How to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Reading List

This is one of the 211 lists we use to generate our main The Greatest Books list.

  • Poems of W. H. Auden by W. H. Auden

    This book is a collection of poems by a renowned 20th-century poet. The poems cover a wide range of themes, including love, politics, religion, and the human condition. The poet's unique style combines traditional forms with modernist free verse and his work is known for its technical achievement, emotional depth, and engagement with moral and political issues. The collection provides an overview of the poet's career, showcasing his development and evolution as a writer.

  • Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

    "Waiting for Godot" is a play that explores themes of existentialism, despair, and the human condition through the story of two characters, Vladimir and Estragon, who wait endlessly for a man named Godot, who never arrives. While they wait, they engage in a variety of discussions and encounter three other characters. The play is characterized by its minimalistic setting and lack of a traditional plot, leaving much to interpretation.

  • Beowulf by Unknown

    "Beowulf" is an Old English epic poem that tells the story of the eponymous hero, a Geatish warrior who comes to the aid of Hrothgar, the king of the Danes, whose mead hall is under attack by a monster known as Grendel. Beowulf fights and defeats Grendel and his mother, earning the gratitude and friendship of Hrothgar. Later in his life, Beowulf becomes king of the Geats and faces his final battle with a deadly dragon. The poem explores themes of heroism, fate, and mortality, and is considered one of the most important works of Old English literature.

  • Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner

    The novel follows the story of a romance novelist, who, after a love affair with a married man, is sent by her friends to a Swiss hotel to recover. At the hotel, she meets various eccentric characters, including a wealthy woman and her daughter, a mysterious, wealthy man, and a couple on their honeymoon. As she observes and interacts with these characters, she is forced to examine her own life and choices, ultimately deciding whether to accept a marriage proposal from a man she doesn't love or to continue living independently.

  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

    This novel follows the story of a young girl named Alice who falls down a rabbit hole into a fantastical world full of peculiar creatures and bizarre experiences. As she navigates through this strange land, she encounters a series of nonsensical events, including a tea party with a Mad Hatter, a pool of tears, and a trial over stolen tarts. The book is renowned for its playful use of language, logic, and its exploration of the boundaries of reality.

  • Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

    This sequel to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland sees the young protagonist, Alice, embarking on another whimsical journey after stepping through a looking glass. In this mirror-image world, Alice encounters talking flowers, living chess pieces, and a variety of eccentric characters, including Tweedledee and Tweedledum, the Red Queen, and Humpty Dumpty. The narrative is structured around a game of chess, with Alice striving to become a queen. The book is filled with clever wordplay, riddles, and fantastical elements, reflecting the author's unique take on logic and language.

  • The Bloody Chamber And Other Stories by Angela Carter

    "The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories" is a collection of short stories that reimagines and deconstructs traditional fairy tales. The narratives are filled with strong female characters, sexual exploration, and violent and gothic themes. Each story presents a unique spin on classic tales, such as Little Red Riding Hood, Beauty and the Beast, and Bluebeard, challenging the typical gender roles and expectations found in the original stories.

  • Wise Children by Angela Carter

    "Wise Children" follows the lives of twin chorus girls, Dora and Nora Chance, as they navigate the ups and downs of their theatrical family in south London. The narrative, told from Dora's perspective, weaves in and out of time, recounting their experiences with their illegitimate father Melchior Hazard, a renowned Shakespearean actor, and his legitimate family. The novel explores themes of family, identity, legitimacy, and the magic of theater, all while maintaining a humorous and irreverent tone.

  • The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

    The Canterbury Tales is a collection of 24 stories that follows a group of pilgrims traveling from London to Canterbury to visit the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket. Told in Middle English, the tales are narrated by a diverse group of pilgrims, including a knight, a miller, a reeve, and a pardoner, who share their stories to pass the time during their journey. The tales, which range from chivalrous romances to bawdy fabliaux, provide a colorful, satirical, and critical portrayal of 14th century English society.

  • Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

    This classic novel follows the journey of a seaman who travels up the Congo River into the African interior to meet a mysterious ivory trader. Throughout his journey, he encounters the harsh realities of imperialism, the brutal treatment of native Africans, and the depths of human cruelty and madness. The protagonist's journey into the 'heart of darkness' serves as both a physical exploration of the African continent and a metaphorical exploration into the depths of human nature.

  • Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad

    The novel revolves around a young, idealistic British seaman, who commits a crime of cowardice at sea. He abandons his ship, leaving hundreds of passengers to their fate. He is publicly censured for this act and spends the rest of his life in shameful obscurity in the South Seas, trying to repress the guilt of his past and regain his lost honor. His quest for redemption leads him to a remote island where he gets a chance to prove his courage, but his tragic flaw ultimately leads to his downfall.

  • A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

    This classic tale follows a miserly old man named Ebenezer Scrooge who despises Christmas and all forms of happiness. On Christmas Eve, he is visited by the ghost of his former business partner and three spirits representing Christmases Past, Present, and Yet to Come. These apparitions take him on a journey that forces him to confront his selfish ways, leading him to a transformation where he becomes a kinder and more generous person, embodying the true spirit of Christmas.

  • David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

    This novel follows the life of its titular protagonist from his childhood to maturity. Born to a young widow, David endures a difficult childhood when his mother remarries a harsh and abusive man. After his mother's death, he is sent to a boarding school before being forced into child labor. As he grows, David experiences hardship, love, and loss, all the while meeting a colorful array of characters. The novel is a journey of self-discovery and personal growth, showcasing the harsh realities of 19th-century England.

  • Bleak House by Charles Dickens

    "Bleak House" is a complex narrative that critiques the British judiciary system through a long-running legal case known as Jarndyce and Jarndyce. The story follows the lives of numerous characters, including the kind-hearted Esther Summerson, her friends Richard and Ada, and their guardian, Mr. Jarndyce, who are all caught in the web of a legal dispute over an inheritance. The novel is known for its detailed depiction of the legal system, its vivid characters, and its exploration of social issues of the time.

  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

    A young orphan boy, living with his cruel older sister and her kind blacksmith husband, has an encounter with an escaped convict that changes his life. Later, he becomes the protégé of a wealthy but reclusive woman and falls in love with her adopted daughter. He then learns that an anonymous benefactor has left him a fortune, leading him to believe that his benefactor is the reclusive woman and that she intends for him to marry her adopted daughter. He moves to London to become a gentleman, but his great expectations are ultimately shattered when he learns the true identity of his benefactor and the reality of his love interest.

  • Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow

    Set in the early 20th century, this novel intertwines the lives of fictional characters with real historical figures, creating a vivid portrayal of America's past. The narrative follows the lives of an upper-class family in New Rochelle, New York, an African-American musician from Harlem, and a Jewish immigrant and his daughter, while also featuring historical figures like Harry Houdini, J.P. Morgan, and Henry Ford. The novel explores themes of wealth, race, and class, against a backdrop of significant historical events, such as the onset of World War I and the rise of the labor movement.

  • The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell

    "The Alexandria Quartet" is a tetralogy of novels that explore the intricate relationships between a group of friends and lovers in Alexandria, Egypt, before and during World War II. The novels are known for their rich and evocative descriptions of the city and its diverse inhabitants, as well as their innovative narrative structure, which presents the same events from different characters' perspectives in each book. The work explores themes of love, betrayal, and the nature of reality and perception.

  • Prufrock and Other Observations by T. S. Eliot

    This collection of poems presents a critique of society through the lens of a disillusioned modern man. The titular character is a middle-aged man contemplating the emptiness and lack of fulfillment in his life. The poems delve into themes of despair, regret, and existential angst, reflecting the disillusionment of the post-World War I generation. The poems are characterized by their innovative use of dramatic monologue, stream of consciousness, and other modernist techniques.

  • Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich

    "Love Medicine" is a novel that explores the lives of several generations of a Native American family living on a reservation in North Dakota. The narrative is presented through a series of interconnected stories, each told from the perspective of different family members, and spans over 60 years, from 1934 to 1999. The book explores themes of love, family, identity, and the struggle between tradition and modernity. It provides a deep and poignant look into the complexities of Native American life and culture, and the challenges faced by the community.

  • The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

    The novel is a complex exploration of the tragic Compson family from the American South. Told from four distinct perspectives, the story unfolds through stream of consciousness narratives, each revealing their own understanding of the family's decline. The characters grapple with post-Civil War societal changes, personal loss, and their own mental instability. The narrative is marked by themes of time, innocence, and the burdens of the past.

  • As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

    The narrative unfolds through the eyes of 15 different characters over 59 chapters. It is the story of the death of Addie Bundren and her poor, rural family's quest and motivations—noble or selfish—to honor her wish to be buried in her hometown of Jefferson, Mississippi. As the Bundren family undertakes a journey to fulfill Addie's last wish, they face many hardships and personal revelations. The novel explores themes of existentialism, death, and the nature of family relationships.

  • Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner

    This novel is a complex narrative about Thomas Sutpen, a poor white man who rises to power in the South, aiming to create a dynasty that would rival the old aristocratic families. However, his ambitions are thwarted by his own flawed decisions and the overarching racial and societal tensions of the era. The story is not told in a linear fashion but rather through a series of interconnected flashbacks and narratives, offering different perspectives on the same events. The book explores themes of family, class, race, and the destructive power of obsession.

  • Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding

    The book is a humorous and honest portrayal of a single woman's life in London. The protagonist, a 30-something year old woman, struggles with her weight, smoking, and alcohol consumption, all while trying to navigate her love life and career. The story is told through her personal diary entries, which include her daily calorie counts, number of cigarettes smoked, and other personal anecdotes. It's a modern take on romantic relationships and self-improvement, with a healthy dose of comedy.

  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

    Set in early 19th-century England, this classic novel revolves around the lives of the Bennet family, particularly the five unmarried daughters. The narrative explores themes of manners, upbringing, morality, education, and marriage within the society of the landed gentry. It follows the romantic entanglements of Elizabeth Bennet, the second eldest daughter, who is intelligent, lively, and quick-witted, and her tumultuous relationship with the proud, wealthy, and seemingly aloof Mr. Darcy. Their story unfolds as they navigate societal expectations, personal misunderstandings, and their own pride and prejudice.

  • Tom Jones by Henry Fielding

    This classic novel tells the story of Tom Jones, a charming and good-hearted but impulsive young man, who is expelled from his adoptive family home due to his wild behavior and love for the beautiful Sophia Western. His journey through 18th-century England is filled with adventures, misadventures, and a colorful cast of characters, as he struggles with his identity and seeks redemption. The narrative explores themes of class, virtue, and morality, and is known for its humor, social satire, and vivid characterization.

  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

    Set in the summer of 1922, the novel follows the life of a young and mysterious millionaire, his extravagant lifestyle in Long Island, and his obsessive love for a beautiful former debutante. As the story unfolds, the millionaire's dark secrets and the corrupt reality of the American dream during the Jazz Age are revealed. The narrative is a critique of the hedonistic excess and moral decay of the era, ultimately leading to tragic consequences.

  • The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford

    "The Good Soldier" is a tragic tale of two seemingly perfect couples: an American couple and an English couple, who meet at a German spa and share a nine-year friendship. However, underneath the surface, their relationships are far from ideal, filled with infidelity, lies, and deceit. The story is narrated by the American husband, who is the last to realize the intricate web of affairs and betrayals amongst the group. The novel explores themes of love, passion, and the destruction that can result from suppressed emotions and societal pressures.

  • A Room With a View by E. M. Forster

    Set in Italy and England, the novel tells the story of a young English woman, Lucy Honeychurch, who travels to Florence with her older cousin and chaperone. During her stay in Italy, Lucy meets and falls in love with a free-spirited man, but due to societal pressures, she becomes engaged to a wealthy but pretentious man back home in England. The novel explores themes of societal norms, personal growth, and the struggle between heart and mind as Lucy must decide between conforming to societal expectations or following her own desires.

  • Howards End by E. M. Forster

    This novel explores class relations and conflicting values in turn-of-the-century England. The narrative revolves around three families: the wealthy, capitalist Wilcoxes; the cultured, idealistic Schlegels; and the lower-middle class Basts. As their lives intertwine, the story grapples with themes of wealth, love, and death, and the struggle for personal connection in an increasingly impersonal society. The titular "Howards End" is a country home, and it becomes a symbol of England's past, present, and future.

  • A Passage to India by E. M. Forster

    The novel takes place in British-ruled India, where the cultural divide between the British and the Indians is explored. The story focuses on the experiences of an Indian Muslim, Dr. Aziz, and his interactions with an English woman, Miss Quested, and her elderly friend, Mrs. Moore. After an expedition to the Marabar Caves, Miss Quested accuses Dr. Aziz of assault, leading to a trial that deepens the racial tensions and prejudices between the colonizers and the colonized. The novel is a critique of British imperialism and a study of the cultural and racial misunderstandings and ill-will between the British and the Indian people.

  • The Magus by John Fowles

    The novel is a psychological drama that follows a young Englishman, Nicholas Urfe, who takes a teaching post on a remote Greek island to escape his dull life and a failed relationship. There, he meets a wealthy, mysterious man who introduces him to psychological games that blend myth, reality, and illusion. As Nicholas falls deeper into these manipulative scenarios, he begins to question his own sanity and reality. The story is filled with existential themes, exploring the nature of personal freedom, love, and the blurred line between reality and fantasy.

  • The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles

    Set in the Victorian era, the story revolves around a complex love triangle involving a gentleman engaged to a well-bred woman and his infatuation with a mysterious woman known as the French Lieutenant's Woman. This woman, shrouded in scandal and mystery, challenges the protagonist's conventional views of society and morality. The novel, known for its metafictional style, explores themes of freedom, responsibility, and the oppressive social norms of the time.

  • The Poems of Robert Frost by Robert Frost

    This collection of poetry showcases the work of a renowned American poet, featuring his signature exploration of rural life, complex social and philosophical themes, and vividly depicted New England landscapes. The anthology includes some of his most famous poems, marked by a mastery of language, precise imagery, and a keen ear for the sound of spoken word. His poems often touch on the beauty of nature, the human condition, and the dichotomy between life and death, demonstrating his profound understanding of the human experience.

  • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

    This novel is a multi-generational saga that focuses on the Buendía family, who founded the fictional town of Macondo. It explores themes of love, loss, family, and the cyclical nature of history. The story is filled with magical realism, blending the supernatural with the ordinary, as it chronicles the family's experiences, including civil war, marriages, births, and deaths. The book is renowned for its narrative style and its exploration of solitude, fate, and the inevitability of repetition in history.

  • Loving by Henry Green

    "Loving" is a novel set in an Irish castle during World War II, focusing on the lives of the servants who work there. The narrative provides a detailed and intimate exploration of the relationships, gossip, and everyday routines of the domestic staff, while the war remains a distant threat. The book is known for its unique use of language and dialogue, as well as its exploration of class dynamics.

  • The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

    This classic detective novel follows a private investigator who is hired by a mysterious woman to track down her missing sister. The case quickly becomes complicated when the investigator is caught up in a dangerous hunt for a priceless artifact, the Maltese Falcon. As he navigates a world of treachery, deceit, and murder, he must use his wit and courage to outsmart his enemies and solve the mystery.

  • The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy

    The Mayor of Casterbridge is a tragic novel set in the fictional town of Casterbridge, based on Dorchester in the English county of Dorset. The story follows the life of Michael Henchard, a skilled hay-trusser who, in a fit of drunken anger, sells his wife and daughter at a fair. When he sobers up, he is filled with regret and swears off alcohol for 21 years. He works hard and eventually becomes a successful businessman and the mayor of Casterbridge. However, his past returns to haunt him when his wife and daughter come back into his life, leading to a series of events that result in his downfall.

  • Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

    This is a tragic tale of a young woman named Tess who comes from a poor family in rural England. Tess is sent to work for a wealthy family, where she is seduced by a man who abandons her after she becomes pregnant. The baby dies, and Tess is ostracized by her community. She falls in love with a kind man, but when she confesses her past, he rejects her. Desperate and heartbroken, Tess murders her former seducer and is eventually captured and executed. The novel explores themes of fate, injustice, and the oppressive sexual morals of its time.

  • Twice-Told Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne

    This book is a collection of short stories that delve into the complexities of human nature and society, often through the lens of New England Puritanism. The tales are characterized by their allegorical nature, moral lessons, and exploration of themes such as sin, guilt, and pride. The author's keen understanding of the human psyche and his ability to weave intricate narratives make this an engaging read.

  • The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

    Set in 17th-century Puritan Boston, this novel tells the story of a woman who conceives a daughter through an affair and struggles to create a new life of repentance and dignity. She is forced to wear a scarlet "A" on her dress as a sign of her adultery while her lover, a revered local minister, remains unnamed and unpunished. Throughout the book, themes of sin, legalism, and guilt are explored.

  • The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne

    This novel revolves around the cursed Pyncheon family, who live in a gloomy New England mansion, cursed due to the actions of their ancestor who had an innocent man hanged as a witch to seize his property. The story explores themes of guilt, retribution, and atonement, and the narrative is interspersed with the author's philosophical musings. The present-day Pyncheons include an old maid, a daguerreotypist, and their elderly, reclusive cousin who returns to the house after a mysterious absence of many years.

  • In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway

    "In Our Time" is a collection of short stories that explores the theme of lost generation, focusing on the disillusionment and angst experienced by people post World War I. The stories are interconnected, often featuring the protagonist Nick Adams, and depict various stages of his life. The book is renowned for its unique narrative style, which uses a combination of minimalist prose and a stream-of-consciousness technique, reflecting the fragmented nature of the post-war world.

  • Stories of Ernest Hemingway by Ernest Hemingway

    This book is a collection of short stories penned by a renowned 20th-century American author, known for his minimalist and direct style of writing. The stories span a range of themes, including love, war, wilderness, and loss, often drawing from the author's own experiences as a journalist and war correspondent. Each story offers a glimpse into the complexities of human nature and the harsh realities of life, showcasing the author's ability to capture profound emotions and experiences in simple, yet powerful prose.

  • The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

    The novel is a poignant tale set in the 1920s post-World War I era, focusing on a group of American and British expatriates living in Paris who travel to Pamplona, Spain for the annual Running of the Bulls. The story explores themes of disillusionment, identity, and the Lost Generation, with the protagonist, a war veteran, grappling with impotence caused by a war injury. The narrative is steeped in the disillusionment and existential crisis experienced by many in the aftermath of the war, and the reckless hedonism of the era is portrayed through the characters' aimless wanderings and excessive drinking.

  • A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

    Set during World War I, the novel follows an American ambulance driver in the Italian army and his love affair with a British nurse. The story is a first-person account of the protagonist's experiences in war and his struggle to survive amidst chaos and destruction. The narrative explores themes of love, war, and the fragility of life, culminating in a tragic ending that underscores the futile nature of war and the inevitable suffering it brings.

  • The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

    An aging Cuban fisherman struggles with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream, isolated from the world and from human help. For days, he fights the marlin alone, admiring its strength, dignity, and faithfulness to its identity—its destiny is as true as his as a fisherman. He finally kills the marlin, but sharks attack and devour it before he can return to the shore. The fisherman returns home empty-handed but remains undefeated, having proven his abilities to himself.

  • The Iliad by Homer

    This epic poem focuses on the final weeks of the Trojan War, a conflict between the city of Troy and the Greek city-states. The story explores themes of war, honor, wrath, and divine intervention, with a particular focus on the Greek hero Achilles, whose anger and refusal to fight have devastating consequences. The narrative also delves into the lives of the gods, their relationships with humans, and their influence on the course of events.

  • The Odyssey by Homer

    This epic poem follows the Greek hero Odysseus on his journey home after the fall of Troy. It takes Odysseus ten years to reach Ithaca after the ten-year Trojan War. Along the way, he encounters many obstacles including mythical creatures, divine beings, and natural disasters. Meanwhile, back in Ithaca, his wife Penelope and son Telemachus fend off suitors vying for Penelope's hand in marriage, believing Odysseus to be dead. The story concludes with Odysseus's return, his slaughter of the suitors, and his reunion with his family.

  • The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

    A young governess is hired to care for two children at a remote English estate. However, she soon becomes convinced that the grounds are haunted by two former employees who have taken control of the children. As she fights to free the children from these apparitions, the line between reality and her own fears becomes increasingly blurred, leading to a chilling and ambiguous conclusion.

  • Daisy Miller by Henry James

    "Daisy Miller" is a novella that explores the social differences between American and European society in the late 19th century. The story follows a young, affluent American woman named Daisy Miller, who defies societal norms while traveling in Europe. Her flirtatious behavior and disregard for European customs create a scandal among the upper-class expatriate community, particularly catching the attention of a young American man who is both attracted to and repulsed by her nonconformity. Ultimately, Daisy's refusal to conform to societal expectations leads to her downfall.

  • Dubliners by James Joyce

    "Dubliners" is a collection of 15 short stories that portray the life of the Irish middle class in the early 20th century. Each story depicts an aspect of everyday life in Dublin, capturing the complexities of human experiences and emotions. The stories range from childhood to adulthood, reflecting on themes such as the paralysis of routine, the desire for escape, and the failure of both. The book is renowned for its vivid characterization and its exploration of the subtleties of the human condition.

  • A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

    This novel is a semi-autobiographical account of a young man's intellectual and artistic development in late 19th-century Ireland. The protagonist struggles with issues of identity, faith, and nationality, ultimately rejecting the traditional values of his Catholic upbringing to pursue his own path as an artist. The book is renowned for its innovative narrative style and its exploration of themes such as individuality, freedom, and the nature of art.

  • Ulysses by James Joyce

    Set in Dublin, the novel follows a day in the life of Leopold Bloom, an advertising salesman, as he navigates the city. The narrative, heavily influenced by Homer's Odyssey, explores themes of identity, heroism, and the complexities of everyday life. It is renowned for its stream-of-consciousness style and complex structure, making it a challenging but rewarding read.

  • The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

    The book tells the story of a man who wakes up one morning to find himself transformed into a giant insect. His transformation causes him to lose his job and become ostracized from his family, who are horrified and repulsed by his new form. As he grapples with his new reality, he becomes increasingly isolated and starts to lose his sense of humanity. The book explores themes of alienation, guilt, and identity, and is a profound examination of the human condition.

  • Franz Kafka: The Complete Stories by Franz Kafka

    This collection of stories offers a comprehensive look at the work of a renowned author, known for his surreal and often unsettling depictions of modern life. The stories explore themes of existential anxiety, guilt, and absurdity, often through narratives in which ordinary people face extraordinary, inexplicable circumstances. The collection showcases the author's unique style and his profound influence on 20th-century literature.

  • The Trial by Franz Kafka

    The book revolves around a bank clerk who wakes one morning to find himself under arrest for an unspecified crime. Despite not being detained, he is subjected to the psychological torment of a bizarre and nightmarish judicial process. The story is a critique of bureaucracy, exploring themes of guilt, alienation and the inefficiency of the justice system.

  • The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

    The novel follows the journey of a young woman from rural Kentucky who, on her drive west to avoid an unwanted pregnancy, is unexpectedly entrusted with a three-year-old Native American girl. The protagonist settles in Tucson, Arizona, where she builds a non-traditional family with a group of resilient and unconventional women. The narrative explores themes of love, friendship, and the power of the human spirit while tackling issues of social injustice and immigration.

  • Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver

    This novel follows the story of a young Cherokee girl and her adoptive mother. When the mother's right to custody is challenged by the Cherokee Nation, she takes her daughter and flees, sparking a nationwide manhunt. The narrative explores themes of cultural identity, belonging, and the meaning of family, while also delving into the legal and ethical complexities of Native American adoption laws.

  • The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

    The Poisonwood Bible is a novel that follows the experiences of a missionary family in the Belgian Congo during the 1960s. The story is told from the perspective of the wife and four daughters of the Baptist minister who drags his family into the politically volatile Congo on a mission to save souls. The novel explores themes of cultural arrogance, religious zeal, and the clash of Western and African values, as well as the personal growth and self-discovery of the women in the family as they grapple with the harsh realities of their new life and the fallout from their father's single-minded vision.

  • Selected Stories by D. H. Lawrence

    "Selected Stories" is a compilation of short narratives that explore the complexities of human nature, relationships, and societal norms. The stories, set in various locations and periods, are filled with vivid descriptions and profound character development. The author's unique storytelling style blends realism and modernism, creating an immersive reading experience that delves into themes such as love, lust, class struggle, and the human connection to nature.

  • Sons and Lovers by D. H. Lawrence

    "Sons and Lovers" is a semi-autobiographical novel that explores the complex relationships between a miner's wife, her husband, and their two sons. The story focuses on the intense emotional and psychological bonds between the mother and her sons, as well as the struggles they face in their romantic relationships due to their deep attachment to their mother. The novel delves into themes of class, love, sexuality, and the oedipal complex, presenting a vivid picture of working-class life in early 20th century England.

  • Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence

    "Women in Love" is a novel that explores the complex relationships of two sisters, Ursula and Gudrun Brangwen, as they navigate their passions, desires, and connections with two men, Rupert Birkin and Gerald Crich, in post-World War I England. The novel delves deep into the psychological aspects of love, questioning traditional romantic love and proposing a more modern, individualistic approach to relationships. It also explores themes of industrialization, modernity, and the nature of human existence.

  • Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence

    "Lady Chatterley's Lover" is a controversial novel that explores themes of class, sexuality, and the human condition. The story revolves around a young, upper-class woman married to a paralyzed war veteran who, feeling emotionally and physically neglected, embarks on a passionate affair with the estate's gamekeeper. The narrative delves into the protagonist's sexual awakening and her struggle against societal norms, ultimately advocating for emotional honesty and physical intimacy as essential components of a fulfilling life.

  • Le Morte d'Arthur by Thomas Malory

    This classic work is a compilation of stories and legends about the legendary King Arthur, his knights, and the Round Table. It tells of Arthur's rise to power, his quest for the Holy Grail, and his tragic downfall. The book, written in the 15th century, is considered one of the most influential pieces of Arthurian literature and has significantly shaped the modern perception of Arthur, Merlin, Guinevere, Lancelot, and other iconic characters.

  • Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

    The novel explores the life of an African-American man, Macon "Milkman" Dead III, from birth to adulthood. Set against the backdrop of racial tension in the mid-20th century United States, it delves into his journey of self-discovery and understanding his heritage. As Macon embarks on a literal and figurative journey south to reconnect with his roots, he encounters various characters that help him understand his family history and the power of community. The narrative is deeply rooted in African-American folklore and mythology, offering a profound commentary on identity, personal freedom, and the destructive power of racism.

  • The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch

    A successful and renowned London theatre director retires to a secluded house by the sea in an attempt to write his memoirs. His peaceful solitude is disrupted when he encounters his first love from decades ago and becomes obsessed with winning her back. As he spirals into self-delusion and madness, the narrative explores themes of love, obsession, and the subjective nature of reality.

  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

    The novel tells the story of Humbert Humbert, a man with a disturbing obsession for young girls, or "nymphets" as he calls them. His obsession leads him to engage in a manipulative and destructive relationship with his 12-year-old stepdaughter, Lolita. The narrative is a controversial exploration of manipulation, obsession, and unreliable narration, as Humbert attempts to justify his actions and feelings throughout the story.

  • Going After Cacciato by Tim O'Brien

    The novel is a surreal exploration of a young infantryman's experience in the Vietnam War. The protagonist and his squad are tasked with chasing down Cacciato, a fellow soldier who has gone AWOL and is attempting to walk from Vietnam to Paris. The narrative is interspersed with flashbacks and hallucinations, blurring the lines between reality and fantasy as the protagonist grapples with the horrors of war, the concept of courage, and the boundaries of sanity.

  • The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

    The book is a collection of linked short stories about a platoon of American soldiers fighting in the Vietnam War. The story is semi-autobiographical, based on the author's experiences in the war. The narrative explores the physical and emotional burdens the soldiers carry during the war, as well as the lingering effects of war on veterans. It delves into themes of bravery, truth, and the fluidity of fact and fiction.

  • The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe by Edgar Allan Poe

    This collection brings together all of the author's most famous works, including poems, short stories, and novellas. Known for his macabre and gothic storytelling, the author's works are filled with themes of death, love lost, and human frailty. Notable inclusions are the haunting poem "The Raven," the chilling stories "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Fall of the House of Usher," and his only complete novel, "The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym."

  • The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon

    The novel follows the journey of a woman who stumbles upon a centuries-old conflict between two mail distribution companies when she is appointed the executor of her ex-lover's will. As she delves deeper into the mystery, she begins to question her own sanity and the reality of the conspiracy itself. The story explores themes of communication, interpretation, and the struggle to find meaning in a chaotic world.

  • Hamlet by William Shakespeare

    This classic play revolves around the young Prince of Denmark who is thrown into a state of emotional turmoil after his father's sudden death and his mother's quick remarriage to his uncle. The prince is visited by the ghost of his father who reveals that he was murdered by the uncle, prompting the prince to seek revenge. The narrative explores themes of madness, revenge, and moral corruption as the prince navigates the complex political and emotional landscape of the Danish court.

  • Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

    This classic play tells the tragic love story of two young individuals from feuding families in Verona, Italy. Despite their families' ongoing conflict, the pair secretly marry and vow to be together, no matter the cost. Their commitment leads to a series of unfortunate events, including misunderstandings, banishments, and ultimately, their untimely deaths. Their demise, however, reconciles their feuding families, leaving a poignant message about the destructive power of hate and the redemptive power of love.

  • Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

    This classic play dramatizes the political and personal machinations surrounding the assassination of a powerful leader. The narrative follows the conspirators' plot, their execution of the plan, and the resulting chaos and war. The themes of ambition, loyalty, and the struggle for power are explored through complex character interactions and memorable soliloquies. The play also examines the consequences of political violence and the unpredictable nature of history.

  • Macbeth by William Shakespeare

    This classic play follows the tragic tale of Macbeth, a Scottish general whose ambition is sparked by a prophecy from three witches that he will one day become King of Scotland. Consumed by ambition and spurred on by his wife, Macbeth murders King Duncan and takes the throne. However, guilt and paranoia plague him, leading to a reign of terror and further bloodshed. His desperate attempts to cling onto power lead to his downfall, illustrating the destructive power of unchecked ambition.

  • King Lear by William Shakespeare

    This classic tragedy revolves around the aging King Lear, who decides to divide his kingdom among his three daughters based on their declarations of love for him. The two elder daughters, Goneril and Regan, flatter him with insincere praises, while the youngest, Cordelia, refuses to play the game and is disowned. As the king's sanity deteriorates, his kingdom falls into chaos under the rule of his deceitful elder daughters. The play explores themes of power, loyalty, madness, and justice, culminating in a tragic ending where almost all the main characters, including King Lear and Cordelia, die.

  • A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare

    In this classic play, the Duke of Athens is preparing for his marriage when the lives of two young couples become complicated by the meddling of fairies. The fairy king and queen, Oberon and Titania, are quarreling, causing chaos in both the fairy world and the world of mortals. Puck, a mischievous sprite and servant of Oberon, causes further confusion and comic misadventures by casting spells that lead to mistaken identities and misplaced affections. Eventually, all is resolved, and the play ends with three happily married couples.

  • The Tempest by William Shakespeare

    "The Tempest" is a classic play about a sorcerer and rightful Duke of Milan who has been stranded on an island for 12 years with his daughter after being betrayed by his brother. Using his magical powers and the help of an airy spirit, he conjures a storm to shipwreck his brother and other enemies on the island. The narrative explores themes of revenge, power, magic, and forgiveness as the sorcerer manipulates events on the island to regain his dukedom and secure a good future for his daughter.

  • Twelfth Night: Or, What You Will by William Shakespeare

    Twelfth Night: Or, What You Will is a comedic play that revolves around mistaken identities and love triangles. The story follows the adventures of Viola, who, after being shipwrecked and separated from her twin brother Sebastian, disguises herself as a man named Cesario. As Cesario, she enters the service of Duke Orsino and falls in love with him, even as he sends her to woo the Countess Olivia on his behalf. However, Olivia falls in love with Cesario, not knowing he is actually Viola in disguise. Further confusion ensues when Viola's presumed-dead brother Sebastian arrives, leading to mistaken identities, hilarious mix-ups, and ultimately, happy resolutions.

  • As You Like it by William Shakespeare

    This classic play is a pastoral comedy set in the Forest of Arden, where the banished Duke Senior and his followers live in exile. The plot revolves around various forms of love and mistaken identities. The main character, Rosalind, is the Duke's daughter who disguises herself as a young man named Ganymede to escape her uncle's court. She falls in love with Orlando, who is also in exile, and through a series of comedic and romantic events, they end up together. The play is famous for its exploration of love, freedom, and life in nature.

  • The Sonnets by William Shakespeare

    "The Sonnets" is a collection of 154 poems that explore themes such as love, beauty, politics, and mortality. The sonnets are written in a specific form that the poet popularized, consisting of 14 lines with a specific rhyme scheme. The collection is divided into two sections: the first 126 sonnets are addressed to a young man, while the last 28 are addressed to a woman known as the 'dark lady'. This collection is widely considered one of the greatest achievements in English literature.

  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

    This classic novel tells the story of a young scientist who creates a grotesque but sentient creature in an unorthodox scientific experiment. The scientist, horrified by his creation, abandons it, leading the creature to seek revenge. The novel explores themes of ambition, responsibility, guilt, and the potential consequences of playing God.

  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by Simon Armitage

    The book is a modern translation of a 14th century alliterative poem, which tells the story of Sir Gawain, a knight of King Arthur's Round Table. The story begins when a mysterious Green Knight arrives at Arthur's court, challenging the knights to a beheading game. Gawain accepts the challenge and beheads the Green Knight, who surprisingly survives and tells Gawain to seek him out a year later to return the blow. The book follows Gawain's journey, filled with trials and temptations, as he tries to fulfill his promise to the Green Knight, maintaining his honor and chivalry.

  • Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles

    "Oedipus at Colonus" is a tragic play that follows the final days of Oedipus, the former king of Thebes. Oedipus, now blind and exiled, arrives at the town of Colonus where he is initially rejected due to the curse that follows him. However, after revealing a prophecy that his burial place will bring prosperity to the city that hosts it, he is allowed to stay. The play explores themes of fate, guilt, and redemption, ending with Oedipus's peaceful death and ascension to a semi-divine status.

  • Oedipus the King by Sophocles

    "Oedipus the King" is a tragic play that revolves around the life of Oedipus, the king of Thebes, who is prophesied to kill his father and marry his mother. Despite his attempts to avoid this fate, Oedipus unknowingly fulfills the prophecy. When he discovers the truth about his actions, he blinds himself in despair. The play explores themes of fate, free will, and the quest for truth, highlighting the tragic consequences of human hubris and ignorance.

  • Antigone by Sophocles

    This ancient Greek tragedy follows the story of Antigone, a young woman who defies the king's edict in order to bury her brother according to their religious customs. The king, her uncle, sentences her to death for her disobedience, leading to a series of tragic events including his own son's suicide. The play explores themes of loyalty, honor, obedience, and the conflict between the laws of the state and the laws of the gods.

  • The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser

    "The Faerie Queene" is an epic allegorical poem that follows several medieval knights, representing various virtues, as they navigate quests assigned by the Faerie Queene. The narrative is deeply imbued with Christian symbolism and Elizabethan political allegory. Each book in the series focuses on a particular virtue and the knight who embodies it, presenting a complex, interconnected tapestry of moral, ethical, and political conduct. The poem is renowned for its intricate allegories, rich characterization, and the creation of a unique verse form known as the Spenserian stanza.

  • The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

    This classic novel explores the duality of human nature through the story of a respected London doctor who creates a potion that transforms him into a sinister, violent alter ego. As the doctor increasingly loses control over when the transformations occur, his alter ego's evil deeds escalate, causing havoc in the community. The narrative is a chilling exploration of humanity's capacity for evil and the struggle for individuals to reconcile their public personas with their private desires.

  • Dracula by Bram Stoker

    This classic horror novel tells the story of Count Dracula's attempt to move from Transylvania to England so that he may find new blood and spread the undead curse, and of the battle between Dracula and a small group of people led by Professor Abraham Van Helsing. The narrative is composed of journal entries, letters, and telegrams written by the novel's protagonists, providing different perspectives on the gruesome events unfolding. The book touches on themes of sexuality, gender roles, and the clash of modern science with traditional superstition.

  • Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas by Dylan Thomas

    This collection presents a comprehensive compilation of works by a renowned 20th-century poet, known for his powerful, rhythmic and visionary verse. The book includes all of his poems, from his early, surrealistic pieces to his later, more personal and introspective works, reflecting the poet's profound fascination with life, death, and the human condition. The compilation also features his most famous pieces, renowned for their musicality and for the unique, captivating voice that has made him one of the most celebrated poets of his time.

  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

    The novel follows the journey of a young boy named Huckleberry Finn and a runaway slave named Jim as they travel down the Mississippi River on a raft. Set in the American South before the Civil War, the story explores themes of friendship, freedom, and the hypocrisy of society. Through various adventures and encounters with a host of colorful characters, Huck grapples with his personal values, often clashing with the societal norms of the time.

  • Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler

    "Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant" is a novel about the life of the Tull family, which is marked by abandonment and discord, but also love and resilience. The story is told from the perspective of each family member, providing a unique viewpoint on the family's dynamics and history. The matriarch, Pearl, struggles to raise her three children, Cody, Ezra, and Jenny, after their father abandons them. Each child deals with the abandonment and their dysfunctional family in different ways, shaping their adult lives. The novel explores themes of family, love, abandonment, and the idea of home.

  • The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler

    The novel follows the life of a travel writer, who, after the death of his son and subsequent separation from his wife, embarks on a journey of self-discovery. He meets an eccentric dog trainer who is the complete opposite of his introverted and orderly self. Through their relationship, he learns to embrace the unpredictability of life and move beyond his grief. The story is a poignant exploration of love, loss, and the unexpected turns life can take.

  • The Early Stories by John Updike

    "The Early Stories" is a compilation of short stories that provide a vivid depiction of post-war America. The narratives cover a wide range of topics, including love, marriage, death, and faith, all told through the experiences of the ordinary middle-class citizen. The stories are praised for their insightful exploration of human nature and the complexities of everyday life.

  • Omeros by Derek Walcott

    "Omeros" is an epic poem that explores the lives of a small community in the Caribbean. The narrative intertwines the lives of characters such as fishermen, a housemaid, and a disabled veteran, all of whom embody various aspects of Caribbean history and culture. Drawing inspiration from Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, the narrative is not only a vivid portrayal of post-colonial Caribbean life but also a profound meditation on identity, civilization, and the human condition.

  • Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

    The novel chronicles a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, a high-society woman in post-World War I England, as she prepares for a party she is hosting that evening. Throughout the day, she encounters various characters from her past, including a former suitor and a shell-shocked war veteran. The narrative jumps back and forth in time and in and out of different characters' minds, exploring themes of mental illness, existentialism, and the nature of time.

  • To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

    This novel is a pioneering work of modernist literature that explores the Ramsay family's experiences at their summer home on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. The narrative is divided into three sections, focusing on a day in the family's life, a description of the house during their absence, and their return after ten years. The book is known for its stream of consciousness narrative technique and its exploration of topics such as the passage of time, the nature of art, and the female experience.

  • Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats by W. B. Yeats

    This book is a comprehensive collection of poems by a renowned Irish poet. The collection spans his entire career, showcasing his evolution as a poet, from romantic and aesthetic works to more complex, mature pieces reflecting his interest in spirituality and Irish mythology. The book includes his most famous works, as well as lesser-known pieces, providing a thorough overview of his contribution to 20th century literature.

  • Household Tales by Brothers Grimm

    "Household Tales" is a collection of German fairy tales that includes popular stories such as "Cinderella", "Little Red Riding Hood", "Hansel and Gretel", and "Snow White". These narratives, often featuring magical elements and moral lessons, have been influential in shaping Western popular culture. The tales range from the whimsical and humorous to the dark and cautionary, reflecting a wide array of human experiences and emotions.

  • Early Novels and Stories by James Baldwin

    "Early Novels and Stories" is a compilation of works by a renowned 20th-century writer, exploring themes of racial, sexual, and personal identity against the backdrop of mid-century America. The collection includes several novels and short stories, each delving into the experiences of African Americans and the societal pressures they face. Notably, the narratives often highlight the intersections of race, sexuality, and religion, providing a profound and nuanced exploration of the human condition.

About this list

Thomas C. Foster, 125 Books

English professor Thomas C. Foster, at the end of his book, includes a recommended "reading list".

Added about 9 years ago.

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