War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
We know, it’s long and the Russian names are complicated, but seriously it’s a good book to read: if you can follow thousands of pages of Game of Thrones and the rest of the Ice and Fire series (which we love, by the way) then you can handle the challenge of one of the greatest novels of all time. War and Peace is set in the years before, during, and after Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. Tolstoy brilliantly chronicles the world of a crumbling aristocracy—on the battlefield, in society, and at home. His research was meticulous, his characters (the soldiers, lovers, seekers) unforgettable. Most recently, War and Peace was adapted as a Tony-winning Broadway musical starring Josh Groban.
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
McCullers was just 23 years old when her novel about a deaf-mute and the travails of the people he encounters was published. She wasn’t the first to write about people at the margins of society, but in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, she did so indelibly. Quotable quote: “And how can the dead be truly dead when they still live in the souls of those who are left behind?” Here are our favorite lines from quotable books.
Native Son by Richard Wright
Published in 1940 (as was The Heart is a Lonely Hunter), Wright’s graphic, violent protest novel was an eye-opener about racial tensions and poverty in America. For hundreds of thousands of readers, the story was a conversation starter: Wright’s protagonist Bigger Thomas commits an accidental murder, and spirals downward into more violence and despair. Some schools have tried to ban Native Son, but the novel endures.