A little while ago NPR put a call out asking for nominations for readers’ favourite SF/F books, and then narrowed it down to a couple hundred titles that readers were invited to vote on. The final list comprising the most popular (note: popular, which doesn’t necessarily always equate to best) 100 novels was announced ten days ago. Having been working on moth guide, then being away for a week, I’m only just getting around to posting about it now.
I was a huuuuuge SF/F reader through high school and into university. I still love both these genres, though these days I tend to read them mostly in YA rather than the adult books I inhaled a decade ago. This list is all adult – they plan to do a YA list (not specifically SF/F, though) sometime in the future, I gather.
I was rather pleased to see that pretty much all of my absolute favourite books made it onto the list.
The number one spot went to, unsurprisingly, Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkein. I mean, what SF/F list could possibly be complete without this story? And that it takes top spot is not really unexpected, especially after the recent movies brought it into the spotlight again. And yet, this has been one of my top-5 favourite novels since I read it, just before the first movie came out. I cried at the end.
#32 – Watership Down by Richard Adams. I read this one years ago, but it was an instant favourite. I’m not sure that I really considered it fantasy at the time that I read it, and it’s still a little surprising to see it included in this list, but I think it definitely belongs there. It’s one of my top-5 favourites. I cried at the end.
#33 – Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey. I loved, loved Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series during high school. I could have lived in that world. In fact, I did – I joined online RPGs, and contributed to a fan-fic magazine for a bit. This particular book wasn’t my favourite of the series – that goes to All The Weyrs of Pern, which has been for years one of my top-5 favourite books, and which I cried at the end of.
#57 – Small Gods by Terry Pratchett. Oh my goodness. If you haven’t read this, you absolutely should. This deserves to be much higher on the list than it is. This is one of my top-5 favourites, and my absolute favourite of Terry Pratchett’s books, and that’s saying something, because I love his writing. I cried at the end.
#89 – Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Like Watership Down, I’m a little surprised to see this one included on the list because it’s not what I’d consider strict SF/F. But nonetheless, it’s still one of my top favourite books and series, quite possibly knocking All The Weyrs of Pern off my top-5 list. I liked this book best of the ones I’ve read of the series, but I cried at the end of #2 in the series.
#92 – Sunshine by Robin McKinley. Another book that quickly entered my top-5 favourites list as soon as I read it. I re-“read” it again recently by way of audiobook while commuting to a job, and possibly loved it even more the second time. Strangely, considering the others on this list, I didn’t cry at the end of this book.
It’s funny that six of the seven on my top-5 all-time favourite books list are also included on NPR’s top SF/F list. I do read outside of SF/F, too, but obviously it’s in this genre that my reading heart lies. Number seven would be Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (which I cried at the end of), but as that’s considered YA it’s not included on this list. If Outlander knocks All The Weyrs of Pern off the top-5, then HP&tDH would probably knock off Watership Down. Sorry, Hazel.
(Incidentally, if I were to expand my top-5 list into a top-10 that included all of the seven books mentioned above, I’d round out the list with The Host by Stephenie Meyer – I wasn’t a huge fan of Twilight but I couldn’t stop thinking about this book once I finished, and yes, I cried at the end – and Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter series, for which I’d pick City of Glass just for the sake of having a single title instead of a series listed, though I didn’t cry for any of them specifically. Both of these are, perhaps not by coincidence, SF/F as well. The number 10 slot might go to Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell, but it’s a tenuous grasp and the title could easily be unseated by something else I might read in the future.)
Some others on the list that I really liked but aren’t included in my top favourites:
#2 – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. No-brainer.
#5 – A Song of Ice and Fire series by George RR Martin. I’ve actually only watched the HBO series of Game of Thrones but plan to read the books as a result. Does that count?
#11 – The Princess Bride by William Goldman. A classic. The movie might be better, though.
#42 – The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Read this ages ago, but really liked it at the time.
#47 – The Once and Future King by T.H. White. Ditto.
#52 – Stardust by Neil Gaiman. He’s got several on the list, and deservedly so, but this is the only one I’ve read.
#55 – The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle. Another classic.
#60 – Going Postal by Terry Pratchett. My #2 favourite Pratchett book.
#70 – The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. Arguably this should be on my top-5 list because I cried at the end of this book.
#84 – The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart. Another that I read ages ago but remember enjoying at the time.
#99 – The Xanth series by Piers Anthony. Interesting that they have the whole series for this one, but not for McCaffrey’s Pern books or Gabaldon’s Outlander books or Pratchett’s Discworld books. I was really into this series in my high school days, too, but haven’t kept up with it.