care about. Each of the main characters are so distinct and special. The action is fast-paced.
A lot of people might not give it a chance, because it is old and a classic. A lot of people might think “classic” means “boring,” but those people are going to miss out on one of the best stories. Don’t be one of those people.
Number Four: The Stand by Stephen King
Placing the The Stand here is more a reflection of the importance of Stephen King in my life than it is a reflection on The Stand. I have only read The Stand once, in high school, over ten years ago. I remember absolutely adoring it. I thought it was the best Stephen King book I have read, and I’ve read a lot of them. But I couldn’t tell you that much about it. I don’t remember characters names. I don’t remember much of the plot.
But I often say that I am a writing-disciple of Stephen King. I’ve read more of his books than any other author. He’s, probably, influenced my writing style more than any other author. After I finished Harry Potter, I longed for something new to read. I knew that I loved the old TV mini-series version of It, so I wanted to read that. Unfortunately, the library in East Tennessee didn’t have it (pun intended). So, instead, I got a book called Desperation. Though I didn’t like it that much, I liked it enough to give King another chance. From then on, I basically read exclusively Stephen King in high school. In college and after I’ve branched out, but I’ll still read every new book King releases. He’s done more to influence my writing than anyone else.
So, as my favorite Stephen King book in the period of my life when I read tons of Stephen King, The Stand is added to the list as a catch-all for Stephen King books in general.
(Who else is excited for the tv show coming later this year?)
Number Five: To Kill A Mockingbird
This is another one that I read expecting to not like only because I was told to read it in High School. As a general principle, I didn’t read anything I was told to read in high school. But, in college, when I started to read a few more classics and understand that there was something to these old books, I decided to give To Kill a Mockingbird a try. I found it cheap at a used book store in my city and prepared for a slog.
Oh boy, was I wrong.
I couldn’t put that book down. I probably read it in two sittings. Atticus Finch is one of the best characters ever written, I’m convinced. While there isn’t a lot of action in the sense of The Three Musketeers or Harry Potter, the plot blows by and can leave you reeling at times.
I will admit I’ve only read this book once, but it’s long been on my list to re-read. I, also, like most people it seems, hated Go Set a Watchman. I thought it did a massive disservice to the characters that I loved and I wish Harper Lee left that world alone. But who am I to argue with the author of the thing?
At the end, I was considering between a couple of other books that I wanted to throw in here and recommend while I’m at it:
The Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis. Lewis is my favorite writer of all time, but I’m more drawn to his non-fiction. He is a master of language and can dumb down high concepts exceptionally well. His Space Trilogy is a collection of science fiction books that have been very influential for me.
1984 by George Orwell. This stands as the only book that was assigned for me to read in high school that I actually read. At the end of this list, I was between this book and To Kill a Mockingbird and 1984 only missed out because of that one section in the middle that I skip every time. You know the one I’m talking about.