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The Catcher in the Rye
J. D. Salinger
It’s been considerably more than a half century since the first angst-ridden teenager cracked the spine of The Catcher in the Rye and felt he’d found a book—or more specifically, a character—that spoke for him. In the intervening years, millions of other self-anointed outsiders have felt the same wa...show more
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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Rebecca Skloot
At a fundamental level, Henrietta Lacks’s contribution to the advance of medical science may be as great as that of anyone who has ever lived. Her cells, obtained without her permission or knowledge during treatment for terminal cancer in 1951, were the first human cells to be replicated and kept al...show more
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Antigone
Sophocles
It is easy to see the battle of wills between Antigone and Creon as a struggle between conscience and power, liberty and tyranny, individual courage and the brutality of the state. Many modern readings of the tale (including mid-twentieth-century restagings by Jean Anouilh and Bertolt Brecht) do so....show more
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Oedipus the King
Sophocles
Oedipus the King presents Sophocles’s tragic sense of life with a fearsome and visceral clarity. Although fate is everywhere, not a god appears: Oedipus himself is the agent of his own undoing, and it is his fundamental honor that impels him toward his ruin. The faster we run from torment, the faste...show more
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Memento Mori
Muriel Spark
In this perfectly poised tale, wicked wit, artifice, and no little wisdom collude to produce a singular delight: a novel about mortality that is both unnerving and exuberant. Exhibiting the author’s uncanny ability to infuse human affairs, no matter how petty or mundane, with an otherworldly gravity...show more
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As I Lay Dying
William Faulkner
Addie Bundren’s health is deteriorating rapidly, and her eldest son, Cash, is hewing the most beautiful coffin he can manage right outside her bedroom window. Wretchedly poor, the Bundrens watch Addie die, then make their way with her corpse, its coffin in a mule-drawn wagon, across the fictional Yo...show more
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The Hunger Games
Suzanne Collins
As story and as media phenomenon, Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games is at the top of the pile of wildly popular dystopian teen fiction that has dominated twenty-first-century bestseller lists (in no small part by appealing to readers well beyond their teen years). In the nation of Panem, power and ...show more
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Gone Girl
Gillian Flynn
Gone Girl is the story of a marriage’s unraveling and the suspicion that falls on the husband in the wake of his wife’s disappearance. But it is author Gillian Flynn’s knowing exploitation of the intimate pact between writer and reader, her head-turning violation of it, that tightens the story's gri...show more
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The Day of the Jackal
Frederick Forsyth
This taut narrative of a 1963 assassination attempt on French president Charles de Gaulle proves that drama, like the devil, is in the details; throughout his intricate chronicle of the techniques and activities of a professional assassin, hired by a homegrown terrorist group incensed by de Gaulle’s...show more
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The Lord of the Rings
J. R. R. Tolkien
Appearing in three separate volumes between July 1954 and October 1955, The Lord of the Rings constitutes a single linear narrative that was segmented for publishing convenience rather than by authorial intent. Tolkien’s hero, Frodo, is the adoptive heir of Bilbo Baggins, protagonist of The Hobbit. ...show more
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Othello
William Shakespeare
Despite being an outsider, Othello is honored as the defender of Venice, and he falls ardently in love with Desdemona, a patrician daughter of the city, who has been swept away by the romantic aura of exotic adventure the noble Moor exudes. Although many of its scenes take place out of doors, the dr...show more
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Macbeth
William Shakespeare
From the opening scene, in which three witches enter in thunder and lightning to invoke occult spirits in menacing rhymes, Macbeth inhabits a dark world of omens and hallucinatory visions. Impelled by the witches’ prophecies, a military hero pursues a murderous course to the Scottish throne, only to...show more
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Inferno: The Divine Comedy, Book 1
Dante Alighieri
Dark and surprising.
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The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Junot Díaz
The first thing that strikes you is the prose: It’s fast and agile, unafraid to mix ingredients. English and Spanish and Spanglish combine to energize the sentences, which move easily between different modes of discourse—expository, conversational, professorial, confidential, ribald, tender, rambunc...show more
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Their Eyes Were Watching God
Zora Neale Hurston
Her refusal to write political novels about black people defined by the white world, together with her practice of rendering speech in black southern dialect—particularly in Their Eyes Were Watching God—inspired intense criticism from Richard Wright and other prominent contemporaries. Yet dialect is...show more
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Slaughterhouse-Five
Kurt Vonnegut
Many thousands died when Allied planes firebombed Dresden, Germany, in February 1945. Kurt Vonnegut, an American soldier being held there as a prisoner of war, survived because he was confined to Schlachthof-fünf—slaughterhouse number five, an airtight, impregnable underground meat locker. When the ...show more
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A Wrinkle in Time
Madeleine L'Engle
Troubled, feisty, and, as we shall discover, remarkably resourceful, thirteen-year-old Meg is one of the most unforgettable heroines in twentieth-century young adult fiction. Her family is rather memorable, too. There are her sympathetic parents, both of whom are scientists and one of whom, her fath...show more
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Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass
Lewis Carroll
More than the sum of its parts, Lewis Carroll’s Alice oeuvre has taken root in our collective imagination like few other literary creations. Despite—or perhaps because of—its nonsensical pedigree, it has proved to be an addictive pleasure for analysts seduced by its dense mix of childish frivolities...show more
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Brave New World
Aldous Huxley
What people can’t get in the technologically determined society of Aldous Huxley’s imagined future are family, religion, literature, art, individuality, love, or a genuinely human relationship of any sort. In this brave new world, poverty, conflict, and unhappiness have all been eliminated by way of...show more
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1984
George Orwell
Even now, six decades after it was written and more than a quarter century after its titular year has come and gone, 1984 continues to haunt us with its aura of pernicious possibility. Orwell’s warning of a spiritless, totalitarian time to come has lost none of its relevance. It would be hard to nam...show more
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