After some preliminary discussions and an overview posted over the past few weeks, today I start to reveal my ‘Bookish Hall of Fame’ Pyramid — my personal list of ‘the best’ works of fiction that I’ve read through the end of 2022.
Today will be the ‘ground floor’, encompassing numbers 73-100. I will list them in reverse numerical order with some basic information and a very brief setup.
My Bookish Hall of Fame, Ground Floor
- Garden Spells, Sarah Addison Allen (2007)
The final book to make the cut was this absolutely charming piece of Southern small-town fantasy, or ‘light’ magical realism. It follows a family with a secret: every woman is born with a special gift, unique to her. Will this book change the world? No. Will it make you smile? Absolutely.
99. Cleanness, Garth Greenwell (2020)
This is a collection of short stories based on the author’s experiences as a gay man teaching in Bulgaria during a time of political upheaval.
98. Keep This to Yourself, Tom Ryan (2019) 🇨🇦
This is in some ways a basic YA thriller, but it makes my list because of the wonderful way it captures the spirit of high school summers and represents the unequal friendships young gay men often have with charismatic, straight peers.
97. Franny and Zooey, J.D. Salinger (1957)
This philosophical novel about a brother and sister introduced the mysticism of the Jesus Prayer to a generation of Westerners.
96. Red at the Bone, Jacqueline Woodson (2019)
The ups and downs of the twentieth century viewed through the experiences of several generations of one African American family.
95. Pony, R.C. Palacio (2021)
Accompanied by his pony and a friendly ghost, a boy sets out to rescue his father from a gang of counterfeiters in the Old West.
94. Long Way Down, Jason Reynolds (2017, Winner: Edgar Award, Newbery Medal)
The story of one fateful elevator ride of a teenager whose family and community are beset by gun and gang violence.
93. Lampedusa, Stephen Price (2019, Shortlist: Giller Prize) 🇨🇦
I’m not generally impressed by high-concept books, but this one really worked for me. For context, in 1958 Giuseppe Tomasi de Lampedusa, the Duke of Palma, published The Leopard, arguably the most important piece of modern Italian fiction, which told the story of the author’s aristocratic ancestors as they came to terms with the passing away of their ancient privileges at the time of Italian unification. In this book, Price gives Tomasi the same treatment, exploring his process of writing The Leopard in the waning days of the aristocracy itself. It’s really well done and both books are well-worth reading.
92. All Systems Red, Murderbot Diaries 1, Martha Wells (2017, Winner: Nebula and Hugo Awards)
This novella introduced the world to the Murderbot, a part-human part-robot construct who exceeds his programming and develops independent thought, a cynicism about other people, and a deep love for soap operas.
91. Red, White, and Royal Blue, Casey McQuiston (2019)
A charming and hilarious enemies-to-lovers romance between the college-age son of the United States’ first female President and the ‘spare’ to the English crown.
90. The Secret Chord, Geraldine Brooks (2015)
This novel by a Pulitzer-prize-winning author retells the good, the bad, and the ugly of the life of the Bible’s King David.
89. Ragged Company, Richard Wagamese (2008) 🇨🇦
A huge lottery payout provides a group of people living with homelessness a chance at a new life.
88. The Shipping News, Annie Proulx (1993, Winner: Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award)
After a series of traumas, a reporter from Upstate New York returns to his family’s ancestral home in Newfoundland to start over.
87. Amari and the Night Brothers, Supernatural Investigations 1, B.B. Alston (2021)
Reeling from the disappearance of her older brother, a young girl is recruited to join a secret organization dedicated to managing the supernatural on Earth. This is Harry Potter meets Men in Black and is so much fun.
86. The Penelopiad, Margaret Atwood (2005) 🇨🇦
Feminist retellings of ancient myths are very common now, but this was the first I encountered. It tells the story of The Odyssey from the perspective of Odysseus’s loyal wife Penelope.
85. Interior Chinatown, Charles Yu (2020, Winner: National Book Award)
This formally inventive book explores the erasure of people of Asian descent from conversations of race in the West through the eyes of an actor who struggles with the limited types of roles available to him.
84. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis (1950)
In this children’s classic, four siblings stumble into a wondrous world inhabited by talking animals and mythological creatures, but ruled by an evil witch.
83. The Marrow Thieves, Cherie Dimaline (2017, Winner: Governor General’s Prize) 🇨🇦
In a post-apocalyptic world where Indigenous people are hunted for their life-saving bone marrow, a young man on the run from the authorities finds community.
82. Calling for a Blanket Dance, Oscar Hokeah (2022, Winner: PEN/Hemingway Award)
The difficult life of a young Indigenous man is explored through the eyes of his relatives — a hard story, but one filled with love, resilience, and hope.
81. Beloved, Toni Morrison (1987, Winner: Pulitzer Prize, Shortlist: National Book Award; Author awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature)
This much loved (but often banned) modern classic follows generations of a Black family haunted by ghosts of their traumatic history. This is a stunning, if challenging, read. READ BANNED BOOKS!
79-80. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997) and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007), J.K. Rowling.
These are the bookends of the series that got a generation reading. The series follows a young orphan boy who discovers he’s a wizard and is sent to study at a prestigious magical school. But all is not right in the world, and soon he and his friends and allies must come together to fight very dark powers.
78. And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie (1939)
There are few books that can be said to have started a trope, but this is one. If you’ve ever read a story or seen a film where a group of people is cut off from the world and start to be killed one-by-one, you have this masterpiece to thank (or blame).
77. Wolf Hall, Thomas Cromwell 1, Hilary Mantel (2009, Winner: Booker Prize, National Book Critics Circle Award)
This first volume of Mantel’s monumental trilogy tracing the rise and fall of Henry VIII’s shrewd right-hand-man Thomas Cromwell, follows Cromwell from the early days of his career in the employ of Cardinal Wolsey through his growing association with the King.
76. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, Michael Chabon (2007, Winner: Nebula Award and Hugo Award)
During WWII, an American politician proposed setting up a temporary Jewish homeland on the Alaskan island of Sitka; this tremendous piece of speculative fiction is a noir detective story set in the waning days of this imagined state. It’s as strange as it sounds, in all of the best ways.
75. The Weight of Ink, Rachel Kadish (2017)
A team of scholars in contemporary England try to unravel the mystery of some philosophical manuscripts found in the walls of an old house. In a parallel narrative set hundreds of years earlier, we learn the story of the young Jewish woman who wrote them.
74. The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield (2006)
This is a lush and eerie contemporary Gothic novel about a strangely unqualified woman who is asked to interview a reclusive author in a run down manor house. Need I say more?
73. The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller (2011, Winner: Orange Prize)
This retelling of the story of Achilles and Patroclus only seems to be getting more popular, twelve years after its publication. No one does this sort of retelling better than Miller and this is a remarkable work.
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