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49. Orson Scott Card, Ender's Game (1985)
A beloved sci-fi novel about an astonishingly precocious kid who must undergo brutal command training in space because (little does he know) he alone has been chosen to lead Earth's forces in a desperate war against an alien race known as buggers. Ender's is a thrilling novel about compassion and vengeance, love and loyalty.
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48. Patricia Highsmith, The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955)
Ripley, simultaneously the most sinister and appealing murderer in all of fiction, makes his debut here. Highsmith pulls off her character with attention to psychological nuance and practical detail — how to dispose of a body and perfect a forgery — with wit so dry it snaps off the page like a static shock.
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47. Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1994)
Reading Murakami is like falling down a rabbit hole, not only because he traffics in surreal plots about such things as lost cats and weird, life-altering phone calls, but because once you're hooked you want to read every novel that he's ever written.
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46. Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence (1920)
Set in a stuffy chunk of old New York society at a time when people ''dreaded scandal more than disease,'' Wharton's novel follows the doomed love affair of a gentleman and our exotic and unconventional heroine. The romance will make you swoon, but it is Wharton's brilliant exposé of a stagnant culture of hypocrisy that will leave you shaking your fist.
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45. Alice Walker, The Color Purple (1982)
The story of a Georgia girl's perseverance against and triumph over racism, incest, and violent men offered readers the experience of black women as memorably as Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison had offered the experience of black men.
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43. John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces (1980)
Ignatius J. Reilly, a mass of flesh and bombast, is as singular a literary creation as Quixote, Ahab, or Humbert, and just as obsessed as any of them. The novel was published 11 years after the author's suicide and went on to win the Pulitzer.
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39. Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex (2002)
Eugenides spent nine years crafting this saga about a hermaphrodite with a male brain who's raised as a young girl by her Greek-American immigrant parents. His yeoman efforts produced both a wildly unique and a beautifully universal coming-of-age story.
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34. John Irving, The World According to Garp (1978)
Irving's enthralling and humane knockabout drama — combining an old-fashioned plot with new-fashioned plot elements (sex change, feminism, mayhem) — turned a page in American fiction, from blasé minimalism to tub-thumping maximalism.
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33. Art Spiegelman, Maus (1986)
Spiegelman's graphic novel tells of his parents' struggle to survive the Holocaust by anthropomorphizing them as mice evading feline Nazis. It works on all the intended levels: as biography, history, and a critique of comic-book conventions.
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32. J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye (1951)
Boy flees prep school. Boy takes girl on date. Boy revisits Manhattan childhood. Boy — that's Holden Caulfield, if you really want to hear about it — becomes Defiant Adolescent Hero of the whole baby-boom generation.
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29. Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale (1986)
Atwood at her most startling. The novel imagines a futuristic block of America ruled by a racist, sexist, theocratic military dictatorship. Under its angry thumb wriggles Offred, a woman kept as a concubine solely for reproductive purposes. An important benchmark of feminist literature, wrapped in thriller guise.
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28. Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace (1869)
Tolstoy's novel asks the question ''What happened to the aristocracy when Napoleon invaded Russia?'' Sure, the answer turns out to be kind of long. But novels like this are the reason someone had to think up the word masterpiece.
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27. Madeleine L'Engle, A Wrinkle in Time (1962)
Science, philosophy, and adventure collide in L'Engle's brilliant mash-up about a brother and sister who embark on an interplanetary adventure to save their father. L'Engle's fantasy was rejected by publisher after publisher, partly because the protagonist was female — ''I'm a female,'' she said later. ''Why would I give all the best ideas to a male?''
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