Your adventure in the world of books starts with you as a child reading fairy tales and all sorts of short stories meant to teach you to be obedient and a good person. Then you undergo an update from school and you get a long list of obligatory reads, which are also meant to prepare you for the upcoming teenage years and adulthood, while still teaching you about the means of childhood and give you an insight into the adventures you never had and never will.
As you succumb into a world full of mysteries and adventures with magicians, talking animals, mythical creatures and all sort of new original creatures, ignoring the boring lectures for school, you reach those teenage years. Of course they are not as full of interesting events as they were presented to you in books. No, they are full of doubts and changes.
And here come other batches of novels which actually contain the secrets and some solutions to your first life crisis. At the same time, you are obliged to go deeper into the classics. They are boring, but they are the classics. They matter and the novels you are reading do not. Then you go to college and you have so many books to read, that you have absolutely no time to read them, less anything you would like.
But you still carry a pocketbook in every bag you own and your tablet or phone are full of ebooks and pdf documents, because you are stubborn and you know you have nothing else to do while you are waiting in line at the doctor, at the tax office, when you have been stuck in a traffic jam for hours or when you are alone sun tanning on the beach.
If look back at your history with all sorts of literature genres, you know that it is not that easy to find a good book. What usually makes a book a best seller can vary from each novel. Some books are very loved and mainstream, but that does not mean that they are exclusively good, praised and sold in many copies.
At the same time, there are novels written by a magical quill and with a great story, but they are not for the masses and few actually read them. So what then? It is about luck. About promotion. About what people like, read and buy in the end. A good book may come out of the blue and win the hearts of millions of people, remaining in the history.
Another fact about those good books which eventually become best sold is that they are timeless. You read them when you were a child, all curious about it and wishing to be one of the characters, you read them as an adult for “research” purposes and you will read them as an old person, remembering good old times and all those crazy ideas and scenarios you made when you were young.
They have been out for decades before you were even born and by the time you will have great grandchildren, they will still be icons in literature and very popular among the new generations.
Which are these books we are talking about? As an introduction, we give you 10 of them which were sold in more than 10 million copies. Enjoy and take notes.
10. “The Adventure of Pinocchio” – Carlo Collodi
Written by the Italian novelist Carlo Collodi and published in 1883, “Le avventure di Pinocchio” is the famous story of a poor old man named Geppetto. Alone and without any family, Geppetto carves a boy shaped puppet to call it his son.
The puppet Pinocchio comes to life and is anything but the son the humble man wished for. Pinocchio lacks basic human emotions and is reckless, turning his father’s life into a wreck.
Despite trying to be a good boy, Pinocchio gets into a lot of trouble and adventures, all of them teaching him the perils of the world and how to be a good person. Despite the initial tragic ending, Collodi completed the book and gave it a lighter ending, which we all know – Pinocchio becomes human at heart and body. Sales: ~35 million copies.
“The Golden Key”
In these days, we would call this either plagiarism or fan fiction, but Aleksey Tolstoy called his 1936 book a reimagining adaptation of a book he read as a child. Instead of Pinocchio, The “Golden Key” features Buratino, Papa Carlo’s puppet son whose nose grows each time he lies. Some of Buratino’s adventures are pretty similar to Pinocchio’s, except that the book is not as dreadful.
Also, Buratino does not need to be turned into a real boy, because he did not undergo the same character development as the original toy. While the story is not that popular due to people preferring the original, “Golden Key” was a success in the Soviet Union and is still is an all time favourite of the Russians.
9. “War and Peace” – Leo Tolstoy
One of the works of the famous Anna Karenina writer, Count Lev Tolstoy, “Voyna i mir” is a 1869 historical romance novel and one of the longest novels ever written.
Written in both Russian and French, “War and Peace” is set at the beginning of the 19th century and features five noble Russian families, the Bezukhovs, the Bolkonskys, the Rostovs, the Kuragins and the Drubetskoys, focusing on 7 years of their lives, secrets and roles in the Russian-French war. Sales: ~36 million copies.
What differences “War and Peace” from an ordinary historical romances series is the emphasis put on history. Being a veteran himself, Tolstoy took a jump in time a travelled 60 years back to the reign of Tsar Alexander I and Napoleon’s France.
The accurate descriptions of the weapons and of the soldiers’ lives, as well as the realistic portrayals of the battle scenes were the result of many years of research and of Tolstoy’s own experience in the army.
The Count managed to show the realities of war intertwined with the lives of the aristocratic 19th century society like no one else. The novel might be long and difficult to read, but it is worth it and timeless.
8. “How the Steel Was Tempered” – Nikolai Ostrovsky
Another Russian story, this time by the short lived Soviet writer Nikolai Ostrovsky, “Kak zakalyalas’ stal” is a 1932 novel about Pawel “Pawka” Korachagin, a fighter for the Red Army, Komsomol and communist party. Despite becoming blind and paralysed after the Russian Civil War, he preserves his faith and his desire to keep fighting.
The character itself was praised by critics, being the symbol of a young Stalinist crusader, who is not afraid of anything and is willing do whatever needed for his people and their dreams. Sales: ~36.4 million copies.
Burning the Candle at Both Ends
What made “How the Steel Was Tempered” an outstanding novel is the fact that it is not ordinary fiction, but the fictional version of Ostrovsky’s autobiography. Born in a Russian village of today’s Ukraine, the concept of a hard working citizen was implemented into his mind and grew up working hard himself.
He later joined the cavalry brigade, action which leads to his health degrading and worsening in just a few years. Paralysed and blind, he starts working on “How the Steel Was Tempered”, putting on paper his own tragic life, unknowingly giving one of the most significant books of Communist literature.
7. “Angels & Demons” – Dan Brown
One of the controversial works of Dan Brown and the first one of the Robert Langdon series, this 2000 novel introduces us Professor Langdon as he faces a terrible mystery. A war between the enigmatic Illuminati and the Catholic Church seems to have started, after centuries of feuds.
With the Pope dead and the entire Catholic world impatiently waiting for the name of the new Pope to be announced, the Illuminati seem to be attacking from the shadow, killing Cardinals and preparing to blow up a canister of antimatter. Of course, only Langdon can save everyone and solve the mystery. Sales: ~39 million copies.
Despite being the first novel in the series, “Angels & Demons” was the second one to be brought on the big screen, after the successful infamous “The Da Vinci Code”. The first movie was much disputed and the subject of many theories and documentaries, but “Angels & Demons” did not enjoy the same treatment, although it was still widely discussed.
In fact, it increased the interest of the people in what secrets may lay underneath St. Peter’s Basilica, what is the Vatican hiding from everyone, who exactly were the Illuminati and how complex are the experiments from CERN.
6. “Flowers in the Attic” – V. C. Andrews
The first volume of the Dollanganger Series, the 1979 novel takes us to the 50s and introduces us the perfect family – the Dollanganger. Mother Corrine, father Christopher, son Chris, daughter Cathy and twins Carrie and Cory. The family’s high aspirations are ruined once the father dies and obliged by debts, the family moves into the Foxworth estate, where Corrine’s parents live.
When secrets start surfacing, Corrine leaves her children in the care of her mother, who locks them in a bedroom connected to attic. With their mother forgetting about them, the children grow up taking care of each other, but the lack of food, fresh air and sunlight makes them wither like flowers in the attic. Sales: ~40 million copies.
With 3 more sequels, “Petals in the Wind”, “If there be Thorns” and “Seeds of Yesterday”, but also a prequel published post-mortem, “Garden of Shadows”, V. C. Andrews’ novels have been the subject of countless disputes and controversies, due to their themes and taboos.
Exploring issues such incestuous relationships between all sorts of relatives, cruel prolicide, suicide, rape, abandonment, promiscuous relationships, adultery and hyper religiosity, “Flowers in the Attic” unleashed an interest into the wicked and encouraged other authors to step up and to use banned themes and motifs.
5. “Sophie’s World” – Jostein Gaarder
“Sofies verden” is a 20th century Norwegian novel written by the awarded intellectual Jostein Gaarden. Telling the story of the 14 year old Sophie Amundsen, who despite of her young age, develops a passion for philosophy and becomes the pupil of Alberto Knox, a philosopher himself.
Taught the secrets and insights of philosophy, Sophie and Alberto plan to escape their world – the imaginary world Albert Knag created for his daughter, the entire story becoming a battle between Alberto and Sophie vs. Albert and Hilde. Sales: ~40 million copies.
An entire new concept and original story, “Sofies verden” was translated in over 50 languages and it is one of the most successful Norwegian novels, in 1991 actually being one of the best sold books of the year worldwide.
It was so loved in the 90s that it was even turned into a movie in 1999. In 1995, it was adapted into a TV series for BBC, while in 1999 it was adapted for Australia and Iceland in 8 parts and a year before it was turned into a computer game.
4. “A Message to Garcia” – Elbert Hubbard
Written by the multitalented American Elbert Hubbard, “A Message to Garcia” is not a novel, but an essay published in 1899. Set during the Spanish – American war, the essay opens with an American soldier Rowan asked to deliver a message from the president of the United States to the leader of the rebels, hidden in the mountains of Cuba.
With no clue about the whereabouts of Garcia and without any aid to find him, Rowan seems to be caught in an impossible mission, yet he is willing to turn upside down the entire island to serve his country and mission. Sales: ~40 million copies.
In 1936, director George Marshall and producer Darryl F. Zanuck brought on the big screen the movie adaptation starring Wallace Beery, Barbara Stanwyck, John Boles, Alan Hale, Herbert Mundin and Enrique Acosta.
Based on Hubbard’s essay, the film focuses on army officer Andrew Rowan as he is sent to deliver a message in Cuba, while being hunted down by Doctor Krug. Exploring the hitches and tragedies of the war, the movie also puts an emphasis on the ironies of life, proving the recklessness people are exposed to when caught in a battle of powers.
3. “Fifty Shades of Grey” – E. L. James
This book does not need too much presentation as it has been the “it” book of the last years. This 2011 erotica book is the first of the Fifty Shades trilogy, introducing the main characters, Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey. She is an innocent college student, he is a mysterious CEO.
Circumstances make their destinies intertwine, getting them together in a relationship based solely on sex. Ana wants love from Christian, but he sees her only as another one of his easy to control concubines. If one does not want to lose the other, sacrifices must be made and decisions need to be taken. Sales: ~40 million copies.
“Fifty Shades of Grey” and the entire series itself have been labelled as outstanding, giving many women confidence and the power to explore their desires.
But underneath the pretty surface, various accusations lay. Right from the start the book was presented as a “Twilight saga” fan fiction text and many people were upset about a rip off becoming so popular and famous.
Also, although described in detail, the BDSM scenes are not accurate and have led many gullible people to accidents and even death, earning the hate of BDSM community. At the same time, living victims of domestic abuse were not happy with the emotional blackmail and verbal abuse.
2. “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” – Richard Bach
In 1970, fantasy and philosophy writer Richard Bach released “Jonathan Livingston Seagull”, a novella shaped like fable. Despite the main character being a seagull, the novella preserves the fable characteristics and it uses the bird as a parable, as a metaphor for the human nature, for the ordinary man becoming intellectual.
Through his travels, Jonathan is bothered by avariciousness and imposed life limits and wishes to be much more. He needs his life to mean more than eating and surviving and sees his ability to fly more than an aptitude, but as a passion, a symbol for his idealistic cravings. Sales: ~44 million copies.
Reshaping the classic allegories, “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” became the second most read modern parable. In this novella, the story is about order and disorder, compliance and resistance, about the loud humdrum ones and the solitary misfit, about the freedom of the body and the one of the mind and acceptance. The seagull is not only a symbol of liberty and a representative of the solitary intellectual; it also embodies the concept of thoughts.
1. “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” – Beatrix Potter
Life is a circle and so is our list. We started it with a story for children and we end it with another one. The work of the brilliant Beatrix Potter, who both wrote it and illustrated it, “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” is a children’s book. The title character is a tiny greedy rabbit, one of the bunnies of a mother rabbit.
She tells her children about the perils waiting for them in the McGregor garden. Though, Peter is drawn by all the delicious vegetables and fruits and almost follows his father’s footsteps – he is almost put in a pie. Sales: ~45 million copies.
For Our Inner Child
If you want to see how Beatrix Potter was inspired by her own pet rabbit to write tales with a moral for young misbehaving children, the 2006 movie “Miss Potter” starring Renee Zellweger is perfect. Also, if you want to turn yourself back to a child, use the magic wand “The Tale of Peter Rabbit”.
In case you might find a version featuring the original sketches, you will be impressed and you will surely fall in love. After reading the short story, you can give a chance to the animated version. While Beatrix Potter refused Disney, 70 years later, Nickelodeon made its own CGI version.