100 of America’s Favorite Novels
PBS kicks off a year-long initiative to promote reading and in-depth discussion of America's favorite 100 books. Here are all the novels you'll want to read—and talk about—in the coming year, and beyond.
1984, by George Orwell
George Orwell’s 1984 is a timeless and prescient classic about a dystopian world where freedom is curtailed by the government. Written in 1948, Orwell’s book offers chilling parallels to our modern world. To learn more about The Great American Read and to vote for your favorite book, go to PBS.org. Orwell’s other tome, Animal Farm, made the list of 18 classic books you can read in a day.
A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole
Ignatius J. Reilly is the comic hero of John Kennedy Toole’s classic tome, A Confederacy of Dunces, written in 1963 and set in New Orleans. Reilly is a slothful modern-day Don Quixote who lives with his mother and embarks on adventures that wrangle together a world of unforgettable characters.
A Game of Thrones (series), by George R. R. Martin
George R. R. Martin’s world-building mastery has cast A Game of Thrones as one of the best-loved fantasies of all time. Hugely inspired by Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series, Martin’s magical and conflict-filled world of Westeros is an unforgettable one for all lovers of fantasy.
A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving
John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany is treasured for its protagonist, Owen Meany, whose purpose in life—largely defined by a tragic childhood accident—is a thought-provoking example of what it means to live an examined and meaningful existence.
A Separate Peace, by John Knowles
John Knowle’s A Separate Peace, published in 1959, is considered a young adult masterpiece. Set against the backdrop of World War II at a New England boarding school, Gene and Phineas, an unlikely pair, embark on a friendship that will change lives forever.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith
In A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith’s classic coming-of-age story told at the turn of the 20th century, young Francie Nolan learns to embrace her talents and human nature as she maneuvers her way through a hardscrabble Williamsburg upbringing.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain
Mark Twain’s classic tale of life on the Mississippi River follows its scrappy protagonist Tom Sawyer, and a gaggle of supporting characters, among them Huckleberry Finn. Sawyer witnesses a murder, runs away, falls in love, and finds himself in one of the most notable American satires of all time.
The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho
Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, published in 1988, is as a cult-classic and international bestseller about a young shepherd’s quest to follow his dreams. The book is an allegorical tale about finding treasure, but its real message lies in finding meaning in one’s destiny. Find out the 30 most quotable books ever written.
Alex Cross mysteries, by James Patterson
James Patterson is one of the highest-grossing writers in the world ever (save for J.K. Rowling!). His Alex Cross series, which began with the blockbuster Along Came a Spider, is only the beginning of forensic psychologist Alex Cross’s epic saga. Addicted to spine-tingling reads? You’ll want to add these 13 best thrillers to your must-read list.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll
Rarely has a story become embedded in our cultural imagination with the same veracity that Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has. New generations will delight in everything from the Mad Hatter’s tea party to the Walrus and the Carpenter. Drink me! These are the children’s books every adult should read again.
Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah is a rich tapestry that takes on immigration, first love, and what it means to find home on both familiar and foreign shores. Adichie’s protagonists, Ifemelu and Obinze, navigate their way through Nigeria’s changing political infrastructure, post 9/11 America, and London.
And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie
Agatha Christie’s gripping mystery And Then There Were None tells the story of ten strangers invited to stay in a mansion on an island off the coast of Devon by a mysterious host named U.N. Owen. One by one, his guests are murdered. The framework of Christie’s clever story is an old nursery rhyme that counts backward from ten.
Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery
Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables tells the story of an 11-year-old orphan who’s taken in by two siblings in the fictional land of Avonlea. Feeling at home is going to take some time, though…
Another Country, by James Baldwin
Set in the 1950s, Baldwin’s novel Another Country follows a group of friends in Greenwich Village, France, and Harlem, tracing their passions, their racial and gender identities, and their most elemental strengths and frailties.
Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand
Who is John Galt? Ayn Rand’s magnum opus Atlas Shrugged tells the story of a mysterious man who is both philosopher and inventor, and who works to “stop the motor of the world.” What his efforts achieve could be the very toppling of bureaucracy as we’ve come to know it.
Beloved, by Toni Morrison
In 1988, Toni Morrison won the Pulitzer Prize for her masterful novel Beloved. Sethe, a former slave, is haunted by her indelible past. What will it take to exorcise her painful inheritance? Don’t miss the strongest female literary protagonists of all time.
Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
Rudolfo Anaya’s beautiful novel Bless Me, Ultima is a coming-of-age story set in rural New Mexico in the 1940s. Young Antonio’s mentorship from Ultima, a curandera and protector, depicts a crucial multicultural worldview centered around the mythic American Southwest.
The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak
It’s 1939 in Berlin, and Leisel lives with her accordion-playing foster father who teaches her how to read. To eke out a living, she steals; books are the things that are most irresistible. She shares them with her neighbors, and a Jewish man hidden in her basement. Markus Zusak’s novel has become a treasured book about the stories that can save us.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Díaz
Junot Díaz’s protagonist Oscar Wao, an overweight Dominican boy who lives in Paterson, New Jersey, has a lot of dreams. He dreams of writing science fiction and fantasy, he dreams of finding love, and he dreams of shedding the fukú curse that has haunted his family for generations.
The Call of the Wild, by Jack London
Jack London’s iconic adventure novel The Call of the Wild, published in 1903, chronicles the life of Buck, a St. Bernard-Scotch Shepherd who ends up fighting for dominance as a sled dog in the Canadian Klondike after being stolen from his home in California. London’s study of man vs. wild illuminates the tenor of an old world being newly dismantled by the progress of industrialization. Here are some more high school English books worth a re-read.
Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, set in World War II, is a satirical novel that examines the insanity of war. Captain John Yossarian and his Air Force squadron are based in the Mediterranean off of Italy’s shores, and work to make sense of what’s happening so they can get home.
The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
J.D. Salinger’s young anti-hero in The Catcher in the Rye navigates the waters of adolescence in New York City with a candid voice and an authenticity that grabbed hold of a generation and never let go. Prefer nonfiction? These are 10 of the best autobiographies you really should have read by now.
Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White
E.B. White’s classic children’s masterpiece Charlotte’s Web takes a deep look at the power of friendship and sacrifice. Wilbur, the pig protagonist, and Charlotte, his dear arachnid friend, communicate across species while their human, Fern Zuckerman, grows up and learns about life and love.
The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis
C.S. Lewis’s beloved fantasy series traces the land of Narnia across its many generations of mythical talking beasts, kings and queens, and good and evil. Brothers and sisters Lucy, Edmund, Peter, and Meg go from escaping London’s Blitz to the countryside where they’ll walk into a wardrobe, and out into their new world and their long reign.
The Clan of the Cave Bear, by Jean M. Auel
Jean M. Auel’s The Clan of the Cave Bear is an epic story set in prehistoric times during the Ice Age. The book’s hero, young Ayla, finds herself alone and wandering in the wild before being adopted by a clan of Neanderthal people who don’t recognize her as one of their own.
The Coldest Winter Ever, by Sister Souljah
In Sister Souljah’s award-winning novel The Coldest Winter Ever, Winter Santiaga is the teenage daughter of a Brooklyn drug kingpin. When a cold winter blows her life in unexpected directions, Winter faces new challenges that put her metal to the test.
The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple is set in the 1930s and examines the lives of two sisters in very different circumstances: Celie, a child bride in the American South; the other, Nettie, who becomes a missionary in Africa. Their struggles of abuse, silence, and loyalty crisscross generations. No surprise here—it earned a place on our list of 10 best books written by women.
The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas
Set in France in the 19th century, The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas, has become the classic revenge tale. Long considered to be collaboratively ghost-written by Auguste Maquet, the adventure tells the story of a man who is wrongly imprisoned, and the steps he takes to exact justice after his escape.
Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Is Fyodor Dostoevksy’s indelible protagonist Raskalnikov above the law? Is committing the murder of a hated pawnbroker a moral duty, or is it morally reprehensible? This Russian classic, published first in 1866, demands of its readers that they ask the hard questions.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon
British novelist Mark Haddon brings to life his 15-year-old protagonist Christopher John Francis Boone, whose daily life gives way to the quest of solving the mystery of a dog who turns up speared to death with a garden hoe. Boone has autism, but the book isn’t meant to be a treatise on the condition; rather a look at what it means to see the world in a unique and inventive way.
The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown
Dan Brown’s blockbuster thriller puts his readers in the center of old world mysteries: Mary Magdalene and her bloodline, the holy grail, and, yes, the art of Leonardo Da Vinci. Secrets are guarded to the death while the main character, Robert Langdon, navigates the rocky waters of conspiracy and religion, love and betrayal.
Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes
Spain’s Miguel de Cervantes tells the fantastic satirical tale of Alonso Quixano and the imaginative world he conjures up as the great Don Quixote de la Mancha, and his sidekick Sancho Panza. Quixote and Panza slay dragons and rescue damsels in distress, but their world is not what it seems to be. Published in two volumes in 1605 and 1615, the story has stood the test of time, and has been retold in new ways for nearly half a millennium.
Doña Bárbara, by Rómulo Gallegos
Rómulo Gallegos’s Doña Bárbara is a parable. Set in Gallegos’s native Venezuela in the 1920s, the title character, Doña—a seducer of men, a grabber of power—mirrors the corrupt political culture of the country’s corrupt dictator at the time, Juan Vicente Gómez.
Dune, by Frank Herbert
Frank Herbert’s science fiction masterpiece is set long into the future on a desert planet called Arrakis. There, giant sand worms and a brain-aiding spice called “melange” set up a tricky situation for Paul Atreides, a young boy from a noble background.
Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James
Businessman Christian Grey sees something in Anastasia Steele that he likes in the blockbuster Fifty Shades of Grey. She’s beautiful, witty, outgoing, and intelligent. On the other hand, he’s reserved and very private. Grey’s erotic tastes bring Ana into the new worlds of his kink, his wealth, and his demons.
Flowers in the Attic, by V.C. Andrews
In 1979, V.C. Andrews published the first of her Gothic Dollanganger series, about a family of children who is locked in their evil grandmother’s attic. The book’s abuses and taboos range from regular beatings and threats of violence to incest. Despite that (or maybe because of it) the book was a blockbuster and sold over 40 million copies world-wide.
Foundation (series), by Isaac Asimov
Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series paints the picture of an intergalactic world of great thinkers, whose job it is to save mankind from a looming barbaric dark age that will last 30,000 years. Can mathematics and engineering preserve the world as they know it?
Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
Mary Shelley’s Gothic masterpiece Frankenstein is a story that’s been lodged into our collective imagination for 200 years. In it, Dr. Victor Frankenstein turns a corpse into a monster who is forced to navigate his own desires amid a human world.
Ghost, by Jason Reynolds
In Jason Reynold’s award-winning YA novel Ghost, Ghost, the title character, is a runner who runs away from everything for all the wrong reasons. It takes a mentor named Coach to help him change directions and run towards his natural talent.
Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson
Marilynne Robinson’s epistolary novel Gilead won the Pulitzer Prize in 2005. In it, the elderly Congregationlist John Ames, who’s dying of a heart condition, writes the story of his life in a series of letters to his young son. He writes about his father, a Christian Pacifist; his first wife who died; and the small town of Gilead, Iowa that he called home.
The Giver, by Lois Lowry
Lois Lowry’s The Giver tells the story of 12-year-old Jonas, who takes on the most important job in his colorless and conformist world as Receiver of Memory. This new job brings with it more than he bargained for as he begins to understand the darker side of the world around him. It was the winner of the 1994 Newbery Medal for children’s literature.
The Godfather, by Mario Puzo
Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, a classic story about the Italian Corleone family in Little Italy, is a passionate tale of loyalty, betrayal, and the seedy fabric that tied generations to a dark and violent Mafia history of the New York underworld and beyond.
Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn, is a modern page-turner thriller about Amy Dunne, a wife who vanishes from her world and her perfect marriage to her husband Nick. Or was it?
Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
Margaret Mitchell’s American Civil War and Reconstruction-era novel Gone With the Wind tells the story of Scarlett O’Hara, the spoiled daughter of an Irish immigrant plantation owner, and her family’s Confederate roots. Hers is a tangled love story: Ashley Wilkes loves Melanie Hamilton but Scarlett loves Ashley, and Rhett Butler loves Scarlett, but Scarlett loves her home, the Tara Plantation, above all else. It was the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1937. These are the movies that were better than the book; Gone With the Wind is a toss-up.
The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath tells the American realist story of a family of tenant farmers as they make their way across the west during the 1930s Dust Bowl. Steinbeck won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for his chronicle of the Joad family, driven from their home in Oklahoma by poverty, drought, and in perseverance of their last shreds of human dignity.
Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens
One day, Charles Dickens’ young orphan Pip, who lived with his aunt and uncle, kept a prison escapee from starving in Great Expectations. Pip’s life as he knew it changed forever as he was challenged to rise up to his potential in this rags-to-riches tale. Would the most important lessons life has to offer come too late?
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Jay Gatsby loves Daisy Buchanan, jazz, booze, and an entire world that wasn’t built with him in mind. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 Jazz Age masterpiece, The Great Gatsby, is considered by many to be the quintessential Great American Novel.
Gulliver’s Travels, by Jonathan Swift
The most indelible scenes of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels are certainly from the land of Lilliputians, who each stood less than 6″ tall, but there are other worlds that Gulliver found himself exploring in this 1726 satirical travelogue. The philosophical concerns of Swift’s day were examined in conversations that skipped across many different lands.
The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
The Republic of Gilead is bad news for women. The puritanical society, penned by Margaret Atwood in The Handmaid’s Tale, offers women no freedom whatsoever in how their destiny will be shaped. In a land where the birthrate has dropped significantly, women of child-bearing age will be forced into the indentured Handmaiden status.
Harry Potter (the series), by J.K. Rowling
At the famous Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Harry Potter and his BFFs Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley tackle the wicked Lord Voldemort in an epic takedown that skates across seven beloved volumes. J.K. Rowling is a muggle-writer cherished around the globe.
Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen
Gary Paulsen has spent his life writing over 200 books that have found their way into the young adult canon. Hatchet, a Newbery Medal honoree, is the first of a series of stories about Brian Robeson, who is the sole survivor in a plane crash that goes down in the Canadian wilderness. What keeps him alive are his hatchet, a tattered windbreaker given to him by his mother, and other make-or-break decisions.
Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad
Joseph Conrad’s book, Heart of Darkness, published in 1899, is an examination of European Colonialism along the Congo in Africa. The book takes on heady themes that examine the savagery of human nature. The most famous cinematic adaptation of the book was Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 masterpiece Apocalypse Now, set during the Vietnam War.
The Help, by Kathryn Stockett
In Kathryn Stockett’s debut novel The Help, three women in the tumultuous 1960s in Mississippi—Aibileen and Minny, two African American maids, and the white socialite daughter and aspiring writer Skeeter—come together to tell a story that the community may or may not be ready to hear. The Help is the most notable book set in Mississippi; find out the most iconic book set in your state.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, first published in 1979, is a comedic sci-fi series set far into the future after Earth’s been demolished. The anti-hero Arthur Dent bandies about on an intergalactic freeway with a cast of wacky characters including a robot, a three-armed ex-hippy, and some aliens for good measure.
The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
The adolescent heroine Katniss Everdeen, who’s enchanted a generation of readers from the platform of her dystopian world Panem, is fighting for her life with a dozen other young people in The Hunger Games. In a high-stakes game of survival that satirizes reality television, only one can remain standing. Suzanne Collins’ trilogy is one with more than a few lessons to take away: what to fight for, how to love, how to protect, and how to resist.
The Hunt for Red October, by Tom Clancy
The brilliant CIA analyst Jack Ryan made his debut in Tom Clancy’s first novel, The Hunt for Red October, published in 1984. A Soviet submarine commander, at the helm of a nuclear sub called Red October, is in a cat-mouse chase between the Soviet Union and America. With an all-out war in the realm of possibility, the stakes are high.
The Intuitionist, by Colson Whitehead
There are two schools of elevator fixers in the Metropolis. The Intuitionists, who can walk into an elevator and intuit the mechanical problem, and the Empiricists, who test elevator problems in a traditional tool-based way. Lila Mae Watson is an Intuitionist. On her watch, there is a cataclysmic failure that she didn’t predict. What unfolds next shakes the very fabric of a society that’s struggling to find its moral ground. This is Pulitzer Prize winner Colson Whitehead’s debut novel, published in 1999.
Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
In 1953, Ralph Ellison won the National Book Award for the provocative Invisible Man. The novel explores ideas of African American identity that were running congruent to the climate of the day, such as Marxism and black nationalism.
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë
Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, first published under the pseudonym Currer Bell in 1847, tells the classic tale of a young orphaned governess who falls in love with the master of Thornfield Hall, Mr. Rochester. Love isn’t without its complications, though; for starters, the eponymous “mad woman in the attic” will need to be sorted out.
The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan
It’s 1949 in San Francisco, and four Chinese mothers decide to gather to play mahjong and swap stories. They call themselves The Joy Luck Club. Amy Tan’s beautifully rendered novel by the same name examines the different perspectives of the friends, and their daughters. Generations crisscross and social mores are challenged as time marches forward. The Joy Luck Club is also on our list of books for mothers and daughters to read together.
Jurassic Park, by Michael Chrichton
Michael Crichton’s thrilling “What If?” about dinosaurs reinhabiting the Earth has fed a national dino obsession for nearly 30 years. We may be far closer to cloning these giant beasts in real life than we were in 1990 when Jurassic Park first became a bestseller, but hopefully, if and when it happens, we can do a better job of keeping the dinosaurs enclosed in the park!
Left Behind (the series), by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins
In Left Behind, the rapture comes and the true believers go to heaven, leaving the others on Earth to live in a grim time before the Second Coming of Christ. What happens to them? Will they have a second chance at redemption? Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins’ epic 16-book series, lauded by the Christian right, has sold over 80 million copies worldwide.
The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
A pilot crashes his plane in the Sahara and encounters a beautiful Little Prince who is far wiser than his years. The beloved novella, written by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, has been translated into hundreds of languages and is one of the best-selling books ever published.
Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
The March sisters, Amy, Beth, Meg, and Jo, grow up in a creative world inspired by their times. Their father is away in the Civil War, and their pragmatic mother holds together their family with love. Louisa May Alcott’s great classic, first published in two volumes in 1868 and 1869, is an iconic look at leaving childhood behind, falling in love, the power of friendship, and chasing one’s creative ambitions.
Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry
Larry McMurtry is famous for writing emotionally rich Westerns, and his epic story about a small desert town called Lonesome Dove is one of his most enduring. In it, outlaws and cattle and Rangers navigate the late 19th century in Texas. It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1985.
Looking for Alaska, by John Green
In John Green’s debut novel Looking for Alaska, Miles Halter, who’s obsessed with people’s last words, goes away to boarding school where he hopes to expand his understanding of what he calls “The Great Perhaps.” There, he falls in love with a heady girl named Alaska, who dies under mysterious circumstances. Green’s YA literature, including The Fault is in Our Stars, has made an indelible mark on modern literature, and this is a beautiful foray into his world of misanthropic, brilliant kids trying to make their way in the world with a modicum of depth. Don’t miss the 10 young adult novels grown-ups secretly love.
The Lord of the Rings (series), by J.R.R. Tolkien
J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterful Lord of the Rings trilogy is comprised of three volumes: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. Its vast world-building takes us along on the quest through Middle Earth as the scourge of power is challenged by hobbits, elves, wizards, and dwarves. The trilogy, a sequel to The Hobbit, is long considered the most enduring of any work of fantasy. The Lord of the Rings first appeared in print in two versions, published in 1954 and 1955.
The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold
Alice Sebold’s literary thriller The Lovely Bones has become famous for doing what many writers have tried to do but failed at: tell a captivating tale from the perspective of a dead person. In this case, our protagonist is 14-year-old Susie Salmon, who was viciously raped and murdered by a neighbor. From her perch in heaven, she watches as her family struggles to pick up the pieces and make some kind of sense about the gruesome end she met.
The Martian, by Andy Weir
Mark Watney was one of the first humans to land on Mars. But when a Dust Storm caused the rest of his crew to evacuate—thinking Watney dead—they abandoned their mission and left him there. Andy Weir’s first novel imagines how it would be if one man could work against all odds to survive alone, on Mars, dodging one impossible situation after another.
Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden
In Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha, Chiyo is taken from her village to work in Kyoto, where she ends up training as a geisha. Her story is told as a memoir, and the politics and anguish that she navigates as she crawls towards adulthood are breathtaking in their scope. There is cruelty along the way, and some kindnesses, too. These reads that paint a picture of a place and time will also inspire you to travel.
Mind Invaders, by Dave Hunt
Mind Invaders, by Dave Hunt, is a Cold War thriller about the CIA and the Russian Intelligence’s battle for the Archon’s psychic powers discovered by the computer genius/fundamentalist Christian Ken Inman. The field of mind research is blown open and mind control not before imagined may now be within reach.
Moby Dick, by Herman Melville
In Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Captain Ahab and the most famous whale of all time suss each other out, each fighting for their very survival. Narrated by the sailor Ishmael, Melville’s novel, published in 1851, has become regarded as the greatest seafaring yarn of all time. Here are more unforgettable, timeless novels according to our readers.
The Notebook, by Nicholas Sparks
Nicholas Sparks’ first published book, a romantic novel called The Notebook, tells two stories: one in the present, and one in the past. In the present, an elderly man reads aloud from a notebook to an elderly woman suffering from Alzheimer’s. The story in the notebook is actually her own, told in a series of letters written by Noah to Allie after a whirlwind romance was cut short. Is the elderly man Noah, or her fiance Lon? Who did she end up with? In 2004, the book was adapted into a blockbuster film starring Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling. Here are the 10 utterly romantic novels that will make you believe in love again.
One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez
The great Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez penned his classic One Hundred Years of Solitude about a mythical Colombian village named Macondo. In it, the Buendia family stretches across seven generations in an epic tale told in the magical realism style that influenced so many Latin American writers.
Outlander (the series), by Diana Gaboldon
In Diana Gaboldon’s wildly popular Outlander series, set in Scotland across three centuries, former WWII combat nurse Claire Beauchamp Randall and Jamie Fraser, a strapping Scottish lad who lives in the 18th century, find passion and adventure in a time-traveling historical romance saga that crosses genres. The hit Starz series of the same name based off of the books left viewers breathless.
The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton
It’s hard to believe that S.E. Hinton’s novel, The Outsiders, has been a part of the young adult literature canon for a half century. Originally published in 1967, the book traces the lives and entanglements of “Ponyboy” Curtis and his gang, the Greasers, and their rivals the Socs (short for socials), wealthier kids with a wholly different worldview.
The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde’s study of vanity, hedonism, and the eventual downfall that is their comeuppance tells the story of a painter, Basil, and his muse, Dorian Gray. In The Picture of Dorian Gray, published in 1891, Gray is a beautiful young man who chooses to stay young forever and leave the indignities of aging to his portrait. Time does what it does best, though, and eventually catches up to him.
The Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan
First published in 1678, John Bunyan’s Christian allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress is considered by scholars to be the first novel written in the English language. It’s Everyman character, aptly named “Christian,” makes his journey from his hometown “The City of Destruction” to the “Celestial City,” all the while with the understanding that the burden of the knowledge of his sin is too much to bear.
The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett
Ken Follett’s historical epic, The Pillars of the Earth, tells a sweeping story of the fictional town of Kingsbridge, England during the time of the building of the great Cathedrals. Philip, a devout monk, sets out to build the greatest Gothic cathedral that the world has ever known.
Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
Jane Austen’s most beloved novel, Pride and Prejudice, is a study of class and manners, love and loyalty, family and betrayal. Mrs. Bennett believes that the time has come for her daughter Elizabeth Bennett (Lizzie), and her four sisters, to get married. When faced with the choice between love and duty, Lizzie’s roundabout journey to Mr. Right takes more than one wrong turn. Published in 1813, Pride and Prejudice is considered by many to be the greatest English novel ever written. You’ll never believe what the original title of the book was.
Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline
Ernest Cline’s sci-fi thriller, Ready Player One, set in the 2040s, paints a picture of a depleted world. Wade Watts spends his time in the virtual world of OASIS working to find pieces of a puzzle that will have far-reaching ramifications for the future of the human race.
Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier
In Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, a young woman—the second Mrs. Maxim de Winter—is haunted by her husband’s first wife, who died under mysterious circumstances. The story is set in a Gothic stone manor on the Cornish coast. Manderley’s housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, doesn’t do much to make the new bride any more comfortable.
The Shack, by William P. Young
William P. Young’s best-selling novel, The Shack, tells the story of Mack, a father searching for the body of his murdered daughter. A mysterious note directs Mack to a shack for a weekend. What he finds there—different manifestations of the Holy Trinity—change the course of his life forever. The Shack is interesting in that it was originally self-published in 2007 before being picked up by the publisher Hachette. Word of mouth has made this book a controversial conversation starter for millions. Here are some other book club titles that will keep everyone talking.
Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse
In Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, a young man has a short encounter with the Buddha that will set him off on a journey for higher meaning. Siddhartha is an Everyman, encountering stumbling blocks along the way before understanding what it really takes to live a life in search of wisdom.
The Sirens of Titan, by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
Published in 1959, Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s ninth novel, The Sirens of Titan, hit popular culture at the tail end of a decade that was obsessed with on-screen science fiction. This book takes another crack at a Martian invasion when its lead character, Malachi Constant, the wealthiest man on Earth, sets off on an intergalactic journey that will challenge his ideas of what it means to live a life of free will.
The Stand, by Stephen King
Stephen King’s doorstopper The Stand is a horrifying study of what could happen if a weaponized strain of influenza is released into the world. In the case of “Project Blue” it kills off 99 percent of the Earth’s population. Two characters emerge from the devastation, Mother Abagail and Randall Flagg, with very different ideologies about how to move forward.
The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway’s novel, published in 1926 and set post-WWI, follows characters who embody what became known as “the Lost Generation.” They hang out in cafes in Paris; they go to Spain to watch the running of the bulls; and they’re portrayed with the sparing and elegant prose that Hemingway is so widely known for.
Swan Song, by Robert R. McCammom
The post-apocalyptic horror novel Swan Song, written by Robert R. McCammom, paints a grim picture of what the world is like after a nuclear war. Humans must evolve in order to survive, for starters. Swan, a girl with superpowers who’s navigating the wasteland as best as she can, is drawn into a battle between good and evil.
Tales of the City (the series), by Armistead Maupin
Armistead Maupin’s wildly popular novel, Tales of the City, is set in San Francisco during the 1970s. The book is the first of an epic series that chronicles the colorful lives of people who were, at the time, living on the fringe of mainstream society. Tales was first serialized in The San Francisco Chronicle.
Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
In 1937, with the publication of Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston launched into the world of a young African American woman named Janie Crawford. Crawford navigates marriages, family, and a post-Jim Crow society while working to find her place in the world. Hurston’s literary concerns didn’t fall under the same umbrella as her Harlem Renaissance peers, and initially, her book took some sharp criticism for that.
Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe
Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe leads off his glorious African Trilogy with the masterpiece Things Fall Apart. It’s the 1800s and Europe has begun a long and terrible process of colonization. Okonkwo, an Igbo warrior of Umuofia, resists the changes that are afoot and rendering his occupied village unrecognizable.
This Present Darkness, by Frank Peretti
Frank Peretti’s first novel, This Present Darkness, chronicles a small town called Ashton, where angels and demons fight it out to gain control of its Earthly inhabitants. The book takes a skeptical look at New Age views on Eastern meditation, portraying it as a means for demonic possession.
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Scout Finch is one of the most beloved children ever to be written into the English language. Harper Lee, her creator in To Kill a Mockingbird, sets up a story of mistaken identity in a small town bound by its racist past. Atticus Finch, Scout’s lawyer father, works to set the record straight in one of the most enduring American stories of all time.
Twilight, by Stephanie Meyer
What would modern YA look like without the love story of Bella Swan and Edward Cullen? For starters, there wouldn’t be as many avid vampire fans. Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight quartet set up a pop culture war over which monster-with-human-qualities Bella should go for. Would she spend eternity with Team Ed, the 104-year-old vampire? Or Team Jake, the werewolf?
War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy
Leo Tolstoy’s literary masterpiece War and Peace is the original doorstopper. The sweeping saga chronicles the story of the impact that the French invasion had on Tsarist Russia. Five Russian families intertwine in love and heartbreak, philosophy, and politics. The contribution that it makes on our collective global literary consciousness is as vast as human understanding itself.
Watchers, by Dean Koontz
Dean Koontz made his mark as a New York Times bestselling author with this imaginative thriller about a Delta Force operative named Travis Cornell; a lab-engineered highly intelligent golden retriever who he finds in a canyon and names Einstein; and a looming threat by another creature known as “the Outsider.”
The Wheel of Time (series), by Robert Jordon and Brandon Sanderson
“There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time.” So begins the epic mythology-inspired series by Robert Jordon and Brandon Sanderson (Sanderson came in as a writer after Jordan’s death in 2007). The fantasy series takes place in an unnamed world 3,000 years after a time called the Age of Legends, and has grown to over a dozen volumes.
Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls
The beloved children’s classic Where the Red Fern Grows, written by Wilson Rawls and published in 1961, is the ultimate tale of the love between a boy and his dog. Set in the Ozark Mountains, Billy’s dog-ownership dream comes true twice as he adopts both Little Ann and Old Dan. Their different characteristics mirror those of young Billy as he grows up. Sometimes he’s brave; other times intelligent, but the lessons about life and death that the dogs teach him will last well into his adult life.
White Teeth, by Zadie Smith
Zadie Smith’s stunning literary debut White Teeth, published in 2000, tells the story of two unlikely friends who met in 1945 at the tail end of WWII—Archie and Samad—who settle in London. The men, both immigrants, each work to find their place in love, work, and home, in a country founded on the bitter tenets of colonialism.
Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë
Emily Brontë’s classic Gothic novel is a love story set in the wild moors of England’s Yorkshire about Heathcliff, an orphan taken in by the wealthy Mr. Earnshaw. Catherine and Heathcliff fall in love and struggle through a tempestuous relationship. Brontë died just one year after her only novel was published, in 1848. Hungry for more to add to your reading list? These are the 50 books everyone should read before turning 50.
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