A list by James O'Doherty
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James O'Doherty
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Life & Times of Michael K
J. M. Coetzee
In outline, the narrative of Life & Times of Michael K sounds relentlessly bleak. After losing his job as a civil service gardener, a disfigured man of limited mental capacity leads his impoverished, critically ill mother out of a war-torn city so that she might die in the place where she spent her ...show more
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The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald
A book of shimmering social surfaces and hauntingly evanescent private depths, The Great Gatsby imbues its fleet narrative with a formal elegance that has been readily apparent even to the generations of high school students to whom it has been assigned—generally long before they might understand th...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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Let Us Now Praise Famous Men
James Agee and Walker Evans
Hard work but worthy and important subject
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The Year of Magical Thinking
Joan Didion
On December 30, 2003, Didion and her husband, the novelist John Gregory Dunne, went to a hospital to visit their daughter, Quintana, who was in an induced coma as part of a severe course of treatment for a mysterious illness and septic shock. Later that evening, they returned to their Manhattan apar...show more
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All the President's Men
Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward
All the President’s Men follows Woodward and Bernstein's investigation of the Watergate scandal from start to finish, taking readers behind the scenes, describing in detail their dogged efforts to uncover sources, pursue leads, and—as their most famous informant, “Deep Throat,” had counseled them—fo...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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Dead Souls
Nikolai Gogol
Slow moving and clumsy in some of its construction, yet the comedy and satire of tsarist Russia is razor-sharp
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Great Expectations
Charles Dickens
More nuanced and darker in mood than David Copperfield, Great Expectations is its author’s deepest working of the terrain of childhood and the fears and fates that spring from it. Anchored in a Kentish village, around which the years and events of the complicated plot will revolve, the book returns ...show more
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Heart of Darkness
Joseph Conrad
Brilliant
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Into Thin Air
Jon Krakauer
Fascinating insights into the commercial squalor and very real physical challenges on top of the world. Krakauer's account gripped my attention from the word go. I also bought a wonderful illustrated edition
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Longitude
Dava Sobel
History as adventure. Inspiring story of one man's obsession
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Madame Bovary
Gustave Flaubert
Shallow, impetuous, dishonest, and shortsighted, Emma Bovary is not exactly a likeable heroine. She lies constantly, spends other people’s money without reservation, and has little to no affection even for her own child. Yet by the novel’s end she has become so real that we can almost feel her prese...show more
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My Brilliant Friend: The Neapolitan Novels, Book 1
Elena Ferrante
“We climbed slowly toward the greatest of our terrors of that time, we went to expose ourselves to fear and interrogate it.” So Elena Greco, called Lenù by those who know her, describes the adventure that cements her friendship with Raffaella Cerullo, known familiarly as Lina or Lila, a friendship t...show more
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The Master and Margarita
Mikhail Bulgakov
Phantasmogoric story-telling, suspend your rationale instincts and ride along with the 'master'
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The Red Badge of Courage
Stephen Crane
Crane describes war with such detail that it amazes that it was all the product of his imagination
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The Thirty-Nine Steps
John Buchan
Good old-fashioned yarn
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Wuthering Heights
Emily Brontë
Claustrophobic, compulsive, spell-binding
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One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji
Katsushika Hokusai
I love the way he develops such a complex visual narrative from a simple premise
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Things Fall Apart
Chinua Achebe
Composed in English and published in 1958, two years before Nigeria declared independence, Things Fall Apart was the first African novel to attain a wide international readership. It is a short, sparely told tale that nevertheless embraces themes of enormous import: fate and will, the determining i...show more
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