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Best Books: Literary Fiction
Booksellers, readers, and authors can’t be wrong… these are some of the most beloved books in literary fiction..
Of Mice and Men
By john steinbeck, paperback $13.00, buy from other retailers:.
The Handmaid’s Tale (Movie Tie-in)
By margaret atwood, paperback $17.00.
Things Fall Apart
By chinua achebe, paperback $14.00.
The House on Mango Street
By sandra cisneros, paperback $12.95.
By martha hall kelly.
The Kite Runner
By khaled hosseini.
The Underground Railroad
By colson whitehead, hardcover $27.95.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
By mark haddon, paperback $16.00.
by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Leaving Time (with bonus novella Larger Than Life)
By jodi picoult.
A Gentleman in Moscow
By amor towles, hardcover $28.00.
by Dave Eggers
Everything I Never Told You
By celeste ng.
The Little Paris Bookshop
By nina george.
By albert camus, paperback $15.00.
Station Eleven (Television Tie-in)
By emily st. john mandel.
The Invention of Wings
By sue monk kidd.
Before We Were Yours
By lisa wingate.
by Toni Morrison
By ralph ellison.
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Best fiction of 2021
Dazzling debuts, a word-of-mouth hit, plus this year’s bestsellers from Sally Rooney, Jonathan Franzen, Kazuo Ishiguro and more
T he most anticipated, discussed and accessorised novel of the year was Sally Rooney’s Beautiful World, Where Are You (Faber), launched on a tide of tote bags and bucket hats. It’s a book about the accommodations of adulthood, which plays with interiority and narrative distance as Rooney’s characters consider the purpose of friendship, sex and politics – plus the difficulties of fame and novel-writing – in a world on fire.
Rooney’s wasn’t the only eagerly awaited new chapter. Polish Nobel laureate Olga Tokarczuk ’s magnum opus The Books of Jacob (Fitzcarraldo) reached English-language readers at last, in a mighty feat of translation by Jennifer Croft: a dazzling historical panorama about enlightenment both spiritual and scientific. In 2021 we also saw the returns of Jonathan Franzen , beginning a fine and involving 70s family trilogy with Crossroads (4th Estate); Kazuo Ishiguro, whose Klara and the Sun (Faber) probes the limits of emotion in the story of a sickly girl and her “artificial friend”; and acclaimed US author Gayl Jones, whose epic of liberated slaves in 17th-century Brazil, Palmares (Virago), has been decades in the making.
Pat Barker’s The Women of Troy (Hamish Hamilton) continued her series reclaiming women’s voices in ancient conflict, while Elizabeth Strout revisited her heroine Lucy Barton in the gently comedic, emotionally acute Oh William! (Viking). Ruth Ozeki’s The Book of Form and Emptiness (Canongate), her first novel since the 2013 Booker-shortlisted A Tale for the Time Being , is a wry, metafictional take on grief, attachment and growing up. Having journeyed into the mind of Henry James in 2004’s The Master, Colm Tóibín created a sweeping overview of Thomas Mann’s life and times in The Magician (Viking). There was a change of tone for Colson Whitehead, with a fizzy heist novel set amid the civil rights movement, Harlem Shuffle (Fleet), while French author Maylis de Kerangal considered art and trompe l’oeil with characteristic style in Painting Time (MacLehose, translated by Jessica Moore).
Treacle Walker (4th Estate), a flinty late-career fable from national treasure Alan Garner, is a marvellous distillation of his visionary work. At the other end of the literary spectrum, Anthony Doerr, best known for his Pulitzer-winning bestseller All the Light We Cannot See , returned with a sweeping page-turner about individual lives caught up in war and conflict, from 15th-century Constantinople to a future spaceship in flight from the dying earth. Cloud Cuckoo Land (4th Estate) is a love letter to books and reading, as well as a chronicle of what has been lost down the centuries, and what is at stake in the climate crisis today: sorrowful, hopeful and utterly transporting. And it was a pleasure to see the return to fiction of Irish author Keith Ridgway, nearly a decade after Hawthorn & Child, with A Shock (Picador), his subtly odd stories of interconnected London lives.
Damon Galgut’s first novel in seven years won him the Booker. A fertile mix of family saga and satire, The Promise (Chatto) explores broken vows and poisonous inheritances in a changing South Africa. Some excellent British novels were also listed: Nadifa Mohamed’s expert illumination of real-life racial injustice in the cultural melting pot of 1950s Cardiff, The Fortune Men (Viking); Francis Spufford’s profound tracing of lives in flux in postwar London, Light Perpetual (Faber); Sunjeev Sahota’s delicate story of family consequences, China Room (Harvill Secker); and Rachel Cusk’s fearlessly discomfiting investigation into gender politics and creativity, Second Place (Faber).
Also on the Booker shortlist was a blazing tragicomic debut from US author Patricia Lockwood, whose No One Is Talking About This (Bloomsbury) brings her quizzical sensibility and unique style to bear on wildly disparate subjects: the black hole of social media, and the painful wonder of a beloved disabled child. Raven Leilani ’s Luster (Picador) introduced a similarly gifted stylist: her story of precarious New York living is full of sentences to savour. Other standout debuts included Natasha Brown’s Assembly (Hamish Hamilton), a brilliantly compressed, existentially daring study of a high-flying Black woman negotiating the British establishment; AK Blakemore’s earthy and exuberant account of 17th-century puritanism, The Manningtree Witches (Granta); and Tice Cin’s fresh, buzzy saga of drug smuggling and female resilience in London’s Turkish Cypriot community, Keeping the House (And Other Stories).
Caleb Azumah Nelson’s Open Water (Viking) is a lyrical love story celebrating Black artistry, while the first novel from poet Salena Godden, Mrs Death Misses Death (Canongate), is a very contemporary allegory about creativity, injustice, and keeping afloat in modern Britain. Further afield, two state-of-the-nation Indian debuts anatomised class, corruption and power: Megha Majumdar’s A Burning (Scribner) in a propulsive thriller, and Rahul Raina’s How to Kidnap the Rich (Little, Brown) in a blackly comic caper. Meanwhile, Robin McLean’s Pity the Beast (And Other Stories), a revenge western with a freewheeling spirit, is a gothic treat.
When is love not enough? The summer’s word-of-mouth hit was Meg Mason’s Sorrow and Bliss (W&N), a wisecracking black comedy of mental anguish and eccentric family life focused on a woman who should have everything to live for. Another deeply pleasurable read, The Hummingbird by Sandro Veronesi (W&N, translated by Elena Pala), charts one man’s life through his family relationships. An expansive novel that finds the entire world in an individual, its playful structure makes the telling a constantly unfolding surprise.
There was a colder take on family life in Gwendoline Riley’s My Phantoms (Granta): this honed, painfully witty account of a toxic mother-daughter relationship is her best novel yet.
Two debut story collections pushed formal and linguistic boundaries. Dark Neighbourhood by Vanessa Onwuemezi (Fitzcarraldo) announced a surreal and inventive new voice, while in English Magic (Galley Beggar) Uschi Gatward proved a master of leaving things unsaid. Also breaking boundaries was Isabel Waidner, whose Sterling Karat Gold (Peninsula), a carnivalesque shout against repression, won the Goldsmiths prize for innovative fiction.
It will take time for Covid-19 to bleed through into fiction, but the first responses are already beginning to appear. Sarah Hall’s Burntcoat (Faber) is a bravura exploration of art, love, sex and ego pressed up against the threat of contagion. In Hall’s version of the pandemic, a loner sculptor who usually expresses herself through monumental works is forced into high-stakes intimacy with a new lover, while pitting her sense of her own creativity against the power of the virus.
A fascinating historical rediscovery shed light on the closing borders and rising prejudices of current times. In The Passenger by Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz (Pushkin, translated by Philip Boehm), written in 1938, a Jewish businessman tries to flee the Nazi regime. The J stamped on his passport ensures that he is met with impassive bureaucratic refusal and chilly indifference from fellow passengers in a tense, rising nightmare that’s timelessly relevant.
Finally, a novel to transport the reader out of the present. Inspired by the life of Marie de France, Matrix by Lauren Groff (Hutchinson Heinemann) is set in a 12th-century English abbey and tells the story of an awkward, passionate teenager, the gifted leader she grows into, and the community of women she builds around herself. Full of sharp sensory detail, with an emotional reach that leaps across the centuries, it’s balm and nourishment for brain, heart and soul.
- Best books of the year
- Best books of 2021
- Damon Galgut
- Booker prize 2021
- Jonathan Franzen
- Kazuo Ishiguro
- Alan Garner
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Blog – Posted on Wednesday, Oct 13
The 100 best classic books to read.
Ever been caught up in a conversation about books and felt yourself cringe over your literary blind spots? Classic literature can be intimidating, but getting acquainted with the canon isn't just a form of torture cooked up by your high school English teacher: instead, an appreciation for the classics will help you see everything that's come since in a different light, and pick up on allusions that you'll begin to notice everywhere. Above all, they're just great reads — they've stood the test of time for a reason!
If you've always wanted to tackle the classics but never knew quite where to begin, we've got you covered. We've hand-selected 100 classic books to read, written by authors spanning continents and millennia. From love stories to murder mysteries, nonfiction to fantasy, there's something for everybody.
1. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
This milestone Spanish novel may as well be titled 100 Years on Everyone’s Must-Read List — it’s just a titan in the world literature canon. We could go on about its remarkable narrative technique, beguiling voice, and sprawling cast of characters spanning seven generations. Its famous first line may be all that’s needed to win you over: “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”
2. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
Newland Archer, one of 1900s New York’s most eligible bachelors, has been looking for a traditional wife, and May Welland seems just the girl — that is until Newland meets entirely unsuitable Ellen Olenska. He must now choose between the two women — and between old money prestige and a value that runs deeper than social etiquette.
3. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
This allegorical tale, often recommended as a self-help book , follows young shepherd Santiago as he journeys to Egypt searching for a hidden treasure. A parable telling readers that the universe can help them realize their dreams if they only focus their energy on them, Coelho’s short novel has endured the test of time and remains a bestseller today.
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4 . All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
Erich Maria Remarque’s wartime classic broke ground with its unflinching look at the human cost of war through the eyes of German soldiers in the Great War. With a lauded 1930 film adaptation (only the third to win Best Picture at the Oscars), All Quiet on the Western Front remains as powerful and relevant as ever.
5 . American Indian Stories, Legends, and Other Writings by Zitkála-Šá
Zitkála-Šá’s stories invite readers into the world of Sioux settlement, sharing childhood memories, legends, and folktales, and a memoir account of the Native American author ’s transition into Western culture when she left home. Told in beautiful, fluid language, this is a must-read book.
The World's Bestselling Mystery \'Ten . . .\' Ten strangers are lured to an isolated island mansion off the Devon coast by a mysterious \'U.N. Owen.\' \'Nine . . .\' At dinner a recorded message accuses each of them in turn of having a guilty secret, and by the end of the night one of the guests is dead. \'Eight . . .\' Stranded by a violent storm, and haunted by a nursery rhyme counting down one by one . . . one by one they begin to die. \'Seven . . .\' Who among them is the killer and will any of them survive?
6 . And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
First, there were ten who arrived on the island. Strangers to one another, they shared one similarity: they had all murdered in the past. And when people begin dropping like flies, they realize that they are the ones being murdered now. An example of a mystery novel done right, this timeless classic was penned by none other than the Queen of Mystery herself .
7 . Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Tolstoy’s celebrated novel narrates the whirlwind tale of Anna Karenina. She’s married to dull civil servant Alexei Karenin when she meets Count Vronsky, a man who changes her life forever. But an affair doesn’t come without a moral cost, and Anna’s life is soon anything but blissful.
8 . The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plath’s only novel follows the young, ambitious Esther Greenwood, who falls into a depression after a directionless summer, culminating in a suicide attempt. But even as Esther survives and receives treatment, she continues wondering about her purpose and role in society — leading to much larger questions about existential fulfillment. Poetically written and stunningly authentic, The Bell Jar continues to resonate with countless readers today.
9. Beloved by Toni Morrison
Many books are said to have helped shape the world — but only a few can really stake that claim. Toni Morrison’s Beloved is one of them. One of the great literary luminaries of our time, her best-known novel is the searingly powerful story of Sethe, who was born a slave in Kentucky. Though she’s since escaped to Ohio, she is haunted by her dead baby, whose tombstone is engraved with one word: Beloved .
10 . The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter
Before the recent fad of feminist retellings of fairy tales, there was The Bloody Chamber . But Angela Carter’s retold tales, including twisted versions of Little Red Riding Hood and Beauty and the Beast, are more than just feminist: they’re original, darkly irreverent, and fiercely independent. This classic book is exactly what you’d expect from the author who inspired contemporary masters like Neil Gaiman, Sarah Waters, and Margaret Atwood.
11. Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote
Though the title evokes Audrey Hepburn, this novella came first — and the literary Holly Golightly is a very different creature from the 'good-time girl' who falls for George Peppard. Clever and chameleonic, she crafts her persona to fit others’ expectations, chasing her own American Dream while letting men think they can have it with her… only to slip through their fingers. A fascinating character study and a triumph of Capote’s wit and humanity.
12. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
Set in the opulent inter-war era in England, Brideshead Revisited chronicles the increasingly complex relationship between Oxford student Charles Ryder, his university chum Sebastian, whose noble family they visit at their grand seat of Brideshead. A lush, nostalgic, and passionate rendering of a bygone era of English aristocracy.
13. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
Welcome to Theoretical Physics 101. If it sounds daunting, you aren’t alone, and Stephen Hawking does a beautiful job guiding layperson readers through complex subjects. If you’re keen to learn more about such enigmas as black holes, relativity theory, quantum mechanics, and time itself, this is a perfect first taste.
14. The Call of the Wild (Reader's Library Classics) by Jack London
London's American classic is the bildungsroman of Buck: a St. Bernard/Scotch Collie mix who must adapt to life as a sled dog after a domesticated upbringing. Thrown into a harsh new reality, he must trust his instincts to survive. When he falls into the hands of a wise, experienced outdoorsman, will he become loyal to his new master or finally answer the call of the wild?
15. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Salinger’s angsty coming-of-age tale is an English class cornerstone for a good reason. The story follows Holden Caulfield, a 17-year-old boy fed up with prep school “phonies.” Escaping to New York in search of authenticity, he soon discovers that the city is a microcosm of the society he hates. Relentlessly cynical yet profoundly moving, The Catcher in the Rye will strike a chord not just with Holden’s fellow teens but with earnest thinkers of all ages.
16. A Christmas Carol (Bantam Classics) by Charles Dickens
If you’re not acquainted with Dickens , then his evergreen Christmastime classic is the perfect introduction. Not only is it one of his best-loved works, but it’s also a slim 104 pages — a true yuletide miracle from an author with a tendency towards the tome! This short length means it’s the perfect book with which to cozy up in winter, just when you want to feel that warm holiday glow.
17. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
En route to his wedding, merchant sailor Edmond Dantès is shockingly accused of treason and thrown in prison without cause. There, he learns the secret location of a great fortune — knowledge that incites him to escape his grim fortress and take revenge on his accusers. With peerlessly propulsive prose, Dumas spins an epic tale of retribution, jealousy, and suffering that deserves every page he gives it.
18. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
A masterclass in character development , the very title of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment is essentially an idiom for 'epic literature.' It centers around Raskolnikov, an unremarkable man who randomly murders someone after convincing himself that his motives are lofty enough to justify his actions. It turns out that it’s never that simple, and his conscience begins to call to him more and more.
19. Dangerous Liaisons by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos
The inspiration for the seminal 90s teen drama Cruel Intentions , Laclos's epistolary classic is a heady pre-revolutionary cocktail of sex and scandal that paints a damning portrait of high society. Laclos expertly plays with form and structure, composing a riveting narrative of letters passed between the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont — aristocratic former lovers who get in over their heads when they start playing with people's hearts.
20. The Death of Artemio Cruz by Carlos Fuentes
In this highly atmospheric book, Fuentes draws the reader in with hypnotic, visceral descriptions of the final hours of its title character: a multifaceted tycoon, revolutionary, lover, and politician. As with many classic books, death here symbolizes corruption — yet it’s also impossible to ignore as a physical reality. As well as being a powerful statement on mortality, it's a moving history of the Mexican Revolution and a landmark in Latin-American literature .
21. Diary of a Madman, and other stories by Lu Xun
This collection is a modern Chinese classic containing chilling, satirical stories illustrating a time of great social upheaval. With tales that ask questions about what constitutes an individual's life, ordinary citizens' everyday experiences blend with enduring feudal values, ghosts, death, and even a touch of cannibalism.
22. Samuel Pepys The Diaries by Samuel Pepys
Best known for his recording the Great Fire of London, Samuel Pepys was a man whose writings have provided modern historians with one of the greatest insights into 17th-century living. The greatest hits of his diary include eyewitness accounts of the restoration of the monarchy and the Great Plague. The timelessness of this book, however, is owed to the richness of Pepys's day-to-day drama, which he records in unsparing, lively detail.
23 . A Doll's House and Other Plays (Penguin Classics) by Henrik Ibsen
Ibsen’s A Doll’s House is a powerful play starring the seemingly frivolous housewife Nora. Her husband, Torvald, considers her to be a silly “bird” of a companion, but in reality, she’s got a much firmer grasp on the hard facts of their domestic life than he does. Readers will celebrate as she finds the voice to speak her true thoughts.
24. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
Entranced by tales of chivalry, a minor nobleman reinvents himself as a knight. He travels the land jousting giants and delivering justice — though, in reality, he’s tilting at windmills and fighting friars. And while Don Quixote lives out a fantasy in his head, an imposter puts it to the page, further blurring the line between fiction and reality. Considered by many to be the first modern novel, Don Quixote is undoubtedly the work of a master storyteller.
25. The Dream of The Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin
A treasured classic of Chinese literature, Dream of the Red Chamber is a rich, sprawling text that explores the darkest corners of high society during the Qing Dynasty. Focusing on two branches of a fading aristocratic clan, it details the lives of almost forty major characters, including Jia Baoyu, the heir apparent whose romantic notions may threaten the family's future.
26. Dune by Frank Herbert
A dazzling epic science fiction classic, Dune created a now-immortalized interstellar society featuring a conflict between various noble families. On the desert planet of Arrakis, House Atreides controls the production of a high-demand drug known as "the spice". As political conflicts mount and spice-related revelations occur, young heir Paul Atreides must push himself to the absolute limit to save his planet and his loved ones.
27. The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien
Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy became the blueprint for countless fantasy series , and this first installment is its epic start. In The Fellowship of the Ring, we meet Frodo Baggins and his troupe of loyal friends, all of whom embark on a fateful mission: to destroy the One Ring and its awful powers forever.
28. The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan
Betty Friedan’s disruptive feminist text sheds light on the midcentury dissatisfaction of homemakers across America. Her case studies of unhappy women relegated to the domestic sphere, striving for careers and identities beyond the home, cut deep even now — and in retrospect, were a clear catalyst for second-wave feminism in the United States.
29. Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Shelley’s hugely influential classic recounts the tragic tale of Victor Frankenstein: a scientist who mistakenly engineers a violent monster. When Victor abandons his creation, the monster escapes and threatens to kill Victor’s family — unless he’s given a mate. Facing tremendous moral pressure, Victor must choose: foster a new race to possibly destroy humanity, or be responsible for the deaths of everyone he’s ever loved?
30. Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin
A defining entry in the LGBTQ+ canon , Giovanni’s Room relates one man’s struggle with his sexuality, as well as the broader consequences of the toxic patriarchy. After David, our narrator, has traveled to France to find himself, he begins a relationship with messy, magnetic Giovanni — the perfect foil to David’s safe, dull girlfriend. As more trouble arises, David agonizes over who he is, what he wants, and whether it is even possible to obtain it in this world.
31. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
This inventive meta novel is the first of Lessing’s “inner space” works, dealing with ideas of mental and societal breakdown. It revolves around writer Anna Wulf, who hopes to combine the notebooks about her life into one grand narrative. But despite her creative strides, Anna has irreparably fragmented herself — and working to re-synthesize her different sides eventually drives her mad.
32. Goodbye To All That by Robert Graves
Few people possess enough raw material to pen a memoir at the age of 34. Robert Graves — having already lived through the First World War and the seismic shifts it sparked in English society and sensibilities — peppers his sober account of social and personal turmoil with moments of surprising levity. Graves would later go on to write I, Claudius, a novel of the Roman Empire that is considered one of the greatest books ever written.
33. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Following one Oklahoma family’s journey out of the Dust Bowl in search of a better life in California, Steinbeck’s classic is a vivid snapshot of Depression-era America, and about as devastating as it gets. Both tragic and awe-inspiring, The Grapes of Wrath is widely considered to be Steinbeck's best book and a front-runner for the title of The Great American Novel.
34. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
When talking of the Great American Novel, you cannot help but mention this work by F. Scott Fitzgerald. More than just a champagne-soaked story of love, betrayal, and murder, The Great Gatsby has a lot to say about class, identity, and belonging if you scratch its surface. You probably read this classic book in high school, but a return visit to West Egg is more than justified.
35. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
Meet John Singer, a deaf and nonverbal man who sits in the same café every day. Here, in the deep American South of the 1930s, John meets an assortment of people and acts as the silent, kind keeper of their stories — right up until an unforgettable ending that will blow you away. It’s hard to believe McCullers was only 23 when she penned this Southern gothic classic.
36. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon
An epic work that befits its lengthy title, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire chronicles thirteen centuries of Roman rule. It chronicles its leaders, conflicts, and the events that led to its collapse— an outcome that Gibbon lays at the feet of Christianity. This work is an ambitious feat at over six volumes, though one that Gibbon pulls off with great panache.
37. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Arthur Dent is an Englishman, an enjoyer of tea — and the only person to survive the destruction of the Earth. Accompanied by an alien author, Dent must now venture into the intergalactic bypass to figure out what’s going on. Though by no means the first comedic genre book, Douglas Adams’s masterpiece certainly popularized the idea that science fiction doesn't have to be earnest and straight-faced.
38. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Arthur Conan Doyle’s world-famous detective needs no introduction. Mythologized in film and television many times over by now, this mystery of a diabolical hound roaming the moors in Devon is perhaps Sherlock Holmes’s most famous adventure.
39. The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
Few first-time novelists have had the kind of impact and success enjoyed by Isabel Allende with her triumphant debut. Found at the top of pretty much every list of ‘best sweeping family sagas,’ The House of the Spirits chronicles the tumultuous history of the Trueba family, entwining the personal, the political, and the magical.
40. How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie
A perennial personal development staple, How to Win Friends and Influence People has been flying off the shelves since its release in 1936. Full of tried-and-true tips for garnering favor in both professional and personal settings, you’ll want to read the classic book that launched the entire self-help industry.
41. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
From a small Southern town to San Francisco, this landmark memoir covers Maya Angelou’s childhood years growing up in the United States, facing daily prejudice, racism, and sexism. Yet what shines the brightest on every page is Maya Angelou’s voice — which made the book an instant classic in 1969 and has endured to this day.
42. I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
You don’t have to be a sci-fi buff (or a Will Smith fan) to understand I, Robot’s iconic status. But if you are one, you’ll know the impact Isaac Asimov’s short story collection has had on subsequent generations of writers. Razor-sharp and thought-provoking, these tales of robotic sentience are still deeply relevant today.
43. If This Is a Man by Primo Levi
Spare, unflinching, and horrifying, If This Is a Ma n is Italian-Jewish writer Primo Levi’s autobiographical account of life under fascism and his detention in Auschwitz. It serves as an invaluable historical document and a powerful insight into the atrocities of war, making for a challenging but essential read.
44. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
From Ellison’s exceptional writing to his affecting portrayal of Black existence in America, Invisible Man is a true masterpiece. The book’s unnamed narrator describes experiences ranging from frustrating to nightmarish, reflecting on the “invisibility” of being seen only as one’s racial identity. Weaving in threads of Marxist theory and political unrest, this National Book Award winner remains a radical, brilliant must-read for the 21st century.
45. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Like a dark, sparkling jewel passed down through generations, Charlotte Brontë’s exquisite Gothic romance continues to be revered and reimagined more than 170 years after its publication. Its endurance is largely thanks to the intensely passionate and turbulent relationship between headstrong heroine Jane and the mysterious Mr. Rochester — a romance that is strikingly modern in its sexual politics.
46. The Journey to the West by Wu Cheng'en
Journey to the West is an episodic Chinese novel published anonymously in the 16th century and attributed to Wu Cheng’en. Today, this beloved text — a rollicking fantasy about a mischievous, shape-shifting monkey god and his fallen immortal friends — is the source text for children’s stories, films, and comics. But this classic book is also an insightful comic satire and a monument of literature comparable to The Canterbury Tales or Don Quixote.
47. Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
A science fiction novel by one of the genre's greats, Kindred asks the toughest “what if” question there is: What if a modern black woman was transported back in time to antebellum Maryland? Octavia Butler sugarcoats nothing in this incisive, time-traveling inquisition into race and racism during one of the most horrifying periods in American history.
49. The Lonely Londoners by Samuel Selvon
The Lonely Londoners occupies a unique historical position as one of the earliest accounts of the Black working-class in 20th-century Britain. Selvon delves into the lives of immigrants from the West Indies, most of whom feel disillusioned and listless in London. But with its singular slice-of-life style and humor, The Lonely Londoners is hardly a tragic novel — only an unflinchingly honest one.
50. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Another high school English classic, Lord of the Flies recounts the fate of a group of young British boys stranded on a desert island. Though they initially attempt to band together, rising tensions and paranoia lead to in-fighting and, eventually, terrible violence. The result is a dark cautionary tale against our own primitive brutality — with the haunting implication that it's closer to the surface than we'd like to think.
51. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Flaubert’s heroine Emma Bovary is the young wife of a provincial doctor who escapes her banal existence by devouring romance novels. But when Emma decides she remains unfulfilled, she starts seeking romantic affairs of her own — all of which fail to meet her expectations or rescue her from her mounting debt. Though Flaubert’s novel caused a moral outcry on publication, its portrayal of a married woman’s affair was so realistic, many women believed they were the model for his heroine.
52. The Man Who Would Be King by Rudyard Kipling
This short novella tells the story of two British men visiting India while the country is a British colony. Swindlers and cheats, the men trick their way to Kafiristan, a remote region where one of them comes to be revered as king. A cautionary tale warning against letting things go to your head, this funny and absurd read has also been made into a classic film starring Michael Caine and Sean Connery.
53. Middlemarch by George Eliot
Subtitled A Study of Provincial Life , this novel concerns itself with the ordinary lives of individuals in the fictional town of Middlemarch in the early 19th century. Hailed for its depiction of a time of significant social change, it also stands out for its gleaming idealism, as well as endless generosity and compassion towards the follies of humanity.
54. Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
Born in the first hour of India’s independence, Saleem Sinai is gifted with the power of telepathy and an extraordinary sense of smell. He soon discovers that there are 1,001 others with similar abilities — people who can help Saleem build a new India. The winner of the Booker prize in 1981, Salman Rushdie’s groundbreaking novel is a triumphant achievement of magical realism .
55. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
Moby-Dick is more than the story of a boy on-board a whaling ship, more than an ode to marine lore and legend, and even more than a metaphysical allegory for the struggle between good and evil. Herman Melville’s “Great American Novel” is a masterful study of faith, obsession, and delusion — and a profound social commentary born from his lifelong meditation on America. The result will fill you with wonder and awe.
56. My Antonia by Willa Cather
Willa Cather’s celebrated classic about life on the prairie, My Ántonia tells the nostalgic story of Jim and Ántonia, childhood friends and neighbors in rural Nebraska. As well as charting the passage of time and the making of America, it’s a book that fills readers with wonder and a warm feeling of familiarity.
57. The Name Of The Rose by Umberto Eco
Originally published in Italian, The Name of the Rose is one of the bestselling books of all time — and for good reason. Umberto Eco plots a wild ride from start to finish: an intelligent murder mystery that combines theology, semiotics, empiricism, biblical analysis, and layers of metanarratives that create a brilliant labyrinth of a book.
58. The Nether World by George Gissing
A masterpiece of realism, The Nether World forces the reader to spend time with the type of marginalized people routinely left out of fiction: the working class of late 19th century London, a group whose many problems are intertwined with money. Idealistic in its pessimism, this fantastic novel insists that life is much more demanding than fiction lets show.
59. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
George Orwell’s story of a heavily surveilled dystopian state was heralded as prescient and left a lasting impact on popular culture and language (“Room 101”, “Big Brother,” and “Doublethink” were all born in its pages, to name a few). Just read it, if only to recognize its references, which you’ll begin to notice everywhere .
60. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
Uprooted from the South, a pastor's daughter, Margaret Hale, finds herself living in an industrial town in England's North. She encounters the suffering of the local mill workers and the mill owner John Thornton — and two very different passions ignite. In North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell fuses personal feeling with social concern, creating in the process a heroine that feels original and strikingly modern.
61. The Odyssey by Homer
This timeless classic has the heart-racing thrills of an adventure story and the psychological drama of an intricate family saga. After ten years fighting in a thankless war, Odysseus begins the long journey home to Ithaca — where his wife Penelope struggles to hold off a horde of suitors. But with men and gods standing in their way, will Odysseus and Penelope ever be reunited?
62. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway ’s career culminated with The Old Man and the Sea, the last book he published in his lifetime. This ocean-deep novella has a deceptively simple premise — an aging fisherman ventures out into the Gulf Stream determined to break his unlucky streak. What follows is a battle that’s small in scale but epic in feeling, rendered in Hemingway’s famously spare prose.
63. On The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
Questioning the idea of a Creator — and therefore challenging the beliefs of most of the Western world — in The Origin of Species , Darwin explored a theory of evolution based on laws of natural selection. Not only is this text still considered a groundbreaking scientific work, but the ideas it puts forward remain fundamental to modern biology. And it’s totally readable to boot!
64. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
The subjective nature of “sanity,” institutional oppression, and rejection of authority are just a few of the issues tackled in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest . The rebellious Randle McMurphy is this story’s de facto hero, and his clashes with the notorious Nurse Ratched have not only inspired a host of spin-offs but arguably a whole movement of fiction related to mental health.
65. One Thousand and One Nights by Anonymous
Embittered by his first wife’s infidelity, King Shahryar takes a new bride every night and beheads her in the morning — until Scheherazade, his latest bride, learns to use her imagination to stave off death. In this collection of Arabic folk tales, the quick-witted storyteller Scheherazade demonstrates the power of a good cliffhanger — on both the king and the reader!
66. Orientalism by Edward W. Said
An intelligent critique of the way the Western world perceives the East, Orientalism argues that the West’s racist, oppressive, and backward representation of the Eastern world is tied to imperialism. Published in 1978, Edward Said’s transformative text changed academic discourse forever.
67. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Thanks to the wit and wisdom of Jane Austen, the love story of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy (pioneers of the enemies-to-lovers trope) is not merely a regency romance but a playful commentary on class, wealth, and the search for self-knowledge in a world governed by strict etiquette. Light, bright, and flawlessly crafted, Pride and Prejudice is an Austen classic you’re guaranteed to love.
68. The Princesse de Clèves by Madame de Lafayette
Often called the first modern novel from France, The Princesse de Cleves is an account of love, anguish, and their inherent inseparability: an all-too-familiar story, despite the 16th-century setting. Though the plot is simple — an unrequited love, unspoken until it’s not — Madame de Lafayette pours onto the pages a moving and profound analysis of the fragile human heart.
69. The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
The Reader is set in postwar Germany, a society still living in the shadow of the Holocaust. The book begins with an older woman’s relationship with a minor, though it isn’t even the most shocking thing that happens in this novel. Concerned with disconnection and apathy, Schlink’s book grapples with the guilty weight of the past without flinching from the horror of the present.
70. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” Du Maurier’s slow-burning mystery has been sending a chill down readers’ spines for decades, earning its place in the horror hall of fame. It’s required reading for any fan of the genre, but reader beware: this gorgeously gothic novel will keep you up at night.
71. A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf
A mainstay of feminist literature , A Room of One’s Own experimentally blends fiction and fact to drill down into the role of women in literature as both subjects and creatives. Part critical theory, part rallying cry, this slender book still packs a powerful punch.
72. Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih
Described by Edward Said as one of the great novels in the oeuvre of Arabic books, Season of Migration to the North is the revolutionary narrative of two men struggling to re-discover their Sudanese identities following the impact of British colonialism. Some compare it to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness , but it stands tall in its own right.
73. The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
A foundational feminist text , Simone de Beauvoir's treatise The Second Sex marked a watershed moment in feminist history and gender theory. It rewards the efforts of those willing to traverse its nearly 1,000 pages with eye-opening truths about gender, oppression, and otherness.
74. The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
How do genes work? And what does that mean for our chances of survival? Often cited as one of the most influential science books of all time, Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene seeks to answer these pressing questions and more. It also touts the dubious glory of introducing the word “meme” into the public consciousness.
75. The Shining by Stephen King
Jack Torrance is the new off-season caretaker at the Overlook Hotel. Providing his family with a home and him with enough time to write, it’s the perfect job, but for one tiny problem: the hotel may be haunted. And it’s only going to get worse once winter sets in. If you only read one horror book in your lifetime, you could do much worse than Stephen King’s The Shining .
76. Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
The story of a man casting off his worldly possessions in the pursuit of self-discovery and enlightenment, Siddhartha may seem intimidatingly philosophical at first glance. In reality, though, Herman Hesse’s German-language classic is surprisingly accessible, and as page-turning and readable as it is spiritually enlightening.
77. The Sorrows Of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
A defining work in early Romanticism that influenced the likes of Mary Shelley and Thomas Mann, The Sorrows of Young Werther is an epistolary novel that tells of a young writer infatuated with someone else’s betrothed. Drawing heavily on his own experience of ill-fated love, as well as the death of his good friend, Goethe makes the pages hum with angst and repressed desire.
78. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
Dr. Jekyll’s attempt to indulge in his vices transforms him into the horrific Mr. Hyde. The more Jekyll yields to his urges, the more powerful Hyde becomes until even Jekyll can’t control him. The result is a thrilling story of supernatural horror and a potent allegory that warns against giving in to one’s dark side.
79. The Stranger by Albert Camus
The Stranger opens with Meursault, our hero, learning of the death of his mother. His reaction to the news is put under intense scrutiny from those around him. The reader is led in a strange dance of absurdism and existentialism that sees Meursault confront something even crueler than mortality: society’s expectations.
80. A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth by Vikram Seth
Recently adapted into a hit drama by the BBC, A Suitable Boy is one of the newer books on our list but has already landed classic status. At nearly 1,500 pages long, the story of 19-year-old Lata's attempts to resist her family's efforts to marry her off to "a suitable boy" is astonishing in its execution and eye-opening look at class, religion, and gendered expectations in mid-century India.
81. The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu
The Tale of Genji follows the romantic and political misadventures of a young official born to one of the emperor’s consorts. With no place in the line of succession, Genji makes his way through life using his good looks and charm — but these gifts ultimately bring him more sorrow than joy. Elegant and immersive, this captivating classic is often touted as the first in-depth character study.
82. Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
Set against sweeping landscapes and wind-torn fields, Tess of the D’Urbervilles focuses on the life of young Tess Durbeyfield, who, by her family’s great poverty, is forced to claim kinship with the wealthy D’Urberville family. What follows is a devastating tragedy, as Tess meets harsher and harsher treatment at the hands of men.
83. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
After being caught kissing down-and-out Johnny Taylor, sixteen-year-old Janie is promptly married off to an older man. Following her journey through adolescence, adulthood, and a string of unsatisfying marriages with unblinking honesty, Their Eyes Were Watching God is one of the seminal masterpieces of African American literature .
84. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Chinua Achebe’s magnum opus follows Okonkwo, an Igbo man whose sole aim is to rise above his father’s weak legacy. Okonkwo is strong and fearless, but his obsession with masculinity leads him to violently dominate others — until he goes too far one day. The following events form an unparalleled tragedy, made all the more gripping by rich details of pre-colonial Igbo culture and timeless questions about tradition and honor.
85. Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata
When a young man meets his late father’s mistress at a tea ceremony, he succumbs to a desire that is both transgressive and overpowering. While the tragic consequences of their love affair unfold, Kawabata delicately guides us through a world of passion, regret, and exquisite beauty. No wonder Thousand Cranes helped him land a Nobel Prize.
86. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
This unforgettable classic centers on race relations and justice in the Depression-era South. Narrated by our protagonist as an adult, it looks back to her childhood when her father defended a Black man falsely accused of rape. She muses on what their small town’s reactions to the trial taught her about prejudice and morality. Despite the heavy subject matter, Scout’s warm, insightful voice makes To Kill a Mockingbird a joy to read; no wonder it’s often cited as the Great American Novel.
87. The Trial by Franz Kafka
The Trial begins with a bank cashier, Josef K., accused of an unspecified crime and told to await a court summons. Josef attempts to figure out what he has “done” but is met only with chaos and despair, and his sanity continues to fray as he goes through this maddening ordeal.
88. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
Henry James’ brilliance arguably reached a pinnacle with The Turn of the Screw , a Gothic novella about a governess who cares for two children in the estate of Bly. She grows convinced that the grounds are haunted by ghosts — but are they, really?
89. Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup
Steve McQueen’s Oscar-winning adaptation recently drew renewed attention to this vital work by Solomon Northup, a memoir that takes a well-deserved place on every complete list of classic books. As a free and educated man kidnapped and sold into slavery, Northup was able to write an extraordinarily full account of life on a cotton plantation that exposes the brutal truth from the uniquely cutting viewpoint of both an outsider and a victim.
90. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
This classic sci-fi book features the original Nemo — not, regrettably, an adorable clownfish, but the captain of a submarine called Nautilus. Captain Nemo, his crew, and three scientists go on a fantastical journey in the shadowy depths of the sea. From underwater forests to walking the seafloor and finding Atlantis, this is no ordinary adventure.
91. Ulysses by James Joyce
Though it’s a long book, Ulysses traces the progress of a single day in the life of Irishman Leopold Bloom and his acquaintances. A groundbreaking modernist work, this novel is characterized by innovative literary experimentation and a stream-of-consciousness flow that winds elusively along the streets of Dublin.
92. Under the Net by Iris Murdoch
Iris Murdoch’s best-known novel is much like its protagonist: brimming with equal parts charisma and chaos. Down-and-out writer Jake Donaghue is the man of the hour, and the reader charts him all over London as he runs into increasingly odd characters and situations.
93. Untouchable by Mulk Raj Anand
Untouchable follows a day in the life of Bakha, a sweeper and toilet cleaner who is rendered “untouchable” under India’s rigid caste system. Only 166 pages long, Anand presents a powerful case study of injustice and the oppressive systems that perpetuate it.
94. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft
A commanding manifesto by author-activist Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman birthed the tenets of modern feminist thought. Defying the commonly held notion that women were naturally inferior to men, it argued that a lack of education for women fostered inequality. One to pick up if you want to feel good about how far gender equality has come — or if you want to fuel your fire for the distance yet to be traveled.
95. The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells
Two worlds must do epic battle: humankind and Martians. And only one can survive. This seminal science fiction work caused widespread panic in 1938 when its radio adaptation—narrated and directed by Orson Welles—made people across the United States think that an actual alien invasion was taking place right outside their front doors.
96. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
Are you tired of being told to read Jane Eyre ? Then we suggest you pick up Wide Sargasso Sea : the feminist prequel written by Jean Rhys in 1966. Rhys reshapes the Bronte classic forever by writing from Bertha Mason’s point of view: no longer the madwoman in the attic, but a Jamaican caught in a patriarchal society from which she cannot escape.
97. Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa Thiong'o
This book takes its reader to a fictional African nation called the Free Republic of Aburiria and brings a postcolonial edge to folk storytelling. Featuring tricksters, lovers, and magical elements, Wizard of the Crow is a hilarious satire of autocracy and an experimental feat that cleverly incorporates oral traditions into its grand vision.
98. Women, Race & Class by Angela Davis
Women, Race, and Class is a must-read for anyone who wants to know about the intersectionality of the abolitionist and women’s suffrage movements. Civil rights activist Angela Davis unpacks white feminism, sexism, and racism in clear, incisive prose as she makes a resounding call for equality.
99. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Amid a terrible snowstorm, a man takes shelter at Wuthering Heights, where he learns the story of the manor’s former inhabitants: Catherine and Heathcliff. Set against the bleak and feral backdrop of the Yorkshire Moors, it’s a story of impossible desire, cruel betrayal, and bitter vengeance that rages with as much life and power as the fierce winds outside.
100. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
One of the early feminist triumphs, The Yellow Wallpaper is the famous short story chronicling the slow breakdown of a woman imprisoned in a room with (spoiler alert) yellow wallpaper—presumably to cure her “temporary nervous depression.” Highly recommended, especially since it’s only a 10-minute read.
Still hungry for more classic reads? Check out our picks for the best books of all time . If you'd like to try something a little more contemporary, we've got you covered with our favorite novels of the 21st century .
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The 10 Best Fiction Books of 2022
T he best fiction released this year reminded us to value our relationships with one another, no matter what form they take. These books emphasized how we are shaped by the people who surround us, as well as those who are no longer physically present but whose memories we continue to carry. They are stories about friendship and love, growing up and growing older, loss and living, all centered on characters reckoning with how their people do and do not show up for them. There’s a bruising portrait of grief told through an adult daughter remembering her mother, a gritty account of a young woman who forms a community at the depths of her loneliness, a celebration of friendship between two creative geniuses, and more. Here, the top 10 fiction books of 2022.
10. Signal Fires , Dani Shapiro
Fire Island 's Joel Kim Booster Wants to Leave His 'Hot Idiot' Act Behind
By andrew r. chow, quinta brunson on abbott elementary, teachers, and comedy, by katie reilly, how amanda seyfried learned to dance like elizabeth holmes in hulu’s the dropout, by shannon carlin, jennette mccurdy discusses her stunning memoir, by sam lansky, jerrod carmichael revealed his secrets in rothaniel . now he's tackling new ground.
Welcome to Ed Park’s Many-Layered World
“Same Bed Different Dreams” is the rare sophomore novel that has the wild, freewheeling ambition of a debut.
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By Hamilton Cain
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SAME BED DIFFERENT DREAMS, by Ed Park
Just after I’d registered for my first semester of college courses, I was meandering among a concourse of clubs and teams, fending off their grinning ambassadors, when a newspaper headline caught my eye: “ U.S. Says Soviet Downed Korean Airliner; 269 Lost .” By today’s standards the KAL 007 tragedy seems like a distant relic of Ronald Reagan’s “evil empire” rhetoric, but at the time it was a Cold War grenade: Jet fighters scrambled, sabers rattled, tinfoil-hat theories spiked. Late in his lush, labyrinthine “Same Bed Different Dreams,” Ed Park recreates that moment, twisting the doomed flight’s number into a James Bond motif that resonates throughout the novel. Double agents, sinister corporations, slasher films, U.F.O.s: If Park’s suitcase is stuffed, well, it’s an inspired choice for an odyssey that unpacks, in Pynchonesque fashion, Korean history and American paranoia.
Soon Sheen is an erstwhile Korean American writer turned lackey for GLOAT, a technology conglomerate. “I wasn’t clear on what the letters in GLOAT signified,” he tells us. “Possibly nothing. Or else many things: the phrase in question ever changing, apt for a company based on change. (‘Good luck on all that,’ we’d say to each other, at least once a week.)” Soon’s duties include inventing acronyms for marketing algorithms, from NCD (“Nicely Compensated Drudge”) to AWAM (“And what about me?”) to GUMS (“Great Unfinishable Masterpiece Syndrome”). Park revels in puns and “wanton wordplay.”
In 2016 Soon joins a rowdy publishing dinner at a Manhattan restaurant, where, under the influence of alcohol, he accidentally swipes “Same Bed, Different Dreams,” a translated manuscript by the Korean literary “enfant terrible” Echo (a pen name). “Same Bed, Different Dreams” maps the arc of the mysterious Korean Provisional Government (or K.P.G.), an actual network founded in 1919 and then scattered abroad, fading out post-World War II. (Park’s novel and Echo’s nonfiction novel share a title, based on a Korean proverb and helpfully demarcated by Echo’s comma, the punctuation a possible allusion to the 38th parallel.)
Back home in the suburb of Dogskill, a hung-over Soon realizes his mistake after his dog has ripped apart the manuscript, burying installments until digging them up for his master, bones from the past. Soon pores over the tattered pages, or “dreams”: K.P.G. has somehow thrived amid darkened offices and abandoned apartments, striving for reunification of North and South.
Then there’s Parker Jotter, a Black veteran shot down over MIG Alley during the Korean War and later rescued from a P.O.W. camp. Convinced he saw a massive spacecraft in midair, he discharges to Buffalo, where he sells electronics by day and scribbles by night: a series of science fiction novels known collectively as “2333.” Fans revere “2333” as a pulp classic, although Jotter never finished his sixth (and final) volume before his death in 1993. Park rounds out his cast with Soon’s wife, Nora You, a nail salon mogul; their adopted white daughter, Story; Monk Zingapan, a gamer-cum-writing-coach; and sundry alums of Vermont’s Penumbra College.
Penumbra, Story, Echo, Dogskill: Park’s allegory moves along multiple tracks. “Same Bed Different Dreams” demands that we surrender to its energy and go with the flow when we don’t quite know where we’re going. It’s a challenging read and yet wonderfully suspenseful, like watching a circus performer juggle a dozen torches; will one slip his agile hands? Park seeks to encompass the vast Korean diaspora, but he’s also fleeing realism, a personal diaspora, away from conventional forms. His totems propel us forward: an underground cell whose members have nine fingers; the dawn of A.I.; hockey lore; a Zippo lighter; the lines and circles of Korean script. (There’s even a minor character named Totem, Park’s wink to his technique.) The satire comes at us fast and thick, but is this Rube Goldberg contraption too clever by half?
Not for this reader. “Same Bed Different Dreams” struts confidently across registers — lyrical, deadpan, acerbic, comedic — while doling out clues. Characters rotate in and out, some glimpsed in passing, their motives opaque. Real-life figures linger on the margins; Park writes of the anarchist Emma Goldman: “With her pince-nez she resembles a small, clean old man, barely clearing the podium, but she is the most appealing woman he’s ever seen. Light glints off the lenses, mesmerizing as she talks, her voice like an auctioneer’s.” He splices in brilliant set pieces: the assassination of William McKinley; the origin of the “Friday the 13th” franchise; the tormented career of South Korea’s first president, Syngman Rhee; and the Forgotten War itself, rife with bloody corpses and political miscalculation. The book’s many elements fall into place.
Park homes in on Inky Sin, Jotter’s Buffalo psychiatrist, who boards KAL 007 en route to a medical conference in Seoul, accompanied by his wife. (The trip’s a front for more K.P.G. skulduggery.) The Sins leave behind a troubled teenage son, stranded in a Nebraska reform school; he may hold the key that unlocks “Same Bed, Different Dreams.” Like Lewis Carroll or David Lynch, Park mulls obsessively over dreams, those flimsy portals onto other lives and logics. Myths and identities jumble and morph into something new; the cool factor hits with the force of “The Crying of Lot 49” or Justin Torres’s recent “ Blackouts .”
True to the spirit of “2333,” 2023 has been a banner year for experimental literature that delves audaciously into the senseless agonies of our own age. As Echo’s manuscript observes of the science fiction titan Philip K. Dick : “In his hands, the real world turns out to be a simulacrum, or a hallucination, or a shimmering entertainment meant for someone else. In story after story he lays out the true, secret nature of American society — drab on the outside, garbled and haunted within.” The same can be said of Park’s sprawling, stunning novel.
Hamilton Cain is a book critic and the author of “This Boy’s Faith: Notes From a Southern Baptist Upbringing.”
SAME BED DIFFERENT DREAMS | By Ed Park | Random House | 544 pp. | $30
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Literature’s Porous Borders: Where Fiction Ends and Reality Begins
Salar abdoh on love, war and the historical forces that inspire art.
She sat for a long time staring at the small lake that had been next to the brewery where once her family had produced some of the finest beer in Europe. A half hour earlier one of the last survivors of the Nazi incursion into this little nowhere town in middle Europe had led us to the brewery building where her clan had made a life before they were nearly all slaughtered in the various camps of wartime Europe. The place was a school now, and the plaque that commemorated the brutalities of seventy-some years earlier noted how the building had been turned into the town’s Gestapo headquarters during those years of the Polish resistance and heroism—but it said nothing about the Jewish family that had thrived there for generations.
I had tagged along on this trek to Poland, and later would accompany her to Russia and then Uzbekistan, because her father and aunt, mere children back then, had been part of an impossible exodus that had escaped the Nazi death machine but ended up in Stalin’s Gulags in Siberia, before marching three thousand kilometers to Uzbekistan to finally arrive in Iran, of all places, where the children were finally collected by the Jewish Agency and sent to what was then Mandatory Palestine.
We were colleagues in a university in New York. Two people from two countries as hostile to each other as ever was. Attraction has its own language. It defies history and current affairs, and time and space. Until, perhaps, it cannot push back against all of that weight anymore. Neither of us knew any of this back then. And when I finally made my move, her eyes seemed to say, “Alright, you son of a bitch, you have exactly three sentences to prove to me you haven’t an agenda and you’re not a fool.”
We became inseparable. In America, in New York, where you have to book weeks in advance in order to have coffee with someone you call a friend, we spent hours each week gossiping, Middle Eastern style, about everything and everyone that rubbed us wrong. We spoke the same language, even if Persian and Hebrew are about as far apart as two languages can get. Our lens was the same—a no-nonsense realism that came from having been born in a part of the world where theory means nothing, a geography where the span of a day can contain the obliteration of everything you have ever known, never to be recovered.
It was only natural that when she told me her father and aunt had been saved in my country—the country of the adversary—during WWII, that I would encourage her to follow their trail and write a book about it. I promised to help her with her research, particularly the Iran part where as an Israeli she could never enter. All of this we did. The research, the travel, her writing and rewriting a book that eventually turned into a seminal volume in the field of Holocaust Studies.
But it was that moment in that Polish town by the lake that I kept returning to ever afterwards. I wished just then that I could turn all the clocks of time back for her, for us. Even later on when in a corner of Central Asia in the dream-like city of Samarkand, one of the cradles of Persian civilization, we found the exact hut where her father and aunt had come close to starving all those years ago, it was still the moment back in Poland that kept coming back to me—the location where everything began and ended.
She had originally wanted me to tell her father’s story through fiction. But I insisted that this was her story, not mine. Besides, fresh calamities, as always, were already descending on our part of the world. Soon I was caught up in a new war that had me traveling for long periods of time, when I wasn’t teaching, with militias in Iraq/Syria. I was part writer, part journalist and sometimes active participant in this new war against zealots. She didn’t understand why I had to do this—why go rushing off to a war like that? Why not stay in New York and do more projects together? Because this war was too close to my home, was my answer. She of all people should understand this. More importantly, writing the novels that I wrote, from our oft-burning swath of the planet, meant I had to always walk that tight rope between reality and fiction. I did not have the luxury to throw myself in the lap of fantasy, or stroll casually in the aisles of research libraries. I needed my boots on the ground.
Our ways slowly parted. Because to have love for someone may never run its course, but to do something about that love does have a ticking clock. After writing the war book, I did an about-face and wrote A Nearby Country Called Love — a novel that, among other themes, explores the tenacious yearning for love. But also love’s failures in all the many wastelands where it is not permissible.
I was in Beirut when she texted me. Another war had begun. It had been a while since we’d heard from each other and I knew why she was writing now. The war I’d gone to several years earlier had been in my backyard, this time the war was in hers. But in fact both of these wars, and all the other lesser wars that always seemed to surround our lives and the lives of our families and friends, had to do with a combination of us two; we were intertwined via our countries and their leaderships. Over the years we had argued our respective positions, sometimes in anger, but always with respect, and also with the acknowledgment that the magnetic pull we felt rose above all the rockets and missiles and suicide bombings and drone attacks and assassinations that might upend our lives irrevocably one day.
This time, however, it felt different. For once the death toll went truly beyond the pale, and I imagined she was somehow blaming me for all of this, and for my even being in Beirut (one of the heart centers of her enemies) at such a moment—and, most importantly, for having given myself over to war, rather than love, when the opportunity had been there to show an entirely different model for this topography of ours. I pulled the motorbike to the side of the road in the Dahieh district—an area of the city that the air force of her country had strafed at will countless times over the years—and began forcefully hitting the digital buttons of my cellphone in reply, in rebuttal, in fury and even in madness. In the meantime, life in Beirut’s Dahieh district was going on as if nothing were happening, though not very far to the south, on the border, artillery arounds had already been exchanged.
On the border, always on the border. My rambling text message was just another exchange of fire, wasn’t it? I deleted it.
“Nearby is a country called love,” the German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, had written in his classic poem titled Go to the Limits of Your Longing . And I’d used that poem to write a tribute to love in my fiction. A fiction that now had run smack against a wall that would never let us get anywhere near the limits of our longings. This of course is one reason why people break walls down. I put the phone away, knowing it was the very last time we had written to each other, then I rode on deep into the Dahieh quarter wondering if I’d soon be hearing low flying jets breaking the sound barrier and coming this way.
A Nearby Country Called Love by Salar Abdoh is available from Viking Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC.
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The Armor of Light: A Novel (Kingsbridge Book 5) Kindle Edition
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- Book 5 of 5 Kingsbridge
- Print length 750 pages
- Language English
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- Publisher Viking
- Publication date September 26, 2023
- File size 8628 KB
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- ASIN : B0BSKR92NY
- Publisher : Viking (September 26, 2023)
- Publication date : September 26, 2023
- Language : English
- File size : 8628 KB
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- Print length : 750 pages
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- #2 in Historical European Fiction
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Ken Follett was only twenty-seven when he wrote the award-winning EYE OF THE NEEDLE, which became an international bestseller. His celebrated PILLARS OF THE EARTH was voted into the top 100 of Britain's best-loved books in the BBC's the Big Read and the sequel, WORLD WITHOUT END, was published to critical acclaim. He lives with his family in London and Hertfordshire.
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'let us descend' follows a slave on a painful journey — finding some hope on the way.
Jesmyn Ward's Let Us Descend is a superb historical-fiction novel sprinkled with supernatural elements that pulls readers into the life of a slave on a long, painful journey.
And, while accurate, this description fails to communicate the depth of this novel as well as the multiplicity of layers in which it works. Angry, beautiful, raw, visceral, and heartfelt, Let Us Descend is the literary equivalent of an open wound from which poetry pours. This novel is a thing you can't help but to feel, a narrative that hurts to read but that also fills you with hope. Ward's work always demands attention, but this book makes it impossible to look away even in its ugliest, most agonizing moments.
Annis is the daughter of an enslaved woman who was raped by her enslaver. Her life is rough, but once she's separated from her mother and then sold by her own father, things get worse. Annis struggles through endless miles on her way to being sold. Tied to other women and walking next to chained men, Annis' feet bleed as she's forced to walk for entire days without food and cross rivers with her hands tied. From the Carolinas, through fields and swamps, all the way to New Orleans, Annis walks and walks, witnessing brutality daily and fighting to keep her humanity intact.
Through her harrowing journey, Annis turns inward — relying on the memories of her mother and the stories she told her about her warrior grandmother — to find comfort, to find the strength to keep going. That introspection pierces the veil and soon Annis starts communicating with spirits and receives regular visits from Aza, her ancestor, who also used to visit her mother. As she begins her new life at a different place, her understanding of the world and the forces that affect it changes and Annis learns to listen to the spirit world. A narrative that plunges headfirst into the evils of slavery, injustice, and abuse, Let Us Descend also morphs into a story of queer love, rebirth, and the importance of memory.
Let Us Descend is an uncomfortable read. Physical, psychological, and sexual violence were constants for slaves, and Ward doesn't shy away from any of it. In fact, Annis' months-long journey is recounted in exhausting detail. At first, it all feels like too much, like the novel could've been edited to move faster through her journey. But over time Ward's intent is revealed and readers come to understand that the details are there because they were part of the story of thousands of souls, and if they had to get through it, the least we can do is read about it, feel their pain, develop more empathy, and make sure we fight the remnants of that treatment wherever we encounter them. Despite those dreadful details, this is not just a narrative that forces readers to look at this country's ugly past and face the lingering effects of its history; it's also a story about perseverance and the power of the spiritual world.
"The Water is all spirit. Before you and me, before anything, there was the Water. We come from the Water. We return to the Water. Only the Water knows all, but the Water does not speak." Those words from Aza exemplify the beautiful word puzzles the spirit world gives Annis. Ward's lyricism is used to great effect, especially in the novel's last third, and the words of the spirit world take center stage. Let Us Descend , which gets its title from Dante's Inferno (Dante makes a few appearances and is referred to as "the Italian") echoes that work in that it shows its characters' descent into hell. However, unlike Dante's masterpiece, Ward also offers a map to crawl back out.
Let Us Descend is as upsetting as it is beautiful and necessary. Ward's writing about slavery doesn't add anything new to the discussion, but her unique mix of historical fiction, supernatural elements, and gorgeous prose helps her carve out a special place in literature that deals with the subject. It's rare to have a historical novel that also feels timely, but this story pulls it off. Readers will walk with Annis, see the world through her eyes, and feel the pain of everything she experiences — but that journey, that suffering, will give them clarity and help them develop a deeper understanding of love, grief, and the realities of slavery. Ward has taken Black history in a time of racial and political turmoil and used it to scream about grief and injustice, but also about beauty, queer love, history, determination, and joy.
Gabino Iglesias is an author, book reviewer and professor living in Austin, Texas. Find him on X, formerly Twitter, at @Gabino_Iglesias .
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PEOPLE's Best New Books to Read in November 2023 — From Mark Harmon’s WWII History to Jeff Tweedy’s Non-Fiction Stories
Cozy up with PEOPLE's picks for the best new books of November 2023
Love against odds, music to live by, and an indomitable student's journey — here are PEOPLE's picks for the best new books of November 2023.
Ghosts of Honolulu by Mark Harmon and Leon Carroll Jr.
The NCIS star teamed up with the show 's technical advisor — and former NCIS special agent — to write a story straight out of the police procedural. This riveting account of American and Japanese intelligence agents details the moral conflict many Japanese American officers faced at war time, as well as the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), which impacted the real-life NCIS.
Above the Salt by Katherine Vaz
As children on the Portuguese island of Madeira in the 1850s, John and Mary form a magnetic bond. Religious persecution forces them to flee, but they meet again as immigrants in Illinois, and their paths continue to cross and diverge through America's convulsive history, from the Civil War to the Jazz Age. Will their love prevail? Vaz explores the complexities of duty, passion and sacrifice in an engrossing narrative that celebrates life's abiding beauty. — Robin Micheli
World Within a Song by Jeff Tweedy
The Wilco frontman delves into his inspiring relationship with music through 50 songs (from "Gloria" to "Free Bird") and adds heart-wrenching memories of childhood friendship, gun-wielding tour bus drivers and more. If life's a movie, Tweedy's has a pretty great soundtrack. — Theo Munger
Class by Stephanie Land
Atria/One Signal Publishers
In this sequel to the mega-selling Maid , single mom Land struggles to fulfill her lifelong dream of getting an MFA to build a writing career, even as she battles poverty and — worse — people's judgement that she's being self-indulgent and impractical. Raw and inspiring. — Caroline Leavitt
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10 Moscow Novels That Every Muscovite Initiate Should Read
Moscow’s rich history and innumerable paradoxes has inspired some of the greatest novels in Russian literary history. More than a simple backdrop to these extraordinary narratives, Moscow is an integral character in the stories. From glamorous 19th century ballrooms to desolate suburban apartment blocks, and the metro that runs beneath them, we’ve picked 10 of the top Moscow novels that will give you a literary passport to this extraordinary city.
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Day of the Oprichnik – Vladimir Sorokin
Sorokin’s striking novels have gained him substantial international recognition as an author. His novel Day of the Oprichnik , set in 2028, is both a disconcerting side-step from a recognizable Moscow and potentially more ominously, a nod to it. We experience Sorokin’s dystopian world through the eyes of one of the ‘oprichniks’ (a term dating back to the days Ivan the Terrible), who seek out enemies of the reinstated Tsar, raping and pillaging to keep the population in a state of perpetual control and fear. Sorokin’s rendering of the world is as its darkest, and the carnivalesque prose is packed with pithy comments and oddly archaic statements that strike you in their direct delivery. This is a novel that focuses on the interplay of power and the grotesque normalization of violence in service to a higher ruler.
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The Lady with the Dog – Anton Chekhov
Vladimir Nabokov cited this as one of the greatest shortest stories ever written. Dmitri Gurov, the central character. is a Moscow banker trapped in a loveless marriage. He distracts himself by engaging in frequent adulterous trysts. Whilst holidaying in Yalta, his attention is caught by a lady, Anna Sergeyevna, walking her dog on the sea-front. He resolves to make her acquaintance and a brief love affair ensues before Gurov returns to Moscow, expecting to quickly forgot the event. Astonishingly, he finds himself unable to shake the memory of Anna and comes to the realization that he is falling in love for the first time. This is simple, but beautifully written prose; Chekhov is, after all, the unequivocal master of the short story. His seamless economy of words reaches deep into the inner turmoil of his characters in just a few short pages. Gurov is tangibly bitter towards the Moscow society, its customs and its restrictions. Anna and Yalta, who remain constant in his thoughts provide a reverie from his claustrophobic reality. Although some have voiced their frustrations at a novel focusing so much on the potentially selfish actions of an adulterous middle-aged man, Chekhov reveals, through third-person narrative, the futility of reason and sense of fate in the face of love.
The Time: Night – Lyudmila Petrushevskaya
This novel is a heart wrenching, intimate portrayal of struggle one woman endures as she battles to survive in poverty-stricken circumstances. The Time: Night is a novel framed as the manuscript left behind by Anna, a woman striving to keep her family together whilst latching onto her role as a the self-sacrificing ‘babushka’ to her errant children and her grandson Timur. The novel is set in the bleak post-soviet apartments of Moscow, and the atmosphere is tangibly impregnated with despair. Petrushevskaya’s work is beautifully written, undulating from torrid streams of consciousness to poetic reflection to neurotic panic. Petrushevskaya’s sharp wit and sardonic social commentary help lift the bleak narrative and create a truly unique and insightful perspective on the desperate nature of one family’s existence.
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Anna Karenina – Tolstoy
Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is a novel that delights in contrasting diametric opposites, from Levin and Kitty’s marriage and Anna and Vronsky’s love affair to the spatial opposition of Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Moscow is full of glamorous balls, elegant fashions and handsome officers. Moscow is where Anna and Vronsky see one another for the first time, and Moscow is where the novel ends. The text is ambitious and labyrinthine, creating a rich mosaic of human emotion that defies judgement of human actions. However you feel about Tolstoy’s treatment of his heroine, he does an exceptional job of representing the minutiae of contradictory and complex motivations that govern human behaviour.
The Master and Margarita – Bulgakov
Bulgakov’s masterpiece reaches past the concrete reality of an identifiable Moscow to an evanescent world beyond it. The novel follows a series of inexplicable and utterly hilarious events that ensue when the Devil arrives in fervently atheistic soviet Russia. Bulgakov satirizes the materialistic nature of Muscovite society to gesture to the spiritual void beneath it. Characters include a motley demonic band of individuals, and a droll-humoured cigar-smoking cat, wreaking havoc around town in a series of wickedly funny skits. From a magic show featuring a temporary decapitation, to a magical scene in which the eponymous Margarita flies over Moscow on a broomstick completely naked, there is no end to Bulgakov’s incredible imagination. Those familiar with the opening scene will be delighted when they visit modern day Moscow’s Patriarch Ponds, where a cautionary sign will advise you that it is ‘forbidden to talk to strangers’.
Night Watch – Sergei Lukyanenko
Night Watch was translated into English after the phenomenal success of the films based on Lukyanenko’s pentology of novels. This novel is the first in the series, a gripping sci-fi fantasy that explores the supernatural underworld lurking just beneath the surface of our everyday world. Lukyanenko’s novel reflects a trend for fantastical or allegorical fiction which is currently prevalent in Russia. In Night Watch, a supernatural race of primeval humans must ally either with agents of Dark or Light. The main protagonist, Anton, finds himself caught in the middle of this tumultuous battle and drawn into a world of moral incertitude. This is (in the most non-cliché terms) a really griping page-turner.
Moscow-Petushki – Venedikt Erofeev
This is a slight cheat, as the majority of the narrative takes place during a train journey between Moscow and Petushki, a suburban settlement that appropriates a utopian-like quality in the mind of Venichka, the drunken protagonist. There are many who believe that Erofeev’s work is untranslatable, replete as it is with cultural references to classical poems, the orthodox faith and slurred streams of consciousness. Nevertheless, we believe it would be a pity to miss out on insight into the darkly witty, tremendously sad and sparkling mind of Erofeev. His prose-poem allows us to be simultaneously privy to Venichka’s internal dialogue, the external dialogue of his accompanying passengers and to the author himself. Erofeev plays with all readerly expectations through Venichka, the proverbial holy fool who, through his tangled commentary on everything from Marx to Pushkin to vodka slowly unveils his authenticity as a character.
Red Square – Martin Cruz Smith
This is the third novel in the Investigator Renko series, following on from the incredibly popular Gorky Park and Polar Star . Red Square does not actually refer to the Moscow location but rather a missing avant-garde painting that recently resurfaced in the illegal black-markets of 1990’s Russia. Renko is shown as an individual awash in a sea of corruption, attempting to cling to the law in an atmosphere of rapid and unprecedented change. Red Square provides an in-depth insight into the emerging capitalism taking hold of Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union, its setting an interesting comparison of Russia and cultural trends in Munich and Berlin during this tumultuous period. As ever, Cruz Smith’s writing is engaging and darkly funny.
Envy – Yuri Olesha
Olesha’s 1927 novel is a slapstick examination of the tussles between a smug sausage mogul and the drunken no-hope he chances upon in the gutter one day. If that’s not the kind of scenario to secure your interest then be assured that this is a much over-looked, brilliantly-rendered and vigorously delivered poetic feat. Although Olesha only wrote one book, it seems he put all his genius into it. As with Moscow-Petushki , Envy succeeds in being simultaneously lyrical and satirical; Olesha’s wry social commentary bubbles up from the pages with incredible energy. There are some fantastically disgusting descriptions that are utterly absurd and also oddly believable. This novel probably won’t suit every taste but if you have a penchant for the avant-garde then look no further.
Metro 2033 – Dmitry Glukhovsky
This is a must-read for anyone with an interest in the Moscow metro system. The sprawling stations take on ideologies and statehoods of their own after a nuclear disaster above-ground forces survivors into a subterranean world where rifle cartridges are currency and men fight both against intangible threats and one another. Artyom, the young protagonist of the novel, has never experienced fresh air, seen grass or been exposed to natural light. His fellow inhabitants at VDNKh raise anaemic pigs on waste products and grow mushrooms for food, eking out a precarious existence in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. After meeting an enigmatic figure called Hunter, Artyom takes on an epic quest to reach the mythical city of Polis, navigating the various perils that ensue as he traverses the claustrophobic, cramped conditions of life in the metro. Metro 2033 is ultimately a study of the human psyche and man’s irrepressible desire to survive no matter what that means. With this comes a bleak insight into the moral and physical degradation of people when they are pushed to their absolute limits.
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