The Best Novels You’ve Never Read

This is one of the 268 lists we use to generate our main The Greatest Books list.

  • Dominion by Calvin Baker

    "Dominion" is a thought-provoking novel that weaves together the lives of four individuals across different time periods, from the American Revolution to the modern era. The narrative explores the complex tapestry of American identity, delving into themes of race, freedom, and the enduring struggle for equality. Through the interconnected stories of its characters, the book examines the historical and ongoing impact of colonialism and slavery on the United States, offering a reflective look at the nation's past and its influence on the present and future. The novel serves as a poignant commentary on the quest for personal and collective sovereignty in a country still grappling with the consequences of its foundational injustices.

  • The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

    "The Last Samurai" is a unique, intellectual novel that follows the life of a young boy named Ludo, who is raised by his single mother, Sibylla. Sibylla, a freelance transcriber, educates Ludo in various subjects from Greek to mathematics, using the film "The Seven Samurai" as a moral compass. As Ludo grows older, he embarks on a quest to find his father, using clues from his mother's past. His journey leads him to several men who could potentially be his father, each encounter teaching him more about the world and himself.

  • Suzy Zeus Gets Organized by Maggie Robbins

    The book is a whimsical and rhythmic exploration of the life of a woman from Indiana who embarks on a series of adventures and misadventures in love and life. Through a blend of humor and pathos, the protagonist navigates her way through the complexities of adulthood, from her early years to middle age, dealing with themes of identity, sexuality, and self-discovery. The narrative, structured in a series of poetic vignettes, captures the essence of a person striving to find order and meaning in a chaotic world, ultimately seeking to organize not just her external circumstances, but her internal world as well.

  • Kalimantaan by C. S. Godshalk

    The novel is a historical fiction set in the 19th century, revolving around an English adventurer who establishes his own kingdom on the island of Borneo, known as Kalimantaan to its indigenous inhabitants. The story delves into the complexities of colonialism, exploring the adventurer's rule over the land and his interactions with the local tribes, European colonial powers, and his own family. As the narrative unfolds, it presents a tapestry of ambition, power, cultural conflict, and the impact of Western imperialism on both the conquerors and the conquered, painting a vivid picture of a bygone era marked by both brutality and beauty.

  • Sepharad by Antonio Muñoz Molina

    "Sepharad" is a compelling tapestry of narratives that weaves together stories of displacement, loss, and memory across different times and geographies. The novel explores the experiences of various characters, some historical and others fictional, who face the consequences of exile and persecution. Through their interconnected tales, the book delves into the themes of identity, the enduring impact of the Spanish Inquisition, the Holocaust, and the broader human condition of searching for belonging. The title references the Hebrew word for Spain, invoking the Sephardic Jewish diaspora and the broader sense of longing for a homeland that resonates throughout the novel.

  • Texaco by Patrick Chamoiseau

    The novel is an epic narrative that weaves together the history of Martinique from the time of slavery to the post-colonial era through the eyes of a resilient woman named Marie-Sophie Laborieux. The story unfolds as she recounts her life and the lives of her ancestors to a visiting urban planner, revealing the transformation of her homeland and the struggles of its people. The book blends Creole and French language, magical realism, and rich storytelling to paint a vivid picture of the island's cultural tapestry, the legacy of colonialism, and the enduring spirit of its inhabitants.

  • The Debt To Pleasure by John Adlard

    "The Debt to Pleasure" is a darkly comedic novel narrated by Tarquin Winot, a snobbish, eccentric gourmand who embarks on a journey from Portsmouth to the south of France. Ostensibly a culinary memoir, the narrative is interspersed with elaborate recipes and reflections on food, art, and life. However, as the story progresses, it becomes clear that Tarquin is an unreliable narrator with a sinister past. The book cleverly disguises its true nature, gradually revealing a tale of obsession, manipulation, and psychological intrigue, all delivered with a sharp wit and a taste for the finer things in life.

  • The Lake by John McGahern

    The novel is a profound exploration of memory, love, and the passage of time, set in the Irish countryside. It centers on a middle-aged man who returns to his childhood home by the lake after many years away. As he reconnects with the landscape of his youth and the people who still live there, he reflects on his past experiences, including the death of his mother and his complex relationship with his father. The narrative weaves together the man's present interactions with the community and his introspective journey through his memories, painting a picture of a life shaped by the rhythms of nature and the enduring human quest for meaning and connection.

  • Dark Back Of Time by Javier Marías

    "Dark Back of Time" is a reflective and metafictional narrative that blurs the lines between reality and fiction, weaving together personal anecdotes, literary criticism, and philosophical musings. The book explores the author's experiences following the publication of a previous novel, which unexpectedly affects the lives of individuals who see themselves reflected in its characters. As the author delves into the consequences of his writing, he examines the elusive nature of memory, the complex interplay between art and life, and the inevitable distortions that arise when reality is transmuted into literature. The work is a profound meditation on the power of storytelling and the enigmatic passage of time that alters perception and understanding.

  • Meteor In The Madhouse by Leon Forrest

    "Meteor in the Madhouse" is a posthumously published collection of interconnected novellas that delve into the complexities of African American life and identity. The narrative weaves through the experiences of various characters, primarily focusing on the protagonist's reflections on his life, his relationships with others, and his quest for understanding amidst the chaos of the world around him. The book explores themes of memory, history, and the interplay of reality and fiction, all set against the backdrop of the civil rights movement and the rich cultural tapestry of African American heritage. Through lyrical prose and a non-linear structure, the work challenges readers to contemplate the nature of storytelling and the power of the human spirit to endure and make sense of life's tumultuous journey.

  • Out Of Sheer Rage by Geoff Dyer

    In this unconventional work, the author grapples with his own writer's block and the overwhelming challenge of articulating his thoughts on a literary figure he admires. Oscillating between a travelogue, memoir, and a study in procrastination, the narrative takes the reader on a journey through various locations and states of mind. The author candidly shares his struggles with the creative process, his distractions, and his personal life, all the while reflecting on the nature of writing and the difficulties of completing a project. The book is as much an exploration of the author's internal landscape as it is an homage to the elusiveness of the artistic endeavor.

  • Born Twice by Giuseppe Pontiggia

    The novel centers around a father's profound journey as he navigates the complexities of raising a son with cerebral palsy. The narrative delves into the emotional and social challenges they face, exploring themes of acceptance, resilience, and the redefinition of fatherhood. Through his son's condition, the father confronts his own vulnerabilities and the societal prejudices against disability, ultimately experiencing a profound transformation that leads him to a deeper understanding of love, identity, and the human experience.

  • Winner Of The National Book Award by Jincy Willett

    The novel is a darkly comic exploration of the complexities of sibling rivalry and human relationships, centered around twin sisters, Abigail and Dorcas Mather. Despite their shared beginnings, the sisters' lives take divergent paths: Abigail becomes a reclusive writer, while Dorcas enjoys a more flamboyant lifestyle. Their bond is tested by a series of tragic and absurd events, including a murder at a family reunion. The story delves into themes of love, jealousy, and the search for personal identity, all while showcasing the protagonist's sharp wit and keen observations of the eccentric characters that surround her.

  • Achilles by Elizabeth Cook

    This lyrical novel reimagines the life of the legendary Greek hero Achilles, focusing on his deep bond with Patroclus and his fateful role in the Trojan War. The narrative delves into themes of love, fate, and the human condition, exploring Achilles' journey from his divine origins to his mortal end. The book interweaves myth with a poetic sensibility, offering a fresh perspective on an ancient tale that highlights the timeless nature of human emotions and the inescapable pull of destiny.

  • Oh Pure And Radiant Heart by Lydia Millet

    In "Oh Pure and Radiant Heart," three scientists responsible for the development of the atomic bomb—Oppenheimer, Fermi, and Szilard—mysteriously appear in the 21st century. Unaware of how they got there, they confront a world shaped by the very technology they helped create. As they grapple with their feelings of guilt and responsibility, they become involved with a librarian and her husband, embarking on a journey that takes them across the United States. The narrative weaves together the past and the present, exploring the impact of nuclear weapons on humanity and the scientists' quest for redemption in a world on the brink of forgetting the horrors of the past.

  • Varieties Of Exile by Mavis Gallant

    "Varieties of Exile" is a collection of short stories that delve into the lives of characters who find themselves in various forms of exile, whether geographical, emotional, or cultural. The narratives explore the complexities of displacement and the search for identity, often focusing on European émigrés in the mid-20th century. The stories are marked by sharp observation, wit, and the subtle interplay between memory and reality, as the characters navigate the challenges of adapting to new environments while grappling with the lingering ties to their pasts. Through a series of poignant and finely crafted vignettes, the book offers a nuanced examination of the human condition and the universal experience of feeling out of place.

  • Mortals by Norman Rush

    "Mortals" is a complex narrative about a Milton scholar and CIA operative named Ray Finch stationed in Botswana. The story explores his personal struggles with his marriage, his brother's death, and his professional life. The narrative also delves into his philosophical and psychological musings, providing a deep exploration of his character. The book presents a rich tapestry of African politics, CIA covert operations, and the human condition, all set against the backdrop of Botswana.

  • Experience by Martin Amis

    "Experience" is a memoir which delves into the author's life, exploring his relationships with his family, friends, and his own self. The narrative is a candid reflection on his father's influence, his friendships with other writers, his marriages, and his children. The author also discusses his experiences with fame, age, and loss, providing an intimate look into his personal and professional journey. The memoir is a blend of the author's unique humor, sharp observations, and poignant moments, offering a compelling and deeply personal narrative.

  • Grief by Andrew Holleran

    The book is a poignant exploration of loss and loneliness, set against the backdrop of Washington D.C. The protagonist, a middle-aged gay man, grapples with the death of his mother and the ravages of the AIDS epidemic. As he moves into an apartment once occupied by Mary Todd Lincoln, he finds himself reflecting on historical and personal grief, seeking solace in the company of other mournful souls and the city's monuments to past sorrows. The narrative delves into the depths of his despair and the universal quest for connection and meaning in the face of life's inevitable tragedies.

  • The Munch Mancini Mystery Series by Barbara Seranella

    The Munch Mancini Mystery Series follows the gritty life and adventures of Miranda "Munch" Mancini, a woman with a troubled past involving drug addiction and time in prison. Having turned her life around, Munch now works as an auto mechanic in Los Angeles and occasionally assists the police with her unique insight into the criminal underworld. Throughout the series, she becomes an amateur sleaver, using her street smarts and resilience to solve various crimes and confront personal demons, all while striving to maintain her hard-won sobriety and build a better future.

  • Transmission by Hari Kunzru

    The novel centers on a young Indian computer programmer whose dreams of a new life in the United States are derailed by a series of unfortunate events. Desperate to avoid deportation after losing his job, he unleashes a mischievous computer virus in a bid to regain his employer's attention, but the plan spirals out of control. The virus rapidly spreads across the globe, causing widespread chaos and inadvertently linking the fates of an eclectic mix of characters, from Bollywood actresses to ambitious Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. The story is a satirical exploration of the complexities of globalization, the illusions of the American dream, and the unpredictable ways in which technology can disrupt the world.

  • Mariette In Ecstasy by Ron Hansen

    The novel centers on a young woman in the early 20th century who joins a convent in upstate New York, where her intense spirituality and mysterious experiences of stigmata both fascinate and disturb the other nuns. As she navigates her new life of religious devotion, the community grapples with questions of faith, doubt, and the authenticity of her mystical experiences. The story delves into the complexities of spiritual fervor, the scrutiny of religious phenomena, and the impact of one individual's experiences on a tight-knit religious community.

  • A Relative Stranger by Charles Baxter

    The book is a collection of short stories that delve into the complexities of human relationships and the often surprising connections between people. Through a series of narratives that explore themes of love, loss, and the search for identity, the characters in these tales confront the unexpected ways in which family and strangers can shape our lives. With a keen eye for detail and a deep understanding of the human psyche, the stories reveal the profound impact of personal encounters, whether fleeting or long-lasting, and the ways in which our bonds with others can define who we are and who we become.

  • The Accidental by Ali Smith

    The novel centers around a woman named Amber who unexpectedly arrives and disrupts the lives of the Smart family while they are on summer holiday in Norfolk. Each family member - Eve, a writer, Michael, a university professor, and their children Astrid and Magnus - experience unique interactions with Amber, causing them to question their own realities. The mysterious woman's influence forces the family to confront their secrets, insecurities, and the false narratives they've created about themselves.

  • The Extra Man by Jonathan Ames

    The novel follows the story of a young aspiring playwright who moves to New York City with dreams of making it on Broadway. He becomes the protégé of an eccentric older gentleman, a self-styled "extra man" who escorts wealthy widows in the Upper East Side's high society. As the protagonist navigates his new life, he is drawn into a world of old-world manners, transgender escapades, and odd human connections, all while grappling with his own identity and aspirations. The narrative is a comedic and poignant exploration of loneliness, friendship, and the quest for personal authenticity in a city that often feels overwhelming and surreal.

  • Seminary Boy by John Cornwell

    "Seminary Boy" is a memoir that delves into the author's experiences as a young boy in the 1950s, who is sent to a Catholic seminary with the hope of becoming a priest. The narrative captures the strict and often harsh realities of seminary life, marked by rigorous discipline, religious fervor, and the struggle to conform to the expectations of the Church. As the author grows up within the confines of this institution, he grapples with his faith, the challenges of adolescence, and the dawning realization of the wider world beyond the seminary walls. This coming-of-age story is a poignant exploration of innocence, belief, and the search for personal identity amidst the backdrop of a changing religious landscape.

  • Desertion by Abdulrazak Gurnah

    "Desertion" is a novel that intertwines two love stories set in East Africa, spanning the mid-20th century. The narrative begins with the taboo romance between a British colonial official and a local woman in the 1890s, a relationship that is abruptly severed, leaving a legacy of silence and pain. The story then shifts to the 1950s, where the impact of the earlier affair resonates through the lives of new characters, revealing the complexities of love, race, and betrayal against the backdrop of a society in the throes of political and social upheaval. The novel explores themes of cultural collision, the enduring consequences of personal choices, and the intricate tapestry of human connections that shape individual destinies and collective histories.

  • Home Land by Sam Lipsyte

    The novel is a darkly humorous account of a man named Lewis Miner, aka "Teabag," who is living a less-than-successful life. Lewis, who is in his thirties, writes hilariously bitter and sarcastic updates to his high school alumni newsletter, detailing his various failures in love, work, and life in general. The book is a biting satire of American life and the concept of success, filled with black humor and sharp, witty writing.

  • Samedi The Deafness by Jesse Ball

    The novel revolves around a man who, after witnessing a murder, is drawn into a surreal conspiracy at a mysterious institution where the residents are engaged in a bizarre form of psychological warfare. The protagonist must navigate through a labyrinth of lies and cryptic rules, trying to uncover the truth while grappling with the concept of "samedi" — a sort of collective madness or deception. As he delves deeper into this enigmatic world, he confronts the challenges of communication, the nature of truth, and the power of societal constructs, all while the boundaries between reality and delusion blur.

  • Tapping The Source by Kem Nunn

    The novel is a gripping tale of a young man's quest for his missing sister in the seedy underbelly of Huntington Beach, California. Driven by the need to uncover the truth, he immerses himself in the local surf culture, which is rife with drugs, violence, and enigmatic characters. As he delves deeper into this world, he encounters a host of individuals who may hold the key to his sister's fate, leading him on a dangerous journey that challenges his perceptions of family, community, and his own capacity for violence. The story is a dark exploration of the surf community's allure and the perilous line between obsession and redemption.

  • Rails Under My Back by Jeffery Renard Allen

    The novel is a sweeping narrative that explores the complexities of African American life and the enduring impact of family legacy through the story of two brothers and their extended families. Moving back and forth in time and place, the book weaves together the brothers' lives, their relationships, and their struggles with identity, migration, and belonging. The narrative delves into the broader African American experience, touching on themes of love, faith, suffering, and redemption, while painting a vivid portrait of twentieth-century America and the historical forces shaping the characters' lives.

  • Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link

    "Stranger Things Happen" is a collection of 11 captivating short stories that blend elements of horror, fantasy, and fairy tales. The narratives are filled with strange events and characters, such as a husband who disappears every time he goes for a swim and a TV show where ghosts are the main characters. The book explores the boundaries of reality and the supernatural, creating an eerie, dream-like atmosphere that leaves the reader questioning what is real and what is not.

  • What Salmon Know by Elwood Reid

    The book is a collection of gritty and raw short stories that delve into the lives of men on the fringes of society. Set against the backdrop of the American landscape, from Alaska to the Southwest, the narratives explore themes of masculinity, survival, and the human condition. The characters, often confronting their own limitations and the harsh realities of their environments, are depicted with a stark realism that exposes their inner struggles and the complex dynamics of their relationships. The stories are woven together with a sense of the natural world, where the metaphor of the salmon's upstream battle resonates with the characters' own uphill struggles.

  • The Darling by Russell Banks

    The novel explores the life of a politically radical American woman who, after becoming involved with various revolutionary movements in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s, flees to Liberia to escape the FBI. In Liberia, she marries a government official and becomes embroiled in the country's own political turmoil, witnessing and participating in the complex interplay of power, colonialism, and personal relationships. As the narrative unfolds, the protagonist grapples with her role in the political landscape, her identity, and the consequences of her actions, both in her personal life and in the broader context of the African nation's violent history.

  • The Fall Of A Sparrow by Robert Hellenga

    The novel explores the profound impact of personal tragedy on one's life and the journey towards healing and rediscovery. It follows the story of a classics professor who, after losing his daughter to a terrorist bombing in Italy, is consumed by grief and the need for understanding. His quest for closure and meaning takes him from the quiet halls of academia in the American Midwest to the vibrant streets of Bologna, where he immerses himself in the rich tapestry of Italian life. Along the way, he confronts his own sorrow, finds solace in new and unexpected friendships, and is challenged to open his heart again to love and joy. The narrative delves into themes of loss, redemption, and the enduring human capacity to rebuild one's life after devastating loss.

  • The Tender Land: A Family Love Story by Kathleen Finneran

    This memoir is a poignant exploration of grief, family bonds, and the enduring impact of loss. The narrative centers around the author's family, particularly focusing on the aftermath of her younger brother's suicide at the age of fifteen. Through a series of vivid vignettes, the author delves into her family's history, the complexities of their relationships, and the individual struggles each member faces. The book is a tender and introspective journey through memory and mourning, as the author seeks understanding and healing in the wake of tragedy, ultimately painting a deeply moving portrait of love, sorrow, and the human condition.

  • Journey To The Land Of Flies And Other Travels by Aldo Buzzi

    This book is a collection of travel essays that take readers on a whimsical and insightful journey through various parts of the world. The author, with a keen eye for detail and a taste for the eccentric, shares his experiences and observations from his travels, ranging from the titular land of flies to the bustling streets of New York and the serene landscapes of Europe. His writing is infused with a mix of humor, reflection, and a deep appreciation for the cultures and cuisines he encounters, making this work a delightful read for those who enjoy literary travelogues and the exploration of foreign places through the eyes of a perceptive and thoughtful wanderer.

  • Memories Of My Father Watching Tv by Curtis White

    The book presents a unique blend of autobiography and cultural criticism, exploring the impact of television on the American psyche through the lens of personal experience. It delves into the author's childhood memories of watching TV with his father, using this intimate framework to critique the medium's role in shaping family dynamics, politics, and social values. The narrative weaves together anecdotes and analysis, offering a poignant reflection on the pervasive influence of television and its power to mold our perceptions of reality, history, and identity.

  • On The Way To My Father’s Funeral by Jonathan Baumbach

    "On The Way To My Father’s Funeral" is a contemplative narrative that delves into the complexities of familial relationships and personal identity through the lens of a son's introspective journey. As he travels to attend his estranged father's funeral, the protagonist grapples with a tumult of emotions and memories, reflecting on the intricate tapestry of his past, the nuances of his father's influence on his life, and the inevitable confrontation with mortality. The story weaves a poignant exploration of grief, reconciliation, and the search for meaning within the fragmented recollections of a shared history.

  • Rampart Street by David Fulmer

    Set in the early 20th century in the vibrant and gritty streets of New Orleans, this mystery novel follows a Creole detective as he navigates the city's underbelly of jazz clubs, brothels, and corrupt power structures. Tasked with solving a series of violent crimes that threaten to disrupt the delicate social balance, the detective must use his wits and insider knowledge of the community to track down the perpetrator. As he delves deeper into the investigation, he encounters a colorful cast of characters, each with their own secrets, and confronts the racial tensions and moral ambiguities of a city at the crossroads of tradition and modernity.

  • The Wife by Meg Wolitzer

    The novel delves into the complex dynamics of a long marriage between a celebrated novelist and his wife, who has put aside her own literary talents to support her husband's career. As they travel to Helsinki for him to receive a prestigious award, the wife reflects on their shared history, her sacrifices, and the secrets they both keep. Her internal journey comes to a head as she grapples with her identity, the power imbalances in their relationship, and the decision of whether to continue in her role or step out of her husband's shadow to seek her own voice and independence.

  • Do Everything in the Dark by Gary Indiana

    This book presents a disjointed narrative of a group of aging artists and intellectuals in New York City who are dealing with the aftermath of their youthful, hedonistic lives. As they grapple with issues of aging, depression, suicide, and the loss of their creative abilities, they find themselves trapped in a dark, cynical world, haunted by their pasts and facing an uncertain future. The novel offers a bleak but insightful look at the human condition, exploring themes of despair, regret, and the struggle to find meaning in life.

  • The Emperor's Babe by Bernardine Evaristo

    This novel tells the story of a young Sudanese girl, Zuleika, who is married off at the age of 11 to a rich, older Roman businessman in Londinium, 211 AD. Despite the luxuries her marriage affords her, Zuleika feels trapped and yearns for real love and freedom. The narrative takes a turn when she meets and falls in love with the Roman Emperor, a relationship that brings her joy but also puts her in grave danger. The book is a vivid portrayal of ancient Rome, with its mix of cultures, and explores themes of love, freedom, and the struggles of a woman in a patriarchal society.

  • Drama City by George P. Pelecanos

    Set against the gritty backdrop of an urban landscape, the novel follows the life of an ex-con turned probation officer who is trying to stay on the straight and narrow while supervising others with similar troubled pasts. His resolve is tested when a series of violent events threatens to drag him back into the criminal world he's desperately trying to leave behind. As he navigates the complexities of his job and personal life, he becomes entangled in a dangerous investigation that forces him to confront his own demons and the dark realities of the streets he once called home. The narrative weaves a tale of redemption, the challenges of reform, and the enduring impact of one's past.

  • Last Night by James Salter

    "Last Night" is a collection of ten short stories that delve into the complexities of human relationships, love, and mortality. The narratives are marked by their elegant prose and keen psychological insights, as they explore the intimate moments and pivotal events that shape the lives of the characters. From the story of a couple facing the wife's terminal illness to the tale of an adulterous love affair with unforeseen consequences, the book captures the poignant and often painful moments that define our fleeting existence. The stories are a testament to the author's mastery of the short story form, showcasing his ability to convey the depth of human emotion with subtlety and grace.

  • Banishing Verona by Margot Livesey

    The novel centers around the unexpected and profound connection between Zeke, a man with Asperger's syndrome who is skilled in carpentry and house renovation, and Verona, a pregnant radio host who is significantly older than him. Their lives intersect when Verona hires Zeke to work on her house, and despite their differences, they form an intense bond. However, when Verona suddenly leaves for London, Zeke is compelled to follow her, embarking on a journey that takes him out of his comfort zone and into a series of unpredictable and transformative experiences. The story explores themes of love, the challenges of communication, and the ways in which people's lives can become intertwined in the most unexpected of ways.

  • The Amalgamation Polka by Wright, Stephen

    The novel is a vivid and surreal exploration of the American experience during the Civil War era, following the life of Liberty Fish, a young man born to abolitionist parents. As Liberty comes of age, he is drawn into the tumultuous events of his time, embarking on a journey that takes him from his upstate New York home to the deep South, where he confronts the brutal realities of slavery and war. The narrative weaves a tapestry of history and fantasy, examining themes of identity, heritage, and the inescapable nature of violence in the shaping of American culture.

  • Master Of The Crossroads by Madison Smartt Bell

    "Master of the Crossroads" is a historical novel that continues the epic tale of the Haitian Revolution, delving into the life of the enigmatic leader Toussaint Louverture. The narrative captures the complexity of the political and military struggles that rocked Haiti in the late 18th century, as former slaves fought for their freedom against colonial powers. The protagonist's strategic genius and diplomatic prowess are on full display as he navigates the treacherous crossroads of competing interests, from French and Spanish colonists to the British and his own divided people. The book paints a vivid portrait of a man who is both a liberator and a tactician, striving to forge a new, independent nation amidst the chaos of war and the harsh realities of power.

  • Shipwrecks by Akira Yoshimura

    The novel is a haunting tale set in a remote medieval Japanese village where the impoverished inhabitants rely on the grim practice of salvaging goods from shipwrecks to survive. The story follows a young boy who eagerly awaits the next shipwreck in the hope that it will bring enough wealth to prevent his family from starving or having to sell his sister into prostitution. As he grapples with the moral dilemma of desiring a disaster for his own gain, the narrative explores themes of fate, survival, and the blurred lines between misfortune and fortune. The stark and somber atmosphere of the novel underscores the harsh realities of life in a community caught in a cycle of desperation and the complex emotions that come with their reliance on the misfortunes of others.

  • Unless by Carol Shields

    The novel is a narrative about a middle-aged, successful writer who is grappling with the sudden and inexplicable decision of her eldest daughter to drop out of college and live on the streets. The daughter communicates only one word, "Goodness", which she writes on a cardboard sign. The story explores the protagonist's struggle to understand her daughter's choice, while also delving into themes of feminism, the nature of goodness, and the power of words.

  • Mailman by J. Robert Lennon

    The novel centers around the life of a seemingly ordinary mail carrier in a small American town, whose mundane existence belies a complex inner world filled with secrets, fantasies, and obsessions. As the protagonist navigates his daily routine, delivering letters and packages to the townspeople, he becomes increasingly entangled in their lives and personal affairs. His voyeuristic tendencies and the discovery of a mysterious undeliverable letter lead to a series of events that unravel his carefully constructed facade, exposing the dark undercurrents of suburban life and the fragile nature of personal identity.

  • The Confession; Liberation Movements by Olen Steinhauer

    In this espionage thriller, a series of interconnected stories unfold across different time periods, revolving around a retired Eastern European police inspector who is drawn back into a case from his past involving a plane hijacking. As the narrative weaves through the complexities of Cold War politics, liberation movements, and personal betrayals, the characters grapple with moral ambiguities and the consequences of their actions. The novel explores themes of love, loyalty, and the cost of secrets in a world where the lines between right and wrong are often blurred.

  • Prairie Gothic by J.M. Hayes

    "Prairie Gothic" is a gripping mystery novel set against the stark backdrop of the American Midwest, where a series of gruesome murders brings together an unlikely duo: a savvy, tough sheriff and his half-brother, a defrocked priest with a troubled past. As they delve into the crimes, they uncover a web of dark family secrets, local corruption, and twisted motivations that run as deep as the roots of the prairie itself. Their investigation challenges their own moral compasses and puts them in the crosshairs of a killer's disturbing game, testing the bonds of brotherhood and the resilience of the human spirit amidst the haunting landscape.

  • San Remo Drive by Leslie Epstein

    "San Remo Drive" is a semi-autobiographical novel that tells the story of a young boy growing up in Hollywood in the 1950s. The narrative is set against the backdrop of the film industry and the Red Scare, delving into the impact of political persecution on the protagonist's family, particularly his screenwriter parents who face the repercussions of the McCarthy-era blacklist. Through the eyes of the boy, the novel explores themes of identity, family dynamics, and the intersection of personal and political turmoil, painting a poignant picture of a bygone era and the lasting effects of societal pressures on individual lives.

  • The Teahouse Fire by Ellis Avery

    Set in the late 19th and early 20th century Japan, the novel follows the life of a young American girl who, after a tragic twist of fate, finds herself orphaned in Kyoto. She is taken in by the family of a tea master, where she becomes deeply immersed in the culture and traditions of the Japanese tea ceremony. As she grows and navigates her complex identity and the societal changes of a rapidly modernizing Japan, her unique perspective as an outsider within a traditional world offers a poignant exploration of belonging, love, and the intersection of cultures.

  • We Pierce by Andrew Huebner

    The novel is a poignant exploration of the American experience, focusing on two brothers from a small town who find themselves on divergent paths at the dawn of the 21st century. One brother enlists in the military, driven by a sense of duty and the desire for adventure, and is sent to the Middle East, where he confronts the harsh realities of war. Meanwhile, the other brother remains at home, dealing with his own struggles and the impact of his brother's absence on their family. Their journeys reflect the personal and national conflicts of a country grappling with its identity and the consequences of its actions abroad.

  • The Road Home by Rose Tremain

    "The Road Home" is a poignant and heartwarming novel that follows the journey of Lev, a middle-aged Eastern European immigrant who leaves his impoverished homeland to seek a better life in London. Struggling to navigate the unfamiliar language, culture, and job market, Lev encounters a diverse cast of characters who shape his experience, from kind-hearted strangers to exploitative employers. Through Lev's determination and resilience, the novel explores themes of identity, belonging, and the universal human desire for a place to call home.

  • Nice Big American Baby by Judy Budnitz

    The book is a collection of surreal and darkly humorous short stories that explore the complexities of human relationships, identity, and society through a variety of bizarre and fantastical scenarios. The narratives often delve into the lives of characters who find themselves in absurd or extreme situations, from a woman who gives birth to an enormous baby that never stops growing to a man who develops a peculiar relationship with a pack of dogs. The stories are woven with sharp wit and a probing insight into the human condition, challenging readers to consider the strange and often unsettling aspects of our existence.

  • The Last Novel by David Markson

    This book is an unconventional narrative that eschews traditional plot and character development, instead presenting a stream of anecdotes, quotes, and musings on mortality, art, and literature. The protagonist, an elderly author, contemplates his life and the looming presence of death as he works on what he believes will be his final novel. Through a collage of fragmented thoughts and intellectual references, the text explores themes of creativity, the challenges of writing, and the solitary nature of the artistic endeavor, all while blurring the lines between the author's reality and the literary world he inhabits.

  • Vanishing Point by David Markson

    "Vanishing Point" is a novel that defies traditional narrative structure, presenting a stream-of-consciousness collage of anecdotes, quotes, biographical sketches, and philosophical musings. The book, devoid of a conventional plot, follows an unnamed protagonist, referred to as "Author," who is compiling a manuscript of historical and literary trivia, personal reflections, and a medley of obscure facts. As the protagonist grapples with themes of mortality, art, and the act of writing itself, the novel becomes a meditation on the human condition and the elusive nature of meaning in a seemingly disconnected world. The fragmented style challenges readers to piece together coherence from the disparate elements, mirroring the protagonist's own quest for understanding and significance.

About this list

NY Mag, 60 Books

Talk to any critic and you’ll hear about a book you must read—often one you were begged to read by some reviewer when it came out, but which quickly slipped off your radar. Such is the plight of critics. Which is why we decided, with the help of the National Book Critics Circle, to ask professional critics (and some other writers) to pick the best under-the-radar book of the past ten years or so.

Added 11 months ago.

How Good is this List?

This list has a weight of 44%. To learn more about what this means please visit the Rankings page.

Here is a list of what is decreasing the importance of this list:

  • List: only covers 10 years
  • Voters: are mostly from a single country/location
  • List: criteria is not just "best/favorite"

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