Contemporary Literature

69. Native Son by Richard Wright (1940)

Some books are so powerful that you can hardly bear to look at them. Richard Wright’s Native Son is one of them. Set in Chicago in the 1930s, Native Son is a brutally barefaced examination of institutionalized racism in America. At its heart is Bigger Thomas: a black man who, driven to desperate measures when circumstances spiral out of his control, becomes impossibly entangled  in the criminal justice system. A star of the Harlem Renaissance, Wright writes with an unflinching intensity, exposing the racial divide in America in the 1940s that led Bigger to his fate — a societal crisis that remains starkly relevant to this day.

70. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers (1940)

Carson McCullers’ debut novel — written when she was only 23! — was an instant classic when it was published. The author’s sheer prodigiousness is astonishing enough, but it is the rich wisdom and gentle insight that makes The Heart is a Lonely Hunter truly remarkable. You’ll probably never meet a protagonist quite as memorable as John Singer, a deaf and nonverbal man who sits in the same café every day. Here, in the deep American South of the 1930s, John meets an assortment of people: the café owner, Biff Brannon; Mick Kelly, a young girl who wants nothing more than to play music; Jake Blount, a desperate alcoholic; and Dr. Copeland, a frustrated and idealistic black doctor.

John is the silent, kind keeper of their stories — right up until an unforgettable ending that will blow you away, placing The Heart is a Lonely Hunter squarely beside such southern classics as Grapes of Wrath and To Kill a Mockingbird. 

71. The Stranger by Albert Camus (1942)

Albert Camus’ own summary of The Stranger is perhaps the best way to describe this iconic book: “I summarized The Stranger a long time ago, with a remark I admit was highly paradoxical: ‘In our society any man who does not weep at his mother’s funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death.’ I only meant that the hero of my book is condemned because he does not play the game.” And so The Stranger duly opens with Meursault, our hero, learning of the death of his mother. From this point onward, the reader is led in a strange dance of absurdism and existentialism that makes Meursault confront something even crueler than mortality: society’s expectations.

72. The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene (1948)

Graham Greene, author of such acclaimed books as The Quiet American and The End of the Affair, is regarded as one of the best English authors of the 20th century. And The Heart of the Matter might be the centerpiece in his glittering oeuvre. It opens in a British colony in West Africa, as the upstanding Henry Scobie, misses a promotion to become commissioner of police. Yet this single development has earthshaking consequences for both him and his wife Louise — who decides to leave him. Against his better judgment, Henry accepts a shady loan to help Louise gain passage to the ship that will  take her away from him. But as he soon discovers, one bad decision will lead to many more.

73. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (1949)

Big Brother is watching you: both the governmental slogan that has become synonymous with this iconic novel, and the eerie sense you’ll get as you’re reading it. George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is a landmark work in the dystopian genre for its affecting portrayal of a totalitarian state that strictly controls and surveils its citizens — though of course, few are content with such an existence. Our narrator, Winston Smith, is one such citizen; employed by the “Ministry of Truth” (which actually serves the opposite cause), Winston fully grasps the corruption of the government, yet feels powerless to stop it. Yet what’s most compelling about this book isn’t Winston’s individual experience, but the exceptional detail and social commentary Orwell injects into the story — potently warning readers of a reality that could all too easily come to pass.

74. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger (1951)

One of the most iconic coming-of-age novels in literature, J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye is still a must-read today — and Holden Caulfield is still one of the most recognizable protagonists ever. Told from Holden’s point of view, this classic at first seems like a simple tale about a boy wandering the streets of New York with no plan in mind and nothing to do. Yet any reader who digs deeper will encounter a cry of teenage disillusionment — not to mention a moving story that confronts the reality of growing up.

75. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (1952) 

Another incredibly powerful coming-of-age story, Invisible Man is the seminal novel about  a young black man in 1950s America. From a college in the Deep South to a raging Harlem in the North, our unnamed protagonist travels unseen in the public’s eyes, searching for an identity. But that’s not so easily found in a racist society that unilaterally denies selfhood to black men and women. A masterpiece that resonates with the raw emotion of a fever dream, Invisible Man demands your attention and asks you to confront the nature of bigotry — and the surreal experience of being black in America.

76. East of Eden by John Steinbeck (1952) 

One of the perennial staples on “Books You Must Read Before You Die” lists, John Steinbeck’s East of Eden fully deserves its acclaimed place in American literature today. A family saga that spans generations, it follows two families — the Trasks and the Hamiltons — whose fates desperately entwine in the wild American West. It’s also a modern retelling of the Book of Genesis — particularly the fabled and tragic story of Cain and Abel. Ambitiously epic and thought-provoking, East of Eden is simply Steinbeck at his masterful, astonishing best.

77. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953)

Firemen mean something different in Guy Montag’s world: they start fires. And (every bookworm out there, cover your eyes now) books are the illegal, radical property to be burned. As one such fireman, Guy is in charge of destroying every book remaining… until a series of events occurs in rapid succession, making Guy question the job for the first time. This is one of the most famous books ever written — a revolutionary and fiery work about the cost of censoring knowledge and the beauty of the written world. Just don’t read it next to your stove, because what’s the temperature at which books burn? Well, Fahrenheit 451.

78. In the Castle of My Skin by George Lamming (1953)

Written in 1953 when George Lamming was a precocious 23 years of age, In the Castle of My Skin is a semi-autobiographical novel long  hailed as a cornerstone example of the black colonial experience. This insightful window into twentieth-century Barbadian life chronicles the turmoil, social change, and class tensions that rise in the colonial Caribbean as Lamming grows up.

Don’t walk into it expecting a straightforward story: Lammings’ style could be termed impressionistic, and he narrates many of his personal anecdotes and vignettes from the perspective of others. But this experimental effect is often dazzling, and it’s made In the Castle of My Skin one of the most important works of postcolonial literature in history.

79. Lord of the Flies by William Golding (1954) 

Though William Golding’s Lord of the Flies wasn’t initially well-received and sold poorly, Golding had the last laugh: Lord of the Flies is today one of the must-read books in every school curriculum. Its story about a group of schoolboys who have crashed on a lonely island is enduring not only for its shocking plot developments, but also the way that it reveals the truths of human nature at our basest. Today, it remains one of the most terrifying depictions of how quickly a society can fail — and a reminder of the fragility of the systems that we build to reassure ourselves.

80. Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien (c .1955) 

Lord of the Rings may be one of the most influential series ever written — not least for the way that it basically created the modern fantasy genre as we know it. The towering shadow that J.R.R. Tolkien cast over all fantasy books that followed in its path aside, Lord of the Rings should be read simply because it’s a rollicking good story. So if you also fall under the spell of Middle-Earth as you venture into Mordor with Frodo and his companions, don’t fear: there’s still a prequel (The Hobbit) and an origin story (The Silmarillion) to go.

81. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955)

In Lolita, Nabokov fulfills what many readers might consider to be an impossible task: he makes a tormented pedophile not only a tolerable narrator, but an entrancing and sympathetic one. Humbert Humbert is the man in question, and Lolita is his pre-adolescent muse. After marrying her mother to become close to the girl, the woman dies in a freak accident and Humbert is free to pursue a relationship with Lolita — which he agonizes over nonetheless, until she reveals that she’s less innocent than she appears (though obviously still very much a child). They embark on a sprawling, richly drawn tour of America, finally settling under the guise of Humbert as the girl’s father… but of course, true happiness eludes them, especially when another man appears to challenge her loyalties to Humbert.

82. On the Road by Jack Kerouac (1957)

On the Road is the example of a good book that didn’t take years and years to produce: Jack Kerouac wrote it all in a mad three-week period in 1951. Decades later, it is regarded as a classic of the postwar Beat movement that captures the heart and soul of an entire generation. You’ll meet Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty: alter egos for Kerouac himself and his friend, Neal Cassady — On the Road is, at its heart, a semi-autobiographical account of Kerouac’s own travels across America. From New York to San Francisco, Sal and Dean tear through the streets  to a jazz rhythm all their own. Do they have any inkling of what they’re going to do with their lives? Heck no — but that’s the charm of On the Road, which will speak to the wanderlust in you, as it has done to millions of other readers since 1957.

83. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (1958) 

As the name of the novel suggests, protagonist Okonkwo might’ve had a good start in his youth as wrestling champion of his clan, but horrid things are waiting on the horizon for him. As he climbs to the top of the social hierarchy, Okonkwo faces tough decisions between his pride and his morality. Things become complicated as white men come in and begin tearing apart the fabric of his society.

Things Fall Apart is a modern African classic: it’s poignant, nuanced, and moving. Okonkwo is not different from ancient literary heroes — he has virtues, he has gods to please, and he has obstacles to overcome. That’s a thought many wouldn’t have about Africans in the 50s and 60s, and Achebe was amongst the first writers who sought to challenge this.

84. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)

An important part of the discussion during the Civil Rights era, To Kill a Mockingbird is now required reading in high schools across America — and for good reasons. Decades later, there’s still much to be taken away from this tale of young Scout as she comes to understand the racial tensions in the world around her.

Set in rural Alabama, this book centers around Scout as her father, Atticus Finch, takes on an important trial. He’s been tasked with defending a black man falsely accused of sexually assaulting a white woman — not an easy case in the South in the 30s. Scout’s innocence may have been shaken by these events, but she comes to ground herself watching Atticus’s passionate defense, something that continues to inspire lawyers to this day.

85. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961) 

Although it takes place in World War II (and was loosely based on Heller’s own experiences), Catch-22 was actually a reaction to the Korean war and McCarthyism. This iconic satire follows Captain Yossarian, a bombardier who, along with his fellow service people, is attempting to navigate the absurdities of war in order to fulfill their service requirements so they can be sent home. Told in a non-linear, third person omniscient with plenty of anachronisms, it can seem a bit much to follow at first, but we promise it’s well worth the effort. This novel has been a staple of anti-war literature for decades, and with its perfectly tuned wit and wisdom, it’s not likely to be going anywhere anytime soon.

86. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark (1961)

It’s tempting to describe The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie as gender-bent Dead Poets Society, but that would be doing Jean Brodie a disservice — she predated the Robin Williams film by nearly three decades! Still, the comparison isn’t a bad one: set in Edinburgh during the 1920s and 30s, the novel explores what happens when a young teacher decides to take an active and unconventional interest in the futures of six of her students. Told through the eyes of these students, and full of tantalizing flashforwards, this book is a complicated, nuanced portrayal of mentorship and coming of age.

87. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey (1962)

If you don’t already know the synopsis of this bizarre book from its critically-acclaimed movie adaptation, then here’s a quick summary: criminal Randle McMurphy feigns mental instability in order to serve his sentence in a psychiatric ward rather than in prison. However, the institution that he stumbled into, supervised by the totalitarian Nurse Ratched, is worse than jail itself — the patients are oppressed and manipulated rather than cared for. As a lawbreaker and the only person whose state of mind can recognize this abuse, McMurphy decides to challenge the authority and make life for Nurse Ratched living hell. Erratic and bleak, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest tackles a difficult and hidden issue in society, thus opening the floodgate for many works of the same genre in the years following its publication.

88. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (1962)

Following in the chilling tradition set by 1984 and A Brave New World, Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange is its own terrifying vision of the future. In Anthony Burgess’ dystopia, the world is overrun by juvenile delinquents and ultra-violent gangs in the city. Anarchy reigns on any given day, but when Alex — a sociopathic “droog” who nevertheless longs for Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony— is captured and taken in by the authorities, he’ll have to confront what free will really means to him, and what he’d give up himself to keep it.

89. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (1967)

Written at the height of Stalin’s regime, The Master and Margarita is a daring, defiant satire that weaves together the spiritual and the supernatural to create a fantasy world at once chillingly real and utterly unique.

The story begins with the Devil arriving in atheistic Soviet Moscow, though the plot is split between those events and another thread taking place in ancient Jerusalem. As if that wasn’t surreal enough, there’s also a walking, talking black cat in league with the Devil, causing all sorts of trouble. This novel is a vivid portrait of life under Soviet regime, and an important reminder of the need for unfettered artistic expression.

90. Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay (1967)

Since it’s initial publication in 1967, Picnic at Hanging Rock has been chilling and fascinating audiences across the globe. Set in 1900, the novel begins with a simple outing. A group of students from Appleyard College for Young Ladies set off to Hanging Rock for the eponymous picnic. While there, several of them set into the seclusion of a volcanic outcropping… and are never heard from again.

What follows is a gripping account of both the investigation as well as the impacts this event has upon the fate of the college itself. It’s a fascinating look into the impact that tragedy can have on ordinary circumstances, and a mystery that will leave you aching for answers that will never come.

91. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1967) 

In this surrealist tale, José Arcadio Buendía flees his city with his wife after committing murder, and is now seeking refuge. Rather than finding life in a new city, he decides to found his own utopia — Macondo. This little town functions in its own odd way, separate from the rest of the world, save for a few interactions via a band of gypsies. But solitude doesn’t necessarily mean peace, as José’s descendants would discover, and neither can that solitude remain forever…

One Hundred Years of Solitude is an outstanding blend of the fantastical and the real. Marquez’s prose will take you on a magical and sensational journey to discover the complex political developments of Latin America.

92. The Forever War by Joe Haldeman (1974) 

In this rendition of reality, Earth is at war with the alien-kind called Taurans. In preparation for this drawn out conflict, William Mandella is drafted and enters a rigorous training program, starting first on Earth and then later on a foreign planet. Mandella hopes to survive the training and the war to return to his family, but his life will never be the same again, whether because of the time dilation between the planets, or because of the new lens that he will see life through, after participating in a lengthy and pointless war.

Hats off to Haldeman for his creativity: he spectacularly spun his experiences as a drafted soldier in the Vietnam war into the moving interstellar story of The Forever War.

93. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (1978) 

This comedic sci-fi book series was first created as a podcast show, and it became so popular that the creator wrote everything down and published the story in several installments. The outer space adventurism that Adams instilled in these tales served as an inspiration for many subsequent works — books, movies, TV shows — in this genre. The series follows Arthur Dent, a human who is luckily saved by an interstellar friend, Ford Prefect, and who takes Arthur on his quest to create the ultimate guidebook to the Galaxy. What is Arthur saved from? Well, Earth is to be demolished to make way for the building of an intergalactic highway. If that doesn’t make Arthur realize how small his world had been, and how little he had known about its reality, his odyssey with his alien friends surely will.

94. So Long A Letter by Mariama Ba (1979)

So Long A Letter is a book of letters written by a Senegalese widow, Ramatoulaye Fall, to her friend during the time — four months and ten day, to be exact, as dictated by her religion and tradition — that she mourns her husband. As she explores her own emotions, Ramatoulaye reveals the complexities of the polygamous society that she lived in. Personal, raw, and unexpectedly relatable, this elegant novella extends beyond the illustration of the plight of women in 20th century Africa; Ramatoulaye’s sentiments and wonders are felt by all women.

95. Collected Poems by Sylvia Plath (1981) 

Sylvia Plath’s Collected Poems collates 274 pieces that she wrote from 1956 to the time of her death. Her poetry is intense and personal; in her writing she explored her relationships with her family and the state of her mentality. At a time where depression and bipolar disorder is hardly talked about as serious conditions, Plath’s verses bring ringing clarity to the detrimental effects that they may have on a person’s life. If you are a lover of poems, if you want to be moved by powerful, intricate images, then you will not want to miss out on this collection of poems.

96. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (1981)

Saleem was born in the first hour of India’s independence from Great Britain, and as a result, he is gifted with the extraordinary power of telepathy and a heightened sense of smell. He soon discovers that there are 1,001 others just like him — people imbued with different superpowers due to their births’ coincidence with the nation’s historic moment. As India begins building its new and separate identity, Saleem gathers those like him, who he named Midnight’s Children, to figure out their role in this process.

Using magical realism as a way to make the notion of common identity more tangible, Rushdie’s novel provides a fascinating inroad into the transition into modernity of a culture that has existed for many centuries.

97. The Color Purple by Alice Walker (1982)

Set in early 1900s Georgia, The Color Purple is a striking story about the debilitating conditions of black women during the years of intense segregation. Celie and Nettie grew up in a broken household, and have long been separated and are living disparate lives. Despite the distance between them, they seek solace in one another through letters, and support each other through the abuses of domestic life and social tensions that they undergo as African American women.

The Color Purple deservedly won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for Walker’s refusal to shy away from the difficult issues of violence and sexual abuse — problems that she presented from the perspective of the victims in the rawest and most powerful form available.

98. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera (1984)

In this philosophical novel, readers follow the “light” life of surgeon and womanizer Tomas. He lives to enjoy himself as much as possible because he believes his experience is a one-time and completely unique thing. In stark contrast to that is the perspective of Tereza, his wife, who’s a photographer who is faithful and puts “weight” on her every decision. Through the couple’s struggles to harmonize themselves, with 1960s Czechoslovakia’s internal turmoil rife in the background, The Unbearable Lightness of Being reflects the intellectual rediscovery and transition into postmodernity that Eastern Europe at that historic time.

99. Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987) 

This beloved, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel asks the question: “Can we ever really escape our past?”

It follows Sethe, a woman who escaped slavery by fleeing to Ohio eighteen years before the novel starts. Still, “Sweet Home,” the picturesque farm that was the scene of her many living nightmares, continues to haunt her. And it’s not the only shadow casted over her life. Sethe’s home is also haunted by the ghost of her baby whose tombstone displays a lone word: Beloved.

Beloved is a suspenseful, heartbreaking, and intimate story. It deserves a spot on all “best books of all time” lists for the way it stands as a monument to the “Sixty Million and More,” as the book’s dedication reads, who lost their lives to the Atlantic slave trade.

100. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (1989)

Kazuo Ishiguro is a Nobel Prize-winning author, and The Remains of the Day is a Man Booker Prize winner with a film adaptation starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, and which received eight Oscar nominations. No big deal, right?

Ishiguro’s impressive novel centres on Stevens, a butler who’s spent most of his life in service at Darlington Hall, a stately home near Oxford, England. When Stevens receives a letter from an old colleague who now lives in Cornwall, he decides to set out on a motoring trip through the West Country to visit her. Along the way, he reflects on England’s past, his own past, and his long-standing career serving Lord Darlington.

101. Angels in America by Tony Kushner (1991)

Angels in America is a two-part play and exploration of homosexuality and the AIDS crisis in America in the 1980s. The plays can be presented together or separately, and have been adapted for Broadway and as an HBO miniseries.

The story starts with a gay couple living in Manhattan — Prior and Louis. When Louis discovers that Prior has AIDS, he finds himself unable to cope. He leaves Prior to have an affair with Joe, a Mormon, Republican clerk whose valium-addicted, agoraphobic wife is desperate to save their marriage. Several other storylines blossom as the play unfolds, many of which intersect and involve angels and ghosts.

If you need any more convincing of the power behind Kushner’s work, John M. Clum, a playwright and professor of theatre studies has called Angels in America“A turning point in the history of gay drama, the history of American drama, and of American literary culture.” 

102. The Secret History by Donna Tartt (1992)

Right from the start of Tartt’s inverted mystery, readers know there has been a murder. All of the details and events surrounding this crime are slowly revealed throughout the gripping novel narrated in retrospect by a student who was at the center of the case.

The six protagonists of The Secret History are a group of Classics students studying at a small, elite college in Vermont. Under the guidance of their favorite professor, the students begin to collectively challenge the norms of academia and society as a whole, questioning the way they’ve been taught to see the world. They blur the lines between good and evil, looking for the morally grey around them. But as they start to push the boundaries they’ve always known, their own moral compasses begin to veer, and unspeakable acts follow.

103. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (1995) 

It’s 1975, and India has just declared a State of Emergency. In the midst of this bleak upheaval and political turmoil, the fates of four unlikely strangers intertwine: a courageous widow, a young, uprooted student, and two sailors who have escaped the violence of their native village — who all end up living in one, small apartment as they contend with their uncertain futures.

Just as the title suggests, A Fine Balance does a wonderful job paralleling the realism of the testing, cruel, and corrupt circumstances with compassion, humor, and insight into the power of love and friendship.

104. Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels (1996)

Written by Canadian poet Anne Michaels, Fugitive Pieces is a two-part novel that begins with an absolutely heart wrenching image: the war has just swept through a Polish city where seven-year old Jakob Beer’s family has just been murdered. The only reason he has survived is because he buried himself under mud until the coast was clear. A Greek geologist eventually comes across Jakob and rescues him — but the man doesn’t actually realize that Jakob is a human until the boy begins to weep.

The first part of the book continues to follow Jakob as he becomes a traveling artist, while the second explores different facets of WWII’s repercussions: it centers around Ben, a Canadian professor whose parents both survived the Holocaust.

New York Times Notable Book of the Year, Winner of the Lannan Literary Fiction Award, and Winner of the Guardian Fiction Award, Fugitive Pieces depicts tough subject matters with captivating elements of mystery and evocative prose.

105. The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy (1999)

Come for the delightfully illustrated book cover featuring the likes of Medusa and the Devil’s wife, and stay for the witty collection of poems by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy.

The World’s Wife is a modern, feminist reflection on many of history’s most well-known figures. Or rather, the great women behind those historical figures. From Mrs. Darwin to Queen Kong and Mrs. Midas, the counterparts of famous men are finally getting their day in the sun!

Take it from publisher Pan Macmillan: “Original, subversive, full of imagination and quicksilver wit, The World’s Wife is Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy at her beguiling best.”

106. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (1999)

Interpreter of Maladies is a collection of nine short stories, and winner of both the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award.

From marriage problems to the peculiar experience of returning to a home you hardly remember, these stories provide a window into the culturally complex lives of first and second generation immigrants. The thread that weaves the story together is that of adaptation: they portray the lives of Indians and Indian Americans striving to find a connection between their roots and the “new world.”In the title short story, an Indian American family tours the India of their ancestors, accompanied by an interpreter who gets an unexpected insight into the family’s life.

107. Atonement by Ian McEwan (2001) 

On a hot summer day in post-World War Two England, 13-year-old Briony Tallis witnesses — and misinterprets — a private moment between her older sister Cecilia, and the son of their housekeeper, Robbie Turner. But with the precocious confidence of a young storyteller, Briony begins to weave what she believes she saw into fantasies that have long-lasting and rippling effects on her family. Told in three parts — the latter two during the Second World War and present-day England — Atonement is a brilliant and provocative reflection on the nature of writing itself.

108. Kafka by the Shore by Haruki Murakami (2002) 

Kafka by the Shore consists of two distinct storylines that eventually intersect. The odd-numbered chapters follow Kafka, a 15-year-old-boy who runs away from his father’s home to find his long-lost mother and sister.

The even-numbered chapters are about an aging war-vet called Nakata, who has an uncanny ability to find lost cats. One of his searches leads him out onto the road for the first time.

Both odysseys are vividly mysterious, and populated with imaginative accomplices and unexpected encounters that are characteristic of Murakami’s distinct and bizarre style.

109. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon (2003) 

15 year-old Christopher John Francis Boone hates the color yellow and being touched by others. In fact, he’d much rather spend his time around animals and avoid complicated human emotions. He can also fire off all the countries of the world, their capitals, and every prime number up to 7,057. He thrives on logic, patterns, and carefully laid out rules.

One day, in an unexpected turn of events, his neighbor’s dog dies. While Christopher is not a fan of plot twists, he decides to take a leaf out of his favorite, deerstalker-wearing detective’s book, and to solve — you guessed it — The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.

110. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (2003) 

Set against a backdrop of chaos and tumult — such as the fall of Afghanistan’s monarchy through the Soviet military intervention, the exodus of refugees to Pakistan and the United States, and the rise of the Taliban regime — this story details the unlikely friendship between Amir, the son of a well-to-do-family, and Hassan, the son of Amir’s father’s servant.

A sweeping tale of family, love, and friendship, it’s not uncommon for someone to clutch their heart or take on a sombre expression when someone brings up The Kite Runner. It’s an emotionally devastating read that stays with you long after you’ve finished it.

111. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (2005)

There is a vast selection of fictional works concerning World War II, but perhaps none quite as interesting at The Book Thief. Death tells this story: for some reason, little Liesel had caught his attention during a time that was surely busy for him. Separated from her family by the war, Liesel found her way to her new foster parents, picking up a book that would nurture in her a new relationship with words on the way. As she starts learning to read, she also starts noticing the violence and cruelty of the world that she is growing up in — something that Death can’t help her with, although he is the one person who will fathom how far she’s come.

Zusak’s spectacular humanization of this ominous narrator emphasizes perfectly the inhumanity of war and discrimination in a never seen before light despite this commonly-used setting.

112. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2006) 

“Epic,” “ambitious,” “triumphant,” “masterful” are all adjectives that have widely been used to describe Half of a Yellow Sun — and for good reason! Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s haunting (another adjective for you!) novel is dedicated to retelling a seminal moment in modern African history: the Nigerian Civil War in the 1960s, and Biafra’s struggle to establish an independent republic in Nigeria.

Readers are guided through this conflict from the perspectives of three main characters: 13 year-old Ugwu, a revolutionary-minded houseboy who works for a university professor; Olanna, a young woman who’s abandoned her cushy life in Lagos to take up a passionate affair with said university professor; and Richard, a shy Englishman who quietly falls in love with Olanna’s twin sister.

As the war unfurls around them, Ugwa, Olanna, and Richard are all forced to flee for their lives, facing challenges and struggles that test their spirits, ideals, and trust for one another.

113. The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (2007)

Oscar Wao has big dreams: he wants to become the Dominican J. R. R. Tolkien, and to fall in love. But the fukú curse stands in his way, as it has for generations of Waos, dooming his family to ill fates for centuries.

Told from the perspective of multiple characters, and interspersed with plenty of fantasy and sci-fi references, The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao manages to capture a number of themes with warmth and honesty — from heartbreak to loss, and most strikingly, the Domincan-American experience — earning it the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

114. The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak (2009)

As do many titles on this list, The Forty Rules of Love is a book of two parallel narratives.

One takes place in the thirteenth century, detailing the experiences of Rumi when he first met Shams of Tabriz, his mentor.

The other story is set in present day, and is about Ella Rubenstein, an unhappily married woman who’s just landed a job as a reader for a literary agent. One of the books she’s tasked to read is about Shams of Tabriz’s search for Rumi, and the transformation of the latter from an unhappy cleric into a passionate advocate of love. Ella becomes fascinated by the book, and as she reads, she can’t help but feel as though this book landed in her hands for a reason…

115. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (2014)

When performing King Lear on stage one night, a Hollywood actor drops dead. Shortly after, civilization begins to collapse. This event is the middle ground of Station Eleven, as the book pendulates back and forth between the actor’s early years and a dystopian future in which the world as we know it has changed forever.

Hauntingly real and spellbindingly imaginative, it charts a theatre troupe called the Traveling Symphony as they roam wastelands and attempt to hold onto what it means to be human.

Page 2: Ancient civilizations
Page 3: Post-classical literature
Page 4: Literature in the modern age
Page 5: Contemporary literature