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Great and Memorable Books to Read: American Fiction

Updated on February 12, 2015

What makes a book great? Enjoyable, entertaining, good characters, interesting plot, memorable? All of these are important, and there are other considerations as well. What about the books that influence you, books that help to shape your perception of the world? What about the books that make you laugh, or cry?

I have read many books, some good and some great. Based on what I've read (and by no means am I an authority), I've compiled a list of books I recommend. Some are classics, some are sad, and some just made a real impact on me and made me think. And a couple, I just thought were entertaining.

If you are looking for a good book to read, here are some of my favorites in no particular order (except alphabetical):

A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean

This book isn't quite fiction because it is autobiographical, but it is a great story. Much of the story is set in Montana and describes the relationship between two brothers and their father. It is rare that relationships between men is presented in fiction. It is even more rare that such a story about men is so well-crafted; that's why A River Runs R Through It is notable. A good story with beautiful use of metaphor, and I do think "Eventually, all things merge into one," and "...I am haunted by waters."

A Walk in The Woods by Bill Bryson

Not a great book, but very entertaining. This book chronicles the adventures of the author as he hikes along the Appalachian Trail. He runs into interesting characters and cracks jokes along the way. The narrator is by no means an avid hiker, so embarking on this journey is a huge undertaking because of the physical demands. The adventure is even more challenging for the author's sidekick who is definitely not physically fit. Together they set out on a trek that is comical, and, along the way, the author educates his readers about the environment.

Anthem by Ayn Rand

When people lose their individuality, something bigger than the individual is lost. This is the story of one man's struggle to hold on to his individuality as he fights against overpowering odds set by his society. Rand is pushing the philosophy of objectivism, but I still think this is a very worthwhile story. A short work of fiction, Anthem makes you think and offers some interesting ideas for further discussion. What will our future society be like?

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

The profanity may be a bit overwhelming at times, but this is a classic. The characters are memorable and well developed, and I've had many students tell me they are moved to tears by the ending. If you have not read this, you should! There are definite reasons why Of Mice and Men is considered a classic, and hopefully future generations will continue to read this great work.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Again, this is not quite fiction because it is the autobiography of Sylvia Plath. That being said, the story is engaging and important. Plath was an up-and- coming poet who faced bouts with depression. This book details the dark years of a poet whose promising career ended far to soon. Through her words we gain insight into mental illness and the demons inside one's mind.

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Morrison is probably best known for her novel Beloved, but The Bluest Eye is an extremely important work, especially if you are a woman. Along with themes about poverty and issues involving race, the novel addresses self-image and how that is influenced by what is around us. In my opinion, this is a must read for young girls because of the important messages it presents.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Another classic of American Literature. A colleague recently told me about her class had just read the novel, and now they wanted to write the script and act it out. This book still excites and speaks to our youth. It makes us look at ourselves, our values, our society. A book that gets people talking and engaging them to act has to be great--that's what makes To Kill a Mockingbird a classic.

These are top recommendations that come to mind, and I know there are many, many other great books to read. But if you have not read the ones mentioned above, you might want to! I encourage you to read a good book. It may inspire you.

How many of these books have you read?

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    • dkm27 profile image


      6 years ago from Chicago

      Three Cups of Tea was recently challenged for its validity. I believe 20/20 or Dateline confronted the author. For some reason, it just didn't hook me. Sylvia Plath was a tormented individual, and her poetry is awesome. To Kill a Mockingbird is the best of the best. In middle school (1965), my mom had to check on me when she heard crying. It was all due to Of Mice and Men. Thanks for the great list.

    • LRobbins profile image


      9 years ago from Germany

      Great list! The only one I've read on the list is 3 Cups of Tea and I loved it. Looks like I've got some reading to do - thanks!

    • satomko profile image

      Seth Tomko 

      9 years ago from Macon, GA

      Thanks for this list. You've given me some new ways to approach these books when I teach some of them this year.

    • profile image

      Julie A. Johnson 

      9 years ago

      I hope you enjoy some of these great, entertaining works. Happy reading! Julie

    • profile image

      city slicker 

      9 years ago from Johannesburg

      I've only read "To kill a mockingbird". It's one of the best books I've read. This looks like a great list so I'll take your word for it and collect some of these books. I'll let you know how it goes.

      Thanks for the great list

    • glassvisage profile image


      9 years ago from Northern California

      This sounds like a solid list. I've only read a few of these, but I'm glad that you reminded me that I need to read "The Bell Jar" and "A River Runs Through It".

    • Julie A. Johnson profile imageAUTHOR

      Julie A. Johnson 

      10 years ago from Duluth, MN

      Yes, bothe those are excellent additions. There are so many great books around. I think the forum idea is cool. Write on!


    • Rob Jundt profile image

      Rob Jundt 

      10 years ago from Midwest USA

      Julie, you left out the MAD Magazine 1,000 year anniversary issue:) LOL

      This is a great list. I would add "Call of the Wild" by Jack London and "Slaughterhouse 5" for starters. Both are excellent character profiles. Let's see if we can get a forum going here. --- I really need to read more fiction.


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