The Greatest "Contemporary" Books of All Time

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This list represents a comprehensive and trusted collection of the greatest books. Developed through a specialized algorithm, it brings together 268 'best of' book lists to form a definitive guide to the world's most acclaimed books. For those interested in how these books are chosen, additional details can be found on the rankings page.

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Contemporary

Contemporary books are a genre that focuses on stories set in the present day, often exploring current social, cultural, and political issues. These books are typically written in a modern style and often feature relatable characters dealing with real-life situations. Contemporary books can cover a wide range of topics, from romance and family drama to coming-of-age stories and thrillers. The genre is constantly evolving to reflect the changing world we live in, making it a popular choice for readers who want to stay up-to-date with the latest trends and issues.

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  1. 1. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

    The novel follows the story of a young woman who wins a guest editorship at a magazine in New York City and, after a series of personal and professional disappointments, suffers a mental breakdown and returns to her family, where she continues to struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts. The protagonist's experiences in psychiatric institutions and her attempts to reclaim her life are depicted with brutal honesty, making it a poignant exploration of mental illness and the societal pressures faced by women in the mid-20th century.

  2. 2. 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.

  3. 3. 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.

  4. 4. Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth

    The novel is a first-person narrative, a monologue by a young Jewish man, Alexander Portnoy, who is speaking to his psychoanalyst. He shares his struggles with his identity as a Jewish man in America, his sexual fantasies and frustrations, his complex relationship with his overbearing mother, and his experiences of guilt and shame. The book uses humor and frank language to explore themes of identity, sexuality, and the Jewish experience in America.

  5. 5. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

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

  6. 6. Herzog by Saul Bellow

    The novel centers around Moses Herzog, a middle-aged, intelligent yet distressed man who is going through a mid-life crisis. After his second marriage fails, he falls into a state of emotional turmoil and begins writing letters to friends, family, and even famous figures, expressing his philosophical thoughts and personal feelings. His journey of self-discovery and understanding forms the crux of the story. It's a profound exploration of a man's struggle with the complexities of life and his quest for meaning.

  7. 7. 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.

  8. 8. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

    The novel explores the life of two sisters, Ruth and Lucille, who are raised by a series of relatives in a small, secluded town in Idaho after their mother's suicide. The girls' lives are profoundly affected by the eccentric and transient lifestyle of their aunt Sylvie, who becomes their guardian. The narrative delves deeply into themes of family, identity, womanhood, and the impermanence of life, ultimately leading to a divide between the sisters as they choose different paths in life.

  9. 9. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

    The novel revolves around the lives of the Lambert family, an old-fashioned midwestern couple and their three adult children. The parents, Alfred and Enid, are dealing with Alfred's Parkinson's disease and their own marital problems, while their children are each facing their own personal and professional crises. The narrative explores the themes of family dynamics, societal expectations, and the struggles of modern life. The story climaxes with the family's last Christmas together at their childhood home.

  10. 10. The World According to Garp by John Irving

    The novel follows the life of T.S. Garp, the illegitimate son of a feminist mother, who becomes a writer. Garp's life is filled with unusual experiences and characters, from his unconventional conception to his untimely death. He navigates through a world filled with sexual violence, infidelity, and gender issues, and his life story is punctuated by his own literary creations. His mother's feminist ideals and the tragic events of his life deeply influence his writing and worldview.

  11. 11. 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.

  12. 12. White Teeth by Zadie Smith

    This novel follows the lives of two friends, a working-class Englishman and a Bangladeshi Muslim, living in London. The story explores the complex relationships between people of different races, cultures, and generations in modern Britain, with themes of identity, immigration, and the cultural and social changes that have shaped the country. The narrative is enriched by the characters' personal histories and the historical events that have shaped their lives.

  13. 13. Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe

    This novel follows the life of a successful Wall Street bond trader who, after a wrong turn in the Bronx, finds his life spiraling out of control. After a hit-and-run accident in a predominantly black neighborhood, he becomes the target of a political witch hunt, exacerbating racial tensions in the city. As the protagonist's world unravels, the story provides a satirical commentary on 1980s New York City, exploring themes of racism, classism, politics, and greed.

  14. 14. 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.

  15. 15. 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.

  16. 16. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

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

  17. 17. Money by Martin Amis

    "Money" is a darkly humorous novel that follows the life of John Self, a hedonistic, self-destructive director of commercials, as he navigates the excesses and depravities of 1980s New York and London. His life is filled with overindulgence in food, alcohol, drugs, and women, leading to a downward spiral of self-destruction. The novel is a satire on the excesses of capitalism and the obsession with wealth and materialism, and it also explores themes of identity, self-loathing, and the destructive power of addiction.

  18. 18. 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.

  19. 19. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

    A man's search for his wife's missing cat evolves into a surreal journey through Tokyo's underbelly, where he encounters a bizarre collection of characters with strange stories and peculiar obsessions. As he delves deeper, he finds himself entangled in a web of dreamlike scenarios, historical digressions, and metaphysical investigations. His reality becomes increasingly intertwined with the dream world as he grapples with themes of fate, identity, and the dark side of the human psyche.

  20. 20. White Noise by Don DeLillo

    The novel is a postmodern exploration of death and consumerism in the United States. It follows a year in the life of Jack Gladney, a professor who has made his name by pioneering the field of Hitler Studies at a small liberal arts college in Middle America. Jack and his fourth wife, Babette, are afraid of death and are obsessed with finding a cure for their fear. Their lives are disrupted by an airborne toxic event, which forces them to confront their mortality and the toxic effects of modern life.

  21. 21. 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.

  22. 22. The Stories of John Cheever by John Cheever

    This collection of short stories provides an intimate look into the lives of individuals living in the American suburbs during the mid-20th century. The narratives often center around themes of love, loss, and the pursuit of the American dream, painting a vivid picture of the human condition. The characters are typically middle-class individuals dealing with personal crises, existential dread, and the often harsh realities of everyday life. The stories are renowned for their ability to capture the essence of post-war America, with all of its beauty, despair, and complexity.

  23. 23. Rabbit Redux by John Updike

    The novel is a sequel in a series following the life of Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, a middle-aged man living in a small Pennsylvania town. When his wife leaves him for another man, he finds himself alone and struggling to make sense of the rapidly changing world around him. In his loneliness, he takes in a young runaway and her racially divisive boyfriend, leading to a series of events that force Rabbit to confront his own prejudices and fears. The book is a vivid portrayal of the American social and political climate of the 1960s.

  24. 24. The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch

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

  25. 25. The Lover by Marguerite Duras

    "The Lover" is a poignant exploration of forbidden love, power dynamics, and colonialism. Set in 1930s French Indochina, it tells the story of a tumultuous and passionate affair between a 15-year-old French girl and her wealthy, older Chinese lover. The narrative delves into the complexities of their relationship, the societal norms they defy, and the inevitable heartbreak that follows. The protagonist's struggle with her family's poverty and her mother's mental instability further complicates the story, making it a compelling exploration of love, desire, and societal constraints.

Reading Statistics

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If you're interested in downloading this list as a CSV file for use in a spreadsheet application, you can easily do so by clicking the button below. Please note that to ensure a manageable file size and faster download, the CSV will include details for only the first 500 books.

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