Read BBC's Top 100 Books You Need to Read Before You Die 200 Books Everyone Should Read BBC's The Big Read - Best Loved Novels of All Time NPR's 100 Best-Ever Teen Novels Best Books Made Into Movies Goodreads' 200 Most Difficult Novels Top 100 Most Difficult Novels 100 Books You May Have Actually Read 120 Books You Just It is a list of 100 of the top-rated books published this century. It is not all-inclusive. Source: rossieronline.usc.edu · Added by Jessica Cramer.
People tend to look to decades past —the works Philip K. Dick, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke. But the 21st century is living in its own golden age of sci-fi. Along with film and TV adaptations, novels like Cloud Atlas, The Road, The Martian, and Never Let Me Go are becoming more mainstream, and in some cases, even Oscar-worthy.
But what about the books that aren't blessed by Hollywood's cinematic touch? We rounded up 16 novels from this century with a mix of sci-fi, satire, dystopian fiction and cyberpunk—all offering compelling commentary of our increasingly sci-fi-like lives.
Ink By Sabrina Vourvoulias (2012) Imagine a future where all immigrants are tagged with color-coded biometric tattoos that tell the world about their status. Those tattoos separate immigrants from naturally-born U.S.
citizens. Other measures, like requiring people to speak English in America, further the abuses heaped against immigrants. follows several characters in America over a decade, all of whom have different perspectives and ties to immigration. This is an eerily relevant dystopian novel that is a must-read for anyone worried about a future where people are physically marked—and persecuted—because of where they come from. If you look at the current daily headlines—travel bans, deportations, and general xenophobia—it doesn't seem far off.
Station Eleven By Emily St. John Mandel (2014) If a pandemic wiped out much of Earth's human population, what happens if you're an artist? As a writer with limited wilderness skills, I've often thought about this dilemma, and provides the answer. In this novel, a traveling troupe of former theater actors perform for a post-apocalyptic word because, as it turns out, the survivors still want entertainment as a line from Star Trek: Voyager, "Because Survival is Insufficient," becomes the group's unofficial tagline.
It's surprisingly beautiful and optimistic for a novel that opens with lots of death. Super Sad True Love Story By Gary Shteyngart (2010) arrived during the time when iPhones and social media were just starting to dominate our waking hours. The mandatory data-collecting devices in this dystopian novel, called äppäräti, poked fun at our then budding love affair with tiny, mobile computers.
These devices act as identification and allow users to judge other people based on hotness, personality, and other factors. (It seemed so novel, before Tinder.) Now, as devices that track our every movements and transactions become the norm, äppäräti are a terrifying prediction of our future. How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe By Charles Yu (2010) If you liked HBO's Westworld, you'll like this novel.
Yu was one of the story editors for the show's first season, and also co-wrote one of the episodes. Like the widely successful The Martian, the story centers around the perspective of an isolated man, and it's written in a similar diary style.
But instead of a botanist trying to figure out how to plant potatoes on Mars, this novel's main character is a time travel mechanic who spends his days fixing temporal mistakes. How would humans abuse time travel if it existed? What are the consequences of traveling to the past or the future? Who cleans up the mess you leave behind?
attempts to answer those questions. Hav By Jan Morris (2006) When Morris' Last Letters from Hav was published in 1985, readers called travel agencies about visiting the fictional eastern Mediterranean city-state of Hav. Their confusion was forgivable. Morris, previously a nonfiction writer who covered cities and history, wrote Last Letters from Hav as her first work of fiction. The fact it's written in the style of a typical travel memoir only added to the confusion.
The narrator takes readers on a journey through this mysterious new place, where she encounters cultural events such as a Roof Race. includes the original novel, plus Hav of the Myrmidons, a sequel that revisits the city 21 years later. The book includes an introduction from the queen of sci-fi herself, Ursula K.
Le Guin, who writes: "I read it as a brilliant description of the crossroads of the West and East in two recent eras, viewed by a woman who has truly seen the world, and who lives in it with twice the intensity of most of us." Rainbows End By Vernor Vinge (2006) Virtual reality is no longer technology exclusive to the pages of science fiction. Although Google Glass never really took off, a similar device will one day become as ubiquitous as iPhones.
But it may not come in the same of some dorky glasses, but instead look like a normal pair of contact lenses. explores a world powered by AR, and what it could mean for the future of humanity. Set in San Diego in 2025, people wear "smart" clothing that connects with special contact lenses. This new world is seen through the eyes of Robert Gu, a poet who isn't super enthusiastic about the new technology.
This novel explores the latent fear of anyone who thinks humanity is already a little bit too connected. The Humans By Matt Haig (2013) This novel is told through the perspective of an alien who is observing humans while on a dark mission on Earth.
It's sometimes hard to believe that the narrator is a visitor—and not just a misanthrope, saying things like "the manners and social customers...are a baffling enigma at first. Their conversation topics are very rarely the things they want to be talking about." In the end, is a humorous examination of humanity.
Moxyland By Lauren Beukes (2008) Like other dystopian novels on this list, takes place in a future world where tech is used for surveillance and control. Set in South Africa, technology is a drug snatched away from people as punishment for committing a crime. This novel preys on the dormant fear of developed nations' addiction and dependency on technology and moves at breakneck speed with fast-paced characters and casual profanity.
It's a wild ride. The Quantum Thief By Hannu Rajaniemi (2011) Full of action, amusing dialogue, and vivid descriptions, this fun cyberpunk novel will appeal to fans of Philip K. Dick and Neal Stephenson. It's the first in a trilogy featuring protagonist Jean le Flambeur, a sort of Han Solo space thief. Set in a future solar system, deals with the gevulot, a technology that allows people on a mobile Martian city to control their personal privacy, mind transfers, and a digital prison.
Yes, there's a lot of concepts and terminology to take in here, but if you can keep up, it's worth it. The Queue By Basma Abdel Aziz (2016) Take the worst line you've ever stood in (the DMV?), multiply it by 100, throw in a totalitarian regime, and you've got .
In a city in the Middle East following a failed uprising, residents must wait in a long line to ask permission for services such as medical treatments, and the line keeps growing longer and longer. It's the stuff of bureaucratic nightmares. All the Birds in the Sky By Charlie Jane Anders (2016) A witch who can talk to birds and a boy who faces bullies at school but creates artificial intelligence at home—these are the two protagonists of Anders' wonderfully imaginative novel . This engrossing tale combines several popular elements in sci-fi/fantasy novels (magic, technology, the possibility of moving to other planets) with a modern-day setting that is very recognizable to those living in San Francisco and other big cities with growing tech industries.
It's also a book for anyone who feels like an outsider. captures the difficulty of finding friends, love, and your place in life when you're different from everyone else. Watch us discuss the best sci-fi books of the year:
best dating 21st century novel novels by locus - The Greatest Books: The Best Books
8,227 books — This list was created and voted on by Goodreads members. The best books published during the 21st century (January 1st, 2001 through December 31st, 2100). See also Best Books By Century: , , , , , , ,, , , , , , , , , , Best Books by Decade , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Lists for all books by Number of Ratings: - - -
Written as an homage to Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey, Ulysses follows its hero, Leopold Bloom, through the streets of Dublin. Overflowing with puns, references to classical literature, and stream-of-consciousness writing, this is a complex, multilayered novel about one day in the life of an ordinary man.
Initially banned in the United States but overturned by a legal challenge by Random House’s Bennett Cerf, Ulysses was called “a memorable catastrophe” (Virginia Woolf), “a book to which we are all indebted” (T.
S. Eliot), and “the most faithful X-ray ever taken of the ordinary human consciousness” (Edmund Wilson). Joyce himself said, “There is not one single serious line in [ Ulysses]. Click here to read more about Set in the Jazz Age, The Great Gatsby tells the story of the mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby, his decadent parties, and his love for the alluring Daisy Buchanan. Dismissed as “no more than a glorified anecdote, and not too probable at that” ( The Chicago Tribune), The Great Gatsby is now considered a contender for “the Great American Novel.” Fitzgerald wanted to title the novel “Trimalchio in West Egg,” but both his wife and his editor preferred “The Great Gatsby.” Fitzgerald gave in, though he still thought that “the title is only fair, rather bad than good.” Published in 1916, James Joyce’s semiautobiographical tale of his alter ego, Stephen Dedalus, is a coming-of-age story like no other.
A bold, innovative experiment with both language and structure, the work has exerted a lasting influence on the contemporary novel; Alfred Kazin commented that “Joyce dissolved mechanism in literature as effectively as Einstein destroyed it in physics.” Reviewing the book in The New Republic, H.
G. Wells wrote, “Like some of the best novels in the world it is the story of an education; it is by far the most living and convincing picture that exists of an Irish Catholic upbringing.” Click here to read more about Lolita tells the story of middle-aged Humbert Humbert’s love for twelve-year-old Dolores Haze.
The concept is troubling, but the novel defies any kind of label, though it has been heralded as a hilarious satire, a bitter tragedy, and even an allegory for U.S.-European relations. In Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi summarized the book as “hopeful, beautiful even, a defense not just of beauty but of life .
. . Nabokov, through his portrayal of Humbert, has exposed all solipsists who take over other people’s lives.” Though Brave New World is less famous than George Orwell’s 1984, it arguably presents a world that more closely resembles our own: a world of easy sex, readily available and mood-altering pharmaceuticals, information overload, and mass production.
Juxtaposing Orwell’s and Huxley’s dystopias, the critic Neil Postman commented: “What Orwell feared were those who would ban books.
What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. . . . Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.” Narrated by the Compson siblings—Benjy, a source of shame for his family due to his diminished mental capacity; brilliant and obsessive Quentin; and Jason, the cynic—as well as Dilsey, the powerful matriarch of their black servants, The Sound and the Fury is a tragedy of haunted lives.
As each of these characters reflect on the fourth sibling, beautiful and free-spirited Caddy, Faulkner paints an indelible portrait of a family in disarray. While The Sound and the Fury was dismissed by its author as a “splendid failure,” it is now considered a masterpiece and played a crucial role in Faulkner being awarded the 1949 Nobel Prize in Literature. Click here to read more about This satirical novel follows U.S. Captain John Yossarian and his squadron of World War II fighters as they navigate the horrors and paradoxes of war.
Based on American author Joseph Heller’s own wartime experiences, the novel explores the many facets of war and employs a unique narrative structure. Catch-22 is widely seen as one of the most significant American novels of the twentieth century.
The New York Times called it “a dazzling performance that will outrage nearly as many readers as it delights.” Set in the midst of Stalin’s 1936–1938 purges—when Stalin executed as many as 1.75 million peasants, government officials, and Communist party members— Darkness at Noon is the story of a man named Rubashov, who is arrested in the middle of the night by the state’s secret police.
The Party he has long served tortures him and demands he confess to crimes they know he has not committed. Darkness at Noon sold over 400,000 copies when it was published and its portrait of Communism was a major factor in the Communist Party’s defeat in France. This intensely autobiographical novel recounts the story of Paul Morel, a young artist growing to manhood in a British working-class family rife with conflict.
The author’s vivid evocation of life in a Nottingham mining village in the years before the First World War and his depiction of the all-consuming nature of possessive love and sexual attraction make this one of Lawrence’s most powerful novels. The poet Philip Larkin said, “If Lawrence had been killed off after writing [ Sons and Lovers], he’d still be England’s greatest novelist.” Click here to read more about Winner of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, this 1939 novel follows the Joad family as they leave the Oklahoma Dust Bowl and travel to California in search of work.
A moving story about migration and abject poverty, The Grapes of Wrath is a candidate for the Great American Novel. Steinbeck himself claimed that he wanted the book “to put a tag of shame on the greedy bastards who are responsible for [the Great Depression and its effects].” November 2, 1938: It is the Day of the Dead, and Geoffrey Firmin, an alcoholic bureaucrat, is stumbling around the small Mexican town of Quauhnahuac in a last-ditch attempt to win his wife back.
Set over the course of the day, Under the Volcano follows Firmin as he drinks wine, beer, mezcal, and tequila in a world that is as menacing and meaningless as it is exhilarating.
Many publishers rejected this book but Lowry defended it as “a kind of symphony, or in another way as a kind of opera—or even a horse opera. It is hot music, a poem, a song, a tragedy, a comedy, a farce.” Written between 1873 and 1884 but not published until 1903, Butler’s novel about the fortunes of the Pontifex family is a thinly veiled account of his own upbringing and a scathingly funny depiction of the hypocrisy underlying nineteenth-century domestic life.
George Bernard Shaw hailed the novel as “one of the summits of human achievement” and William Maxwell claimed that it was the one Victorian novel he would save if his house caught on fire. Click here to read more about The most famous dystopian novel of all time, 1984 is the story of Winston Smith as he struggles to survive in the sinister world of Big Brother.
This novel has so defined the twentieth century that many terms from it— Big Brother, doublethink, thought police—have seeped into popular culture. When it was first published in 1949, the novelist V. S. Pritchett commented: “I do not think I have ever read a novel more frightening and depressing; and yet, such are the originality, the suspense, the speed of writing and withering indignation that it is impossible to put the book down.” A classic of historical fiction, this book is the fictionalized autobiography of the Roman Emperor Claudius, born partially deaf and afflicted with a limp, and his rise to power.
Along the way, you see the inner workings of the First Family of Rome and the vicious, murderous in-fighting and poisonings that Claudius—considered too stupid, lame, and ugly to fear—observes. The book ends with Claudius’s ascension to emperor; Graves continues the saga in Claudius the God (also worth reading, though not on this list).
The Ramsays spend summers in their holiday home off the coast of Scotland, welcoming a motley assortment of guests into their warm family fold. But the First World War looms, and when it has passed, everything will be changed. Writer Arnold Bennett criticized the novel’s slight narrative: “A group of people plan to sail in a small boat to a lighthouse.
At the end some of them reach the lighthouse in a small boat. That is the externality of the plot.” But if the plot is superficially small, Woolf’s prose is infinitely expansive, capturing gorgeous, ephemeral moments of family joy and heartbreak. Published in 1925, An American Tragedy is the story of the naive Clyde Griffiths and his desperate search for success. Dreiser based the story on a 1906 murder trial, and the resulting novel paints a damning portrait of early twentieth-century society.
Over nine hundred pages long, this isn’t a quick read, but if you enjoy long studies of sexual obsession and ambition gone horribly wrong, this is the book for you. Published in 1940, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter follows a handful of outsiders in a small Georgia town: a young girl, a doctor, a deaf-mute, the owner of a diner, and an antagonistic wanderer.
The novel was an overnight sensation and made Carson McCullers extremely famous. When it was first reviewed in The New York Times, Rose Feld wrote: “No matter what the age of its author, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter would be a remarkable book. . . . When one reads that Carson McCullers is a girl of 22 it becomes more than that. . . . [McCullers] writes with a sweep and certainty that are overwhelming.” Click here to read more about An American classic, Slaughterhouse-Five is one of the world’s great antiwar books.
Centering on the infamous firebombing of Dresden that Vonnegut, then a POW, himself survived, Slaughterhouse-Five includes time travel, a voyage to an alien planet, a love affair with a movie star, and an assassination in its vast scope.
Despite these fantastical elements, Billy Pilgrim’s odyssey reflects the mythic journey of our own fractured lives. Michael Crichton, author of The Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park, praised Slaughterhouse-Five as “beautifully done, fluid, smooth, and powerful.” Click here to read more about Invisible Man is one man’s story of how the world around him has decided that he is invisible, and therefore disposable. Moving from the unnamed hero’s high school days, to the campus of a Southern college and then to New York’s Harlem, the hero is sometimes befriended but more often deceived and betrayed by the duplicity of others.
Winner of the 1953 National Book Award, and described by Saul Bellow as “a book of the very first order, a superb book,” Invisible Man is a bold classic whose take on race in America remains as searing today as when it was first published.
Click here to read more about The story of Bigger Thomas, a poor, twentysomething African-American man living in Chicago, Native Son unflinchingly portrays the damage poverty and racism can inflict. Bigger Thomas is a difficult, even unsympathetic character, but his experiences force the reader to confront the real cost of societal injustice.
Loosely based on a series of “brick bat” murders in 1939, Native Son was an immediate bestseller, selling 250,000 copies within three weeks of its publication. Eugene Henderson is an American millionaire living off his inherited wealth. Dissatisfied with his life, he leaves his comfortable world behind and travels to Africa.
In a fictional village his prayers for rain are answered, transforming him into a messiah figure. Saul Bellow also wrote The Adventures of Augie March, Herzog, and Humboldt’s Gift, but Henderson the Rain King was his personal favorite.
In December 1930, just before Christmas, the Gibbsville, PA, social circuit is filled with parties and dances, rivers of liquor and music playing late into the night. At the center of the social elite stand Julian and Caroline English, the envy of friends and strangers alike.
But in one rash moment born inside a highball glass, Julian breaks with polite society and begins a rapid descent—the book takes place over thirty-six hours—toward self-destruction. A twentieth-century classic, Appointment in Samarra is the first and most widely read book by the writer Fran Leibowitz called “the real F.
Scott Fitzgerald.” A collection of three novels— The 42 nd Parallel, 1919, and The Big Money—this work by Dos Passos combines the stories of different characters with current events, small biographies of famous men, and stream-of-consciousness moments to create a portrait of the United States itself. A massive 1,300-page saga, U.
S.A. was hailed by The Washington Post as “the most ambitious attempt by any American writer of fiction to contain this vast, heterogeneous and elusive nation.” Sherwood Anderson’s timeless cycle of loosely connected tales—in which a young reporter named George Willard probes the hopes, dreams, and fears of a small Midwestern town at the turn of the century—embraced a new frankness and realism that helped usher American literature into the modern age.
“Here [is] a new order of short story,” said H. L. Mencken when Winesburg, Ohio was published in 1919. “It is so vivid, so full of insight, so shiningly life-like and glowing, that the book is lifted into a category all its own.” Click here to read more about In E.
M. Forster’s epic yet intimate 1924 novel, his last to be written and published in a long lifetime, a day trip to explore the enigmatic Marabar Caves explodes into accusations of sexual assault. Forster’s beautifully rendered characters illuminate the tensions of British-occupied India and make A Passage to India a work not only of historical impact but of deep humanity. Of Forster’s masterworks, including A Room with a View, Howards End, and the long-suppressed Maurice, A Passage to India may well be the richest and most ambitious.
The Guardian recently described it as “a strangely timeless achievement . . . eerily prescient on the subject of empire.” Published in 1902 and set amid the splendor of fashionable London drawing rooms and gilded Venetian palazzos, The Wings of the Dove concerns a pair of lovers who conspire to obtain the fortune of Milly, a doomed American heiress.
But the naïve young woman becomes both their victim and their redeemer in James’s meticulously designed drama of treachery and self-betrayal. Writing in 1959, James Thurber described the book as “a kind of femme fatale of literature . . . a masterpiece.” Click here to read more about Henry James’s 1903 novel, written at the peak of “The Master’s” powers, follows the trip of Lewis Lambert Strether to Europe in pursuit of Chad, his widowed fiancée’s supposedly wayward son.
Charged with bringing back the young man to the family business, Lewis soon encounters unexpected complications and a world of subtlety previously unknown to him. A finely drawn portrait of a man’s awakening to life, The Ambassadors is a timeless masterpiece of James’s late period, and the book that James himself considered his best.
Scott Fitzgerald’s final completed novel, Tender Is the Night, follows the charming American couple Dick and Nicole Diver—loosely based on real-life 1920s socialites Gerald and Sara Murphy—as they cavort around the French Riviera.
One summer, Dick and Nicole befriend a young American actress named Rosemary Hoyt, but their idyllic life is threatened when the truth behind Dick and Nicole’s marriage is revealed. Fitzgerald claimed that this was his favorite of all his works, writing in a friend’s copy, “If you liked The Great Gatsby, for God’s sake read this. Gatsby was a tour de force but this is a confession of faith.” Written during the Great Depression, these three novels ( Young Lonigan; The Young Manhood of Studs Lonigan; Judgment Day) follow their eponymous hero as he roams through raw, energetic, 1930s-era Chicago, complete with the American Nazi Party headquarters, the White Sox, and the stockyards.
The first volume, Young Lonigan, was considered so incendiary when it was first published that it was issued in a wrapper identifying it as a “clinical document” to be read only by social workers and psychologists.
The Ashburnhams and the Dowells are wealthy, charming, and refined. They have been close friends for years. Their lives are apparently perfect. But in this short novel set just before World War I, nothing is what it seems.
Told by an unreliable narrator, with a nonlinear plot, this portrait of Edwardian society is, says Jane Smiley, “a masterpiece, almost a perfect novel” that depicts “the world of Jane Austen a hundred years on, depopulated, lonely, and dark.” This short novel, set on an English farm, is an allegory about the Soviet Union and its transition from an idealistic workers’ revolution to a brutal dictatorship. The young pigs Snowball and Napoleon lead a revolution, ousting the farmer in favor of animal self-rule.
Their new regime is based on one core principle: “All animals are equal.” Complete with a wise donkey, rebellious hens, and suspiciously urbane pigs, this book is considered one of the best satires of all time.
The Golden Bowl is the story of the rich American Adam Verver, and his daughter, Maggie. The two fall in love—Adam with Maggie’s friend Charlotte, and Maggie with Prince Amerigo, an impoverished Italian prince—unaware that Charlotte and Prince Amerigo are former lovers.
The story is one of passion, betrayal, and manipulation, told in James’s signature elaborate style. Gore Vidal wrote that The Golden Bowl “is a story radiant with the art of a master fulfilled; and dark with the profound knowledge of how force [in this case, money] is motor to all our lives.” Sister Carrie transformed the conventional “fallen woman” story into a bold and truly innovative piece of fiction when it appeared in 1900.
Naïve young Caroline Meeber, a small-town girl seduced by the lure of the modern city, becomes the mistress of a traveling salesman and then of a saloon manager, who elopes with her to New York. Both its subject matter and Dreiser’s unsparing, nonjudgmental approach made Sister Carrie a controversial book in its time, and the work retains the power to shock readers today.
Click here to read more about The title is a reference to a line from T. S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland” (“I will show you fear in a handful of dust”) in this satire about a disaffected country squire who travels to the Brazilian jungle in order to find a meaningful life.
In 2010 Time magazine named A Handful of Dust to its list of “All-Time 100 Best Novels” and wrote: “If this is Waugh at his bleakest, it’s also Waugh at his deepest, most poisonously funny.” In this harrowing stream-of-consciousness novel, Faulkner tells the story of the Bundren family’s odyssey across the Mississippi countryside to bury Addie, their wife and mother.
Narrated in turn by each of the family members—including Addie herself from beyond the grave— As I Lay Dying is a complex chorus of familial love and angst. Faulkner said of the novel that he “set out deliberately to write a tour-de-force,” and this family saga, which he wrote in just six weeks, certainly fits the bill.
Click here to read more about Winner of the 1947 Pulitzer Prize, All the King’s Men is the story of the populist politician Willie Stark, as narrated by the reporter Jack Burden. Burden watches as Willie Stark rises to power, changing as he does from a naïve idealist to a charismatic, powerful, and corrupt state governor. Most people assume that Willie Stark was based on real-life politician Huey Long, a controversial senator who was assassinated in 1935, but Warren always disavowed any resemblance between the two.
Winner of the 1928 Pulitzer Prize, The Bridge of San Luis Rey takes a single event—a bridge collapsing on July 20, 1714—and expands it into a meditation on life and faith. A monk named Brother Juniper witnesses the collapse and, curious about why God would allow such a tragedy, decides to compile a book about the five people who died in an attempt to understand God’s purpose.
A novella that carries the emotional weight of a much longer book, The Bridge of San Luis Rey was a bestseller when it was published and has never been out of print. Howards End, a story about who would inhabit a charming old country house (and who, in a larger sense, would inherit England), was the novel that earned E.
M. Forster recognition as a major writer. Centered on the conflict between the wealthy, materialistic Wilcox family and the cultured, idealistic Schlegel sisters—and informed by Forster’s famous dictum “Only connect”—it is full of tenderness.
Zadie Smith’s novel On Beauty is an homage to Howards End, with aspects of the plot and various characters drawn straight from Forster’s original. Go Tell It on the Mountain, published in 1953, is Baldwin’s first major work, a novel that has established itself as an American classic.
With lyrical precision, psychological directness, and a rage that is at once unrelenting and compassionate, Baldwin chronicles one day in the life of a fourteen-year-old boy. Baldwin’s rendering of his protagonist’s spiritual, sexual, and moral struggle of self-invention opened new possibilities in the American language and in the way Americans understand themselves. “Mountain, ” Baldwin said, “is the book I had to write if I was ever going to write anything else.” Click here to read more about Major Henry Scobie is an assistant police commissioner for a West African colony.
Disillusioned but compassionate, he leads a quiet existence married to a woman he does not love. But when a new police inspector and a young widow arrive in town, the resulting love triangles and dilemmas will up-end his life.
Generally considered Greene’s masterpiece, The Heart of the Matter was an immediate bestseller, selling 300,000 copies in the UK alone. In 1948, The New York Times raved: “From first page to last, this record of one man’s breakdown on a heat-drugged fever-coast makes its point as a crystal-clear allegory—and as an engrossing novel.” A group of British schoolboys are marooned on an island with no grown-ups. At first, they enjoy their freedom. But the realization that there are no rules, and the ensuing struggle for order and dominance, transforms this book into a brutal story about human nature.
Written while Golding was teaching at a boys’ grammar school, The Lord of the Flies was famously dismissed by an editor as an “absurd and uninteresting fantasy . . . Rubbish & dull. Pointless.” However, a younger editor at the same publishing house disagreed, and the book was published in 1954.
Since then it has sold over 10 million copies. Famously made into a 1972 film with Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight, this story of a weekend canoe trip gone horribly, horribly wrong won critical acclaim when it was first published.
The New York Times Book Review praised it as “a novel that will curl your toes . . . Dickey’s canoe rides to the limits of dramatic tension,” The New Yorker called it “a brilliant and breathtaking adventure,” and The New Republic called it “a tour de force.” It is impossible to put down and terrifying to read.
Click here to read more about Inspired by the sixteenth-century painting by Nicolas Poussin, this series of novels chronicles one man’s life. Published from 1951 to 1975, these novels were critical darlings, with Arthur Schlesinger Jr. proclaiming them “an unsurpassed picture, at once gay and melancholy, of social and artistic life in Britain between the wars.” An excellent book for fans of Evelyn Waugh or Edward St.
Aubyn’s “Patrick Melrose” novels. Point Counter Point follows a large cast of characters, many based on people Huxley actually knew, as they argue and sleep with one another.
The title references musical counterpoint, a compositional technique that relies on melodic interaction to make independent voices or chords sound harmonic together—and, similarly, Huxley attempted to create a harmonic whole with independent characters, instead of a unifying plot. The storylines are linked but not always easy to follow; still, it is a humorous if dry satire of 1920s intellectual life.
Perhaps the ultimate novel of the “Lost Generation,” The Sun Also Rises is the story of WWI veteran Jake Barnes, the beautiful and seductive Lady Brett Ashley, and the raucous café society of 1920s Paris. Written in Hemingway’s signature terse style, and populated by characters based on people Hemingway knew, the book came out to mixed reviews. Some critics found the characters unlikable, and older critics especially disliked Hemingway’s spare prose. Nevertheless, the book was a bestseller, making Hemingway famous, and it inspired a generation of readers and writers.
One of Joseph Conrad’s most accessible novels, The Secret Agent is the chilling story of a terrorist plot. Based loosely on the failed Greenwich bombing of 1894, this short novel follows Adolf Verloc, who appears to be a successful businessman, happily married and living in London, but is in fact an anarchist spy for an unnamed country.
The New York Times called The Secret Agent “the most brilliant novelistic study of terrorism as viewed from the blood-spattered outside.” Click here to read more about Originally published in 1904, Nostromo is considered Conrad’s supreme achievement. Set in the imaginary South American republic of Costaguana, the novel reveals the effects of unbridled greed and imperialist interests on many different lives.
Although each character’s potential for good is ultimately corrupted, Nostromo underscores Conrad’s belief in fidelity, moral discipline, and the need for human communion. The author himself described the book as “an intense creative effort on what I suppose will remain my largest canvas.” Click here to read more about The Rainbow is the epic story of three generations of the Brangwens, a Midlands family.
A visionary novel, it explores the complex sexual and psychological relationships between men and women in an increasingly industrialized world. Originally published in England in 1915, The Rainbow was the subject of an obscenity trial, as a result of which over a thousand copies were burned.
Although it was available in the United States, it would be banned in England for many years. Click here to read more about A sequel to The Rainbow, Women in Love is D. H. Lawrence’s magnificent exploration of human sexuality in the days surrounding World War I. The story of two sisters, Ursula and Gudrun Brangwen, Women in Love illuminates their characters and their relationships with the men that they love.
The character of Ursula was based on Lawrence’s wife, Frieda, and Gudrun was loosely based on the writer Katherine Mansfield. Click here to read more about Often described as lewd, outrageous, and pornographic, Tropic of Cancer is the story of Henry Miller, a writer living in Paris. Blurring the line between fact and fiction, this novel was banned in the United States until an obscenity trial in 1961. The trial went all the way up to the Supreme Court, which overturned a lower court’s ruling in 1964, allowing the book to be published in the United States.
Norman Mailer called Tropic of Cancer “one of the ten or twenty great novels of our century, a revolution in consciousness equal to The Sun Also Rises.” Based on Mailer’s own experiences during World War II, The Naked and the Dead is the story of a U.S. platoon in the Philippines. Mailer’s decision to use a range of characters instead of a single hero was inspired by Leo Tolstoy; Mailer used to read parts of Anna Karenina every morning, before he worked on his own writing. Perhaps as a result, he felt that The Naked and the Dead was “the greatest war novel since War and Peace.” A long monologue delivered by Alexander Portnoy to his psychologist, many U.S.
libraries banned the book because of its unbelievably frank and incredibly detailed accounts of the female form, masturbation, and fellatio (among other things). The literary critic Irving Howe dismissed the book as “vulgar” and claimed that “the cruelest thing anyone can do with Portnoy’s Complaint is to read it twice.” But the novel was a literary sensation, selling millions of copies and making Philip Roth a household name overnight.
Pale Fire is a stylistic masterpiece in true Nabokovian fashion: a 999-line poem by reclusive genius John Shade with an adoring foreword and commentary by Shade’s self-styled Dr. Boswell, Charles Kinbote, adding up to a satiric novel of literature and intrigue. Nabokov loved wordplay, and this novel shows his skills at their finest.
While Time initially dismissed Pale Fire as “an exercise in agility – or perhaps bewilderment,” this did not prevent the magazine from naming it one of their top 100 English-language novels, and it remains one of Nabokov’s most popular works to date.
Light in August, a novel about hopeful perseverance in the face of mortality, features some of Faulkner’s most memorable characters: guileless, dauntless Lena Grove, in search of the father of her unborn child; Reverend Gail Hightower, who is plagued by visions of Confederate horsemen; and Joe Christmas, a desperate, enigmatic drifter consumed by his mixed ancestry.
The book was originally called Dark House, but Faulkner changed it to Light in August, based on a comment that his wife made. Click here to read more about A loosely fictionalized version of Kerouac’s road trips with Neal Cassady (Dean Moriarty, in the novel), this novel’s tone captures the wild rhythm of life on the road.
Jack Kerouac described On the Road as “a journey through post-Whitman America to FIND that America and to FIND the inherent goodness in American man. It was really a story about 2 Catholic buddies roaming the country in search of God. And we found him.” When Kerouac delivered his 120-foot-long scroll of a manuscript to his publisher, Robert Giroux, he supposedly unfurled the scroll and “tossed it right across the office like a piece of celebration confetti.” When Sam Spade is hired by the sultry, gorgeous Miss Wonderly to track down her little sister, he does not realize that he’s been brought into the search for an incredibly valuable figurine of a falcon.
But as events unfold (and the body count rises), it becomes clear that Spade can trust no one—least of all his beautiful client. The Maltese Falcon is the detective novel that introduced the archetype of the world-weary, cynical private detective to a wide audience, and the 1941 movie based on the novel (starring Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor) is considered the first major film noir.
Set before, during, and slightly after World War I, Parade’s End is the story of Christopher Tietjens, whose decency is consistently taken advantage of by his beautiful and devious wife Sylvia. When Tietjens meets Valentine Wannop, a suffragette with an independent spirit, the stage is set for a love triangle that touches on class, money, and a changing world. Newland Archer saw little to envy in the marriages of his friends, yet he prided himself that in May Welland he had found the perfect woman—tender and impressionable, with equal purity of mind and manners.
Enter Countess Olenska, a woman of quick wit sharpened by experience, determined to find freedom in divorce. Against his judgment, Newland is drawn to the socially ostracized Ellen Olenska. He knows that he can expect stability and comfort in a marriage with sweet-tempered May. But what new worlds could he discover with Ellen? Written with elegance and wry precision, this is a Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece and a tragic love story.
Click here to read more about Written in 1911, just before World War I, the various absurdities of plot and all of the characters are best seen as a satire of Downton Abbey–era society, class, and wealth. A beautiful young woman goes to Oxford and meets the handsome, rich, and snobbish Duke of Dorset.
He proposes, and Zuleika, believing that she can only love someone who doesn’t love her, refuses him. More men fall in love with Zuleika, and chaos is unleashed in suitably ridiculous, Oscar Wilde–ish fashion.
The Guardian called Zuleika Dobson “the finest, and darkest kind of satire: as intoxicating as champagne, as addictive as morphine.” Click here to read more about Binx Bolling is a young Korean War veteran, adrift in his own life. He goes to movies and has a series of meaningless flings with his secretaries. But in this laconic novel, this premise expands to become a meditation on emotion and self-examination. Walker Percy won the National Book Award for The Moviegoer, beating the following nominees, among others: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, Franny and Zooey by J.
D. Salinger, and Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. Based on the life of Jean-Baptiste Lamy, the first archbishop of the (newly created) diocese of New Mexico, Death Comes for the Archbishop portrays the clash between Old World, New World, and Native American culture. Cather’s love for American land shines through the beautiful prose as the reader moves from scene to scene, following hero Jean Marie Latour as he wrestles with corruption and the requirements of his mission.
Diamond Head, Hawaii, 1941: Pvt. Robert E. Lee Prewitt is a champion welterweight and a fine bugler. But when he refuses to join the company’s boxing team, he gets “the treatment” that may break him or kill him. First Sgt. Milton Anthony Warden knows how to soldier better than almost anyone, yet he’s risking his career to have an affair with the commanding officer’s wife. In this magnificent but brutal classic of a soldier’s life, James Jones portrays the courage, violence, and passions of men and women in the most important American novel to come out of World War II, a masterpiece that captures as no other the honor and savagery of men.
Click here to read more about Winner of the 1958 National Book Award, The Wapshot Chronicle is the story of Moses and Coverly Wapshot, two brothers growing up in the fictional New England town of St. Botolphs, Massachusetts. Both brothers wrestle with the lessons and expectations of their father, and both struggle to create their own identity away from St.
Botolphs. A story of eccentric, warm characters in an archetypal Massachusetts fishing community, The Wapshot Chronicle established John Cheever as a novelist (he had previously focused on short stories) and a humorist. The hero-narrator of The Catcher in the Rye is Holden Caulfield, a sixteen-year-old who leaves his prep school in Pennsylvania and goes underground in New York City for three days. As we spend time in his head, we see him experience the pain and pleasure of adolescence, and the particular ache of finding one’s place in the world.
Holden Caulfield made his first appearance in the short story “Slight Rebellion off Madison,” which was published in The New Yorker in 1946. Among the book’s many fans is Bill Gates, who proclaimed it his favorite read. In A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess depicts a dystopian future where gangs of teenage criminals rule the streets; among them a fifteen-year-old “droog” named Alex. Narrated in a brutal invented slang that brilliantly renders his and his friends’ social pathology, Alex’s story is a frightening fable about good and evil, and the meaning of human freedom. Burgess has offered several explanations for the meaning of the novel’s mysterious title—from East London Cockney slang to a pun on the Malay word “orang,” meaning “man,” to an oxymoronic juxtaposition of the mechanical and the organic.
Originally published in 1915, this story of infatuation begins with Philip Carey, a sensitive boy raised by a religious aunt and uncle.
Philip yearns for adventure, and at eighteen leaves home to pursue a career as an artist in Paris. When he returns to London to study medicine, he meets the androgynous but alluring Mildred and begins a love affair that will change the course of his life.
“Here is a novel of the utmost importance,” wrote Theodore Dreiser on the book’s publication. “One feels as though one were sitting before a splendid Shiraz of priceless texture and intricate weave, admiring, feeling, responding sensually to its colors and tones.” Click here to read more about Originally published in 1902, and written several years after Conrad’s grueling sojourn in the Belgian Congo, the novel tells the story of Marlow, a seaman who undertakes his own journey into the African jungle to find the tormented white trader Kurtz.
Rich in irony and spellbinding prose, Heart of Darkness is a complex meditation on colonialism, evil, and the thin line between civilization and barbarity. The basis for Francis Ford Coppola’s movie Apocalypse Now, Heart of Darkness remains one of the most searing and relevant books of the twentieth century.
Click here to read more about When Carol Milford marries Will Kennicott, she moves to his small hometown of Gopher Prairie but is quickly dismayed by the backwardness of her new surroundings. She endeavors to reform the town and the people around her in this satire about the rapid modernization of early twentieth-century America. Lewis Mumford observed: “Young people had grown up in this environment, suffocated, stultified, helpless, but unable to find any reason for their spiritual discomfort.
Mr. Lewis released them.&rdquo Click here to read more about Edith Wharton never wrote a more compelling or tragic heroine than the beautiful Lily Bart, whose attempts to navigate turn-of-the-twentieth-century society founder on her lack of the only commodity that matters: money. As Lily is brought low by circumstance, Wharton brings to life the alluring, dangerous, and stifling world of Old New York. Published in 1905, The House of Mirth is the first of Edith Wharton’s major novels— Ethan Frome, The Custom of the Country, and The Age of Innocence and it remains a memorably vibrant, and still wrenchingly heartbreaking, masterpiece.
Click here to read more about Set in Alexandria, Egypt, these interlinked novels explore the city over the 1930s and 1940s. Justine was published in 1957, Balthazar and Mountolive in 1958, and Clea in 1960. The novels follow the same characters, but from different perspectives and different times—a tactic that Durrell claimed was inspired by Einstein’s theory of relativity (which gives you some idea of his ambitions for this tetrology).
Set in the nineteenth century, this novel revolves around six children who are seized by pirates on a voyage from Jamaica to England.
What begins as an adventure becomes a darker story about the childrens’ naïve lack of morality. In a 1969 interview with The New Yorker, Hughes claimed he was inspired by an old lady’s description of being captured by surprisingly considerate pirates as a child.
Hughes commented, “This was a new idea—that pirates were sentimental about children. I began to wonder what would happen if a group of pirates were suddenly landed with a group of children.
In the ensuing conflict, which side would go under?” Mohun Biswas is born with an extra finger and inadvertently causes his own father’s death.
Affable but unlucky, Mr. Biswas grows up, gets a job, and inadvertently proposes to a woman (whose family accepts on her behalf). What he really wants, though, is a home of his own. The novel’s premise is simple, but the language is rich, textured, and humorous. Naipaul, who would win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001, confessed: “Of all my books A House for Mr. Biswas is the one closest to me.
It is the most personal, created out of what I saw and felt as a child. It also contains, I believe, some of my funniest writing.” A panoramic account of the desperate ambitions, and equally desperate miseries, of an array of Los Angeles denizens at the height of the Hollywood studio era, this 1939 novel is as unsparing as it is compulsively readable.
With a cast of characters including an avaricious, only marginally talented starlet, an innocuous-seeming retiree under whose dull surface violence lurks, and the painter whose vision of a “Burning of Los Angeles” canvas imagines the apocalypse of the American Dream, The Day of the Locust is a grisly masterpiece—a “nightmare of lust and violence, of distortions and cruel comedy,” as The New York Times described it. Frederic Henry is an American paramedic in the Italian Army during World War I.
He meets Catherine Barkley, a nurse, and they fall in love. Loosely based on Hemingway’s relationship with Red Cross nurse Agnes von Kurowsky, A Farewell to Arms was censored for its expletives and frank descriptions of Frederic and Catherine’s romance. Fun fact: When Ernest Hemingway sent a draft of A Farewell to Arms to F. Scott Fitzgerald, Fitzgerald wrote back with ten pages of suggestions and possible edits.
Hemingway’s response? “Kiss my ass.” A send-up of tabloid journalism in the 1930s, Waugh drew inspiration for Scoop from his time working as a special correspondent for the Daily Mail. In the novel, the two biggest newspapers, The Daily Beast and The Daily Brute, report on the Italian invasion of Ethiopia.
As the newspapers (and their megalomaniacal owners) vie for supremacy, they create news as needed and report the war as they see fit. Even The Atlantic admitted, “There is perhaps no more uproarious burlesque of the workings of the press.” This is a wickedly funny novel that feels all too relevant in the age of Internet journalism. “Give me a girl at an impressionable age,” the title character boasts, “and she is mine for life.” The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie tells the story of a glamorous, unconventional schoolteacher and her favorite students, who worship but ultimately betray her.
Upon its 1961 publication, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which is frank in its exploration of sexuality, was deemed “not read-aloudable” by the audiobook industry, a code for “too X-rated.” When James Joyce finished writing Ulysses—his long, complicated masterpiece about one day in the life of Dublin—he decided to write Finnegans Wake: a long, complicated novel about one night in the life of Dublin.
A nonlinear dream narrative, the first sentence of Finnegans Wake reads: “riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.” The book defies summary, though many critics and scholars have tried. Still, Joyce maintained that Finnegans Wake made sense—he told his biographer that he could “justify every line of this book.” Kim is the tale of an Irish orphan raised as an Indian vagabond on the rough streets of colonial Lahore: a world of high adventure, mystic quests, and secret games of espionage played out between the Russians and the British in the mountain passages of Asia.
Kim is torn between his allegiance to the ascetic lama, who becomes his beloved mentor, and the temptations of those who want to recruit him as a spy in the “great game” of imperial conflict. In a series of thrilling escapades, he crisscrosses India on missions both spiritual and military before the two forces in his life converge in a dramatic climax in the high Himalayas. Click here to read more about Published in 1908 to both critical and popular acclaim, A Room with a View is a whimsical comedy of manners that owes more to Jane Austen than perhaps any other of Forster’s works.
The central character is a muddled young girl named Lucy Honeychurch, who runs away from the man who stirs her emotions, remaining engaged to a rich snob. Forster considered it his “nicest” novel, and today it remains probably his most well liked. Its moral is utterly simple: Throw away your etiquette book and listen to your heart. Click here to read more about In post–World War I England, a young middle-class man is infatuated with an aristocratic family and their glittering but decaying way of life, particularly the family’s flamboyant younger son and beautiful older daughter.
There are many autobiographical facts in Waugh’s life that are tantalizingly close to elements of Brideshead, but the novel opens with this author’s note: “I am not I; thou art not he or she; they are not they.” “I am an American, Chicago born, and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted.” So begins The Adventures of Augie March, a modern picaresque (a genre of literature that follows a loveable rogue through a series of misadventures) that won the 1954 National Book Award is considered a contender for the Great American Novel Apparently the novel was very easy to write—Saul claimed that “the book just came to me.
All I had to do was be there with buckets to catch it.” Winner of the Pulitzer Prize when it was published in 1971, Wallace Stegner’s American classic centers on Lyman Ward, a historian who relates a fictionalized biography of his pioneer grandparents.
Through a combination of research, memory, and exaggeration, Ward voices ideas concerning the relationship between history and the present, art and life, parents and children, husbands and wives. Set in many parts of the West, Angle of Repose is a story of discovery—personal, historical, and geographical—that endures as Wallace Stegner’s masterwork. First published in 1979, A Bend in the River is a profound and richly observed novel of postcolonial Africa.
Salim, a young Indian man, moves to a town on a bend in the river of a recently independent nation. As Salim strives to establish his business, he comes to be closely involved with the fluid and dangerous politics of the newly created state, the remnants of the old regime clashing inevitably with the new.
Portia is sixteen, recently orphaned, and living in London with her brother and Anna, his fashionable but unfriendly wife. Then she meets Eddie, a young man and a friend of Anna’s; the novel follows Portia as she discovers the delights of first love and the sorrow of heartbreak. Bowen is often compared to Jane Austen—she skewers drawing-room society with similarly exquisite writing and explores the intricacies of the human heart with the same sharp-eyed wisdom.
John Banville, winner of the Booker Prize, has stated: “Had Elizabeth Bowen been a man she would be recognized as one of the finest novelists of the twentieth century.” Lord Jim is the story of Jim, a sailor who abandons a sinking ship and its passengers to near-certain death; but, as with any Conrad novel, this novel only loosely captures this startling masterpiece. Conrad, who also wrote The Heart of Darkness, Nostromo, and The Secret Agent (all of which appear on the Top 100), is regarded as one of the greatest writers to write in English, despite it being his third language.
His stories portray the weight of outside forces—globalism, racism, colonialism—as they compress and constrain individuals, in prose that is like liquid gold. Click here to read more about Ragtime opens in 1906 in New Rochelle, New York, at the home of an affluent American family.
One lazy Sunday afternoon, the famous escape artist Harry Houdini swerves his car into a telephone pole outside their house. And almost magically, the line between fantasy and historical fact, between real and imaginary characters, disappears.
Henry Ford, Emma Goldman, J. P. Morgan, Evelyn Nesbit, Sigmund Freud, and Emiliano Zapata slip in and out of the tale, crossing paths with Doctorow’s imagined family and other fictional characters.
The New Yorker called Ragtime “an extraordinarily deft, lyrical, rich novel that catches the spirit of this country.” Click here to read more about First published in 1908, The Old Wives’ Tale tells the story of the Baines sisters—shy, retiring Constance and defiant, romantic Sophia—over the course of nearly half a century.
Bennett traces the sisters’ lives from childhood during the mid-Victorian era, through their married lives, to the modern industrial age, when they are reunited as old women. The setting moves from the Five Towns of Staffordshire to exotic and cosmopolitan Paris, while the action moves from the subdued domestic routine of the Baines household to the siege of Paris during the Franco-Prussian War.
Click here to read more about Buck, a dog stolen from his home and sold to become a sled dog during the Klondike Gold Rush of the 1890s, is the central character of this classic adventure novel. Faced with new challenges and an unforgiving environment, Buck is forced to learn the harsh rules of the wild.
A novel of survival, loyalty, and the realities of nature, The Call of the Wild is “a story well and truly told” (E. L. Doctorow). Jack London lived in the Klondike for almost a year, gaining inspiration for the story that would become one of his most popular. Click here to read more about Set in an Irish country house during World War II, Loving is a literary version of Gosford Park.
The Tennants are an aristocratic family, and Eldon, their loyal butler, manages the household staff. But the seemingly calm appearance of the Tennants and their staff masks the relationships, insecurities, and rivalries roiling beneath the surface; meanwhile, the country is at war, bombarded and bracing for a German invasion.
In 2013, the Los Angeles Review of Books declared: “No English novel of the 1940s has better stood the test of time.” Saleem Sinai is born at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, the very moment of India’s independence. Greeted by fireworks displays, cheering crowds, and Prime Minister Nehru himself, Saleem grows up to learn that his every act is mirrored and magnified in events that sway the course of national affairs; his health and well-being are inextricably bound to those of his nation; and, most remarkably, his telepathic powers link him with India’s 1,000 other “midnight’s children.” Midnight’s Children won the 1981 Booker Prize and the “Booker of Bookers” in 1993, when it was voted the most beloved novel to have ever won the Booker.
Click here to read more about Set in Georgia during the Great Depression, Tobacco Road follows the Lesters, a family of poor white sharecroppers. Caldwell’s blunt, grotestque portrayal of the Lesters infuriated Southern readers, but the novel has sold over 10 million copies since it was published in 1932.
The New York Times critic Dwight Garner wrote of the novel: “You can’t stop turning the pages, because you want to see how much further your jaw can drop. . . . The pulpiest—and arguably the most unforgettable—Southern novel you’ll ever read.” Francis Phelan is a former basketball player, now grave digger, living in Albany. An alcoholic who accidentally killed his son many years ago, Phelan now wanders around town, occasionally encountering the ghosts of his son and other people he killed.
Ironweed won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1984, despite being rejected by thirteen publishing houses. The Magus is a genre-bending story about a young Englishman drawn into the manipulative psychological games of a wealthy recluse.
The novel was widely praised when it was published in 1966; in perhaps the most effusive review of all time, The New York Times called The Magus “a pyrotechnical extravaganza, a wild, hilarious charade, a dynamo of suspense and horror, a profoundly serious probing into the nature of moral consciousness, a dizzying, electrifying chase through the labyrinth of the soul, an allegorical romance, a sophisticated account of modern love, a ghost story that will send shivers racing down the spine.” Click here to read more about In this “beautiful and subversive” novel ( The Paris Review), Rhys gives a backstory to Bertha Mason, first wife of Edward Rochester and the “insuperable impediment” to marriage between Jane Eyre and Mr.
Rochester. In Rhys’s telling, Bertha is a lively and inquisitive Creole heiress, growing up in the unstable and racially charged environment of the West Indies. Her marriage to an unnamed Englishman, and her forced move to chilly England, heightens her unhappiness. If you have read Jane Eyre, you know how the story ends—but Rhys’s interpretation will transform your understanding of the classic, too.
Under the Net catalogues the comic trials and tribulations of Jack Donaghue, an unsuccessful writer and shameless mooch, as he attempts to become a successful writer. Iris Murdoch was a philosopher at St. Anne’s College, Oxford whose work on free will and choice shaped twentieth-century moral philosophy.
Her novels, however, are intellectually stimulating and easy to read, in part because of Murdoch’s belief that the ideal reader was “someone who likes a jolly good yarn and enjoys thinking about the book as well, about the moral issues.” Three stories are told in Styron’s National Book Award–winning novel: a young Southerner journeys to New York, eager to become a writer; a turbulent love-hate affair between Nathan, a brilliant Jew, and Sophie, a beautiful Polish woman who survived internment at Auschwitz; and of an awful wound in Sophie’s past that impels both her and Nathan toward destruction.
The Washington Post called it “Styron’s most impressive performance. . . . It belongs on that small shelf reserved for American masterpieces.” Click here to read more about Kit and Port Moresby are an American couple touring North Africa with another man, Turner. As they travel deeper into the Sahara desert, tensions rise and a love triangle emerges: the landscape informs the emotional lives of the characters, who are by turns suffocated by their surroundings and moved by its beauty.
Writing in The New York Times, Tennessee Williams called The Sheltering Sky “enthralling . . . powerful, bringing to mind one of those clouds that you have seen in summer, close to the horizon and dark in color and now and then silently pulsing with interior flashes of fire.” Roughly one hundred pages long, this dark tale of lust and murder was banned in 1934 for its then-shocking depictions of sex and violence.
The Postman Always Rings Twice even managed to shock fellow noir writer Raymond Chandler, who called Cain “a Proust in greasy overalls” and The Postman “the offal of literature.” Cain, who also wrote Mildred Pierce and Double Indemnity, has since been recognized as one of the great noir writers, with The New York Times noting that “Cain can get down to the primary impulses of greed and sex in fewer words than any writer we know of.” The Ginger Man is the story of Sebastian Dangerfield, an American student studying in post-WWII Dublin (but mostly getting drunk and sleeping around).
Now considered a modern classic, The Ginger Man has sold over 10 million copies worldwide. Jay McInerney claimed that the book “has undoubtedly launched thousands of benders, but it has also inspired scores of writers with its vivid and visceral narrative voice and the sheer poetry of its prose.” Today The Magnificent Ambersons is best known through the 1942 Orson Welles movie, but it won the Pulitzer Prize when it was first published in 1918.
A chronicle of the changing fortunes of three generations of an American dynasty, The Magnificent Ambersons follows George Amberson Minafer, the spoiled and arrogant grandson of the founder of the family’s magnificence. Eclipsed by a new breed of developers, financiers, and manufacturers, this pampered scion begins his gradual descent from the midwestern aristocracy to the working class.
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Paul Levinson PhD- Air date: 06-21-99