To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
To Kill a Mockingbird is a favorite book of pretty much everyone. The protagonist is a young girl named Scout and except for her father, all the main characters in the book are marginalized by the power structure of their town — a structure that still exists nearly everywhere — where wealthy white men control the lives of everyone else, and even the members of that group who want to use their status for something honorable, like Scout’s father Atticus, cannot win against the flattening wave of that power.
Until something about that structure really changes, this book will remain required reading for every person around the world.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Vladimir Nabokov’s astonishingly skillful and controversial work of fiction introduces us to literary professor and self-confessed hebephile Humbert Humbert, the perhaps unreliable narrator of the novel. Cloaking his abuse in the allusive language of idealised love does not lessen Humbert’s crimes, but allows Nabokov to skewer him where he hides.
I found it surprisingly easy to read and became absorbed quickly – even all those years ago. His portrayal of Humbert’s perverted mind is scarily good, perhaps even too good if people can so easily be convinced to side with a paedophile – which is often regarded as the ultimate crime of all, isn’t it? Even cold-blooded murderers go after prisoners who’ve messed with kids.
The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
THE GREAT GATSBY is at once a romantic and cynical novel about the wealth and habits of a group of New Yorkers during the Jazz Age. Fitzgerald’s writing is unassailably magnificent, as he paints a grim portrait of shallow characters who maneuver themselves into complex situations. This classic American novel is required reading for a lot of high school students, and it can definitely be appreciated and understood on some levels by teenagers. Parents also need to know that some characters express racial and religious prejudice.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Andrew Davies’s recent TV adaptation of War and Peace reminded those of us who can’t quite face returning to the novel’s monstrous demands just how brilliantly Tolstoy delineates affairs of the heart, even if the war passages will always be a struggle. In Anna Karenina – the Great Russian novelist captures the erotic charge between the married Anna and the bachelor Vronsky, and then drags his heroine through society’s scorn as their affair takes shape, without ever suggesting we move from her side.
100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The energy and enchantment of Garcia Marquez’s story of seven generations of the Buendia family in a small town in Colombia continue to enthrall half a century on. Hauntings and premonitions allied to a journalistic eye for detail and a poetic sensibility make Marquez’s magical realism unique.
The magical realism style of the book is DELICIOUS. Sure, it’s an epic tragedy following a long line of familial insanity, but that doesn’t stop the people from eating dirt, coming back from the dead, spreading a plague of contagious insomnia, or enjoying a nice thunderstorm of yellow flowers.
The Trial by Franz Kafka
“Someone must have been telling lies about Josef K…” So begins Kafka’s nightmarish tale of a man trapped in an unfathomable bureaucratic process after being arrested by two agents from an unidentified office for a crime they’re not allowed to tell him about. Foreshadowing the anti-Semitism of Nazi-occupied Europe, as well as the methods of the Stasi, KGB, and StB, it’s an unsettling, at times bewildering, tale with chilling resonance.Written in 1914 but not published until 1925, a year after Kafka’s death, The Trial is the terrifying tale of Josef K., a respectable bank officer who is suddenly and inexplicably arrested and must defend himself against a charge about which he can get no information.
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Anyone who has ever suspected that children are primitive little beasties will nod sagely as they read Golding’s classic. His theory is this: maroon a bunch of schoolboys on an island, and watch how quickly the trappings of decent behaviour fall away.
Never has a broken pair of spectacles seemed so sinister, or civilisation so fragile.
Years after I read this masterpiece, it is still chilling.
Golding spins a yarn that could have been told centuries ago, primal human nature unmoored from civilization does not take long to break away and devolve into a feral thing. As good today, and as haunting, as it was when it was published in 1954. This should be on a list of books that must be read.
2666 by Roberto Bolaño’
Completed in 2003 shortly before his death, 2666 is not only Roberto Bolaño’s masterpiece but also one of the finest and most important novels of the 21st century. It’s an entire world unto itself, one — not unlike our own — filled with horror, neglect, depravity, brilliance, and beauty.
Epic in scope and epitomizing the “total novel,” 2666 fuses many different genres and styles to create a singular and unforgettable work of contemporary fiction.
While Bolaño’s swan song marked the pinnacle of a sadly truncated literary career, his immense talent, creativity, and vision endure.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Atwood’s classic dystopian novel of a terrifying (and terrifyingly plausible) future America has rewarded rereading like no other book; I’ve probably read it 30 times by now. The novel is as relevant today as ever; feminist backlashes continue to wax and wane, but women’s rights remain in the spotlight.
And despite its scenarios of great despair, The Handmaid’s Tale is ultimately a hopeful book — Offred, and others, simply cannot be human without the possibility of hope, and therein lies the strength of the resistance. All of Atwood is worth reading, but this book best exemplifies the cultural and psychological impact that a work of fiction can create.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
Known for his beautiful, haunting, lyrical, and — at times — funny surrealistic stylings, Haruki Murakami is one of the most beloved Japanese authors in the Western world. Although infused with the pop culture of the West, his writing remains at its core firmly rooted in Japan. And as modern as his style is, his work draws upon the country’s past while delving deep into the Japanese psyche. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is pure Murakami — a vast, enchanting mystery filled with dreamlike surrealism.
Considered by many to be his best work, the novel tackles themes as varied as the nature of consciousness, romantic disappointment, and the lingering wounds of World War II.