This week I’m doing something a little different. I’ve been reading for more than half of my life now and occasionally I’ll run into a book that turns out to be something truly special. They connect with me in a way very few other books can. That being said, I’m going to list my top five favorite and most strongly recommended books of all time (in no particular order), with a few reasons attached for why I love each book. One thing I’d just like to say right off the bat is that each book is almost an entirely different genre and the story very different, which personally makes me happy because it means there’s a variety of different genres that have appealed to me. So without further ado, let’s jump in!
- Eli by Bill Myers (2000) – Eli is about a man named Conrad who ends up in a terrible car accident that puts him in a comatose state. Even though he’s in the hospital in comatose, Conrad finds himself thrust into a world where Jesus has come to earth for the first time in the modern day, not two thousand years ago. It’s a powerful story involving some of the same themes as the Gospels, but with a modern twist. Many events from the Gospels are retold here with a modern sheen to make it more relatable. This book really moved me to tears, reminding me of Jesus’s sacrifice and how He has his own versions of justice and mercy (two words that are actually brought up rather frequently in this book) that far transcends our own understanding. It’s a story about a man’s second chance of redemption while on the verge of death. Because it came out eighteen years ago, it might feel a little dated in terms of the modern implications, but if you don’t mind hopping back to a time before social media and iPhones (yeah, I knew you would), then this book will not disappoint. I read it in 2011, eleven years after the book came out, and it still connected with me just as well as it would’ve back in 2000.
2. The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006) – Cormac McCarthy has always been an author that approaches his stories with unique writing styles, and this one is no exception. This story is about a man and his son (both left nameless) traveling through post-apocalyptic America. It’s a simple premise with a very bleak, tragic, and somber atmosphere. We’re never told what happened that caused America to become the wasteland it is in this book, but that doesn’t make it any less compelling or even just simply good. Cormac writes with broken grammar, reflecting the brokenness that is the world the father and son now live in. There are no chapter breaks despite it being over 300 pages long, and even the dialogue feels broken and repetitive (you’ll also need to read closely for the dialogue since there are no quotation marks). The style in which the book was written is just as affecting as the story that’s told, and there’s very little hope offered here. However, there’s just enough of a spark that’ll make you want to keep reading. You find yourself rooting for the father and son to make it to their destination and find a happier life in a place that’s unbelievably bleak, where animals no longer exist, fires rage, and cannibals roam the lands. It is a real treasure, and I highly recommend it as well as a walk under the sun afterwards. This book will really make you realize how good you have it.
3. What Dreams May Come by Richard Matheson (1978) – In 2013, I went through a Richard Matheson phase, where I was going out and reading all kinds of books and short stories he wrote, some of them I loved and some of them not so much, but regardless I was hopelessly intrigued with his writing. Finally, I picked up What Dreams May Come, which was a different kind of story than what I was used to by Matheson, given that he wrote a lot of horror. While there are a few elements of horror in the story, this is something deeply profound. It’s about a man named Chris who dies in a car accident (yes, another car accident book) and goes to Paradise in the afterlife (this is not heaven from the Bible, sorry). Shortly afterwards, his wife commits suicide in the wake of her husband’s death and ends up going to hell. Determined to be reunited with his wife, Chris is willing to descend down into hell to rescue her so that she doesn’t have to continue enduring eternal suffering. This is a powerful book but a controversial one too. Many Christians would probably take issue to how much this book contradicts what the Bible says about the afterlife. Now, I’m well aware that this is fantasy and don’t believe a lot of the things this book depicts, but it does support questions I’ve had about the afterlife. If a loved one of mine doesn’t make it to heaven but I do, how would I really feel? Surely I wouldn’t just shrug it off, right? If you go into this book knowing it’s fantasy, then you’ll probably enjoy this book just as it is. I for one highly recommend it.
4. Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick – This book has stuck to me like a fly that just won’t go away. Several years after reading it for the first time, it still lingers in the back of my mind. It’s like honey and glue sticking to my brain. It makes me cry whenever I open it to certain sections. I still think about it often, and I’ve recommended it to several other people. This book is about a young man named Leonard, whose eighteenth birthday is the day he plans on killing his ex-best friend and then himself. Yeah, sounds pretty bleak, and for a while it really is. For a significant portion of the book, Leonard is in a dark place. He has his grandfather’s war trophy, a Nazi P-38, which he intends on using against his former friend and himself. Written with broken prose at times and letters written by Leonard that are meant to come from his future wife and other important people he hopes to have in his life, this book is one of the most moving, emotionally gripping stories I’ve ever read. It can also be–hard–to recommend to people. While I personally loved this story for its themes and direction, this is easily the most controversial in the list for its content. There’s more R-rated content here than in any of the other books, and while I found a lot of it to actually be justified given the context, other readers might feel squeamish reading. This book deals with depression, trauma, suicide, and loneliness, and Matthew Quick does not hold back when it comes to depicting these things. I love this book because of the way Matthew handled the themes, and how I related to a few of the things Leonard was thinking. The letters in particular really got to me because of the ‘better’ future it painted. It’s something we all hope for, and it’s one thing that keeps us going.
5. The 39 Deaths Of Adam Strand by Gregory Galloway – Finally, there’s this jewel of a book. Adam Strand isn’t depressed, he’s just bored. So he kills himself. Thirty-nine times. Each time he kills himself, he comes back to life unscathed from his attempt and walks it off like it was nothing. He wants to die and stay dead, but for some reason (one we’ll never actually find out) he can’t seem to stay dead. There’s actually very little story to speak of here, but that’s actually part of its beauty. It remains engaging by showing us how Adam’s life goes and how this ability to come back to life affects him. He eventually comes to learn that there’s more he needs to do in his life, even if they may just be little things. With the exception of Adam’s strange resurrection power, this book is very grounded. The character development is subtle at its finest, and the few relationships Adam has feel organic and vulnerable. By the end of the book, Adam isn’t a ‘changed man’, but he’s close enough to be well on his way. The book doesn’t fall into most YA cliches, and every time you think it’s about to, it takes you in a completely different direction and introduces something different. Gregory Galloway is a literary genius, and I’m honestly shocked that this book isn’t being read in a college class. If a sloppy, graphic movie like mother! is being shown in classes, then this book has every right to be read. This is a strong recommend if you don’t mind a little language and of course some details involving suicide attempts (that of course, end up fruitless in the end).