I stopped counting a few years back. But since class VI, when I started reading seriously, currently I am 36; I must have, I believe read well over 5,000 novels, novelette and novellas in past 20+ years or so. My personal collection has 1,200+ novels; across my apartment in Bangalore, in Kolkata and 200+ novels in Oxford.
Out of all the novels read thus far, from the sublimely significant pieces of Literature of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Dickens and Hemingway; to the insignificantly poor Chetan Bhagat, Durjoy Dutta and Novoneel Chakraborty; I must say, there are a few books that truly stand out in my experience thus far. I could only name the following as 10/10 reads in the following categories I have devised:
- Best Chapter within a Novel I’ve ever read: , The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky. A truly profound read; I was completely floored when I read it for the first time. Any man OR woman OR beast who can read this chapter in its entirety in one sitting; and can understand the meaning; I would be much obliged to bow down to the magnanimity of his/her intellect; this chapter remains as the epitome of Human Intellect for myself; and the measuring tape/yardstick with which I measure anything I read which has been written in modern times. If this is a 10 in my scale; most modern writings are usually of the order of 1 at the most.
- Best Novelette I’ve ever read: The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway. Ernest Hemingway won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 and then following year, in 1954, the Nobel Prize in Literature for The Old Man and the Sea which still remains as the shortest Novella to win the Nobel Prize in Literature till date at only 27,000 words. An outstanding read; this remains as one of my favorite novellas of all time; and yes, a truly exceptional work; which symbolizes “the tribulations and trepidation of human life in their struggles of every day”.
- Best Epic Novel I’ve ever read: A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth. At 1,349 pages; it is Seth’s magnum opus in its truest sense. This epic brought International acclaim and fame to Vikram Seth and propelled him to limelight amongst the finest authors of his generation. It has been quite a while; so I plan reading it again, most likely during Winter Vacations this year. At its core, a love story: the tale of Lata – and her mother’s – attempts to find her a suitable husband, through love or through exacting maternal appraisal. At the same time, it is the story of India, newly independent and struggling through a time of crisis as a sixth of the world’s population faces its first great general election and the chance to map its own destiny.
- Best Philosophical Novel: The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky. Indeed a special piece of Literature. The concepts of organized Religion (Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam etc.) versus the actual realization of the concept of God has always been a debate in my mind; hence, I am not a very religious person; but have immense faith in God; this dichotomy and the basis of ecclesiastical theories and its proponents in all its forms is so well discussed in this novel; hence, I can resonate with this novel so well. The Brothers Karamazov, remains one of the most read novels of all time; and to me; it is the epitome of Russian Neo-Classical Realism along with Tolstoy’s ‘Anna Karenina’ and ‘War and Peace’.
- Best Psychological Novel: Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky. I was a mean, arrogant, haughty, opinionated, spoilt, snobbish, selfish, wicked, egoistical and a fool of a soul who came from a rather privileged class and upbringing during my growing up years; but the book that changed my life would definitely be ‘Crime & Punishment’ by Fyodor Dostoevsky. I read it for the first time whilst doing my undergrads in Moscow back in the Summer of 2002; and having read it for the first time was kind of a realization of sorts, that my life has been such a waste up until now. I later moved to England for reading my Masters in Oxford University; and then moved on to visit many nations, work many places and when I look back… I am yet to find a book that changed my view(s) of life so considerably; its trepidation; the multiple strata of society; the abject absolution of God, crime, punishment, Übermensch; and the philosophical and psychological treatise of man’s struggle against the heaviest of odds; than Crime & Punishment. Having read it 4 more times till date; there are sections in the book that I know by heart… entire pages of it. Especially most of the sections dealing with the protagonist Raskolnikov. This is definitely the only book I would prefer carrying to my afterlife if given a choice. Another great one would be ‘Meditations’ by Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, but ‘Crime and Punishment’ is a better one.
- Best Nihilistic Novel: For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway. I loved the deep psychological characterization and development of Robert Jordan, main protagonist of the novel. Considered as Hemingway’s masterpiece, I simply adore this novel; simply love the characters of Robert and Maria; and wouldn’t mind trading places with him. Especially the concepts of death, divinity, political ideology, adventure, fatalism, nihilism etc. are all explored in this iconic novel. Having said that, from the final pages of the novel; it can be summed up that Robert may go to his certain death whilst blowing up the bridge which makes up the novel. Nonetheless; Robert is a free bird, believing in a cause that outlasts him.
- Best Self-Improvement Novel (Classic): Meditations, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 AD; who was also a Stoic Philosopher. Stoic principles are still followed today; and anyone trying to live a simple & happy yet emotionally rich life ought to peruse this book. One cannot get a better Philosophical Treatise of how a Good Life ought to be lead than this. Originally written in Greek, unlike other Roman Emperors who used to write extensively in Latin; Meditations is considered as one of the most critically acclaimed Stoic philosophy treatises ever.
- Best Romance Novel (Classic): Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy. An epic in the truest sense of the word, Anna Karenina is considered as the pinnacle of Classical Realism writing in its truest sense. A list of 10 greatest novels ever written since dawn of the human civilization; which was put together by TIME magazine by interviewing and collating data from 125 of the world’s most celebrated authors, poets, literary critics and personalities from their own top 10 lists; put ‘Anna Karenina’ as the greatest novel ever written. And I whole-heartedly agree with the list. It truly is a must-read for any mature and serious reader who deems fit to peruse Classics for maturity and inner self and conscience development. For me, it remains as one of the greatest pieces of Literature; a pinnacle of human intellect along with Dostoevsky’s works. A love story told at its finest; is love worthy of being called Love; and could someone truly throw his/her life away by taking a chance to fall in Love; is a question that has always haunted me since the very days of first perusing this novel. I still haven’t received an answer; but this truly is an exceptional work.
- Best Period Novel (Classic): War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy. Pinnacle of world literature; and definitely the greatest Russian Literature example; War and Peace is the author’s greatest achievement. War, peace, love, life and heroism are collectively looked at; analyzed and human beings emerge as completely different beings at the end of the novel. I cannot vouch right now; but during my stay in Moscow from 2001–2005; and since my ex-wife is Russian as well; who was extremely well read in both Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and War and Peace; she had mentioned that it is mandatory for all school students in Russian Federation to peruse the complete works of 4-volume War and Peace in schools across Russia. No wonder, the Russians are some of the smartest homo sapiens on this planet.
- Best Spiritual Autobiography: The Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda. An well written autobiography of an exception life; the book explains in detail the enormous power a Yogi of the likes of Ramakrishna Paramahansa, Swami Vivekananda, Kabir, Jesus Christ and his own guru, Swami Yukteswar Giri possessed. Hundreds of miracles with proof points have been mentioned. A great read for anyone; whether Indian or not; who desires to get deeper insights into the lives, minds, and spiritualistic philosophy of Yogis in India.
- Best Hunting / Nature Novel: Jim Corbett Omnibus, Jim Corbett
- Best Political Work (Classic): Das Kapital, Karl Marx
- Best Asian Political Novel: Lajja, Taslima Nasrin
- Best British (English Classic) Novel: Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
- Best British (English Classic) Romance: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne Bronte
- Best Thriller Genre Novel: Hunt for Red October, Tom Clancy
- Best Comic Novel: Three Men in a Boat, Jerome K. Jerome. A comic novel in its truest sense; this novelette remains as the epitome of English wit, humor and comedy writing at its very best.
- Best Modern American Novel: On the Road, Jack Kerouac. Considered as one of the greatest pieces of literature ever written; this novel blew my mind completely when I had read it for the first time. Highly recommended. In 1998, the Modern Library ranked it on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. The novel was chosen by Time magazine as one of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005.
- Best Modern Indian Writing: The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
- Best Indian Poetry: Gitanjali (A Tribute of Songs), Rabindranath Tagore. A collection of 157 poems in Bengali and over 50+ translated into English; which won Rabindranath Tagore his life’s and India’s first and only Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913.
Each piece of literature in the above-list is a masterpiece in writing, poise, direction, characterizations, plots and deep underlying meaning of the overall piece of work. In short, these are the greatest works of the respective authors of their mortal lives.
Here’s my Reading List suggestions across Genres:
EDIT: I wanted to add this one here as well; SINCE it is worthy of a mention. Top 10 list, derived from the top 10 lists of 125 of the world’s most celebrated writers combined, as per TIME magazine who decided to put the GREATEST LIST OF ALL TIME, lists these as top 10:
- Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
- Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
- War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
- Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
- Hamlet by William Shakespeare
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust
- The Stories of Anton Chekhov by Anton Chekhov
- Middlemarch by George Eliot