Added by JxSxPx on 16 Aug 2017 04:24
Esquire's 80 Books Every Person Should Read
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Chief book critic for The New York Times, Pulitzer Prize winner, and perhaps the only person on earth with the guts to call the work of Philip Roth "flimsy" and that of John Updike "cringe-making."
The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
The author's darkly luminous masterpiece: the original novel about the American Dream—and the most beautifully written, ever.
Beloved - Toni Morrison
The horrors of slavery are made harrowingly real in a remarkable novel that possesses the intimacy of real life and the epic power of myth.
One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The master of magical realism conjured the town of Macondo, where the miraculous and the monstrous are equally part of daily life, and in doing so, mythologized the history of an entire continent.
As I Lay Dying: The Corrected Text - William Faulkner
In recounting the story of one woman's death and her burial from multiple points of view, this short, fierce book helped remake the modern novel and influenced generations of writers to come.
Underworld - Don DeLillo
The story of one man and one family that is also the story of what happened to America in the second half of the 20th century.
Piercing, prismatic tales about the lives of girls and women that possess the amplitude of novels, and the emotional precision of Chekhov.
Mason & Dixon - Thomas Pynchon
A buddy movie starring the British surveyors who mapped the boundary between North and South in pre-Revolutionary America and a dazzling post-modernist confection that emerges as the author's most affecting novel yet.
The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov - Vladimir Nabokov
A glittering collection of tales animated by the author's fascination with the magical transactions of art and the indelible losses of exile.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz
A funny, street-smart portrait of a second-generation Dominican geek that unfolds into a vibrant meditation on public and private history.
A Wrinkle in Time - Madeleine L'Engle
A children's classic that—back in the 1960's—gave the world a science fiction heroine: a bright, awkward, spirited girl named Meg Murry who travels through time and space to find her missing scientist father and save the universe.
Author of three novels, including President Obama's favorite book of 2015, Fates and Furies.
Ceremony - Leslie Marmon Silko
Ceremony is one of the great (and under appreciated) American novels. Silko writes with tremendous power, rage, and range of violence, Pueblo myth and a veteran's recovery.
The Collected Stories of Grace Paley - Grace Paley
Under the seductive, crisp and funny voice of Grace Paley, there burns a great indignation and condemnation of the way the powerful prey on the weak in society.
Middlemarch - George Eliot
This novel has the most capacious vision of humanity that I know of. In a crowded field of novels about small towns and marriage and idealism, it remains the best.
Giovanni's Room - James Baldwin
I could have chosen Baldwin's essay collections The Fire Next Time or Notes of a Native Son; if his absolutely great short story "Sonny's Blues" were a stand-alone book, it would have been a shoo-in. In Giovanni's Room, published in 1956, Baldwin wrote gorgeously of a homosexual relationship in Paris, a book so far ahead of its time that America is still catching up to it.
Autobiography of Red - Anne Carson
Anne Carson is my pick for greatest living writer. She has spiny brilliance, profound Classical knowledge, and an astonishing ability to slide between genres. Autobiography of Red is both a deeply affecting book-length poem about Geryon, a demon in love with Herakles. It is also hilarious.
Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
In Anna Karenina, Tolstoy wrote one of the greatest works of synthesis in prose history: this novel pretends to be about a few braided love-stories but it contains more themes, characters, and political ideas than most shelves of books do.
The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson - Emily Dickinson
Dickinson's poems are sharp, wild, implosive things. She will always be relentlessly modern, and is one of the parents of modern American poetry.
If Dickinson, with her compression, is one parent of modern American poetry, Whitman is the other parent, working in the expansive, wild, roaming, explosive vein.
So Long, See You Tomorrow - William Maxwell
This novel has the most stunning architecture, a structure that, the longer one looks at it, the more powerful and moving it becomes. The story is about loss and grief, and is told through the repeated reimagining of a murder the narrator knew of as a boy.
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman ... - Laurence Sterne
This was one of the first modern novels ever written, and remains one of the funniest and most experimental: there is almost nothing in the most out-there of modern prose that Sterne didn't do first.
Novelist, essayist, and one of 2015's biggest success stories.
In Cold Blood - Truman Capote
You can read it to witness the beginnings of New Journalism, or because it's arguably Capote's finest work, or because it's illuminating about human depravity. But I like to read it for the chilling bit when Capote notices the different types of handwriting in Nancy Clutter's diary and imagines her trying on selves, wondering: "Is this Nancy?"
Before the Didion craze, there was this—and sure, there was a lot before this—but Slouching Towards Bethlehem is where to start with Joan Didion. She is the ultimate cool and keen-eyed observer of the human condition, of America, and of gracefully merciless self-examination. Though, as ferocious and important as her topics are, she always leaves a gift for the reader. I, for instance, cannot eat a peach or turn on the air conditioning without thinking, just a little, of her essay "Goodbye to All That."
Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
She's French but she doesn't have to be. She is any reality-challenged newlywed. This first novel (Flaubert really knocked it out of the park) is an absolute masterpiece about what happens when humans feel bored and trapped, when they emotionally chew off their own shapely legs.
Alice Munro is a national treasure, and technically that nation is Canada, but philosophically it's The People's Republic of Everybody. It's therefore difficult to pick out her strongest collection or to have the gall to pick, but I'd go with this one. They are about aging and love and marriage and life itself. I can't envision a reader who wouldn't be changed for the better by reading Alice Munro.
The Collected Stories of Katherine Mansfield (Penguin Classics)... - Katherine Mansfield
Katherine Mansfield is not required reading to be a person—but passion and point of view are—and since Mansfield is one of my personal favorites, I am going to foist her on you. She's a bit like a New Zealand Edith Wharton with a sprinkling of Jane Austen and John Cheever. But clever. "The Doll's House" is one of my favorite short stories of all time and just to prove it, I named the heroine of my first novel after a character in that story.
The Group (Twentieth Century Classics) - Mary McCarthy
Do you have to read a novel with a character named "Priss" to be a better person? Kind of, yeah. The Group is a seminal, massively vital book written ahead of its time (it was banned here and there) and yet very much of its time, focusing on gender politics, friendship, socioeconomic status and influencing whole genres of contemporary fiction — all while being a total blast to read. Every woman should read it to know themselves; every man should read it to know who they're dealing with.
Birds of America: Stories - Lorrie Moore
If you're not in love with Lorrie Moore, I worry for you. You will hear people speak differently after reading this book, as if you've been in need of a hearing aid for years and you didn't know it. "People Like That Are The Only People Here" is worth the price of admission alone, as it's one of the most powerful and important short stories (about love and loneliness and motherhood and death) of this century.
The God of Small Things - Arundhati Roy
Peppered and pierced with tragedy, this book is a blow to the heart. And then another. And then another. But not in the Cormac McCarthy way. The God of Small Things reveals the beauty and grace possible in the darkness like no other novel I have ever read. I both envy and pity the early editors and reviewers who had the task of describing this novel for the first time. If forced to boil it down, I'd say this is a novel about having a family at all, about the motivations within the structured microcosm of society that is a family. Just that.
Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe
I heard Chimamada Adichie speak about Things Fall Apart several years ago. She said that as a young girl in Nigeria, her books were filled with bouncing blond British girls and that she "didn't know people who looked like me could be in books" until she read Things Fall Apart. Whatever I say about this perfect, archetypical African novel will pale in comparison to that.
Frankenstein: or The Modern Prometheus - Mary Shelley
What better way to learn how to be a person than to whip one up? Frankenstein's monster is the all-time most enduring image to cross from literature to pop culture and back. And at his gothic artificial heart, he represents a blank slate. Which is depressingly telling about what we chose to latch onto.
Essayist, novelist, self-professed bad feminist.
Citizen: An American Lyric (2015)
Rankine defies genre and writes honestly and relentlessly about being black in modern America. This book is necessary in every sense of the word.
Balm: A Novel (2016)
I am always looking for interesting and, more importantly, original stories about slavery. In this gorgeously written novel, Perkins-Valdez writes of life after slavery and the Civil War as a man tries to find his beloved wife, a woman seeks a life for herself away from the mother and aunts who didn't know how to see her, and a widow who can speak to the dead searches for solace.
Whenever Smith writes London, I forget time and place. That is no different in NW, an ambitious and audacious novel about four people as they grow up beyond the confines of the council estate where they were raised. It's thrilling to see how fearless Smith is, taking all kinds of narrative risks throughout while also telling an unforgettable story about identity.
Forgotten Country (2012)
In her debut novel, Catherine Chung writes of a displaced family, a sister harboring the kind of secret too many girls know too well, and another sister who tries to mend the fractures in her family before it's too late.
Play It As It Lays: A Novel (FSG Classics) - Joan Didion
If there is a consummate Los Angeles novel, this would be it but then, as with all her writing, Didion takes things further, to a complex and dark place where a woman's choices are painfully constrained by the whims of men.
Stone Butch Blues - Leslie Feinberg
In this moving novel, Feinberg explores the life of Jess Goldberg, a butch lesbian trying to make a way through the world in a body few people are interested in understanding. In addition to tackling sexuality and gender identity, this novel also reveals hard truths about working class America at the mid-century. Few books have stayed with me more.
Possessing the Secret of Joy - Alice Walker
Alice Walker manages to take on the very political issue of female genital mutilation while never losing sight of the power of fierce, deeply engaged storytelling.
The Round House - Louise Erdrich
A young man grapples with his mother's rape in a most unexpected, powerful and haunting coming of age story.
The Age of Innocence - Edith Wharton
Edith Wharton is my favorite writer and I live for her wicked social commentary wrapped in a torrid but well-mannered story of forbidden love. You haven't seen passion until you read how Wharton's WASPs stare longingly at each other.
The Lover - Marguerite Duras
There are few novels more sensuous and troubling and magnetic than The Lover. Duras is simply exquisite from the first word to the last. She imbues her prose with the damp heat of Indochina and the fraught tension of forbidden love and never forgets how beautiful words can be when arranged just so.
Staff writer and editor at The New Yorker.
An observation: People don't seem to merely read Elena Ferrante's novels. They devour them in all-night binges, coming to work bleary-eyed and strung out. What's her secret? Is it that propulsive voice? The way she brings up thoughts you'd never dared to name—about friendships, sex, class? To read them is to remember that the best books are a little harrowing. Start with the Neapolitan Novels. They go down like a warm drink of crystal meth.
The Leopard - Guiseppe di Lampedusa
Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa was a Sicilian prince who died in 1957, leaving behind an unpublished novel—the only one he ever wrote. It's a masterpiece. Set during the unification of Italy, it's about one of the prince's forebears, a wry nobleman who struggles to keep his household afloat while a new order rises. The book's most famous line is spoken by the prince's savvy, gold-digging nephew, Tancredi: "If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change." In this age of "disruption," as the revolutions keep coming, it seems even more apt.
Moby-Dick or, The Whale - Herman Melville
Like the whale itself, this book's sheer size is scary. And its reputation: the Leviathan of American literature! But crack open the first chapter (no CliffsNotes!) and you may be surprised by how fun it is to listen to the warm, chatty voice of Melville's narrator, Ishmael—and how fascinating it is to spend time in the lost world of Pequod, with its colorful crew: Starbucks, Flask, and, of course, the tattooed harpooner Queequeg, whom Melville describes as "George Washington cannibalistically developed." Yes, it's an epic about man's struggle with God and fate, but it's also a bawdy, deranged adventure with a group of nineteenth-century sailors.
Heartburn - Nora Ephron
Moby Dick it ain't, but don't go through life without reading Heartburn. To the list of great narrators we have to add Rachel Samstat, Ephron's wisecracking cookbook author, who is seven months pregnant when her husband informs her that he's in love with another woman. Lemons become lemon soufflé. The whole book is funny, but the scene where Rachel's therapy group gets held up by a mugger is one of the most pants-peeingly hilarious in American literature.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Perennial Classics)... - Muriel Spark
Miss Jean Brodie, of the Marcia Blaine School for Girls, has some unorthodox teaching methods. Putting aside the official curriculum, she tutors a hand-picked group of students on important topics like her love life, the fact that she is in her "prime" (whatever that means), Renaissance painting, and the finer points of Fascism. Spark assumes a God-like voice, occasionally fast-forwarding to the girls' futures: fiery deaths, disappointing marriages, etc. As you laugh at Miss Brodie's outrageous dictums, the petty intrigues of the faculty, and the students' adolescent excesses, you may be surprised to notice a lump forming in your throat. How can a book so savagely funny be so wrenchingly, heartbreakingly sad?
Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
Has there ever been a more wonderful heroine than Elizabeth "Lizzy" Bennett? Witty yet sensible, fiercely principled yet vulnerable and kind. An independent thinker determined to marry for love. My parents liked her so much, they named me after her. Bring on Mr. Darcy!
Housekeeping: A Novel - Marilynne Robinson
Twenty-five years before Marilynne Robinson won a Pulitzer Prize for Gilead (and acquired a superfan named Barack Obama), she wrote this short, strange novel about two orphaned sisters being raised by a "drifter" aunt in a forgotten town called Fingerbone. A hypnotic meditation on the transience of life and love, it rings in your ears. We're all drifters.
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
The publication of Go Set a Watchman, last year—Mockingbird's sequel, or is it a rough draft?—sowed confusion about everyone's favorite 8th grade reading assignment. But it also drew attention to uneasy mixture at the heart of this book. Along with the unforgettable characters—Scout, Boo Radley—it depicts a small-town South where tenderness, humor, and charming eccentricity flourish alongside vicious racism. Sound familiar? That's why it's a national treasure.
To the Lighthouse - Virginia Woolf
A book about an accomplished London family on vacation in the Scottish Hebrides who plan to make a trip to a nearby lighthouse. But it's by Virginia Woolf, so it's really about life, consciousness, and the problem of rendering them in art. And the obliterating forces of war, death, and time—and what comes after.
Memoirs of Hadrian - Marguerite Yourcenar
What's the world's greatest love story? Most people, pressed to answer this question, would probably not point to a fifty-eight-year-old Roman emperor's passion for a Greek boy, circa 175 A.D. Certainly not most French women writing in the 1950s. And yet, with The Memoirs of Hadrian, Yourcenar made exactly that case. And more: She collapsed time, showing how a man who lived 2,000 years ago thought and felt just as deeply as we do about big and little subjects, from diet to governance.
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We invited eight female literary powerhouses, from Michiko Kakutani to Anna Holmes to Roxane Gay, to help us create an updated list of books everyone should read. Each participant made 10 picks. It's a new year, a new Esquire.com. We're looking forward to reading and we hope you are, too.
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