A list by Pearl McElheran
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Pearl McElheran
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Gilead
Marilynne Robinson
Marilynne Robinson writes slow novels. Her first, the highly acclaimed Housekeeping, was published in 1981; Gilead, her second, did not appear until nearly a quarter century later. But the slowness that characterizes her fiction is not of the calendar but on the page: It is so carefully composed, in...show more
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The Sonnets
William Shakespeare
The consummate exemplar of the Elizabethan love affair with the sonnet, Shakespeare’s sequence of 154 fourteen-line poems is replete with luxurious, and lingering, literary melodies. Music amply rewards any reader’s attention, yet there is more to The Sonnets than a considerable catalog of lovely an...show more
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The Stone Diaries
Carol Shields
The Stone Diaries is a sublime work of imaginative prose, a matryoshka of a book in which figures nest within figures, all exhibiting artistic and family resemblance. The only novel ever to win both a Pulitzer Prize, America’s most prestigious literary award, and Canada’s Governor General’s Award, C...show more
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The Road from Coorain
Jill Ker Conway
Jill Ker Conway’s account of her coming-of-age in Australia in the middle of the twentieth century is a deft evocation of landscape and memory. Through those two dimensions a small girl grows, against cultural and familial odds, into a determined young woman on the verge of a voyage to America, wher...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 Feminine Mystique
Betty Friedan
When asked, in 1957, to conduct a survey of her Smith College classmates on the fifteenth anniversary of their graduation, Betty Friedan noted in their responses the recurrent dissatisfaction with where they found themselves. Why were so many American women of her time and class unhappy? In The Femi...show more
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A Lesson Before Dying
Ernest J. Gaines
It is 1940s Louisiana, and the innocent black man named Jefferson who had the bad luck to be in a store when a white shopkeeper was killed has been falsely charged with robbery and murder, convicted, and sentenced to death. We know how events will turn out, just as the characters do, because inevita...show more
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Half of a Yellow Sun
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
explains Biafria and the divisions between the two major tribes, the Ibo and the Hausa as well as smashed ideals
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The Oresteia
Aeschylus
If you seek between covers an education in the trials and tribulations, the hopes and fears, the terrors and triumphs of the human spirit, the majestic tragedies of the ancient Greeks are the place to begin, and perhaps the place to end as well. In their beautiful, haunting, unsparing plays, Aeschyl...show more
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Let Us Now Praise Famous Men
James Agee and Walker Evans
In the summer of 1936, Fortune magazine commissioned James Agee and Walker Evans to report on the lives of sharecroppers in the Deep South. Agee was a twenty-six-year-old journalist who’d published a volume of poems two years earlier; Evans was a thirty-two-year-old photographer. The assignment took...show more
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Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Edward Albee
At the outset of his long, ever-evolving career as a dramatist, Edward Albee was an American heir to the intellectual energies of the European Theater of the Absurd. In Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, first staged in 1962, Albee moved his ferocity out of the absurd into a more realistic setting, a ...show more
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Little Women
Louisa May Alcott
a classic - New England virtues and spirited daughters and a lovely mother
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The Power and the Glory
Graham Greene
Set in Mexico in the 1930s, when the Catholic Church has been outlawed by the revolutionary government, The Power and the Glory portrays a corrupted and courageous cleric’s devotion to his calling, despite his alcoholism (Greene gives him no name other than “the whisky priest”), his licentiousness (...show more
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A Tale of Two Cities
Charles Dickens
A Tale of Two Cities may have the most famous opening of any novel ever written, the frequent application of its words outside the novel’s specific context giving it an edge over the nearest competition, Anna Karenina and Pride and Prejudice. Echoing the dichotomies invoked in its opening sentences,...show more
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The Diary of a Young Girl
Anne Frank
Anne Frank’s intimate two-year record of her family’s hiding from the Nazis in an Amsterdam attic is one of the most famous, powerful, and beloved books of the twentieth century. Encapsulating the terror of the Holocaust in the domestic drama of the Franks’ anxious existence and the private yearning...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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All the King's Men
Robert Penn Warren
All the King’s Men has long been regarded as the finest novel about American politics, and rightly so. Robert Penn Warren’s account of the rise and fall of Willie Stark is an absorbing portrait of a self-made populist whose early idealism is corrupted by his gift for getting power and his skill at l...show more
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American Pastoral
Philip Roth
It’s easy to begin talking about American Pastoral by noting its central place in the Zuckerman Saga, a series of nine novels that follow the fortunes of Nathan Zuckerman, a novelist who shares an awful lot of characteristics with his creator (make that ten fictions if you count The Facts, from 1988...show more
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A Passage to India
E. M. Forster
A charming but mercurial Indian surgeon, Dr. Aziz, strikes up a relationship with an elderly English lady, Mrs. Moore, in a mosque. Mrs. Moore has traveled to Chandrapore to visit her son, Ronny Heaslop, the city magistrate, in the company of Ronny’s intended, Adela Quested. The misalliance between ...show more
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Fifth Business: The Deptford Trilogy, Book 1
Robertson Davies
A boy packs a rock into a snowball and throws it at a friend, who ducks out of the way; the missile hits a pregnant woman, provoking premature labor. The Deptford Trilogy follows the unforeseen and ever-widening effects of that misguided prank at the start of Fifth Business across decades and contin...show more
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