Bookish Hall of Fame, Olympus (Nos. 1-12)

This Spring I’m working through my ‘Bookish Hall of Fame’ pyramid — what are for me, the ‘best’ one hundred books I’ve read through the end of 2022:

Today I’ll unveil the top tier of the pyramid, my bookish Olympus of what are for me the twelve best novels I’ve read.

My Bookish Hall of Fame, Olympus

12. Don’t Cry for Me, Daniel Black (2022)

The first entry in my Bookish Olympus was my top read of 2022, an epistolary novel from the perspective of a dying Black father writing to his estranged gay son. It’s a story about family, about faith, about sacrifice, and ultimately, about belonging in a world that finds so many ways to exclude. I read this in a single sitting and could not have loved it more.

11. Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro (2005, Shortlist: Booker Prize, National Book Critics Circle, Arthur C. Clarke Award, Author winner of Nobel Prize in Literature)

In this beautiful, eerie work of speculative fiction, a graduate of an exclusive boarding school for special children looks back on her childhood as she begins to understand the full weight of what makes her and her friends ‘special’. This is the kind of book that I wish I could read again for the first time.

10. Astonishing the Gods, Ben Okri (1995)

This is a modern creation myth of sorts, about a young man who goes into the world to search for the secret of visibility after realizing his people are invisible to the wider world. What he discovers is a strange and wondrous place where one principle governs everything: We must repeat what we have not fully experienced. This is a profound and hopeful book, and upon a reread a few years ago, I discovered just how many of the beliefs closest to my heart came from this book.

9. The Sparrow, The Sparrow 1, Mary Doria Russell (1996, Winner: Arthur C. Clarke Award)

“Monks in Space” sounds more like a Mel Brooks sketch than the premise for an excellent novel, but it is nonetheless the basic plot oof this much-beloved title. It tells the story of a Jesuit mission to a nearby planet that starts with hope and genuine connection but ends in disaster. It is so thoughtful, so thought-provoking, and so big-hearted, I still think about it often almost a decade after I first read it.

8. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Michael Chabon (2000, Winner: Pulitzer Prize)

This is one of those books that defies easy summary. It follows a Jewish immigrant and his New Yorker cousin who rise to industry prominence during the Golden Age of comic books, whose work — and lives — are later called into question in more reactionary times. It’s a wonderful story about identity, escaping, and belong.

7. Purple Hibiscus, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2003, Shortlist: Orange Prize)

A gorgeous coming-of-age story of a Nigerian girl and the two very different approaches to life, religion, and the world taken by two sides of her family. This is a hard read at times, but so very much worth it.

6. The Shell Seekers, Rosamunde Pilcher (1987)

An aging woman raised with the Bohemian values of the arts scene during the ‘Roaring Twenties’ remembers her past as she butts heads with the more conventional wants of her children in Thatcherite England. This is a brilliant reflection on love, loss, families, and values. And it also happens to be without a doubt the best Second World War book I’ve read.

5. The Brothers K, David James Duncan (1992)

The youngest of four brothers recounts the upheavals of political, family, and religious life of mid-century America through the experiences of his brothers, who embody the archetypes of the Activist, the Mystic, and the Innocent. I have never smiled and laughed as much reading a book as I did in the first half of this. I have never cried as much as I did during the second half. It’s a masterpiece.

4. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen (1813)

This comedy of manners revolving around the marriage prospects of five sisters of the low gentry in Regency England has almost single-handedly defined the subgenre of ‘Historical Romance,’ and I can completely understand why it has the hold it does. The characters are so well-drawn and the consequences of the action are so clearly laid out that it remains compelling even in our time of very different manners. And the humour is so charming and witty that it remains funny over two hundred years after it was written. This novel is an absolute delight.

3. A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles (2016)

A Russian Revolutionary tribunal sentences a former nobleman to house arrest in Moscow’s Metropol Hotel. This is not a story of a ‘fancy man’ trying to stay fancy; it’s a story of a man-of-the-world who creates an entire world for himself within the limits of a single building. It’s beautiful. It’s rich. It’s full of heart. It’s simply one of the best.

2. The Color Purple, Alice Walker (1982, Winner: Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award)

This is an award-winning book that has spawned an award-winning film and an award-winning musical. Suffice it to say, it’s a compelling story. It is an epistolary novel, the letters to God written by a Black woman in rural Georgia during the first half of the twentieth century. It’s a sad, at times violent, novel, but one that is filled with resilience and hope. (It’s also one of the most commonly challenged or banned books in libraries. So, you know, READ BANNED BOOKS.)

1. A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki (2013, Shortlist: Booker Prize, National Book Critics Circle Prize)

A woman living in the Gulf Islands of British Columbia finds herself obsessed with the fate of a Japanese teenager whose journal has washed up on the beach months after the 2011 tsunami. Ozeki’s works always try to do a lot, but nowhere has she kept all the balls in the air as well as she has here. It’s a book about natural disasters, climate anxiety, fetishization of Japanese schoolgirls, the social pressures on Japanese businessmen, suicide, and Buddhist philosophy. These things should not all work together. Yet, here they absolutely do, to wonderful effect.


One response to “Bookish Hall of Fame, Olympus (Nos. 1-12)”

  1. […] bias. Today, before leaving the project, I thought I’d take a bit of time to reflect on my top twelve, and what they say about me as a […]


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