1. Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
Dept. of Speculation, a series of short dispatches from the front line of a marriage, is by turns hilarious and heartbreaking, and often both in the same sentence.
2. Animal Farm by George Orwell
Orwell’s classic allegory is as sharp and biting as when it was first published nearly 70 years ago, and just as relevant. Well worth a reread.
3. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
A gripping tale of murder most foul on the estate of the Blackwood family, Shirley Jackson’s final novel is the kind of book you’ll want everyone to read just so you can talk about it.
4. The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
A book about cultural identity as much as politics, The Reluctant Fundamentalist follows a Princeton-educated Pakistani as his life in America collapses post 9/11.
5. Heartburn by Nora Ephron
In Nora Ephron’s hilarious novel, based on the breakdown of her second marriage, group therapy and infidelity share the page with recipes for pot roast.
6. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
If Monty Python had done science fiction it might have been like this. At once supremely silly, laugh-out-loud hilarious, and as British as dead-parrot jokes.
7. Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? by Lorrie Moore
A woman in a loveless marriage recounts a childhood friendship in this beautifully crafted tale of innocence and growing up.
8. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Achebe’s classic novel follows Okonkwo, a man who finds himself at odds with society and history amid the changing cultural landscape in Nigeria. 209 pages.
9. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
The story of a woman trapped in her marriage was condemned when first published in 1899, ending Chopin’s career, but is now rightly recognised as a classic.
10. Shopgirl by Steve Martin
An exploration of loneliness, softened by Martin’s witty observations and dry humour, Shopgirl follows the titular character as she navigates life in Los Angeles.
11. The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie
Classic Christie, classic Marple. When the body of a young woman is discovered in the library at Gossington Hall, the hunt is on to find out whodunnit.
12. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
In a future America, books are outlawed and “firemen” burn any that are found. One of Bradbury’s best.
13. The Giver by Lois Lowry
Explores similar themes to Fahrenheit 451, but written for young adults. Don’t let the recent film adaptation put you off.
14. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
An examination of life and the narratives we construct for ourselves that won the 2011 Man Booker Prize.
15. Sula by Toni Morrison
Sula follows the contrasting lives of two girls growing up in a poor, black Ohio neighbourhood, and the different paths they choose.
16. The Dig by Cynan Jones
A sparse, dark, brutal novella about a Welsh farmer struggling to make a living from his sheep, and an unnamed man digging up badgers to bait.
17. How to Get Into the Twin Palms by Karolina Waclawiak
An absurd, delightful novel about a Polish immigrant in Los Angeles who schemes to reinvent herself in order to gain access to the Twin Palms nightclub.
18. Amsterdam by Ian McEwan
Two friends plot the downfall of a politician in this Booker-winning novella.
19. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
Although frequently challenged for its depiction of gang violence and youth drinking, The Outsiders is in fact a classic morality tale wrapped up in ’60s street gang culture.
20. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
This story of an ageing, down-on-his luck fisherman fighting to reel in the catch of a lifetime won Papa a Pulitzer. Some love it, some don’t. A must-read either way.
21. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
This multi-award-winning young-adult novel deals with the trauma caused by rape, and the difficulty victims often have in reporting and talking about sexual assault.
22. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Nick Carraway encounters reclusive billionaire Jay Gatsby at a party. Jazz ensues. You may already know the story, but like one of Gatsby’s lavish soirées, Fitzgerald’s sparkling prose warrants revisiting.
23. Rape: A Love Story by Joyce Carol Oates
The aftermath of a gang rape on a young mother is explored in a searing indictment of rape culture and the lack of justice, care, and understanding for victims.
24. The Quiet American by Graham Greene
A seasoned English journalist in Vietnam watches as a young American turns good intentions into bad policy and bloodshed in this powerful anti-war allegory.
25. The Passion by Jeanette Winterson
A fantastical, lyrical love story set during the Napoleonic Wars.
26. Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach
The classic fable of a seagull who wants more. Unwilling to conform to the norms of his flock, Jonathan goes in search of a higher purpose to life.
27. Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson
A novel in verse, Autobiography of Red gives voice to a minor character in Greek mythology, updating his story to the present day. There are those who love it and those who haven’t read it. Be the former.
28. The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker
A stream-of-consciousness journey into the mind of a man on his lunch break.
29. At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom by Amy Hempel
A collection of 16 utterly compelling, gorgeously crafted short stories.
30. Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
A horror novel following the 12th expedition into the uncharted Area X. Any guesses what happened to the previous 11 expeditions? Nope, weirder than that.
31. Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
Babbitt’s beloved fable about immortality will outlive us all.
32. Being There by Jerzy Kosinski
A brilliant satire about a gardener turned political pundit.
33. My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
The story of Sam, a boy who runs away from home to live in the Catskill mountains, where he befriends a peregrine falcon he names Frightful.
34. The Neon Bible by John Kennedy Toole
Written when Toole was just 16, but not published until after his death. Well worth a read for fans of his A Confederacy of Dunces.
35. Speedboat by Renata Adler
An experimental novel that defies literary convention and category, this mix of fiction, critique, memoir, confession, and essay demands to be experienced.
36. Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garciá Márquez
An ageing journalist requests a virgin prostitute for his 90th birthday, but instead of sex, he finds love for the first time.
37. If You’re Not Yet Like Me by Edan Lepucki
A darkly comic novella in which the narrator tells her unborn daughter the story of how she came to be. A romantic comedy with the emphasis on comedy, not romance.
38. The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon
A woman assigned to deal with the estate of an old flame finds herself in the middle of a secret war between two mail distributors in Pynchon’s satirical novel.
39. The Lover by Marguerite Duras
In 1930s Saigon, a young French girl enters into a passionate affair with the son of a wealthy Chinese family that threatens to tear their families apart.
40. Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
The narrator befriends a young New York society girl, Holly Golightly, who relays tales of her dates with wealthy men, and finds himself entranced by her.
41. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
Ethan Frome struggles to tend to his farm and his wife – then her beautiful cousin comes to stay.
42. Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis
In a reverse narrative, the protagonist moves backwards from death towards the story’s beginning and his role in one of the most horrific events in recent history.
43. Lucinella by Lore Segal
A witty and searing indictment of the ’70s New York literary scene, in which a poet observes her peers at a writer’s colony upstate.
44. Night by Elie Wiesel
A harrowing account of the author’s time in Nazi concentration camps.
45. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
An essay in narrative form, arguing against the treatment of women both as fictional characters and as writers of fiction in a male-dominated literary world.
46. Ablutions by Patrick deWitt
An alcoholic bartender in Los Angeles observes the lonely, broken, and grotesque characters who populate his bar, among whom he may be the most broken.
Why not take a stroll to your local bookshop and buy one?
This list isn’t exhaustive. If there’s a short novel we’ve missed, please add it in the comments below so others might enjoy it. Oh, and just because you can read these in a day doesn’t mean you have to. Happy reading!