I consider myself fortunate in that I have always loved reading books from nearly every genre category imaginable. As to why this is, I am not exactly sure although I suspect living in a population less than 3000 mountain town in California where the only library was the small one at my elementary school played a major influence on my eclectic taste. I thought the library was massive, of course, as children always do perceive anything bigger than them to be, yet in retrospect (and a visit to that elementary school a few years ago) I realize how tiny it actually was. That is not to say, however, that the librarians didn’t do a great job of stocking the shelves. Aside from the obligatory reference books, I was introduced to all the classic literature a youth should be, and many other titles and genres. Additionally, a traveling library “Book Mobile” came from the big city over an hour away, an event (monthly? weekly? can’t recall exactly) for which I do remember marking my wall calendar. To state it simply, as an avid reader practically from birth, I had to grab up whatever came my way.
I was also fortunate that my older sister was a huge reader. She, like me and for probably the same reason, read everything, the stacks of books in her apartment endlessly fascinating to me. She introduced me to authors and huge books often beyond my intellectual ability to comprehend. But that, to my delight, was taken as a challenge! I rarely set a book aside, but if I did, it would only take me a few months before I’d give it another shot. This is what happened with The Hobbit, which my sister handed me when I was about 11. I’d never read anything remotely “fantasy” so I just could not wrap my head around the concept. After maybe a year of determination as I made my way through the school library’s shelf of Greek mythology and Arthurian legends, I gave The Hobbit another go… following immediately with The Lord of the Rings!
My passion for the fantasy genre started there, and has never abated, but unlike many readers, ever after discovering my favorite type of story, I was not content to focus solely. A look over my wall-to-wall book cases reveal a large quantity of fantasy novels, as one would imagine. I discussed my favorites within that genre in two posts I’ve linked below. Yet there are also many books from other genres on those shelves too.
Classification of literature can get tricky as so many books overlap, in my opinion. Take, for instance, Centennial by James Michener. It is obviously literature, but also historical fiction and a western. The Harry Potter books are classified as both fantasy and young-adult, and the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon is, in my opinion, more of a historical fiction than a romance (although there is no doubt the romance of Jamie and Claire is a central plot point.) and with time travel involved there is a fantasy aspect.
This mixing of genres is why my list of favorite literature novels encompasses a wide range of types. It is fairly easy to pinpoint a fantasy or sci-fi novel, and the two can cohesively co-exist in the same story. I tend to lump anything not clearly in the fantasy or sci-fi realm as “literary fiction” and leave it there. The novels and authors noted in this blog are those which have impacted me the most. They have all been read over and over, with new copies purchased when the previous copy falls to pieces.
Taylor Caldwell (1900-1985)
Testimony of Two Men – The character of Dr. Jonathan Ferrar was a huge inspiration for my Dr. George Darcy.
Captains and the Kings
Both of these novels were made into TV miniseries way back in the late 1970s when creating shows from classic novels was all the rage. They can be found on DVD but not too easily for some reason. I own them both, luckily, and do highly recommend. Caldwell, an English author, wrote over forty novels, most of which I’ve read. The two above are my absolute favorites. All of her novels are thick, epic tales very much in the realm of a saga. My love for her lengthy, generational family stories was a huge influence on my desire to write the Darcys as a family saga.
Caldwell wasn’t a particularly religious person, but did write several novels based on Christian themes and on Biblical characters. The two below are my favorites.
Dear and Glorious Physician – A novel about Saint Luke.
Ken Follett (1949- )
Pillars of the Earth – Fabulous book, and also a great TV series with Matthew Macfadyen.
The Key to Rebecca
Lie Down With Lions
On Wings of Eagles – The true story of Ross Perot’s 1978 expedition to free the Americans held captive by Iran.
Eye of the Needle
The Man From St. Petersburg
James Clavell (1921-1994)
Shogun – Another great miniseries, starring Richard Chamberlain, that can be purchased on Amazon DVD.
Clavell obviously had a fascination with the Orient and his knowledge of the culture is completely amazing.
James A. Michener (1907-1997)
Centennial – An amazing saga epic! The 1979 miniseries is also really fantastic and can be bought on DVD or watched on Amazon Prime (at a cost).
Much like John Jakes (who I discuss in the next blog) Michener was a master at taking real history and blending beautifully with fictional characters. So much so that I learned a tremendous amount of history through his novels.
Robert Ludlum (1927-2001)
The Bourne Identity
The Bourne Supremacy
The Bourne Ultimatum
There are many other “Bourne” books but the first three are the only ones written by Ludlum. Now, it is impossible for me to mention Ludlum’s Bourne books without commenting on the atrocious movie series which utterly destroys the characters and story that Ludlum brilliantly created. They are an absolute travesty that the Ludlum family should never have allowed to be made. Yes, I am still furious! Watch the miniseries (on DVD) starring Richard Chamberlain as Jason Bourne. Dated, yes, but true to the novel.
In addition to his books about Jason Bourne, Ludlum wrote a ton of thrillers set in the dark underworld of spies and international espionage. I’ve read many of them and all are terrific, its just that Bourne is my favorite.
I have many other favorites from the broad “literature” genre, but will save them for next Thursday’s blog.
I want to hear your thoughts on the above selections, if you’ve read them.
Share your favorite novels from the field of literature, whether past or current.