The best fiction books that are secretly philosophy books

Sid Garza-Hillman Author Of Six Truths: Live by These Truths and Be Happy. Don't, and You Won't.
By Sid Garza-Hillman

The Books I Picked & Why

The Sportswriter: Bascombe Trilogy (1)

By Richard Ford

Book cover of The Sportswriter: Bascombe Trilogy (1)

Why this book?

I’m not a sports fan. My good friend, Ryan Harty (author of one of my favorite short story compilations: “Bring me your saddest Arizona”) recommended this book to me many years ago. I’m not a sports fan but he assured me it had very little if anything to do with sports. He was right about that! I gave it a shot and was immediately transported into the narrative. It’s still in my top 5 all-time favorite book list. Ford’s ability to communicate existential crises in deeper but simple ways is so, so good. Frank Bascombe, the protagonist is detached in a way that is both beautiful and unsettling.

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By Michael Chabon

Book cover of Moonglow

Why this book?

This is a memoir of sorts, but a fiction book nevertheless. Again, the philosophy of life is shown through the dying grandfather. The book highlights the sometimes blurry lines between right and wrong, but also standing up for what is right, questions of personal sacrifice for the common good, and more.

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The Darling

By Russell Banks

Book cover of The Darling

Why this book?

At times a difficult (but great) read, The Darling tackles some big ethical and political subjects. Banks addresses the power of speech (and silence), the separation of emotions from choice, and the sometimes necessity of compartmentalizing traumatic experiences in order to survive. I found the protagonist’s voice compellingly detached with just the right amount of compassion and engagement (similar, in fact to Frank’s voice in The Sportswriter).

(Side note, Banks’ Rule of the Bone almost made this list as well…)

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Skinny Legs and All

By Tom Robbins

Book cover of Skinny Legs and All

Why this book?

The least “secret” of on the list, this book is still excellent. Tom Robbins is one of my favorite authors (I’ve read nearly everything he’s ever written). He has incredible freedom of language (the author version of my favorite singer-songwriter, Vic Chesnutt). Jitterbug Perfume is also one of my favorites, but in that book, Robbins gets a bit too blatant/heavy-handed in his delivery, whereas Skinny Legs and All grabbed me right out of the chute and kept me glued to the pages for the rest of the ride.

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All the Pretty Horses

By Cormac McCarthy

Book cover of All the Pretty Horses

Why this book?

This book explores honor, principles, ethics, religion, and more, is a powerhouse (in fact, the whole trilogy could be on this list as well). I was drawn to the old-school “cowboy” ethic (idealized to be sure, but in many ways the modern world is moving further and further away from principled action/standing up for what is right regardless of the outcome).

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