20 favourite prose fictions

I need to take a break from all the Xenogears-posting. The laziest best change of pace I can think of is to do an update of my previous list of favourite prose fictions, especially given how I’ve spent a lot of the past year or so revisiting stuff I used to like in my younger days.

This time I’m playing a little bit fast and loose with definitions; not all of the entries here are prose fiction, or even narratives which were originally published in codex form, but “20 favourite written narratives” just sounds pretentious.

Anyway, to no one’s surprise I continue to have boring English major tastes in literature.

Listed alphabetically by author.


1.Orlando Furioso, by Ludovico Ariosto

Orlando Furioso is probably the most purely fun epic poems ever composed, and also one of the strangest. It probably says something that my abortive Future Fairyland comic tried to retool some of its scenarios and characters for my own purposes.

2.Emma, by Jane Austen

It’s Emma. I’ve heard the new movie adaptation is good.

3.Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel

Bechdel’s memoir about her complex, mediated-by-literature relationship with her closeted gay/bi father, and her own coming of age as a lesbian, is moving and erudite and avoids trying to shape the messiness of reality into an easy narrative. I read it for the first time as a university freshman and loved it, and how it eerily seemed to be tracking my own reading habits at the time (lots of Joyce and Proust here). A decade or so later, after way more complicated gay drama than I knew was in store for me, it still hits home.

4.Fictions, by Jorge Louis Borges

This is a bit of a cheat, but Borges’ stories are often found these days in a single collected volume, so there. Anyway, I read Borges for the first time a few years ago, and he more or less immediately became my favourite short story writer. His mind was terminally bookish in the most poetic and whimsical way, turning his various philosophical, theological and literary obsessions into his own beautiful little surrealistic thing.

5.Autobiography of Red, by Anne Carson

For my English major I had to take a class on Canadian poetry which turned out to be one of the most boring experiences of my life. Between the bad romanticism, bad modernism and bad postmodernism, I quickly became convinced that my nation’s own contributions to verse were terrible. Carson’s Autobiography of Red turned out to be the exception, and indeed is a quirky little book. It starts out seemingly as a translation and study of the classical poet Stesichorus, and the myth of Geryon, but then uses this as a sort of organizing principle for telling a modern gay romance. Lots of stuff going on about narrative, language, myth, time and desire, so very on brand for me.

6.Nova, by Samuel R. Delany

I’m not sure if Nova belongs on this list, seeing as I only just read it a couple months ago, but it manages to do so much with so little, cramming a rather traditional space opera swashbuckler with some heavy-duty worldbuilding while still remaining a fleet 300 pages or so. It’s the sort of book I’d want to reread just to take notes on how he did it.

7.The Odyssey, by Homer (or another Greek of the same moniker)

This is the one that makes me wish I majored in classics.

8.Ulysses, by James Joyce

9.The Castle, by Franz Kafka

Another one of those works that just got its hooks into me at an impressionable age, and will likely be remembered just for being one of the first works of ‘literary’ fiction that I read. It just has this ineffable sense of mystery, low key horror and dry humor that makes it one of the most compelling literary torsos around.

10.The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. Le Guin

I remember being vaguely skeptical about the idea of doing soft sci-fi about gender, but it sold me on that, and more – Gethen remains one of the definitive “winter” worlds for me, just this evocative, frigid cold place that I’d never want to actually visit.

11.A Voyage to Arcturus, by David Lindsay

I could point to this novel as a great example of how to do allegory in sci-fi, but I think I’m mainly here for how weird it is.

12.Le Morte D’Arthur, by Sir Thomas Malory

Thanks to this text, “do your own adaptation of Arthurian legend” is one of those creative projects I will endlessly think about, and defer.

13.One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

This novel is as heady, beautiful and grotesque as they get. One of those that just seem to have an entire world inside of them. Few convey the passage of time and the weight of history so well.

14.Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy

I can’t think of any other book that I’ve flip-flopped so hard on. I absolutely hated it after my first read, loved it the second. Maybe Harold Bloom was right when he called it the ultimate western, or maybe I’ve just grown more demented as time goes on.

15.Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville

Sorry that I never got around to the big write-up I promised, but I more or less agree with the orthodox opinion that the novel is probably America’s great literary epic or something, and, while I don’t think I could ever choose a favourite novel of all time, it’d be jockeying for the title.

16.Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, by Hayao Miyazaki

That Miyazaki is a great artist and storyteller is a given; that he excels at the longform storytelling that manga allows for is less appreciated. On certain days, I may even go so far as to say that Nausicaa is his magnum opus.

17.Dracula, by Bram Stoker

It turns out that Stoker’s novel is just a little grotty Victorian pulp and not at all the calliber of a Trollope or Eliot. But it is still very much lovable the way it is.

18.The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien

I was extremely tempted to be contrarian and put the Silmarillion here instead, but the fact remains that LOTR is still far more enjoyable to read, and indeed one of the most readable books anyone has written. And it hasn’t yet been ruined by everyone making constant political comparisons to.

19.The Demon Princes, by Jack Vance

Almost every major Jack Vance novel is about roughly the same quality (usually extremely excellent), so it’s a matter of picking a token representative, The Demon Princes being the one that sticks the most in my mind at the present moment. It may be the most travelogue-ish of all his works and so gives one of the widest samples of how many weird locales the man could dream up.

20.The Book of the New Sun, by Gene Wolfe

I’ve run my mouth so much about Wolfe and this book in particular over the years, so I don’t feel like I have anything to say here.

About Josh W

Scribbler and doodler
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1 Response to 20 favourite prose fictions

  1. I also enjoyed Autobiography of Red, and you’ve reminded me I must re-read it soon. Thanks for sharing.

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