5 The Fellowship of the Ring
We here at Top5 are revealing our true geekiness by insisting that this book go on the list despite the fact that it was originally published in 1954 and only made 2001’s bestseller list thanks to the release of the first of Peter Jackson’s movie trilogy. Too bad, it deserves to be here. Not only is this the first in the series that is the basis for all modern epic fantasy but it’s also the best of the three. It begins the tale of the representatives of the three species of Middle Earth (humans, hobbits and elves, obviously) who must journey to destroy the cursed ring of Sauron as they battle mythical demons and warriors along the way with the assistance of noble kings and magical princesses. We dare you to find a way to make that cooler.
4 Bridget Jones’s Diary
Forget the book for a moment and go see the movie version if you haven’t yet. It features Hugh Grant as a sleazy asshole and Colin Firth as a slightly mellowed down Mr. Darcy, which is what we all want from him anyway. The book itself follows through with the theme as a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. If there’s anything you can criticize Ms. Austen for, it is that her characters and their conversation are just a bit too controlled to be believable, although that is also one of the reasons they have been a source of comfort to readers of chick-lit for the past two hundred years. So while Bridget Jones may not be on par with the wonderful Jane Austen, she cannot be accused of being too controlled. If anything, she is more realistically just slightly frenzied making her a very relatable character to any 30-something woman, and probably most men if they would only admit it.
3 The Corrections
If you’re looking for angsty intellectualism, this book is for you. And yet, this book manages to not quite cross over the line to unpleasant. Sure, it’s a dark psychological study of American society but that doesn’t mean it has to be oppressive. In fact, it’s even entertaining sometimes! It follows a family with three adult children who are in rebellion against their conservative Midwestern upbringing, their uptight father who is starting to feel the effects of Parkinson’s disease and their frustrated and neglected mother. After a bit of a slow start, the novel moves along nicely exploring family dynamics in the modern age and our relationships with drugs, both legal and illegal. It moves onto sexuality and emotional repression, elitism and self esteem. But if you’re not interested in that stuff you can still keep reading just to find out the most important question: Who is going to come for Christmas.
Stephen King, however, does stick to his usual creepy horror in Dreamcatcher. King is at the top of a short list of authors who regularly deliver well crafted literature while appealing to the masses, i.e. us. This X-Files-esque novel deals seriously with issues of Down Syndrome, alcoholism and changing dynamics of friendship using the awesome context of alien invasion — with plenty of gore and spooky telepathy mixed in. While some critics said thought this wasn’t his best, most are willing to forgive him since he was forced to write it with a pen instead of a computer, due to injuries from a bad car accident. Even the accident gets worked into the novel as one of the characters suffers a similar one at the beginning of the story and suffers the same discomfort throughout the story as King himself did.
1 A Painted House
As usual, our list is topped by John Grisham. But this time it’s not his standard legal thriller. Instead, the story is told through the eyes of a seven year old boy whose family owns a struggling cotton farm in rural Arkansas which, by the way, is where Grisham himself grew up. In this new genre, Grisham proves that he is truly a master. He doesn’t entirely do away with mystery and suspense and the story still includes a couple of murders and plenty of mystery. What is perhaps most impressive here, is that Grisham manages to use the limited vocabulary of a seven-year-old and still crafted a beautiful flowing narrative. Although he never quite conquers the fact that he was forty-six years old when the book was published, the seven-year-old voice comes as close as most authors we’ve seen.
Think something else should have made the list? State your case, but remember: You’ll have to make it sound cooler than Tolkien’s elves and Stephen King’s alien invasions. Good luck.