#1: The Grapes of Wrath
by John Steinbeck
Shocking and controversial when it was first published in 1939, Steinbeck's Pulitzer prize-winning epic, The Grapes of Wrath, remains his undisputed masterpiece.
Set against the background of Dust Bowl Oklahoma and Californian migrant life, it tells of the Joad family, who, like thousands of others, are forced to travel west in search of the promised land.
Their story is one of false hopes, thwarted desires and broken dreams, yet out of their suffering Steinbeck created a drama that is intensely human, yet majestic in its scale and moral vision; an eloquent tribute to the endurance and dignity of the human spirit... more
by Marilynne Robinson
In 1956, toward the end of Reverend John Ames's life, he begins a letter to his young son, a kind of last testament to his remarkable forebears.
'It is a book of such meditative calm, such spiritual intensity that is seems miraculous that her silence was only for 23 years; such measure of wisdom is the fruit of a lifetime. Robinson's prose, aligned with the sublime simplicity of the language of the bible, is nothing short of a benediction. You might not share its faith, but it is difficult not to be awed moved and ultimately humbled by the spiritual effulgence that lights up the novel from within.' - Neel Mukherjee, The Times
'Writing of this quality, with an authority as unforced as the perfect pitch in music, is rare and carries with it a sense almost of danger - that at any moment, it might all go wrong. In Gilead, however, nothing goes wrong'- Jane Shilling, Sunday Telegraph... more
#3: A Confederacy Of Dunces
by John Kennedy Toole
Meet Ignatius J. Reilly: flatulent, eloquent and pretty much unemployable...
The ordinary folk of New Orleans seem to think he is unhinged as well. Ignatius ignores them as he heaves his vast bulk through the city's fleshpots in a noble crusade against vice, modernity and ignorance. But his momma has a nasty surprise in store for him.
Ignatius must get a job. Undaunted, he uses his new-found employment to further his mission - and now he has a pirate costume and a hot-dog cart to do it with... more
#4: To Kill A Mockingbird
by Harper Lee
A benchmark of classic American literature, To Kill A Mockingbird approaches the highly sensitive topic of racism in 1930s America with humour, warmth and compassion, making it widely recognised as one of the best books of the Twentieth Century.
Shoot all the Bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a Mockingbird.
Lawyer Atticus Finch gives this advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of Harper Lee's classic novel - a black man charged with the rape of a white girl. Through the young eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Harper Lee explores with exuberant humour the irrationality of adult attitudes to race and class in the Deep South of the 1930s. The conscience of a town steeped in prejudice, violence and hypocrisy is pricked by the stamina of one man's struggle for justice. But the weight of history will only tolerate so much... more
#5: Revolutionary Road
by Richard Yates
Hailed as a masterpiece from its first publication, Revolutionary Road is the story of Frank and April Wheeler, a bright young couple who are bored by the banalities of suburban life and long to be extraordinary.
'Here is more than fine writing; here is what, added to fine writing, makes a book come immediately, intensely and brilliantly alive...a masterpiece' - Tennesse Williams
With heartbreaking compassion and clarity, Richard Yates shows how Frank and April's decision to change their lives for the better leads to betrayal and tragedy... more
#6: O Pioneers!
by Willa Cather
A rapturous work of savage beauty, Willa Cather's 1913 tale of a pioneer woman who tames the wild, hostile lands of the Nebraskan prairie is also the story of what it means to be American.
She had felt as if her heart were hiding down there, somewhere, with the quail and the plover and all the little wild things that crooned or buzzed in the sun...
Willa Cather said that O Pioneers! was her first authentic novel, 'the first time I walked off on my own feet-everything before was half real and half an imitation of writers whom I admired.'
Cather's novel of life on the Nebraska frontier established her reputation as a writer of great note and marked a significant turning point in her artistic development. No longer would she let literary convention guide the form of her writing; the materials themselves would dictate the structure... more
#7: The Catcher in the Rye
by J. D. Salinger
J . D. Salinger's world-famous novel of disaffected youth
Holden Caulfield is a seventeen- year-old dropout who has just been kicked out of his fourth school. Navigating his way through the challenges of growing up, Holden dissects the 'phony' aspects of society, and the 'phonies' themselves: the headmaster whose affability depends on the wealth of the parents, his roommate who scores with girls using sickly-sweet affection.
Written with the clarity of a boy leaving childhood behind, The Catcher in the Rye explores the world with disarming frankness and a warm, affecting charisma which has made this novel a universally loved classic of twentieth-century literature... more
#8: The Color Purple
by Alice Walker
The classic, Puliter Prize-winning novel that made Alice Walker a household name.
Set in the deep American South between the wars, THE COLOR PURPLE is the classic tale of Celie, a young black girl born into poverty and segregation.
Raped repeatedly by the man she calls 'father', she has two children taken away from her, is separated from her beloved sister Nettie and is trapped into an ugly marriage. But then she meets the glamorous Shug Avery, singer and magic-maker - a woman who has taken charge of her own destiny. Gradually Celie discovers the power and joy of her own spirit, freeing her from her past and reuniting her with those she loves... more
#9: The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald reveals the hollowness at the heart of an unachievable fantasy, where disillusionment and tragedy lie close beneath the surface sheen of wealth and glamour.
The mysterious Jay Gatsby uses his fabulous wealth to create an enchanted world fit for his former love, Daisy Buchanan, now married to Tom. Daisy, though, is a romanticised figment of his own imagination, and the extraordinary world that he creates is equally illusory. He gives lavish, legendary, parties where the guests and gate-crashers enjoy free-flowing champagne and cocktails and carefree hospitality.
But a more sinister reality begins to break through, as idealised romantic figures prove to have human frailties and selfish motivations, and the grandiose world of Gatsby's creation crumbles and disillusion turns to tragedy... more
by John Williams
William Stoner enters the University of Missouri at nineteen to study agriculture.
A seminar on English literature changes his life, and he never returns to work on his father's farm. Stoner becomes a teacher. He marries the wrong woman. His life is quiet, and after his death his colleagues remember him rarely.
Yet with truthfulness, compassion and intense power, this novel uncovers a story of universal value.
Stoner tells of the conflicts, defeats and victories of the human race that pass unrecorded by history, and reclaims the significance of an individual life. A reading experience like no other, itself a paean to the power of literature, it is a novel to be savoured... more
#11: The Corrections
by Jonathan Franzen
A richly realistic and darkly hilarious masterpiece about a family breakdown in an age of easy fixes.
After fifty years as a wife and mother, Enid Lambert is ready to have some fun. Unfortunately her husband, Alfred, is losing his sanity, and their children have long since fled for the catastrophes of their own lives. As Alfred's condition worsens and the Lamberts are forced to face their secrets and failures, Enid sets her heart on one last family Christmas.
Bringing the old world of civic virtue and sexual inhibition into violent collision with the era of hands-off parenting, do-it-yourself mental healthcare and globalised greed, The Corrections confirms Jonathan Franzen as one of the most brilliant interpreters of the American soul... more
#12: Blood Meridian
by Cormac McCarthy
An epic novel of the violence and depravity that attended America's westward expansion, brilliantly subverting the conventions of the Western novel and the mythology of the Wild West.
Based on historical events that took place on the Texas-Mexico border in the 1850s, it traces the fortunes of the Kid, a fourteen-year-old Tennesseean who stumbles into a nightmarish world where Indians are being murdered and the market for their scalps is thriving.
A barbarously poetic odyssey through a hell without purpose... more
#13: The Shipping News
by Annie Proulx
An irresistible comedy of human life and possibility.
Quoyle is a hapless, hopeless hack journalist living and working in New York.
When his no-good wife is killed in a spectacular road accident, Quoyle heads for the land of his forefathers - the remotest corner of far-flung Newfoundland. With 'the aunt' and his delinquent daughters - Bunny and Sunshine - in tow, Quoyle finds himself part of an unfolding, exhilarating Atlantic drama... more
#14: Rabbit, Run
by John Updike
John Updike's Rabbit, Run is a classic story of dissatisfaction and restlessness.
Harry 'Rabbit' Angstrom was a star basketball player in high school. Now twenty-six, his life seems full of traps, the biggest being his pregnant wife and two-year-old son.
He sets out to escape, but it's not clear if Rabbit is really following his heart or only chasing his tail. Powerfully written, Rabbit, Rungave American literature one of its most enduring characters...
#15: Infinite Jest
by David Foster Wallace
A gargantuan, mind-altering comedy about the Pursuit of Happiness
Somewhere in the not-so-distant future the residents of Ennet House, a Boston halfway house for recovering addicts, and students at the nearby Enfield Tennis Academy are ensnared in the search for the master copy of INFINITE JEST, a movie said to be so dangerously entertaining its viewers become entranced and expire in a state of catatonic bliss.
Equal parts philosophical quest and screwball comedy, Infinite Jest bends every rule of fiction without sacrificing for a moment its own entertainment value. It is an exuberant, uniquely American exploration of the passions that make us human - and one of those rare books that renew the idea of what a novel can do.... more
by Toni Morrison
The novel that brought the unimaginable experience of slavery into the literature of our time and into our comprehension.
Terrible, unspeakable things happened to Sethe at Sweet Home, the farm where she lived as a slave for so many years until she escaped to Ohio.
Her new life is full of hope but eighteen years later she is still not free. Sethe's new home is not only haunted by the memories of her past but also by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved... more
#17: The Portrait of a Lady
by Henry James
Considered by many to be Henry James's finest novel, The Portrait of a Lady is a subtle examination of Victorian society and power relations, providing a groundbreaking psychological study of its protagonist.
She knew of no wrong that he had done; he was not violent, he was not cruel; she simply believed that he hated her.
Having travelled from her native New York to London to meet her relatives, Isabel Archer, a young, independently minded young woman, rejects the marriage proposals of two suitors in her determination to stay in control of her destiny. When she suddenly comes into a large legacy, Isabel believes that this windfall will finally ensure the freedom that she yearns for and embarks on an exhilarating journey through France and Italy, only to find her endeavours thwarted by the sinister plotting of some of her acquaintances... more
#18: On The Road
by Jack Kerouac
The exhilarating novel that defined the Beat Generation
Sal Paradise, young and innocent, joins the slightly crazed Dean Moriarty on a breathless, exuberant ride back and forth across the United States. Their hedonistic search for release or fulfilment through drink, sex, drugs and jazz becomes an exploration of personal freedom, a test of the limits of the American Dream.
A brilliant blend of fiction and autobiography, Jack Kerouac's exhilarating novel defined the new 'Beat' generation and became the bible of the counter culture... more
#19: The Age Of Innocence
by Edith Wharton
One of the great masterpieces in American literature
Newland Archer, a successful and charming young lawyer conducts himself by the rules and standards of the polite, upper class New York society that he resides in. Happily engaged to the pretty and conventional May Welland, his attachment guarantees his place in this rigid world of the elite.
However, the arrival of May's cousin, the exotic and beautiful European Countess Olenska throws Newland's life upside down. A divorcee, Olenska is ostracised by those around her, yet Newland is fiercely drawn to her wit, determination and willingness to flout convention. With the Countess, Newland is freed from the limitations that surround him and truly begins to 'feel' for the first time... more
#20: Behold the Dreamers
by Imbolo Mbue
A debut novel that has poeple talking the world over.
With profound empathy, keen insight, and sly wit, Imbolo Mbue has written a compulsively readable story about marriage, class, race, and the trapdoors in the American Dream.
Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem, has come to the United States to provide a better life for himself, his wife, Neni, and their six-year-old son. In the fall of 2007, Jende can hardly believe his luck when he lands a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers.
Clark demands punctuality, discretion, and loyalty--and Jende is eager to please. Clark's wife, Cindy, even offers Neni temporary work at their summer home in the Hamptons. With these opportunities, Jende and Neni can at last gain a foothold in America and imagine a brighter future.
However, the world of great power and privilege conceals troubling secrets, and soon Jende and Neni notice cracks in their employers' facades... more