If I have a weakest books category (I’m not admitting that, by the way, I’m just saying that if I had one) it would be contemporary fiction. The reasons for this are manifold. First, I prefer other genres of literature than the basic American contemporary novel. Second, I spent too much time reading older books. I believe in order to become a better writer I would do better to read the masters of literature.
Third, I’ve devoted far too much time reading professional development and leadership books. I have vowed to never read another one of those. Never again. Fourth, I find that after I read the dusk jacket or back cover for most contemporary fiction books I always feel so terribly dirty or bored. I’m not really into books about relationships, detailed sexual prowess, or how horrible our parents are. I’m not saying those are not important themes; I am saying that I don’t find them interesting and these seem to be the themes of a lot of contemporary fiction. Fifth, most the time allotted for contemporary fiction in my reading schedule is spent on proofing or reviewing the work of other writers. I love all of these writers and think you should too, but they do cut into the amount of time I have to read the current bestsellers.
With those excuses stated, here are my top three contemporary fiction.
The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini
When I learned that The Kite Runner was the first novel Hosseini wrote I almost lost my mind. How can a first novel be this amazing? I find that the book is rich in prose and theme, but for my purposes here I will simply highlight one thing I really loved about this book, and that is the generational aspects of responsibility and redemption.
A Painted House, John Grisham
It is odd, isn’t it, that of all the Girsham novels I prefer the one not about lawyers? Grisham is such a wonderful writer in the artistic work of developing characters. All of the characters in this work are not only believable but they are, to me at least, knowable. I have to admit a little bias here. The setting for the book, some of the themes, and the culture represented are pretty close to my heart because it reflects a lot of my own adolescence and childhood. Nevertheless, this is a great book.
Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
I probably should include this one in the sci-fi category, but that list is full and over represented because I tend to read a lot of sci-fi. So, I stick it here because though it is speculative ficiton, it deals with the pernicious problems in today’s society of medical ethics, the value of life, and human freedom. By way of evaluation, it also does a superb job with eternal themes of adolescence, discovery, and purpose. Ishiguro can paint a picture with words better than just about anyone who has ever lived, and he excels in this book. The world he creates is at once immediate and distant, transcendent and immanent. They made a very unfortunate movie based on this book. Do not watch it until after you read, and, if at all possible, avoid the movie altogether.
So those are my top three. If you are skeptical of Never Let Me Go, then I would have substituted it would Robin Cook’s Toxin. See how I did that? I sneaked a fourth one in my top three list. Clever, huh?
I’d love to know what your top three are, and believe me, I will take them all as reading recommendations.