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Five Novels You Have to Read

Updated on July 1, 2019

Make sure you read these books before you pass on to the Promised Land


Many readers have their favorite novels, the ones that stay with them the longest and have the greatest affect on their personal lives and intellects. The following is a list of novels that just about every adult could find enjoyable – according to taste, of course. All of them seem to have a timeless quality that could make them important works of fiction for many decades, if not centuries.

The list is in no particular order. Please read it and, if you haven’t read any of these novels, you might give one or the other a try.

1. Aztec

Gary Jennings wrote many excellent historical novels and perhaps the best of the bunch is Aztec, published in 1980. Aztec is the first book in a series of five. (The most recent books have co-authors, as Jennings died in 1999.) Aztec chronicles the life of Mixtli, alias Seven Flower Dark Cloud - who lives a long life in the decades around 1500. Mixtli has an adventurous life: he becomes a warrior, a scribe, a wealthy trader and, late in life, a councilor to Montezuma II. Mixtli journeys all about pre-conquest Mexico or The One World, as the Aztecs call it, having encounters with many diverse characters, including Yaqui Indian sorcerers, fanatical priests, arrogant noblemen and beautiful, wily maidens.

Gary Jennings tells the tale as the first-person narrative of Mixtli, providing graphic details of human sacrifice, sexual perversion, drug-induced states and the cruel treatment of Indians by Hernando Cortez’s invading army of conquistadors. So this book is not for the easily offended. In fact, in some places, its depictions could be considered gruesome. Nevertheless, the narrative is very well written, trenchant, intellectual and, at times, humorous, heightening the reading pleasure and authenticity of this marvelous work. This book is truly a page-turner!

2. Lady Chatterley’s Lover

First published in 1928, Lady Chatterley’s Lover is the erotic tale of a married aristocratic woman, Constance (Lady Chatterley), who has an affair with Oliver Mellors, the gamekeeper on her husband’s estate. Lady Chatterley’s husband, Clifford Chatterley, was paralyzed from the waist down while fighting in World War One and is now impotent. Moreover, he’s not interested in love, just money and fame. Needing more physical and emotional involvement, Constance initiates an amorous relationship with Mellors, their liaison soon filled with sensual highs and free-spirited sexual fulfillment. Eventually Constance becomes pregnant and leaves her husband.

The novel was banned in the United States until 1959. In fact, it wasn’t allowed in this country without congressional and legal involvement. Senator Reed Smoot, referring to the author, D.H. Lawrence, said: “It is written by a man with a diseased mind and a soul so black that he would obscure even the darkness of hell!" Finally, the Supreme Court declared that banning the book was a violation of the First Amendment. If you like first-rate erotic literature, don’t miss this one!

3. East of Eden

East of Eden, published in 1952, is an autobiographical novel written by American literary giant John Steinbeck, who considered this book his best. The novel describes the lives of two families, the Trasks and the Hamiltons, during the early 1900s in the Salinas Valley of California. After the death of their father, Adam and Charles Trask inherit $50,000 apiece. Adam buys a farm and later marries Cathy Ames, a monstrous woman with a checkered past. (Cathy had murdered her parents by setting fire to the family home.) Nevertheless, Adam falls in love with and marries this horrible woman, who wants no part of family life and eventually leaves Adam with their two young sons, Caleb and Aron. Adam’s sons show metaphorical resemblance to Cain and Abel in the Book of Genesis; in fact, the novel contains numerous biblical allusions.

Her ambition knowing no bounds, Cathy Trask ingratiates herself with the owner of a brothel, gets her name on the woman's will, and then poisons the woman. Cathy then takes ownership of this house of ill repute and in the process learns all the town’s dirty secrets. While teenagers, Caleb and Aron discover that Cathy is their mother and visit her. Aron, growing disillusioned now that he knows his mother is dissolute and cares little for him, joins the army and fights in World War One. This novel is truly an American literary classic!

4. Cold Mountain

Written by Charles Frazier, Cold Mountain is the story of a Confederate soldier during the waning days of the American Civil War. Published in 1997, the novel chronicles the adventures of W.P. Inman, who, after being wounded in battle, escapes a Confederate hospital and treks 250 miles on foot, hoping to return to his sweetheart, Ada Monroe, who lives at Cold Mountain in North Carolina. The story moves back and forth between Inman and Monroe’s point of view. Monroe tries to run a farm without the help of a man.

This journey of Inman’s bears some resemblance to Homer’s The Odyssey, as Inman meets many interesting folks on his journey. Inman’s major concern is the Home Guard, which captures Confederate deserters. Eventually the Home Guard nabs Inman, chains him to the other captured men and then marches them for days, until the Guard decides to shoot all the deserters and bury them. Inman escapes from a shallow grave and finally returns to Cold Mountain, where he finds Monroe and also encounters the Home Guard one last time. This is a great story of the Civil War era American South!

5. Sister Carrie

Sister Carrie is Theodore Dreiser’s novel about a young woman’s search for the American Dream. Published in 1900, the book is about 18-year-old Caroline “Sister Carrie” Meeber who, after growing tired of life on a farm in Wisconsin and having aspirations of performing in the theater, takes a train to Chicago. On the train, Carrie meets Charles Drouet, a traveling salesman. In the big city, Carrie gets a job in a shoe factory, where the work is very hard and the conditions squalid. Carrie soldiers on at the factory until an illness gets her fired. Then she reunites with Drouet and becomes his “kept woman,” though she soon tires of his shallowness.

Eventually, Carrie gets the chance to act in an amateur theatrical melodrama and gives a smashing performance. But, because of Carrie’s entanglement with a married man named George Hurstwood, who embezzles money from his employer, she must flee with him to Canada. Hurstwood soon returns the money and then he and Carrie move to New York City, where Carrie embarks on a successful theatrical career, while Hurstwood ends up down and out. At this point, Hurstwood’s fall from affluence drives the novel, which delves into class struggle and the pre-labor-movement environment of America in the early 1900s. Tragically, Carrie attains the fame she’s always craved yet still feels empty. Sister Carrie has been called the greatest of all American urban novels.

© 2011 Kelley Marks


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    • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelley Marks 

      23 months ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, mactavers. It seems like you're an avid reader just like me, which is very good! As for "Aztec," it's very violent in places, so be ready. Later!...

    • mactavers profile image


      23 months ago

      I have read all of your choices except for Azetec. Thanks for the suggestion.

    • 1upon profile image

      Brian Brogan 

      2 years ago from Portland

      A great way of finding novels is getting free ones like at this site

    • brielise profile image


      8 years ago

      East of Eden is one of my favorite books. I've also read Cold Mountain and Lady Chatterley's Lover but haven't heard of the others. It sounds like I should give Aztec a try!

    • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelley Marks 

      9 years ago from California

      Good idea, Marebear2410, you should definitely read "Aztec." Thanks for the comment. Later!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I have not read any of these but they all look interesting! I can't wait to add them to my list. I'm about to finish The Brother's Karamazov by Dostoyevsky and then I'll definitely check out Aztec! Voted up :)

    • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelley Marks 

      9 years ago from California

      In all of Gary Jennings's book, including "Aztec," the protagonist's women have horrible deaths. Maybe he hated women, I don't know. I also read "Aztec Autumn" and "Aztec Blood," both of which are pretty good. Anyway, for historical novels, few compare with "Aztec." Wow, I can't say enough good things about it. "The Journeyer" is very good too. Later!

    • profile image


      9 years ago from Dayton, ohio

      I read Aztec and was very impressed. The author obviously did a lot of reseach. One thing I noticed, Everyone mitils loved starting with his sister, seemed to suffer a horrible fate. I also read the sequel, Aztec Autumn, didn't like it as well because I knew the uprising would fail.

      I haven't read Cold Mountain, seen the movie which was probubly not as involved. I did not like the movie because too many good people died.

    • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelley Marks 

      9 years ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, suziecat7. All of the books on this list are winners. Later!

    • suziecat7 profile image


      9 years ago from Asheville, NC

      I've read all of these. My favorite was "Cold Mountain". Great Hub.

    • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelley Marks 

      9 years ago from California

      Thanks for the compliment, Dolores Monet! I also like to read about books I haven't read. So if there are at least two book lovers around, I will probably do more of these hubs. Later!

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 

      9 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Always love to read about books that I have not read. Sheesh, I have not read Theodore Dreiser in ages and did not read Carrie. Thanks for the suggestions!

    • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelley Marks 

      9 years ago from California

      Thanks for stopping by, jake7330, and definitely read some of these books. Later!

    • jake7330 profile image


      9 years ago from Palm Coast, Florida

      I found this very interesting and I am gonna have to check out some of these titles, I am new to hubpages and would love for you to visit my hubs, only two right now lol thanks a lot.

    • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelley Marks 

      9 years ago from California

      Thanks, truthfornow, all of these books are very good and worth reading at least once. Later!

    • truthfornow profile image

      Marie Hurt 

      9 years ago from New Orleans, LA

      I love Lady Chatterley's Lover and now interested in reading the rest on your list.

    • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelley Marks 

      9 years ago from California

      Thanks for your comments, marwan asmar, furniture man and PR Morgan. Later!

    • marwan asmar profile image

      Marwan Asmar 

      9 years ago from Amman, Jordan

      I read Lady Chatterley’s Lover in 2010, but will certainly try to go for the rest................cheers

    • furnitureman profile image


      9 years ago from Manila, Philippines

      Very inspiring article. Voting up.

    • PR Morgan profile image

      PR Morgan 

      9 years ago from Sarasota Florida

      They sound great...if I can find time between taking care of kids and writing hubs I will give them a try! Great review!

    • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelley Marks 

      9 years ago from California

      I'm not surprised you've read all of those, Immartin! As I was writing this list I began thinking of many more I could include, but I didn't want to make the list any longer. I'll simply make a separate list next time, and I'll probably include novels such as Michener's "The Source" and "Centennial" as well as "McTeague" and "Sophie's Choice." Tonymead60, I'm sure everybody has their list of favorites. I'd like to see yours. Thanks, everybody. Later!

    • Austinstar profile image


      9 years ago from Somewhere near the heart of Texas

      Aztec is a beautiful novel. I've read it many times. I'm surprised you did not include James Michener though. Hawaii, The Source and others. Also excellent historical reads.

      Strange that while I am a voracious reader, I have not read any of the other books on this list.

      My list would add: Watership Down, Black Beauty, Rebecca and The Enemy. There are so many others too. It's a difficult list, but you have presented your case well.

    • tonymead60 profile image

      Tony Mead 

      9 years ago from Yorkshire

      HI Kosmo interesting choice of books, I've read a couple of them, but I think my list would be very different

      cheers Tony

    • ltfawkes profile image


      9 years ago from NE Ohio

      Never read Aztec. I'm putting it at the top of my list. Thanks, Kosmo.


    • lmmartin profile image


      9 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Good choices. I've read them all and though I'd add more titles, these would be on my list as well. Lynda

    • mckbirdbks profile image


      9 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      I voted this up, in support of the pleasure of reading.


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