Once, when she was younger, a friend of my mom's stole her diary. He gave it back to her in disgust saying that there was nothing personal in it, that it was not a diary -- it was a book-list. But I think a book-list can make quite a good diary.
These are the most wonderful books of all time (in no particular order, and I've left my favorite book off this list).
Confederacy of Dunces (1963, published 1980) -- John Kennedy Toole
Very, very funny book. Astonishingly light-hearted for an author whose personal history is so sad.
Never Let Me Go (2005) -- Kazuo Ishiguro
Ishiguro's novels always concern moral dilemmas that cause the reader to further refine his or her own philosophy. I don't know of another novelist so adept at this.
The Remains of the Day (1989) -- Kazuo Ishiguro
I first read this when working an unsatisfying but well-paying job. It makes you reflect on your life's purpose -- a great achievement, because very few things really cause you to do this.
The Sirens of Titan (1959) -- Kurt Vonnegut
Beautiful imagery, sci-fi (but not very science-y).
Stoner (1965) -- John Williams
Amazing book, about an academic. The pursuit of Truth and all of that.
The Time Traveler's Wife (2003)-- Audrey Niffenegger
Great imagery, really well-thought-out science fiction (opposite of Vonnegut).
A Wrinkle in Time (1962) -- Madeleine L'Engle
Great children's book - exciting adventures, questions about ethics, standing up for what you believe.
The Last Vampire Series (1994-1996) -- Christopher Pike
This had a profound effect on my life. I re-read it recently, and it was almost as good as I remembered (which is saying a lot). My favorite parts involve Ancient India and Renaissance Italy (probably my first introduction to these epochs).
Rebecca (1938) -- Daphne du Maurier
The language in this book is fantastic: "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again."
The Great Gatsby (1925) -- F. Scott Fitzgerald
A perfect book.
Singularity (1985) -- William Sleator
Coming of age novel about sibling rivalry, solitude, and determination (also time travel, a mysterious uncle, and alien species).
The Night Watch (2006) -- Sarah Waters
This woman can create scenes so realistic you will believe you are there.
Seymour: An Introduction (1959) -- J. D. Salinger
It's hard to pick one. I like all the stories about the Glass family. I do not like Catcher in the Rye.
The Last Tycoon (1941) -- F. Scott Fitzgerald
Airplane travel in the 1920's is the image that most stuck with me. This is a raw, unfinished novel (maybe The Great Gatsby is too finished?).
Dead Souls (1842) -- Nikolai Gogol
I read one translation that I very much enjoyed - I look forward to reading the one Nabokov recommended (although I really need to just learn Russian). Gogol is such a strange man. He goes off on strange tangents of extended metaphors that are just delightful -- no one else could learn from him and do it the way he does. He's completely idiosyncratic. Sui generis is a great term for Gogol.
Ablutions (2009) -- Patrick deWitt
It had a gimmick that I fell for-- it really worked on me, maybe it will on you, too. Instead of feeling guilty when reading it (an astonishing feeling) my husband thought it was hilarious.
This Is How -- M. J. Hyland
When I read this book I read it constantly for two days (I was off work), and when I returned to work I was being very rude. I asked myself why, and realized it was because I thought the world owed me something -- I had completely gotten into the mind set of the first person narrator of this book. Not many authors can do that to you.
Lolita (1955) -- Vladimir Nabokov
The language is very beautiful. The moral conundrum Nabokov creates in the mind of the reader is so dense and important that this book is still misunderstood by most. Read Reading Lolita in Tehran to help see how I would interpret it. I have a lot of opinions about this book, but I will withhold them here. Well, I'll give you one: the only person in the whole novel who ever calls the girl "Lolita" is the narrator -- Nabokov does a great job of making you only gradually realize this, even though he draws attention to it in the opening paragraphs of the novel - and, as you might expect, these opening paragraphs are essential to understanding the novel.
In Search of Lost Time (1913-1922) -- Marcel Proust
I don't have any suggestions for how you could go about finishing all seven volumes, but I encourage you to do it. The last volume is the key to the whole novel, which is about a philosophical idea that could not have been expressed in any other way. You have to read the whole thing to see what I mean.
The Death of Ivan Ilyich (1886) -- Leo Tolstoy
Perfect novella about a man's struggle with his impending death and the meaning of his life.
Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books (2003) -- Azar Nafisi I only recommend the parts about Nabokov. I read and enjoyed the other sections, but the section on Nabokov is what I'm specifically recommending here.
The Confessions of Nat Turner (1967) -- William Styron
I don't know how William Styron, a white southerner, got into the head of the leader of a slave rebellion one hundred years previous, but he did. A masterpiece.
Atmospheric Disturbances (2008) -- Rivka Galchen
The book is about a man who is going insane in a particular way (Galchen is an MD in psychiatry). It makes you question your sanity, so, a difficult read.
Indignation -- Philip Roth
The most amazing twist ending I have ever read. Do NOT read ahead, do NOT read a summary (do not read the wikipedia entry).
Sophie's World (1991) -- Jostein Gaarder (translated from the Norwegian by Paulette Møller)
Very strange pulp fiction introduction to philosophy for young adults, which was sold in the grocery store (that's where my mom bought it for me). I don't know why this would be sold in a grocery store, but I'm glad it was.
The Doll in the Garden: A Ghost Story (1989) -- Mary Downing Hahn
Time travel ghost story, ghost cat, friendships of little girls, single motherhood.
Behind the Attic Wall (1983) -- Sylvia Cassedy
I think I liked this book because it was very well written, or so I remember. You wouldn't like the plot if I were to put it here.
We Others (2011) -- Steven Millhauser
About magic - it made me want to fly, or I felt like I was flying when I read it.
One Thousand and One Nights (c. 800 C. E.) -- Anonymous
Very sexual in nature, these are also of course about magic. There's nothing else in the world like them. Adaptations do not come close, if you have not read the original (at least in translation) you do not know these stories.
Steppenwolf (1927) -- Herman Hesse
I re-read this recently, and found it to be just as amazing as I thought it was when I was a teenager (it's the reason I took German in college). But I understand it more now.
Don Quixote (1615) -- Miguel de Cervantes
I've read this book many times. I don't know how to explain how wonderful it is. Cervantes creates a world so realistic and so similar to ours, and puts a demented man in it whose fantasy world (in his head) is just as realistic to him. More on this later.
Iliad (900 B.C.E.), translated (1990) by Robert Fagles -- Homer
I don't know Greek, so I don't know if this is a good translation of the original. Here is a review of the translation: http://www.samizdat.com/isyn/iliad.html Whether it is true to the original or not, I deeply enjoyed this book.
The Nose (1835-1836) -- Nikolai Gogol
Very good story, like his others, something only Gogol could have written.
Women in Love (1920) -- D. H. Lawrence
I loved this book when I read it as a teenager, but haven't been able to re-read it. These lines stuck with me: "To know is human, and in death we do not know, we are not human.
And the joy of this compensates for all the bitterness of knowledge and
the sordidness of our humanity. In death we shall not be human, and we
shall not know. The promise of this is our heritage, we look forward
like heirs to their majority." I was very interested in contemplating mortality when I was younger.
Age of Innocence (1920) -- Edith Wharton
The most brilliant part of this book is the soaring feeling you get when you speed forward in time.
Caribou Island (2011) -- David Vann
What seems to be an extremely realistic depiction of a very unhappy marriage. The ending is an ecstasy of sadness (if you can imagine that).
Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891) -- Thomas Hardy
This was supposed to be "realism" -- it's very interesting to note that what was considered realistic then would not be considered realistic now; so what is "real"? But I really just liked the novel because of the dramatic story and the great imagery.
Wuthering Heights (1846) -- Emily Brontë
I already wrote an entry on this.
Herzog (1964) -- Saul Bellow
I love this book.
Decameron (1353) -- Giovanni Boccaccio
It's very easy to fall into this collection of stories, as funny and as interesting now as they were when they were written 700 years ago.
Canterbury Tales (1400) -- Geoffrey Chaucer
Chaucer was inspired by the Decameron (and copied many of the Italian stories), so it's not surprising that I have the same review. But try to read them in Middle English, if you can- it's very rewarding to read them out loud in the original.
Gulliver's Travels (1726) -- Jonathan Swift
The mark of a great writer, it occurred to me as I re-read this, is that every aspect is intensely imagined. Who would have thought to write about what an enormous blemish on a wet-nurse's breast would look like? This isn't just an "illustration of ideas," as George Orwell's, Ayn Rand's, and Aldous Huxley's novels are-- it's a new world.
King Jesus (1946) -- Robert Graves
English, August: An Indian Story (1988) -- Upamanyu Chatterjee
The Castle (1926) -- Franz Kafka
It was one of the first things I ever talked about with the man who became my husband. It inspired me to make this work on tulle.
The Trial (1915) -- Franz Kafka
One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) -- Gabriel García Márquez
For me, the parts about developing photographs were the best (I was taking a photography class at the time). I wonder if future generations will have any way to visualize these scenes.
All the Pretty Horses (1992) -- Cormac McCarthy
There is one part where a character is afraid of lightning. I don't know why I found that so funny.
Beloved (1987) -- Toni Morrison
Reading this novel feels like being brutally beaten. That may not be your idea of nice reading material (but you'd be wrong).
Song of Solomon (1977) -- Toni Morrison
Reading this was the first time I stayed up all night reading a novel (high school).
Satyricon (68) -- Petronius
I read this after watching the Fellini film of the same name.
The Tragedy of Arthur (2011) -- Arthur Phillips
Amazing novel. Similar to Pale Fire.
I, Claudius (1934) -- Robert Graves
Lord Vishnu's Love Handles (2005) -- Will Clarke
I bought at least two copies of this book and lent them to people.
Poems (1542) -- Sir Thomas Wyatt
Mine Own John Poynz, for instance.
Poems (1529) -- John Skelton
Mannerly Margery Milk and Ale (and others).
Norwegian Wood (1987) -- Haruki Murakami
Childhood's End (1953) -- Arthur C. Clarke
Songs of Distant Earth (1986) -- Arthur C. Clarke
Love Poems (1615) -- John Donne
"Go and catch a falling star" is a miniature masterpiece.
Insomniac (2009) -- Gayle Greene
I just realized that my memories of this work of non-fiction have fused with memories of my life at the time that I read it. It's very well-written, but could (I'm told) induce insomnia if you are prone to it.
Insomnia (1994) -- Stephen King
Speaking of insomnia.
The Shining (1977) -- Stephen King
Wind, Sand and Stars (1939) -- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1995) -- Haruki Murakami
Heart of Darkness (1899) -- Joseph Conrad
An End to Suffering: the Buddha in the World (2004) -- Pankaj Mishra
Bachelors (2000) -- Rosalind Krauss
The chapters on Eva Hesse and Agnes Martin are particularly great.
Invisible Man (1952) -- Ralph Ellison
Family Ties (1960) -- Clarice Lispector
The concept of "preciousness."
The Portrait of Dorian Gray (1891) -- Oscar Wilde
Andrew Lang's Fairy Books (1889-1910) -- Various sources
I'm trying to find a similarity between all of these books, and most of them create a texture that is very captivating, so that the world of the book seems real.
Data: Of these 72 books, 54 were written after 1900; 18 before 1900.
54 were written by men; only 18 by women.
United States Writers: 29
British Writers: 15
Other Countries: 28
Any books you want to add? Want to discuss some of these?