30 Must-Read Books

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Photo: amazon.com

If there were one list of absolute must-read books, what would you put on it? We asked 30 noted authors, across genres, that question; here are their picks.

01 of 30

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
amazon.com

“It’s hard to say what anyone should or shouldn’t read, let alone everyone, but The Great Gatsby is a book I find myself continually going back to, and I always seem to find something new. If you’ve read it once, it rewards a second look. If you haven’t read it yet, well, I’m jealous of anyone who gets to read it for the first time.”

Kevin Powers is the author of The Yellow Birds ($9, amazon.com) and A Shout in the Ruins ($18, amazon.com).

To buy: $13, amazon.com.

02 of 30

A House for Mr. Biswas, by V. S. Naipaul

A House for Mr. Biswas, by V. S. Naipaul
amazon.com

“The title character, based on Naipaul’s own father, born inauspiciously with a sixth finger in colonial Trinidad, struggles against ignorance, superstition, and bullying in-laws to scratch a tenuous living as a yellow journalist, in this heartbreaking and excruciatingly funny story that speaks of the universal longing for self-expression and freedom.”

Pauline Chen is the author of The Red Chamber ($16, amazon.com).

To buy: $15, amazon.com.

03 of 30

A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki

A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki
amazon.com

“Everyone—and I mean everyone—should read Ruth Ozeki’s new book, A Tale for the Time Being, which is smart, insightful, revelatory, and uncompromising while remaining gripping, accessible, and often very, very funny.”

Laurie Frankel is the author of This Is How It Always Is ($11, amazon.com), among other novels.

To buy: $29, amazon.com.

04 of 30

Bleak House, by Charles Dickens

Bleak House, by Charles Dickens
amazon.com

Bleak House is, to my mind, one of the most finely crafted works of literature ever written. The story lines and characters still feel fresh and alive today, 160 years after Dickens created them.”

J. Courtney Sullivan is the author of Saints for All Occasions ($16, amazon.com), among other novels.

To buy: $4, amazon.com.

05 of 30

Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White

Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White
amazon.com

“If everyone on earth read Charlotte’s Web, preferably once a year, the world would be a better place—more generous, more patient, and more receptive to the unlikely.”

Annie Barrows is the author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society ($15, amazon.com), among other books.

To buy: $8, amazon.com.

06 of 30

The Wisdom of No Escape, by Pema Chödrön

Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White
amazon.com

“I think almost everyone could benefit from having a copy of Pema Chödrön’s The Wisdom of No Escape lying around somewhere to pick up if needed. She’s a Buddhist nun writing about various teachings, but she’s also a true writer, and the book is suffused with the work she has done on herself. You can feel it in the prose. This is a book that can feel ordinary on an ordinary day, but at the right moment (usually a difficult moment), it has the potential to turn into liquid and pour into a person.”

Aimee Bender is the author of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake ($16, amazon.com), among other books.

To buy: $14, amazon.com.

07 of 30

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain
amazon.com

“Forget that this is an important book, one that captures our country in a moment in time like none I’ve ever read. Fountain’s real accomplishment is his dizzying prose, fabulous dialogue, and wonderful characters.”

Maria Semple is the author of Where’d You Go, Bernadette ($11, amazon.com) and Today Will Be Different ($11, amazon.com).

To buy: $16, amazon.com.

08 of 30

True Grit, by Charles Portis

True Grit, by Charles Portis
amazon.com

“Many older folks recall the ’60s movie with John Wayne, and a few years ago, Jeff Bridges played the role of the gruff, true-hearted, one-eyed marshal Rooster Cogburn. But the book, in which Mattie Ross, a very old woman, tells Jesse James’s brother the story of how she set out at 14 to avenge her father’s murder, is pure genius.”

Jacquelyn Mitchard, the author of Two If By Sea ($11, amazon.com), among other books.

To buy: $11, amazon.com.

09 of 30

The Light Between Oceans, by M.L. Stedman

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
amazon.com

“On tiny, isolated Janus Rock, off the perilous Western Australian coastline, a childless lighthouse keeper and his grief-stricken wife are swept into a series of life-changing decisions when an infant washes onto their shores in a rowboat. Every character is insightfully drawn, morally complex, and so very human, I was absolutely riveted.”

Paula McLain is the author of The Paris Wife ($10, amazon.com) and Love and Ruin ($20, amazon.com).

To buy: $10, amazon.com.

10 of 30

Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy

Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
amazon.com

“Everyone should read Anna Karenina. When I reread it in 2010, I learned two things: When I was 19, I clearly hadn’t any idea what parts of the text were important—and so I presumed everything was. I think I underlined half the sentences in the novel. (And when a novel is 800 pages long, that’s a lot of sentences.) Second, Tolstoy was a spectacularly astute chronicler of the demons and dreams that really drive human nature. Despite the carriages and oysters and all that fur, the story felt achingly contemporary and I just loved it.”

Chris Bohjalian is the author of The Flight Attendant ($16, amazon.com) and others.

To buy: $13, amazon.com.

11 of 30

The Information, by James Gleick

The Information, by James Gleick
amazon.com

“Here we have a biography of the idea of information, which might have been boring, except for two crucial things: (1) Gleick is a great writer, and (2) the idea of information has had a huge crazy life! I mean, who knew? The life of a poet, a rock star, a conquering king! Put down that celebrity bio. Pick up The Information.”

Robin Sloan is the author of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore ($12, amazon.com) and Sourdough ($12, amazon.com).

To buy: $14, amazon.com.

12 of 30

St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, by Karen Russell

St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, by Karen Russell
amazon.com

Vampires in the Lemon Grove was a huge hit this year and deserved every accolade. Which makes me think that we should all go back and read her first collection, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. I love the exuberance in these stories. Reading them you feel as if the writer is having as good as time as you and the characters, running around hunting for turtles or mapping the stars. When the sadness hits, as sadness so often does in all very good fiction, it’s startling but earned, a slow bolt of lightning to the heart. A book that sticks with you for life.”

Leigh Newman is the author of Still Points North ($17, amazon.com).

To buy: $13, amazon.com.

13 of 30

Beloved, by Toni Morrison

Beloved, by Toni Morrison
amazon.com

“It helps us understand the pernicious effects of slavery and how we are still grappling with America’s Original Sin.”

Thrity Umrigar is the author of The Secrets Between Us ($18, amazon.com), among other novels.

To buy: $13, amazon.com.

14 of 30

Kindly Bent to Ease Us, by Longchenpa (translated by Herbert V. Guenther)

Kindly Bent to Ease Us, by Longchenpa (translated by Herbert V. Guenther)
amazon.com

“A three-volume Buddhist classic filled with poetic, profound—and profoundly simple—wisdom.”

J.I. Baker is the author of The Empty Glass ($11, amazon.com).

To buy: $18, amazon.com.

15 of 30

The Eight, by Katherine Neville

The Eight, by Katherine Neville
amazon.com

“It may be 600-plus pages long, but this historical thriller has a cult following for a reason: The story hurtles along, following two women protagonists in different times—an 18th-century ex-nun hiding the pieces to a dangerous chess set during European revolution and a 20th-century American banker whose life depends on unraveling the secrets to the very same chess set.”

Nancy Bilyeau is the author of the Joanna Stafford series, the first of which is The Crown ($17, amazon.com).

To buy: $10, amazon.com.

16 of 30

Wave, by Sonali Deraniyagala

Wave, by Sonali Deraniyagala
amazon.com

“This is a book about unimaginable loss, but it’s also about not waiting to recognize the kinds of everyday happiness most of us are lucky enough to experience. It’s a stunning memoir that will change you.”

Will Schwalbe is the author of The End of Your Life Book Club ($12, amazon.com), among others.

To buy: $15, amazon.com.

17 of 30

Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence, by Richard Wrangham and Dale Peterson

Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence, by Richard Wrangham and Dale Peterson
amazon.com

“Fascinating, accessible, and endlessly revelatory, this pop-science book literally changed my life, helping me come to terms with the human compulsion to fight by understanding its evolutionary roots.”

Jane Bordon’s memoir is I Totally Meant to Do That ($13, amazon.com).

To buy: $17, amazon.com.

18 of 30

The Middlesteins, by Jami Attenberg

The Middlesteins, by Jami Attenberg
amazon.com

The Middlesteins is about a Jewish midwestern family whose matriarch is eating herself to death, but it has the universal appeal of a classic American novel.”

Kate Christensen is the author several novels, including The Last Cruise ($18, amazon.com).

To buy: $10, amazon.com.

19 of 30

Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
amazon.com

“This book, based on psychologist Csikszentmihalyi’s pioneering work, describes the state of mind we should all seek to attain as often as possible: the state of flow, when you’re so absorbed by an activity that you forget both yourself and time.”

Susan Cain is the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking ($16, amazon.com).

To buy: $16, amazon.com.

20 of 30

The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green

The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green
amazon.com

“This story of two teens with terminal cancer is heartbreakingly honest and charmingly funny.”

Jamie Ford is the author of Songs of Willow Frost ($9, amazon.com) and other books.

To buy: $8, amazon.com.

21 of 30

Howards End, by E.M. Forster

Howards End, by E.M. Forster
amazon.com

“Time and again, I recommend Howards End, by E.M. Forster. It’s all about our need to connect with our fellow humans, no matter how different they might appear on the surface.”

Melanie Benjamin is the author of several books, including The Aviator’s Wife ($14, amazon.com) and The Girls in the Picture ($12, amazon.com).

To buy: $4, amazon.com.

22 of 30

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey
amazon.com

“Oregon State Hospital, where the adaptation of this brilliant novel was filmed, was recently converted to the Museum of Mental Health. What better way to commemorate this moment than by rereading Kesey’s classic? Moving, jarring, gut-wrenching, yes. But Kesey’s novel is also expertly crafted and superbly written.”

Garth Stein’s novels include The Art of Racing in the Rain ($11, amazon.com).

To buy: $11, amazon.com.

23 of 30

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, by Anthony Marra

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, by Anthony Marra
amazon.com

“This haunting, unforgettable novel about an orphaned 8-year-old girl, the neighbor who rescues her, and the bitter female doctor who hides her is set in Chechnya over a few days in 2004, but manages to reveal that country’s history as well as the characters’ pasts and futures.”

Ann Hood’s books include The Obituary Writer ($14, amazon.com) and The Book That Matters Most ($11, amazon.com).

To buy: $10, amazon.com.

24 of 30

My Stroke of Insight, by Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D.

My Stroke of Insight, by Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D.
amazon.com

“A woman’s devastating stroke forces her to think from the right side of her brain, and she not only recovers but becomes happier and more fulfilled.”

Jeannette Walls, author of The Glass Castle ($10, amazon.com) and The Silver Star ($10, amazon.com), among others.

To buy: $11, amazon.com.

25 of 30

Telegraph Avenue, by Michael Chabon

Telegraph Avenue, by Michael Chabon
amazon.com

“Everyone should read Telegraph Avenue, not just for the stylistic fireworks (such as a breathtaking 12-page sentence) but for the heart and soul Michael Chabon infuses into every character in this multiracial, multi-everything tale of people getting by in 1990s California.”

Emma Donoghue is the author of Room ($14, amazon.com) and other books.

To buy: $13, amazon.com.

26 of 30

In Our Time, by Ernest Hemingway

In Our Time, by Ernest Hemingway
amazon.com

“This collection of Hemingway’s short stories and interstitial episodes represents some of the finest, most spare writing of the twentieth century, including my all-time favorite short story, ‘Hills Like White Elephants,’ which distills to perfection the writerly art of not saying. He never tells you what’s going on, but you know, exactly.”

Erik Larson is the author of In the Garden of Beasts ($14, amazon.com), Devil in the White City ($10, amazon.com), and more.

To buy: $10, amazon.com.

27 of 30

Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf

Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf
amazon.com

“I think everyone should read Virginia Woolf for her sparkling writing and for her profound insight into the experience of everyday life.”

Karen Thompson Walker is the author of the The Age of Miracles ($13, amazon.com).

To buy: $10, amazon.com.

28 of 30

Girls Like Us: Fighting for a World Where Girls Are Not for Sale, by Rachel Lloyd

Girls Like Us: Fighting for a World Where Girls Are Not for Sale, by Rachel Lloyd
amazon.com

“Not only is this a riveting, inspirational memoir about a profoundly troubled youth, but it also exposes the epidemic of human trafficking that’s thriving in our own country. It’s a life-changing book.”

Joanna Hershon is the author of A Dual Inheritance ($16, amazon.com) and more.

To buy: $14, amazon.com.

29 of 30

The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas

The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas
amazon.com

“An oldie but always satisfying is The Count of Monte Cristo. This one has it all—suspense, romance, adventure—and it played a major role in inspiring me, as a child, to attempt to write fiction.”

Jonathan Kellerman is the author of more than three dozen novels, including A Measure of Darkness ($21, amazon.com).

To buy: $11, amazon.com.

30 of 30

The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame

The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame
amazon.com

“Whilst this is ostensibly a children’s book, for me it’s an ode to friendship. Funny, poignant, and beautifully illustrated, it radiates kindness and understanding of the imperfect human heart.”

M.L. Stedman is the author of The Light Between Oceans ($10, amazon.com).

To buy: $13, amazon.com.

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