Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten ALL TIME Favorite Books!
Crafting an “All Time Favorites” list is always difficult, but I have attempted it with the understanding that my tastes and evaluations may have changed ten years hence, and there’s nothing criminal about that!
Without further ado:
That Hideous Strength, C. S. Lewis
I recently read this masterpiece for the third time, and in this most recent reading the theological truths, the philosophical overtones and subtexts, vibrated for me in a way they hadn’t previously. Especially as I watch Western civilization teetering on the brink of self-destruction, it was intoxicating to see the seeds of our destruction are as old as the earth itself, and liberating to know Man’s Salvation is older than Time.
2. Unnatural Death, Dorothy L. Sayers
My first reading was a little spoiled by having an inkling of the cause of death, but it was (and is) still a glorious read. It could have been the perfect murder – it very nearly was the perfect murder. An old lady, dying, rich, with no near relations to throw a fuss…if only the killer had let things lie.
For those who like theological threads in their novels, it includes a discussion of whether Lord Peter should have begun his investigation, or left the mud un-stirred, and deep, soul-searching introspection on whether Miss Climpson should read someone else’s confession notes.
And for the others, Ms. Sayers’ deft characterization and nimble wit will leave you laughing and nodding, picturing just such persons of your own acquaintance.
The scintillating chapter on the interpretation of inheritance law is also one of my favorites.
3. Have His Carcass, Dorothy L. Sayers
People who aren’t murder-mystery junkies might roll their eyes at this point, but I still admire this story of a complex murder plot, extraordinary complications, and a truly jaw-dropping twist.
This book also covers development of Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane’s relationship, and it ranks beneath Unnatural Death because of the obligatory romantic angst and the formidable chapter on cipher-decoding (which my shameless mother skipped over).
4. Fellowship of the Ring, J. R. R. Tolkien
Of course we all know you must include the Lord of the Rings somewhere to avoid the bibliophilic lynchers. I’ve specified the Fellowship because it contains the council of Elrond (backstory! characterization! history! world-building! world’s best cut-scene!) and the Conspiracy, featuring superb covert-agent Samwise Gamgee.
5. The Return of the King
Contains the scouring of the Shire, where Sam shines once again – and the whole trek to Mount Doom, where Frodo is weak and spiritually drained (not glassy-eyed-drugged, as some directors/actors would have you believe) and Sam is get-out awesome (as in waving-Sting-scaring-orcs-and-being-mistaken-for-an-Elvish-warrior awesome).
I sense a theme…
6. The Innocence of Father Brown, G. K. Chesterton
A collection of short mysteries that focus mainly on the philosophical/theological framework of the perpetrator/sinner than hunting for forensic clues. This book is thought-provoking and free (from Project Gutenberg).
“How in blazes do you know all these horrors?” cried Flambeau.
The shadow of a smile crossed the round, simple face of his clerical opponent.
“Oh, by being a celibate simpleton, I suppose,” he said. “Has it never struck you that a man who does next to nothing but hear men’s real sins is not likely to be wholly unaware of human evil? But, as a matter of fact, another part of my trade, too, made me sure you weren’t a priest.”
“What?” asked the thief, almost gaping.
“You attacked reason,” said Father Brown. “It’s bad theology.”
7. Downbelow Station, C. J. Cherryh
Opposing factions vie for possession of the space station that links Earth-ward colonies with the far-flung outer stars. The separate groups are artfully set up and fully fleshed out psychologically, emotionally, politically, and economically, making this clash of world-views riveting, tense, and ultimately satisfying.
There’s also several examples of married couples acting with one accord, even when apart – no pining angst, just good, old-fashioned, sacrificial love.
Not a fluffy read, but a worth-while one.
8. A Wizard of EarthSea, Ursula Le Guin
Born with great magical potential, the wizard later known as Arch-Mage Sparrowhawk started as a boy attending the magic academy, and making a pride-driven mistake that costs lives and sends him hunting a specter across the islands and seas of EarthSea.
This fantasy unfolds a world where magic is more than secret formulas and disgusting potions, but rather the language of people and objects’ “true names” – dragons are more than props or gags, but are ancient, Smaug-wise creatures not to be bantered with – and actions have far-reaching consequences.
Sparrowhawk/Ged is flawed, yet we are drawn into his journey as his character is broken and re-made better and wiser. His adventures continue in The Tombs of Atuan and The Farthest Shore, though you don’t have to read those to enjoy Wizard of EarthSea.
9. The Faded Sun trilogy, C. J. Cherryh
There is a special kind of pain that comes with stripping away the essence of who you are and putting on someone else entirely. And yet, when Cherrye’s protagonist Sten Duncun puts on the new identity of the Mri aliens, not his fellow humans, the awesomeness of this new family and this new destiny are very satisfying.
Ms. Cherrye writes hard science fiction, with realistic technology and characters that die, but the peace that comes at the end feels hard-earned.
10. The Erthring Cycle, Wayland Drew
This is not for the feint of heart, but for the patient and dedicated, this massive work of characterization and world-view offers breath-taking descriptions of a post-apocalyptic world, a thought-provoking search for what’s wrong with mankind, the sincere expressions of opposing viewpoints in the struggle, and, ultimately, the triumph of the protagonists against the mountainous forces of human technology and hatred. The tome encompasses one man’s lifetime, so to try to bare the soul of all the themes and parallels in so short a space would be fruitless.
It’s for those interested in world-view, and in how a person’s thought is shaped by innumerable small actions…and how every philosophy or theory has far-reaching consequences.
SIDE NOTE: You won’t find the Bible on this list at all, because as the inspired Word of God the Bible is in a class all its own – and to mistake it as simply another “good book” would have just as fatal and far-reaching consequences as mistaking the Lord Jesus Christ as a “good man.”
He claimed to be God. He claimed to be taking our punishment on Himself by enduring the wrath of God and dying. He claimed to have conquered Death by rising again and to remake our relations with God on the basis of trusting his perfect work and ‘throwing ourselves on the mercy of the court,’ or rejecting both Him and His loving self-sacrifice. To call Him anything less is to short-change Him of His glory, align yourself against Him on the metaphysical battleground, and – in essence – to completely miss the whole point.
To return to the thesis, salvation comes by faith, …faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (Rom. 10:17).
All cover images come from Amazon.com.