Trailing Philip Roth by a few months and Toni Morrison by two years, Cormac McCarthy (who turns 81 this weekend) is one of America’s greatest and most decorated writers. His cultural stock has risen immeasurably in the last decade — whether it’s the Coen brothers adapting No Country for Old Men and winning Best Picture at the Oscars for it, or his recent (disappointing) original screenplay for the Ridley Scott-directed film The Counselor, McCarthy has made the transition from great novelist to phenomenon. He’s continuously successful, but he’s never changed, and doesn’t show any signs of letting his advanced age soften him. His entire body of work includes screenplays, plays, and short fiction — but it’s his novels that remain his greatest achievement, so to celebrate his birthday, we rank the five McCarthy novels you must read (and if it helps, the order in which you should do it.)
5. No Country for Old Men
One of those rare instances where the book and the film are both equally great, almost perfect, so placing this book in any different spot could be a case of clouded judgement. It isn’t his greatest work, but it’s a thrilling cat-and-mouse game through dry and dusty Texas and Mexico in the early 1980s, as well as a meditation on death and fate.