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.

The Most Influential Books

Top Three Books:  Classic Fiction

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

The Kite Runner
so good it almost feels like memoir

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.





  1. I have read The Painted House, along with all of Grisham’s books, and enjoyed it. But I have never been inclined to pick one of his books up a second time. I have read Tom Clancy’s ‘Jack Ryan’ series several times and especially enjoy the earlier ones, mostly because the plot is complex and allows my imagination to run wild. So I would pick one of his, probably ‘Without Remorse’ as one of my top three. I was also captured by “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ series and the ‘Hunger Games’. Both of these are much simpler, but for some reason captured my imagination and have already been read twice.

    • dragon tattoo is simple, but riveting. i cant bring myself to read the hunger games. there is just something about the overall theme that bothers me. as to clancy, i’ve tried to read him but i lose my mind in page after page after page of tech-laden specs. thanks for reading ed, and for contributing. i may reconsider the hunger games and read them over the summer.

      • I am an ex-military techy geek, which may explain my interest in Clancy. I read the Hunger Games long before there was a movie. Just something that had come up as a recommendation on my kindle, so I took a chance on it.

  2. Literary fiction:

    The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
    Possession, by A. S. Byatt
    A Fine Balance, by Rohinton Mistry

    Spec fiction:

    American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
    Neuromancer, by William Gibson
    Watchmen, by Alan Moore

    • i am surprised you have cormac mccarthy on your list. i’ve not read the road, but blood meridian is tough stuff. it is a great work that i almost considered, but my final evaluation of it was that i didn’t enjoy it. m list of spec. fiction is different than yours. i will probably post it on friday. thanks for the reading list. you. are. awesome.

      • I like the tough stuff, LOL. The Road is the only one of McCarthy’s that I’ve read, but Blood Meridian is on my TBR list. Of course, the list is 500 books long and growing . . .

        Neuromancer isn’t easy, either, but it’s fantastically compelling. Really, even though those books are speculative, I’d say they have very strong literary characteristics. Watchmen is a graphic novel, though, so it’d be a tough sell as literary fiction. I was actually surprised at how compelling it was. I loved it.

        But I like weird things. 😉

        (The Kite Runner is on my list, too, by the way.)

      • i like weird too amy. if i live to be 1000 years old i will never read all the books i want to read. it is the curse of the bookworm.

  3. Contemporary Fiction I have not ready extensively and for the same reasons as you. The older writers really knew what they were doing. But my daughter Judith restored some of my faith in contemporary writers by pointing me in the right direction. OK, I will sneak in a fourth right up front: I have already mentioned Gilead too many times to repeat it here. So:
    1. So Brave, Young, and Handsome by Leif Enger.
    2. The Book of the Dun Cow by Walter Wangerin. I guess this is fantasy. Otherwise it is unclassifiable. Wangerin is a Lutheran pastor and professor of English in Indiana, if he is still alive.
    3. Watership Down by Richard Adams.

    • sounds interesting laurel. i’ll add to my list, because contemporary fiction is one of those categories i want to work on in the coming months. thanks for the recommendation, and for reading and commenting.

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