Reading for Pleasure (updated)

Joanna’s response to my post on House got me all fired up about good fiction writing. So, I have decided to compile a list of my favorite fiction books. Just to be clear: I am not saying these are all stellar examples of literature. Nevertheless, the following are the ten novels I have most enjoyed reading.

Note: After reviewing my reading history last weekend, I realized that my original list needed some serious editing. Now the order and number of books are a more accurate representation of my favorite novels.

(Dis)honorable Mention: The DaVinci Code (Dan Brown)
Several of my friends loved this book and I decided to read it because I wanted to be culturally informed. Yes, the worldview/theology behind the story is atrocious. The plot also happens to be one of the most interesting I have ever read. It just goes to show the power of storytelling—for good or evil. I have more problems with how the book has been praised (i.e., being called impeccably researched, when it presumptuously distorts church history) than with the book itself. The “explosive” element of the plot—the heresy that Christ was just a normal human (who, in this case, married and had children)—is nothing new; it has existed for thousands of years. Through his writing, Dan Brown has simply expressed the anti-God mindset that characterizes all of us apart from Christ’s regenerating work. The story basically falls apart near the end with an ill-conceived, late-in-the-game plot twist; up until that point, I was hooked.

10. And Then There Were None (Agatha Christie)
Originally published with the title Ten Little Indians, this is one of Christie’s most famous stories. The official Agatha Christie website describes the book as “one of the most carefully planned of Christie’s mysteries” and explains how even Christie herself considered the plot “near-impossible.” Indeed, murder mysteries don’t get much more intriguing than this. Numerous stories have copied plot elements from this book.

9. Murder on the Titanic (Jim Walker)
Everything the blockbuster motion picture Titanic (with the actor whose name was NOT the inspiration for my hotmail address) should have been. Walker gives us a much more interesting love story and a complex and suspenseful plot. He also creates one of my favorite literary characters of all time: actor Hunter Kennedy.

8. The Last of the Mohicans (James Fenimore Cooper)
America’s first popular novelist conceives an adventure tale with fascinating characters and a story that embodies the term epic. People don’t write like this anymore. (As a side note: the movie Last of the Mohicans is a good movie in its own right, and I know a lot of people who like it, but I absolutely despise it. Why? Because it mercilessly butchers the book. Hawkeye, an icon of heroism with a strong Christian worldview is reduced to a generic, sober-faced Hollywood hero. And the plot of the film takes great liberties with the source material. The filmmakers should be tied up, flogged, pushed over a cliff into a lake, extradited to another country, and tickled to death by lions and tigers and bears. And then they should die—as many times as possible. Okay, not really…but I hope you get the point.)

7. A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens)
The characters in this tale aren’t so much constructs of an author’s imagination as they are living, breathing personalities. To describe this novel as being filled with rich characters would be a shameful understatement. I don’t know if I’ve ever read a novel as beautifully written as this, with an incredible ending.

6. The Lost World (Michael Crichton)
This Jurassic Park sequel may not be as original as the, uh, original, but Crichton’s ability to maintain such a high level of intensity for hundreds of pages without losing momentum is astounding.

5. Deadline (Randy Alcorn)
This is a murder mystery that defies the genre by dealing with a number of social issues, all tied together by the overriding theme of eternity. The plot is interesting in and of itself, with a climactic twist I didn’t see coming. Alcorn created another one of my favorite characters from literature: detective Ollie Chandler.

4. The Cooper Kids Adventure Series (Frank Peretti)
How exactly did Peretti do it? He blended archaeology, adventure, and children’s literature and created his own little genre. Tightly written and thoroughly engaging. Of special mention is the book The Deadly Curse of Toco-Rey—an adventure story with enough intrigue and excitement to kill 900 cats. If this book is ever translated to film, look out Indiana Jones (because you will be dethroned)!

3. Jurassic Park (Michael Crichton)
I love dinosaurs. Always have, always will. Crichton may be a staunch evolutionist, but I absolutely love this story. It is intelligent and fast-paced. When an author makes you believe what he’s writing could actually happen (especially something as outlandish as bringing dinosaurs back), he’s doing something right. This book got me hooked on Michael Crichton.

2. Nightmare Academy (Frank Peretti)
I usually despise a work of art that wears its message on its sleeve. This book is an exception—in part because the “message” is so vital to the plot that the story wouldn’t exist without it. So maybe it’s not so much a “message novel” as it is a candid look into what would literally happen if a secretive offshoot of the government literally attempted to eliminate the concept of truth. It’s a fascinating illustration of what a human being is reduced to when forced to exist apart from any absolutes. This is one of those rare occasions where the message not only doesn’t destroy the story—it makes the story.

1. Timeline (Michael Crichton)
Michael Crichton is the man. He takes the “time traveling” cliché and turns it on its head. It’s a cliché to say “I couldn’t put the book down,” but I couldn’t put the book down. Most people didn’t think much of the film when it came out. I, on the other hand, loved it. Why? Because my love for the book is so strong, it naturally spilled over into the movie like an overflowing stream of joy. Does that sound sappy? I really don’t care.