As if You Don't Have Enough to Read, Fiction Edition

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

  • 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.

  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

    The book follows the lives of two Jewish cousins, one a skilled escape artist and the other a talented artist, before, during, and after World War II. They create a popular comic book superhero, which brings them fame and fortune. However, their success is complicated by personal struggles, including the escape artist's attempts to rescue his family from Nazi-occupied Prague and the artist's struggle with his sexuality. The narrative explores themes of escapism, identity, and the golden age of comic books.

  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

    Set in 19th-century Russia, this novel revolves around the life of Anna Karenina, a high-society woman who, dissatisfied with her loveless marriage, embarks on a passionate affair with a charming officer named Count Vronsky. This scandalous affair leads to her social downfall, while parallel to this, the novel also explores the rural life and struggles of Levin, a landowner who seeks the meaning of life and true happiness. The book explores themes such as love, marriage, fidelity, societal norms, and the human quest for happiness.

  • 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.

  • American Pastoral by Philip Roth

    This novel tells the story of Seymour "Swede" Levov, a successful Jewish-American businessman and former high school athlete from Newark, New Jersey. Levov's happy and conventional upper middle class life is ruined by the domestic social and political turmoil of the 1960s during the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson, which in the novel is seen through the eyes of the narrator, Nathan Zuckerman, a budding writer who idolizes the Levovs. The novel portrays the impact of this turmoil on Levov and his family, particularly his rebellious daughter who becomes involved in revolutionary political activities.

  • 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.

  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

    Set in the racially charged South during the Depression, the novel follows a young girl and her older brother as they navigate their small town's societal norms and prejudices. Their father, a lawyer, is appointed to defend a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman, forcing the children to confront the harsh realities of racism and injustice. The story explores themes of morality, innocence, and the loss of innocence through the eyes of the young protagonists.

  • A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

    The novel is a comedic satire set in New Orleans in the early 1960s, centered around Ignatius J. Reilly, a lazy, eccentric, highly educated, and socially inept man who still lives with his mother. Ignatius spends his time writing a lengthy philosophical work while working various jobs and avoiding the responsibilities of adulthood. The story follows his misadventures and interactions with a colorful cast of characters in the city, including his long-suffering mother, a flamboyant nightclub owner, a beleaguered factory worker, and a frustrated hot dog vendor.

  • Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

    This novel is a complex, multi-layered narrative that explores themes of addiction, recovery, and the human condition in a near-future society. The story is set in a tennis academy and a halfway house for recovering addicts, and it intertwines the lives of its numerous characters, including a gifted but troubled teenage tennis prodigy, his filmmaker father, and a group of Quebecois separatists. The book is known for its length, intricate plot, and extensive use of footnotes.

  • Middlemarch by George Eliot

    Set in the fictitious English town of Middlemarch during the early 19th century, the novel explores the complex web of relationships in a close-knit society. It follows the lives of several characters, primarily Dorothea Brooke, a young woman of idealistic fervor, and Tertius Lydgate, an ambitious young doctor, who both grapple with societal expectations, personal desires, and moral dilemmas. Their stories intertwine with a rich tapestry of other townsfolk, reflecting themes of love, marriage, ambition, and reform, making a profound commentary on the human condition.

  • Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

    The book follows the life of Calliope Stephanides, a Greek-American hermaphrodite, who narrates her epic story starting from her grandparents' incestuous relationship in a small village in Asia Minor to her own self-discovery in 20th century America. The novel delves into themes of identity, gender, and the American dream, while also providing a detailed history of Detroit through the eyes of three generations of an immigrant family.

  • The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

    The novel follows the story of a teenager named Holden Caulfield, who has just been expelled from his prep school. The narrative unfolds over the course of three days, during which Holden experiences various forms of alienation and his mental state continues to unravel. He criticizes the adult world as "phony" and struggles with his own transition into adulthood. The book is a profound exploration of teenage rebellion, alienation, and the loss of innocence.

  • All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren

    "All the King's Men" is a political drama that revolves around the rise and fall of a Southern governor, loosely based on Louisiana's Huey Long. The story is narrated by a journalist who becomes the governor's right-hand man, offering an inside perspective on the political machinations, corruption, and personal tragedies that accompany the governor's climb to power. The novel explores themes of power, corruption, and the moral consequences of political ambition.

  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville

    The novel is a detailed narrative of a vengeful sea captain's obsessive quest to hunt down a giant white sperm whale that bit off his leg. The captain's relentless pursuit, despite the warnings and concerns of his crew, leads them on a dangerous journey across the seas. The story is a complex exploration of good and evil, obsession, and the nature of reality, filled with rich descriptions of whaling and the sea.

  • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

    The book is a satirical critique of military bureaucracy and the illogical nature of war, set during World War II. The story follows a U.S. Army Air Forces B-25 bombardier stationed in Italy, who is trying to maintain his sanity while fulfilling his service requirements so that he can go home. The novel explores the absurdity of war and military life through the experiences of the protagonist, who discovers that a bureaucratic rule, the "Catch-22", makes it impossible for him to escape his dangerous situation. The more he tries to avoid his military assignments, the deeper he gets sucked into the irrational world of military rule.

  • Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

    A young, impoverished former student in Saint Petersburg, Russia, formulates a plan to kill an unscrupulous pawnbroker to redistribute her wealth among the needy. However, after carrying out the act, he is consumed by guilt and paranoia, leading to a psychological battle within himself. As he grapples with his actions, he also navigates complex relationships with a variety of characters, including a virtuous prostitute, his sister, and a relentless detective. The narrative explores themes of morality, redemption, and the psychological impacts of crime.

  • Disgrace by J M Coetzee

    "Disgrace" is a novel that explores the life of a middle-aged professor in South Africa who is dismissed from his position after having an affair with a student. After losing his job, he moves to the countryside to live with his daughter, where they experience a violent attack that significantly alters their lives. The story delves into themes of post-apartheid South Africa, racial tension, sexual exploitation, and the struggle for personal redemption.

  • The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

    Set in the backdrop of New York's high society during the turn of the 20th century, the novel follows the life of Lily Bart, a beautiful but impoverished woman of social standing. As she navigates the pressures and expectations of her social circle, Lily grapples with the need to secure a wealthy husband to maintain her lifestyle. However, her romantic inclinations and her desire for personal freedom come into conflict with societal norms, leading to her tragic downfall.

  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

    The novel is a poignant exploration of a young African-American man's journey through life, where he grapples with issues of race, identity, and individuality in mid-20th-century America. The protagonist, who remains unnamed throughout the story, considers himself socially invisible due to his race. The narrative follows his experiences from the South to the North, from being a student to a worker, and his involvement in the Brotherhood, a political organization. The book is a profound critique of societal norms and racial prejudice, highlighting the protagonist's struggle to assert his identity in a world that refuses to see him.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • The Sportswriter by Richard Ford

    This novel explores the life of a suburban New Jersey man who makes his living as a sportswriter. After experiencing the death of his son and subsequent divorce, he attempts to maintain a positive outlook on life and keep his personal despair at bay. The book delves into his relationships, encounters, and introspections during a transformative Easter weekend, providing a deep analysis of his character and his struggle to find meaning and purpose in the face of tragedy.

  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

    Set against the backdrop of the Prague Spring period of Czechoslovak history, the novel explores the philosophical concept of Nietzsche's eternal return through the intertwined lives of four characters: a womanizing surgeon, his intellectual wife, his naïve mistress, and her stoic lover. The narrative delves into their personal struggles with lightness and heaviness, freedom and fate, love and betrayal, and the complexities of human relationships, all while offering a profound meditation on the nature of existence and the paradoxes of life.

  • Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell

    Set in a dystopian future, the novel presents a society under the total control of a totalitarian regime, led by the omnipresent Big Brother. The protagonist, a low-ranking member of 'the Party', begins to question the regime and falls in love with a woman, an act of rebellion in a world where independent thought, dissent, and love are prohibited. The novel explores themes of surveillance, censorship, and the manipulation of truth.

  • A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain

    The novel follows the fantastical journey of a 19th-century American engineer who, after a blow to the head, finds himself transported back in time to the medieval kingdom of King Arthur. Using his modern knowledge and ingenuity, the protagonist attempts to modernize the past society, introducing industrial technology and democratic ideas. His efforts to revolutionize the Arthurian world are met with both humor and a critical examination of the social and political issues of both the past and his contemporary society, ultimately leading to a complex interplay between progress and tradition.

  • A Personal Matter by Kenzaburō Ōe

    A Personal Matter is a novel that tells the story of Bird, a young man struggling to come to terms with the birth of his son who has a severe brain hernia. As he grapples with his personal demons and the societal stigma associated with having a disabled child, he also contemplates killing his son to end his suffering. The narrative explores themes of responsibility, shame, and the human condition, ultimately leading to Bird's acceptance of his son and his own life.

  • 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.

  • A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

    The book is a tale of two childhood friends, one of whom believes he is God's instrument. The story is set in a New England town during the 1950s and 1960s and follows the lives of the two boys, one small and with a strange voice, who has visions of his own death and believes he is an instrument of God, and the other, the narrator, who struggles with faith. The novel explores themes of faith, fate, and the power of friendship against a backdrop of historical and political events, including the Vietnam War.

  • A Sport and a Pastime by James Salter

    The book is a provocative and sensual narrative about an illicit affair between a young American man and a French girl in post-war France. Set in the picturesque town of Autun, the novel explores themes of desire, love, and the blurred line between reality and fantasy. The story is narrated by an unnamed observer, who paints a vivid picture of the couple's passionate relationship, their exploration of love and sensuality, and the inevitable tragedy that follows.

  • A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

    "A Visit from the Goon Squad" is an interconnected collection of stories about a group of characters whose lives intersect in the music industry. The narrative spans several decades, tracing the characters' journey from their youth to middle age. It explores themes of time, change, and the impact of technology on human relationships and the music industry. The novel is known for its experimental structure, including a chapter written as a PowerPoint presentation.

  • Ada or Ardor by Vladimir Nabokov

    Set in an alternate universe where Earth is known as "Antiterra," the novel follows the lives of Ada and Van, two wealthy siblings who fall into a passionate and incestuous love affair. Their relationship evolves over a span of 70 years, as they navigate through family secrets, personal tragedies, and the complex nature of time. The book is a blend of romance, science fiction, and philosophical exploration, all told through the author's signature wordplay and intricate narrative style.

  • Against Nature by J. K. Huysmans

    The novel follows the life of an eccentric aristocrat who retreats from society to live in isolation, dedicating himself to the pursuit of excessive aestheticism. He surrounds himself with art, literature, and music, and indulges in sensual pleasures and extravagant interior decoration. The protagonist's obsession with artifice over nature and his quest for absolute individualism and self-gratification are explored, reflecting the decadent movement of the late 19th-century France.

  • 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.

  • Another Marvelous Thing by Laurie Colwin

    The book is a collection of interlinked short stories that explore the complexities of an extramarital affair between two people who are otherwise comfortably settled in their respective marriages. The narrative delves into the nuances of their relationship, examining the clandestine joy, emotional intricacies, and moral dilemmas they face. Through a series of vignettes, the book captures the bittersweet moments of their connection, offering a poignant and insightful look at love, longing, and the human condition.

  • At Swim Two-Birds by Flann O'Brien

    This novel is a complex, metafictional work that weaves together three separate narratives. The first is about a lazy, hard-drinking college student living with his uncle, the second is about a devilish Pooka and a loquacious old man, and the third is about a fictional character named Finn who seeks revenge on his author for creating him poorly. The narratives eventually intersect in a unique and humorous way, challenging traditional ideas of story structure and character autonomy.

  • Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

    This novel unfolds in a dystopian United States where society's most productive citizens, including inventors, scientists and industrialists, refuse to be exploited by increasing social and economic demands. As a response, they withdraw their talents, leading to the collapse of the economy. The story presents the author's philosophy of objectivism, which values reason, individualism, and capitalism, and rejects collectivism and altruism. The narrative primarily follows Dagny Taggart, a railroad executive, and John Galt, a philosophical leader and inventor, as they navigate this societal breakdown.

  • Atonement by Ian McEwan

    Atonement is a powerful novel that explores the consequences of a young girl's false accusation. The narrative follows the lives of three characters, the accuser, her older sister, and the sister's lover, who is wrongly accused. This false accusation irrevocably alters their lives, leading to the accused's imprisonment and eventual enlistment in World War II, while the sisters grapple with guilt, estrangement, and their own personal growth. The novel is a profound exploration of guilt, forgiveness, and the destructive power of misinterpretation.

  • The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino

    "The Baron in the Trees" tells the story of a young Italian nobleman who, in a fit of rebellion, climbs a tree and vows never to touch the ground again. He spends the rest of his life living in the treetops, observing the world from above, and engaging in adventures with bandits, revolutionaries, and lovers. Despite his self-imposed exile, he becomes a symbol of freedom and individuality, ultimately influencing the course of European history.

  • Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

    "Birdsong" is a historical novel that explores the horrors of World War I through the eyes of Stephen Wraysford, a young Englishman. The narrative alternates between Stephen's passionate love affair with a married woman in pre-war France and his experiences in the trenches of the Western Front. The novel also includes a subplot set in the 1970s, where Stephen's granddaughter tries to unravel the mystery of her grandfather's past. The book is a poignant exploration of love, war, and the endurance of the human spirit.

  • Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami

    "Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman" is a collection of 24 short stories that explore themes of love, loneliness, and loss, set against the backdrop of everyday life in Japan. The stories often blur the lines between reality and the surreal, featuring characters who find themselves in strange, dreamlike situations. The tales range from a man whose reflection takes on a life of its own, to a woman who falls asleep for weeks at a time, reflecting the author's signature blend of the mundane and the mystical.

  • Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

    The novel is a nostalgic story about the narrator's involvement with the Flyte family, British aristocrats living in a grand mansion called Brideshead. The story explores themes of faith, love, and the decline of the British aristocracy, primarily through the narrator's relationships with the family's Catholic faith and his complicated friendship with the family's son and his love for the daughter. The novel is set in the backdrop of the time period between the two World Wars.

  • Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney

    The novel follows a young man living in Manhattan as he tries to navigate his way through the fast-paced and drug-fueled world of the New York City nightlife during the 1980s. He is struggling with his job at a prestigious magazine, his estranged wife who has left him for another man, and his growing addiction to cocaine. As he spirals further into self-destruction, he must confront his problems and make choices about the person he wants to be.

  • Cat and Mouse by Günter Grass

    "Cat and Mouse" is a novel that centers around a group of boys living in Danzig during World War II. The story is narrated by one of the boys, who recounts the life of his friend, whom they call "the great Mahlke", a boy with a large Adam's apple. Mahlke's attempts to prove himself a hero despite his physical oddity, his obsession with a sunken ship, and his eventual expulsion from school and enlistment in the war form the heart of the narrative. The novel explores themes of identity, guilt, memory, and the devastating impact of war on the individual and society.

  • Cathedral by Raymond Carver

    "Cathedral" is a collection of twelve short stories that explore the complexities of human relationships and the struggles of everyday life. The characters, often middle-class Americans, grapple with loss, isolation, and the inability to communicate effectively. The title story involves a man who gains insight into his own life when he helps a blind man envision a cathedral. Through these tales, the author highlights the profound moments in ordinary lives, showing the beauty and tragedy in the mundane.

  • Chelsea Girls by Eileen Myles

    "Chelsea Girls" is a semi-autobiographical novel that weaves together a collection of vivid and raw narratives, capturing the tumultuous life of a young woman navigating her identity, sexuality, and artistic ambition amidst the gritty backdrop of New York City in the 1960s and 1970s. The book is a patchwork of experiences, ranging from humorous to harrowing, as the protagonist grapples with the challenges of friendship, poverty, and the complexities of growing up. With a poetic and unflinching voice, the narrative delves into the countercultural scenes of the era, exploring the intersections of gender, politics, and the struggle for personal liberation.

  • CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders

    This book is a collection of short stories and a novella, all set in dystopian versions of America. The narratives often feature theme parks, which serve as metaphors for the cultural and moral decay of society. The characters are often trapped in low-wage jobs and are struggling to make ends meet, while also grappling with various personal issues. The stories are infused with dark humor and satire, and they provide a critique of capitalism and consumer culture.

  • Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

    This novel is a unique blend of six different stories, each set in a different time and place, spanning from the 19th century South Pacific to a post-apocalyptic future. Each tale is written in a different style, reflecting the time and setting it represents, and they are all connected through shared themes and recurring motifs. The stories are nested within each other, with each interrupted by the next, only to be concluded in the second half of the book. The novel explores themes of predacity, civilization, reincarnation and the eternal recurrence of the same behaviors throughout history.

  • Cruddy by Lynda Barry

    In the darkly comic and unsettling novel, a teenage girl recounts her harrowing journey through a dysfunctional childhood marked by neglect, abuse, and a road trip with her dangerously unhinged father. As she navigates the grim realities of her life, her story oscillates between the grimy, violent past and her struggle to survive in the present. The narrative, rich with vivid and disturbing imagery, explores themes of memory, trauma, and the resilience of the human spirit in the face of overwhelming adversity. The protagonist's voice, both raw and poignant, offers a stark and unflinching look at the complexities of family and the scars that our early experiences can leave on us.

  • Dance, Dance, Dance by Haruki Murakami

    The novel follows an unnamed protagonist as he searches for a sense of purpose and connection in a rapidly changing world. Haunted by memories of a mysterious woman and driven by a series of enigmatic events, he returns to the Dolphin Hotel, a place tied to his past experiences. As he navigates through a series of surreal encounters with a cast of characters including a psychic teenager, a film star, and a one-armed poet, the protagonist embarks on a metaphysical journey that blurs the lines between reality and dreams, leading him to confront the complexities of his own consciousness and the nature of existence.

  • Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol

    In this satirical novel, a man travels through Russia buying up the titles to deceased serfs (or "souls") from their naive landowners, under the guise of a get-rich-quick scheme. However, his real plan is to use these "dead souls" to create a phantom estate and secure a massive loan. The story explores the corruption and greed prevalent in 19th-century Russian society and provides a unique perspective on the human condition.

  • Eventide by Kent Haruf

    Set in the small town of Holt, Colorado, the novel delves into the lives of the aging McPheron brothers as they grapple with the loneliness and challenges of rural life after their surrogate daughter leaves for college. Simultaneously, the story follows a struggling young mother as she battles to keep her family together amidst poverty and social services intervention. The narrative weaves together the experiences of these characters and others in the community, painting a poignant and realistic portrait of small-town existence, with its interwoven relationships and the enduring human capacity for resilience and connection in the face of hardship.

  • For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

    Set in the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War, the novel follows the story of an American dynamiter, who is assigned the task of blowing up a bridge during a crucial attack on the city of Segovia. Alongside the war narrative, the story also explores his relationships with various characters, including his love affair with a young Spanish woman. The narrative beautifully encapsulates themes of love, war, death, and the transient nature of life.

  • Franny and Zooey by J. D. Salinger

    The book is a two-part narrative focusing on the siblings Franny and Zooey Glass. Franny, a college student, is experiencing a spiritual and existential breakdown, questioning the value of her education and the authenticity of the world around her. Zooey, her older brother and a former child prodigy, attempts to guide her through her crisis, using their shared experiences and the teachings of their older brothers. The book explores themes of spirituality, family dynamics, and the struggle for authenticity in a superficial world.

  • Green Wheat by Colette

    "Green Wheat" is a coming-of-age novella that captures the fleeting and poignant moments of adolescence through the eyes of its young protagonist, Vinca. Set during a summer holiday on the Brittany coast, the story delves into the complexities of first love and the bittersweet transition from childhood to adulthood. As Vinca and her childhood friend, Philippe, navigate the turbulent waters of their emotions and desires, they are confronted with the inevitable changes that time and experience bring to their once innocent relationship. The narrative is imbued with the author's characteristic sensual prose and keen observation of human nature, making it a tender and evocative exploration of youthful yearning and the awakening of sexual awareness.

  • House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

    The novel is a complex and multi-layered narrative that revolves around a young man who comes across a manuscript written by a blind man about a documentary that doesn't appear to exist. The documentary is about a family who moves into a house that is larger on the inside than it is on the outside, with shifting walls and hallways that lead to impossible spaces. The novel is known for its experimental layout, with some pages containing only a few words and others filled with footnotes, different fonts, and sideways text, reflecting the disorienting and labyrinthine nature of the house itself.

  • In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust

    This renowned novel is a sweeping exploration of memory, love, art, and the passage of time, told through the narrator's recollections of his childhood and experiences into adulthood in the late 19th and early 20th century aristocratic France. The narrative is notable for its lengthy and intricate involuntary memory episodes, the most famous being the "madeleine episode". It explores the themes of time, space and memory, but also raises questions about the nature of art and literature, and the complex relationships between love, sexuality, and possession.

  • Independence Day by Richard Ford

    "Independence Day" is a story about a middle-aged real estate agent named Frank Bascombe, who is going through a mid-life crisis during the Fourth of July weekend. The novel delves into Frank's struggles with his career, his troubled relationship with his son, his romantic life, and his existential questions about life and his place in the world. The narrative is a reflection on the American Dream, the pursuit of happiness, and the complexities of modern life.

  • James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

    A young boy named James, after being orphaned and forced to live with his cruel aunts, embarks on a magical adventure inside a giant peach. Alongside a group of anthropomorphic insects who also reside in the peach, James navigates through a series of fantastical events, including battling pirate-like creatures and flying across the Atlantic Ocean to New York City. This whimsical journey helps James escape his miserable life and find a new family amongst his insect friends.

  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

    The novel follows the life of Jane Eyre, an orphan who is mistreated by her relatives and sent to a charity school. As she grows up, Jane becomes a governess at Thornfield Hall, where she falls in love with the brooding and mysterious Mr. Rochester. However, she soon learns of a dark secret in his past that threatens their future together. The story is a profound exploration of a woman's self-discovery and her struggle for independence and love in a rigid Victorian society.

  • Jaws by Peter Benchley

    In this thrilling novel, a small resort town is terrorized by a great white shark that preys upon the local beachgoers. As the body count rises, the town's leaders grapple with the decision to close the beaches, while a trio consisting of the police chief, a marine biologist, and a grizzled shark hunter embark on a desperate quest to kill the beast. Their harrowing battle with the monstrous predator unfolds in a crescendo of suspense and terror, reflecting the primal fear of the unknown lurking beneath the ocean's surface.

  • Leviathan by Paul Auster

    In this metaphysical detective story, the protagonist's journey unfolds through a series of unexpected events that begin with a mysterious explosion on a highway. The narrative weaves through the protagonist's relationships and encounters, exploring themes of identity, chance, and the complexities of human connection. As the protagonist delves into the life of a friend who may be connected to the explosion, the story examines the political and personal motives that drive individuals to extreme actions. The novel is a contemplation on the nature of fate and the search for meaning in a seemingly random and chaotic world.

  • Light Years by James Salter

    "Light Years" is a vivid and intimate portrayal of a couple's complex relationship over the course of their lives. The story follows a charismatic and successful couple living in a beautiful home near the Hudson River. As they entertain their friends with lavish parties, their seemingly perfect life begins to unravel, revealing the cracks in their marriage and the emptiness that lies beneath their glamorous lifestyle. The novel explores themes of love, happiness, and the passage of time, offering a poignant critique of the American dream.

  • London Fields by Martin Amis

    The novel is a darkly comic, murder mystery set in London at the end of the 20th century. The story follows three main characters: a terminally ill American writer, a petty criminal, and a beautiful but doomed woman who predicts her own murder but not the murderer. The narrative is filled with satirical social commentary, exploring themes of love, lust, greed, and deception.

  • Mating by Norman Rush

    "Mating" is a novel that follows the story of a female anthropologist who is doing her fieldwork in Botswana. She falls in love with an eccentric and charismatic intellectual who has created a utopian matriarchal village in the Kalahari desert. The narrative explores themes of love, feminism, and idealism as it delves into the complexities of human relationships and societal structures.

  • Molloy by Samuel Beckett

    "Molloy" is a complex and enigmatic novel that follows the journey of its eponymous character, an elderly, disabled vagabond, who is tasked with finding and killing a certain person. The narrative is split into two parts: the first is told from Molloy's perspective as he navigates his way through a strange and often hostile world, while the second follows a detective named Moran who is assigned to find Molloy. The novel is renowned for its challenging narrative structure, its bleak and absurdist humor, and its profound exploration of themes such as identity, existence, and the human condition.

  • My Antonia by Willa Cather

    This novel follows the life of Antonia Shimerda, a Bohemian immigrant to the United States, through the eyes of her childhood friend, Jim Burden. The narrative explores their lives in the harsh environment of the American Midwest, their struggles with poverty, cultural adaptation, and personal growth. Antonia's resilience, strength, and love for life inspire Jim, who moves away for education and career but remains emotionally tied to the woman and the prairie life he left behind. The book is a compelling portrayal of pioneer life, human resilience, and the enduring power of friendship.

  • My Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok

    The book centers on Asher Lev, a young boy from a Hasidic Jewish family in Brooklyn, who possesses a prodigious artistic talent that conflicts with his deeply religious community and his relationship with his parents. As Asher grows, he must navigate the tension between his passion for painting and the expectations of his faith and family. His journey of self-discovery and struggle for artistic expression leads him to study under a renowned artist, which further alienates him from his community and leads to a profound personal and spiritual reckoning. The novel explores themes of identity, tradition, and the often-painful pursuit of individuality within the confines of a strict cultural milieu.

  • Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

    In this dark and imaginative fantasy, a young Londoner named Richard Mayhew finds his mundane life turned upside down when he stumbles upon a young woman named Door, bleeding on the sidewalk. After aiding her, he is thrust into the shadowy, parallel world of London Below, a realm of magic, danger, and intrigue that exists beneath the streets of London Above. As Richard journeys through this eerie underworld with a cast of bizarre and fantastical characters, he must confront malevolent forces and unravel a complex conspiracy to help Door discover why her family was murdered, all while trying to find a way back to his old life.

  • Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov

    The novel is a unique blend of fiction, commentary, and poetry, presented as a 999-line poem written by a fictional poet, followed by an extensive commentary and foreword by his neighbor and academic colleague. The novel blurs the line between reality and fiction, as the commentator's notes reveal an alternative narrative, one of exile, intrigue, and murder. The book is a playful exploration of authorship, deception, and the nature of art.

  • 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.

  • Father Goriot by Honoré de Balzac

    "Father Goriot" is a classic French novel that explores the themes of wealth, power, love, and social status in 19th century Paris. The narrative follows the lives of three main characters: a young, ambitious law student who seeks to rise above his modest background; an elderly, once-wealthy man who has sacrificed everything for his two ungrateful daughters; and a crafty, ruthless criminal who manipulates others for his own gain. Their stories intertwine in a boarding house, revealing the harsh realities of Parisian society and the destructive power of unchecked ambition and selfishness.

  • Persuasion by Jane Austen

    This classic novel revolves around the life of Anne Elliot, a woman of 27 who is unmarried and living with her vain, snobbish, and foolish family who are on the brink of financial ruin. Seven years prior, she had been persuaded to reject a marriage proposal from the man she loved, a poor but ambitious naval officer named Frederick Wentworth. When he returns from the war a wealthy and successful captain, old feelings are rekindled. The story follows Anne's journey towards self-realization and second chances at love amidst the complexities of her social class.

  • Plainsong by Kent Haruf

    This novel is set in the small town of Holt, Colorado, and explores the intertwining lives of its residents. The narrative focuses on a high school teacher raising two sons after his wife leaves him, a pair of bachelor brothers who have lived together on their family farm for decades, and a pregnant teenager kicked out of her home. The characters' lives intersect in unexpected ways, offering a poignant exploration of community, resilience, and the human capacity for connection and kindness.

  • Rabbit, Run by John Updike

    The novel follows the life of a 26-year-old former high school basketball star, who is dissatisfied with his current life. He impulsively leaves his wife and son and embarks on a journey in the hopes of finding a more meaningful existence. His decisions, however, lead to a series of tragic events that impact the lives of those around him. This mid-20th-century novel explores themes of freedom, responsibility, and the tragic consequences of impulsive decisions.

  • The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

    The novel is a poignant tale of an English butler, Stevens, who reflects on his life and career during a road trip through the English countryside. As he delves into his past, he reveals his unquestioning loyalty to his former employer, Lord Darlington, and his unexpressed love for the housekeeper, Miss Kenton. The narrative explores themes of dignity, duty, and regret, as Stevens comes to terms with his unquestioning devotion to his employer and the missed opportunities in his personal life.

  • Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

    This classic novel explores the lives of the Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne, as they navigate love, heartbreak, and societal expectations in 18th-century England. The two sisters, one characterized by practicality and restraint (sense) and the other by emotional intensity and romanticism (sensibility), must negotiate their paths through a world where marriage often has more to do with wealth and social status than with love. The story is a sharp critique of the limitations placed on women in a rigidly patriarchal society.

  • The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut

    The novel explores the life of Malachi Constant, the richest man in a future America, who has gained his wealth due to his father's foresight in investing in companies that benefit from the space race. The narrative takes him from Earth to Mars, Mercury, back to Earth, and finally to one of Saturn's moons, Titan. Along the way, he experiences a series of bizarre, humorous, and tragic events that reveal the senselessness of war and the emptiness of a life devoid of love. The novel offers a biting critique of capitalism, militarism, and religion, while also exploring themes of free will, determinism, and the search for meaning.

  • Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

    The novel follows the life of Billy Pilgrim, a World War II veteran who has become "unstuck in time," experiencing his life events out of order. This includes his experiences as a prisoner of war in Dresden during the Allies' firebombing, his post-war life as a successful optometrist, his abduction by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore, and his eventual death. The book is a critique of war and a demonstration of the destructive nature of time, with a nonlinear narrative that reflects the chaos and unpredictability of life.

  • Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata

    "Snow Country" is a poignant tale of a tragic love affair between a wealthy city-dweller and a provincial geisha. Set in a remote hot-spring town in the snowy Japanese mountains, the story explores the depth of human emotions, loneliness, and the ephemeral nature of beauty and love. The narrative is filled with vivid imagery and symbolism, reflecting the melancholic and transient beauty of the snow country, and the inevitable fate of the characters.

  • Strange Pilgrims by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

    "Strange Pilgrims" is a collection of twelve short stories that explore the lives of Latin American characters who find themselves in unfamiliar European settings. The tales, infused with magical realism, delve into themes of dislocation, love, death, and the surreal experiences of immigrants. The characters, often caught between their old world and the new, face unexpected situations and encounters that challenge their understanding of reality. The stories weave a tapestry of poignant, strange, and sometimes whimsical narratives that reflect the author's signature style of blending the fantastic with the ordinary.

  • 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.

  • The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

    Set in the 1870s, the novel revolves around Newland Archer, a young lawyer from New York's high society, who is engaged to the beautiful and conventional May Welland. His life takes a turn when he meets May's cousin, the Countess Ellen Olenska, who has returned from Europe after leaving her scandalous husband. Torn between his duty and passion, Archer struggles with the constraints of the society he is a part of. The book offers a vivid portrayal of the struggle between individual desires and societal expectations in the upper-class New York society of the late 19th century.

  • The Ambassadors by Henry James

    The novel centers around a middle-aged man named Lambert Strether who is sent from New England to Paris by a wealthy widow, Mrs. Newsome, to convince her wayward son, Chad, to return home. However, upon arriving in Europe, Strether is charmed by the sophisticated lifestyle Chad has adopted and finds himself questioning the puritanical values of his homeland. He also becomes entangled in romantic relationships and complex social dynamics, leading him to ultimately question his loyalty to Mrs. Newsome. The book explores themes of morality, identity, and the concept of the American versus European lifestyle.

  • The Awakening by Kate Chopin

    "The Awakening" is a novel set in the late 19th century New Orleans, which explores the life of a young woman trapped in societal and marital expectations. She embarks on a journey of self-discovery and independence, defying the norms of her time. The protagonist challenges the traditional roles of women as she seeks personal fulfillment, experiences sexual awakening, and struggles with her desires and responsibilities. The book is a critique of the repressive social norms, particularly regarding women and marriage, of the Victorian era.

  • Blood Oranges by John Hawkes

    "Blood Oranges" is a dark, surreal narrative that follows the journey of an unnamed narrator, a failed poet turned farmer, as he navigates through a landscape ravaged by a mysterious plague. The narrative is filled with bizarre and grotesque imagery, highlighting the narrator's descent into madness and his struggle to find meaning in a world that is falling apart. The story is a complex exploration of human nature, despair, and the struggle for survival in the face of overwhelming adversity.

  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon

    This novel follows a 15-year-old boy with autism as he tries to solve the mystery of who killed his neighbor's dog. Along the way, he uncovers other secrets about his family and must navigate the world using his unique perspective and abilities. The book offers an insightful look into the mind of a character with autism, highlighting his struggles and triumphs in a compelling and empathetic way.

  • The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer

    "The Executioner's Song" is a true crime novel that tells the story of Gary Gilmore, a man who, after being released from prison, embarks on a murder spree in Utah that leads to his capture and execution. The book delves into Gilmore's troubled life and psyche, his relationships, and the legal and moral debates surrounding his death sentence. It provides an in-depth look at the American criminal justice system and capital punishment.

  • The Floating Opera by John Barth

    The novel is a first-person narrative told by an aging man who contemplates suicide on his birthday. He recounts the events of his life, including his love affairs, his law career, and his relationships with his friends and neighbors in a small Maryland town. As he reflects on the absurdity of life, he questions the value of existence and the nature of reality, resulting in a darkly humorous and philosophical exploration of the human condition.

  • The Friends Of Eddie Coyle by George V.Higgins

    The novel delves into the gritty underworld of Boston's organized crime scene through the eyes of Eddie Coyle, a small-time gunrunner and career criminal facing the prospect of a long prison sentence. As he navigates the treacherous waters of loyalty and betrayal, Eddie becomes entangled with a variety of dangerous characters, including bank robbers, hitmen, and corrupt law enforcement. Desperate to avoid jail time, he contemplates becoming an informant, a decision that forces him to weigh the value of his friendships against his own survival. The narrative unfolds with sharp dialogue and a realistic portrayal of the bleak lives of those on the fringes of the criminal world.

  • The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

    This novel is a poignant tale of fraternal twins, a boy and a girl, who navigate through their childhood in Kerala, India, amidst a backdrop of political unrest and societal norms. The story, set in 1969, explores the complexities of their family's history and the tragic events that shape their lives. Their mother's transgression of caste and societal norms by having an affair with an untouchable leads to disastrous consequences, revealing the oppressive nature of the caste system and the destructive power of forbidden love. The novel also delves into themes of postcolonial identity, gender roles, and the lingering effects of trauma.

  • The Godfather by Mario Puzo

    The book revolves around the powerful Italian-American crime family of Don Vito Corleone. When the don's youngest son, Michael, reluctantly joins the mafia, he becomes involved in the inevitable cycle of violence and betrayal. Although Michael tries to maintain a normal relationship with his wife, Kay, he is drawn deeper into the family business. The narrative follows the Corleone family's struggle to hold onto power in a rapidly changing world, as well as Michael's transformation from reluctant family outsider to ruthless mafia boss.

  • The Golden Bowl by Henry James

    The Golden Bowl is a complex narrative that revolves around an American woman and her daughter who marry a father and son. The daughter's husband previously had a romantic relationship with the mother's husband, leading to a tense and intricate web of relationships. The novel explores themes of marriage, adultery, and familial bonds, and is renowned for its detailed characterization and intricate plot structure.

  • The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

    The novel centers around a woman named Anna Wulf, a writer who keeps four notebooks, each representing a different aspect of her life: her experiences in Africa, her current life in London, a novel she is writing, and her personal experiences. As Anna's mental state deteriorates, she attempts to unify her fragmented self in a fifth notebook, the golden notebook. The novel explores themes of mental breakdown, communism, the changing role of women, and the fear of nuclear war.

  • The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

    The novel explores the spiritual isolation of misfits and outcasts in a small town of the U.S. South. Its protagonist is a deaf-mute who becomes the confidant for various troubled souls including a black physician, a bitter labor activist, a lonely young girl, and a struggling café owner. Each pours their heart out to him, but he remains unable to respond, reflecting the deep human need for connection and understanding.

  • The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

    The novel intertwines the stories of Leo Gursky, a Holocaust survivor living out his twilight years in New York City, and Alma Singer, a 14-year-old girl trying to ease her mother's loneliness after the death of her father. Their lives are connected through a book, written by Leo in his youth as a tribute to his first love, that has been translated into English and published under a different author's name. As Alma investigates the true authorship of the book, their stories converge in a poignant exploration of love, loss, and the power of literature.

  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

    This comedic science fiction novel follows the intergalactic adventures of an unwitting human, Arthur Dent, who is rescued just before Earth's destruction by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher for a galactic travel guide. Together, they hitch a ride on a stolen spaceship, encountering a range of bizarre characters, including a depressed robot and a two-headed ex-president of the galaxy. Through a series of satirical and absurd escapades, the book explores themes of existentialism, bureaucracy, and the absurdity of life, all while poking fun at the science fiction genre and offering witty commentary on the human condition.

  • The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa

    "The Leopard" is a historical novel set in 19th-century Sicily, during the time of the Italian unification or Risorgimento. It centers on an aging, aristocratic protagonist who is coming to terms with the decline of his class and the rise of a new social order. The narrative weaves together personal drama with the larger political and social upheaval of the time, providing a rich, nuanced portrait of a society in transition. Despite his resistance to change, the protagonist ultimately recognizes its inevitability and the futility of his efforts to preserve the old ways.

  • The Master by Colm Tóibín

    "The Master" is a fictionalized biography of the renowned author Henry James, chronicling his life from 1895 to 1899. The narrative delves into James' personal life, his relationships, and his struggles with his craft. The book reveals his inner thoughts and feelings, his unfulfilled desires, and his deep-seated fears. It also explores his relationships with his family, friends, and some of the most prominent figures of his time. The narrative is a deep, introspective exploration of a complex, introverted character, and the world in which he lived.

  • The Master Of Go by Yasunari Kawabata

    The book is a thoughtful reflection on the changing face of Japanese culture, told through the lens of a professional Go match between an aging master, representing the old guard and traditional values, and his young, innovative challenger who embodies the new ways. As the intense match unfolds, it becomes more than just a game; it is a poignant exploration of tradition versus progress, the individual versus society, and the tension between the spiritual purity of the art and the commercialism of modern times. The narrative, based on a real-life event, delves deep into the psychology of its characters and the strategic intricacies of Go, offering a subtle yet profound meditation on the nature of competition and the end of an era.

  • The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker

    The book is a stream-of-consciousness narrative that delves into the thoughts of a young office worker during his lunch-hour escalator ride back to the mezzanine floor of his office building. In this brief journey, the protagonist reflects on various aspects of modern life, from the design of milk cartons to the intricacies of shoelaces. The novel is notable for its meticulous attention to the minutiae of everyday life and its exploration of the inner workings of the protagonist's mind, revealing the complexity and profundity that can be found in the most ordinary of moments.

About this list

New York Times, 120 Books

This is the fiction version of the non-fiction list. The description of the non-fiction list is -- Inspired by The Guardian's recent list of the 100 greatest nonfiction books, we here at the magazine decided to create our own list. Dispensing with all pretense to rigor — it's a list, silly! — we simply asked each member of the staff to pick their five favorites.
Note. I did delete one entry where someone just listed one author. These are ranked at the top of the list. I aggregated the duplicates into a rank.

Added 2 months ago.

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