My Recommended Fiction List
Reading opens our minds to understanding perspectives, places, and times which we could never interact with otherwise. Fiction also allows people to dream big and envision solutions to problems that we may or may not know exist yet. Below I have listed several of my favorite fiction stories and authors. The only commonalities in the list is that they are stories which I have finished and like to recommend to people.
Les Miserables, Victor Hugo
Les Miserables exposes readers to the poverty experienced by vulnerable communities in 17th Century France. Read more about this epic tale of misogyny, child abuse, incarceration, revolution, and redemption through this link.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, in general
The people Dostoyevsky portrayed were never perfect. He wrote human beings holistically, displaying their ignorance, greed, and malice along with their more compassionate qualities. His stories take the reader across Russia into cities, rural towns, and Siberian jail camps known for the cold and hard labor. He wrote from the perspective of people in poverty, criminals hardened by forced labor, mid-level bureaucrats with chips on their shoulders, and low-level aristocrats with failing familial relationships (an understatement in the case of The Brothers Karamazov).
Dostoyevsky’s characters contrast Hugo’s, who generally wrote archetypes whose good and bad qualities were provoked by outside forces; the innocent Cosette, the holy Bishop Myriel, the ruthless Thernadiers.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert M. Pirsig
Pirsig’s protagonist narrates the reader through a wild ride that integrates philosophy, fatherhood, a road trip, and the importance of correct motorcycle maintenance. He jumps around in time and creates a convoluted road to a twist at the climax of the story which will intrigue armchair psychologists and philosophers.
Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts
This book is the hyperbolic memoir of an Australian fugitive starting a new life in Bombay, now Mumbai, India. It is a story about a Western man entering an Eastern society and overcoming the materialistic value-system that consumerism tricks its victims into holding. Roberts journey leads him through a slum where he is able to find purpose, and into organized crime and adventure where his criminal past comes in useful.
Speaker for the Dead, Orson Scott Card
The twist in Speaker for the Dead is a masterclass in thinking from an alien perspective. The book is an extension of the Ender’s Game series. It follows Ender as he attempts to reconcile himself with his guilt for the alien genocide he committed in the original story. He investigates the murder of an anthropologist on a distant human colony by the indigenous alien species. The writer’s ability to craft an alien perspective in such a creative way is odd seen with Card’s expressed homophobia, but reading the book opened my mind to the complexity of social psychology and life’s relationship to its environment.
The Pillars of the Earth, World Without End, Ken Follet
Follet writes historical fiction with such detail and sensual immersion that I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out he was a time traveller before he started to write. The first protagonist in the series is Tom Builder, a stone mason whose goal is to construct a cathedral. The series largely takes place in Kingsbridge, a fictional market town with a priory. It ends centuries later with a cathedral built, and rebuilt, with Kingsbridge having survived assault, disease, fire, and famine. Read the book if you are interested in medieval architecture or politics. The morality of the time can be upsetting and disturbin. The story is full of rape, murder, and brigandry from soldiers, lords, bishops, and outlaws. There are also more positive motifs of community, compassion, entrepreneurialism, and the civilizing effects of a belief in hell.
Foundation (series, originally a trilogy, now seven books including two preludes), Isaac Asimov
Asimov is a titan intellectual. Foundation is a fantastical thought experiment into what might happen over millions of years if humanity survives and occupies the galaxy. Asimov’s protagonists shift as time moves. It is the story of an institution, The Foundation, designed to guide humanity through the period of barbarity inevitable after the collapse of an empire. The political intrigue and technology are enough to entertain the reader, but Asimov’s storytelling includes flourishes of romance, drama, mutant powers, mystery, and an ultimate ending that connects the entire series to his earlier writings on artificial intelligence.The Teachings of Don Juan, Carlos Castaneda
This is a controversial book in that it is a discredited anthropological study. It comes from the field notes of Castaneda, an anthropologist, from interning with a Yaqui shaman from Sonora Mexico. Don Juan Matus’ shamanism requires using mind altering substances including peyote, a type of psychoactive mushroom, and a paste made from the root of jimson weed. The hallucinations are accompanied by mystical, sometimes kind of gross, rituals that help the user make a decision. Castaneda created a philosophy around the shaman’s teachings. The gist of the philosophy involves communing with nature, being grateful, and following your impulses.
Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
This dystopia predates Orwell’s 1984 by over a decade but the two books are often compared. Huxley envisioned a future technological society where humanity has gotten rid of pain, suffering, and alienation. Women no longer have children, children are grown in a lab to hold the exact characteristics and predispositions they will need to be content in life. The concept of two people becoming a couple is considered antiquated, romance is entirely based on short flings. People no longer physically age and any existential or depressive thoughts and feelings are suppressed through the use of a wonderdrug, Soma.
Huxley envisioned a world in which people have radically deconstructed the human experience to avoid pain. The dystopia is unveiled when a ‘savage’ comes into the society from outside. The protagonist and the savage quickly become unsettled by the society’s tight-grip on the human experience, specifically, they both want to be in loving, committed relationships.
1984, George Orwell
In Orwell’s dystopia humanity lives under the boot of a multi-continental socialist state which uses political language and harsh repression to control their populations. The protagonist starts as a bureaucrat, it is his job to revise history to suit the oppressive government’s narrative. He comes into conflict with the Big Brother government when he begins an illegal affair with another government employee. 1984 places hierarchical tyranny as the centerpiece of his dystopia. Huxley, in contrast, places human’s desire to avoid pain and suffering at the center of his dystopia. Thus, the end of 1984 is harsh and difficult to continue reading, where the end of Brave New World encourages introspection.
The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy, series, Douglas Adams
The Guide is fine-tuned, dry, British humor from a man who consistently makes the absurd sound intelligent. Read the five-book series to take a march through an unlikely galaxy with narration that almost convinces you that what is happening, could happen. It will leave you thinking, “What?!” Adams’ absurd sci-fi built a cult following. He used the same general story to publish the books and produce versions for radio (first released), TV, and film. Read his comical material to get a break from the drudgery of our single-planet species and see absurdity applied on a massive scale.
The Discworld, Terry Pratchett
I recommend Pratchett’s fantastic world to friends because laughter and biting satire can solve so many problems. The Discworld is the graveyard of your favorite fantasy tropes. There is Rincewind the useless wizard, Granny Weatherwax and her coven of grandmotherly witches, an unassuming Death, police-trolls, a crime-ridden, dirt-hole of a city named Ankh Morpork, and a world (disc) full of the good, evil, and idiotic. Pratchett used fantasy and satire to say whatever he wanted during his career, and he evoked laughs on every page while doing it.