1. Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley
I myself am surprised that Frankeinstein ended up being my number 1 fiction book in 2021. But it is an incredible, rich book. Mary Shelley is a great writer, some of her descriptions are just jaw dropping in their beauty and the imagines she creates. And the most depressing thing of all, she is only in her teens 18-19, when she wrote this incredible book. The story follows an extremely bright and ambitious man professor Frankenstein, who through total dedication to his ambition loses everything he held dear in his life.
2. City of Illusions by Ursula K. Le Guin
I have never been more deceived by a book. Never have I ever distrusted each sentence that I read than in this marvelous book by Ursula K. Le Guin. That is the biggest strength of the book, the disorienting effect it has on the reader, never knowing whom to trust and how much. The progagonist is a lost, confused amnesiac, and so are we together with him. It is a great tabula rasa story, which often reminded me of the Enuma Elish. An amnesiac humanoid with cat eyes grows up in a village, and sets out to find who he truly is.
Read my full review here.
3. The Moon and the Sixpence by William Somerset Maugham
One of the first books that I read this year, and one that really stuck with me. The story of an Victorian era man, who discovers art and lets it become his all and everything. It is a bitter sweet story for me personally. It makes you ask how much would you give up and sacrifice for your true calling. I have artistic dreams, but a future rendered as a purely one dimensional person, who has art and nothing else is a unbareably depressing one to me. My sense of obligation doesn’t allow me to make that leap of faith towards an absolute artist.
Read my full review here.
4. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
Sometimes I get the feeling that the universe is steering me towards something. Then I slap myself, call myself an egomaniac and move on. But this book kept coming up in various places and I just gave up on my own will, gave in and read it. And I have to say, Thank you Universe/Elder Ones/Panpsy God etc. Anne Bronte is often in the shadows of her other two more famous sisters. But judging by this immense book, it is underserved. She is right up there with them. It took immense courage to write something so direct and honest, with roots in her own life. Love, obligation, addiction, honor and social vices are the main themes of the book.
5. Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk
Feel like this is a cheat, since Invisible Monsters is the only reread on the list, but I couldn’t leave it out. Chuck Palahniuk’s books are just too fun and too screwed up not to enjoy it. The book follows three down on their luck characters. All of them are running away from their past, all have new identities and bodies or body parts that define them. But no matter how fast they drive, or how many prescription drugs stolen from other people’s houses they take, the past will eventually catch up with them. In addition to that, brilliant bizarre humor galore.
6. Do Andrids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick
The late Philip K Dick was a brilliant and troubled mind. Every single page of this book can tell you that. While the movie gets a lot of praise, comparing it to the book is like comparing oatmeal to a five course dinner at a world famous restaurant. You just get a lot more out of it. The story follows a replicant hunter, just like the movie, but there is a lot more nuance to the story. And there are meditations on faith, status symbols, colonialist, what being alive really means, past etc.
7. Dorohedoro by Q Hayashida
Manga is one of the most creative medias in the world right now. Dorohedoro is just that. You would have to search wide and far to find something as unique as this story. The story itself follows a very tall and very strong human like creature with a spike decked head of a dinosaur. His name is Caiman, and he has a sort of friend/side kick Nikaido, a busty badass blonde who cooks great gyoza and is absolutely deadly in a fight. Together they kill magicians who roam their underworld and abuse normal powerless people, and try to discover the secret of Caiman’s past. And this is just one of 12419512 layers of the story.
8. Felix Holt, The Radical by George Eliot
Nobody makes a small town in the middle of nowhere seem so grand and important as George Eliot. There is a whole gallery of fleshed out characters, whose vigor and liveliness just jumps out at you from the page. In a sense it is a clash of the old with the new. We have a community that has lived and viewed life a certain way, and by the introduction of two young men, who had returned from afar, full of new ideas ready to implement, the new and old will clash in a glorious volatile chemical reaction.
9. Middlemarch by George Eliot
This is a grand and ambitious book, with so many plots and subplots. I feel as if I would need to read and reread it again many times to fully appreciate its brilliance and complexity. As in other George Eliot novels, the provincial life is examined, with a special emphasis on marriage and what limited options women of that time had to achieve some sort of eternal glory.
10. Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick
First of I have to say, Flow my tears, The policeman said is one of the greatest titles of all time. There should be songs and ballads with this title all over the world. Hope someone makes one . Secondly, when one talks about the literary corpus of Philip K. Dick , one forms a sort of archetype of a novel. This archetype, a novel full of paranoia, drugs and transcendental seeming experiences, is lazy but also true. This book is the case where the archetype fits. The story follows a man who thinks he is a global celebrity, but he wakes up in a crappy motel room, the police are after him and nobody seems to know who he really is.
Read my full review here.
11. The City of World’s End by Edmund Hamilton
Another lucky accident. I have a very rigid reading schedule, and I felt suffocated by it. So I just opened up my LibriVox app and looked at whets popular. I was lucky enough to find this Sci Fi gem. Never heard of the book or its author either. I had a blast listening to this book. Mark Nelson is a marvelous narrator. The plot revolves around an Americana town of the early 20th century, that gets transported through time and tries to survive in this new Earth, which seems absolutely alien to them.
12. Lazarillo de Tormes
Nobody really knows who wrote Lazarillo de Tormes but it is a work that has been with us since middle of the 16th century. People assume that humor ages poorly, but that is not always the case. This book is the prime example that something is always funny, especially if its making fun of those in power and how decadent and decayed their moral compass becomes. The story follows a young boy who has to learn how to outsmart everyone, including every single master he serves under to survive in this world and feed his family.
13. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
The hallmark of every great work of art is that you get something out of it no matter if you are exposed to it the first or the fifth time. While I have not necessarily read the novella before, I was sufficiently familiar with the story. It has been done and redone in pop culture numerous times. Even the most uneducated lowlifes on the worst reality TV shows know and reference this novella. But the book is amazing. The way it uses these two characters to convey a metaphor for certain struggles in the human body or psyche is marvelous.
14. The Burning Secret by Stefan Zweig
A novella but more rich in thoughts, life and ideas than most 400 page plus novels. The story centers around a boy, eager to grow up. His father is often absent and he looks for a father figure in most men he meets. He wants and needs the approval and affection of adults, so desperate is he to join their ranks. His mother feels desperations of her own. Her marriage isn’t what she hoped it would be, and the man who her son sees as a friend or role model is coming on to her aggressively. Mother and son, torn between what they wish to be and what they are.
15. The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells
Had a lot of fun listening to this audiobook narrated by the great Bob Neufeld.
16. The Life and Death of Harriett Frean by May Sinclair
One of the scariest reads of the year for me. And its not a horror novel. It is just a short simple tale of a woman who grew up with certain ideals. Those ideals made her the perfect daughter to her parents and true friend to all who knew her. But it also ruined her life and made her bitter, alone and isolated.
For a deepdive read this post of mine.
17. Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
Very interesting choice by Shakespeare to focus on Brutus the man and the person and not on the titular character. He gives him complexity I am not sure the real Brutus had. For home and country, even if that means patricide. Socrates would hate this play, at least if we judge by the Socrates in Euthyphro. But its brilliant and has one of the greatest examples of sarcasm ever. Enjoy Antony’s speech.
18. The Eclogues by Virgil
You know your poetry is good when Christians steal it for themselves and proclaim it a prophecy. I don’t usually read a lot of poetry. Mainly because I rarely get something out of it, Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson being the exception. But there is something hypnotic about Virgil’s Eclogues. And the phrase “Begin, my flute, with me Maenalian lays” still rings in my ears when I look think back to this short collection of pastoral poems.
19. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
Second reread in the top 20. The book follows a young girl by the name of Lyra who grows up in a important global institution shielded from the outside world not knowing that a big destiny awaits her. This is just a masterpiece of world building. There are very specific laws in this world. The lines between our world and this one are drawn every well. It has developed differently. There is a fundamental difference between the two worlds and that difference is the building block of this Other Earth.
20. A Tale of Tub by Jonathan Swift
Last but not least, the Tale of the Tub is the best example of religious satire I have ever encountered. The story follows three brothers whose father left them his written will and his suit. They are under no circumstances to change the will or the suit. But what do the three brothers do? Nothing but change the will and the suit!!