10. E.B. White, Charlotte's Web (1952)
9. Toni Morrison, Beloved (1987)
8. John Updike, The Rabbit Quartet (1960-1990)
7. J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter: The Complete Series (1997-2007)
Surprised to see Harry so high on our list? Well, his is the richest coming-of-age tale ever. Thanks to Rowling’s luminous storytelling and dazzling imagination, people will still be tearing through it in a hundred years.
6. Willa Cather, My Ántonia (1918)
5. Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967)
A family saga entwined with the history of a village, García Márquez’s first masterpiece embraces all the big themes (love, war, death), deeply feeling the tragedy — and wisely seeing the comedy — of existence.
4. Charles Dickens, Great Expectations (1861)
3. Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813)
The courtship of the spirited, tart-tongued Elizabeth Bennet and the haughty Mr. Darcy is an enormously satisfying love story that still crackles. But what makes the novel truly sing is the deceptive grace of Austen’s prose as she limns the customs of her day with a sharp eye and a satirical wit. England comes alive through her wickedly smart drawing-room banter.
2. F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925)
You were probably forced to read it back when you were 16 — but that’s not Fitzgerald’s fault. Give the novel another try. It’s an extraordinary feat of writing — sparse, cool, and elegant — as well as a riveting dissertation on the hollowness of the American dream as it played out during the champagne-fueled decadence of the Jazz Age.
1. Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (1878)
A staggering novel about an unhappily married Russian aristocrat who chases what she thinks is love at the expense of everything and everyone else. Novelists generally embrace tragic lovers, but Tolstoy was too hardcore for that. Anna Karenina is both a cautionary tale and an exhortation to live our best lives. There are novels on this list that are more perfectly engineered (No. 2 and No. 3, for instance). And there are definitely books that devote fewer pages to agrarianism (No. 2-No. 10). But Anna Karenina is an immersive contemplation of the heart and the conscience. Long before Oprah praised the novel, Dostoevsky, Faulkner, and Nabokov knelt before it in awe. We do too.
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