The World According to Garp
T.S. Garp is the son of feminist icon Jenny Fields, whose book, A Sexual Suspect, made her a celebrity. Garp, a writer himself, grapples with his mother’s fame as well as his own problems, including his obsessive worry over the safety of his kids. Filled with shocking scenes, biting satire, and a Dickensian array of richly drawn characters, Irving’s breakout 1978 novel remains a contemporary classic and a complex portrait of its time.
“Bring the huge vernacular,” Ann Lauterbach writes early in Spell, her tenth poetry collection, and oh, does she. A widely acclaimed poet and a MacArthur Genius grant recipient, Lauterbach is exceptionally adept at investigating language—its complex meanings, its history, and its bewildering multiplicity. Here, the National Book Award nominee scrutinizes the many iterations of the word spell, and the resulting book is, appropriately, spellbinding.
Miguel De Cervantes Saavedra
In the recent Netflix show Maniac, the character Annie wants to read Don Quixote to prove she can, but we’re here to argue that Cervantes’ monumental classic (referred to by some as the first true novel) isn’t such a labor to read. In fact, the story of an aging man’s adventures in delusions (most of them derived from the thousands of romances he’s read) is an utterly fun reading experience. Full of hilarious set pieces and way-ahead-of-their-time literary devices, Don Quixote remains an entertaining and necessary part of the canon.
Inspired by Daphne du Maurier’s classic novel Rebecca (itself a must-read-in-your-life book), Lisa Gabriele’s The Winters updates du Maurier’s Gothic tale and replaces Manderley with the Asherley estate in the Hamptons. With vivid and evocative prose, Gabriele shows that a great writer can breathe new life into even seminal works. Like du Maurier’s original, The Winters is about a young woman’s quick engagement to a wealthy widower, but when she’s brought to his home and meets his teenage daughter, she discovers that the family keeps disturbing secrets involving her fiancé’s previous wife, Rebekah.
We That Are Young
In the early years of this decade, protests spread across India, advocating against the vast corruption in the country’s government. Set against this tumultuous time, Preti Taneja’s We That Are Young takes Shakespeare’s King Lear and thrusts it into the contemporary world of India’s fast-growing economy. It tells the story of The Company, a giant corporation with its hands in everything, and the power struggle that ensues when its founder gives The Company to his two daughters.
Katherine J. Chen
In another classic novel reimagining, Katherine J. Chen takes on Jane Austen’s masterpiece Pride and Prejudice by focusing on the youngest of the Bennett sisters, Mary, who exists on the periphery of Austen’s original comedy. In Chen’s telling, Mary is a bookish woman with literary ambitions, stuck in an era when female independence is next to impossible. It’s a brilliant stroke of perspective and a story as rich and funny as any of Austen’s.
If Beale Street Could Talk
One of the great writers of the 20th century, James Baldwin wrote numerous works of unsurpassed power and beauty, and we think his 1974 novel makes a fantastic introduction to his truly remarkable oeuvre. The story of Tish and Fonny, a young couple in love and living in an atmosphere of racial injustice and corrupt police, If Beale Street Could Talk (recently adapted into a film by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Barry Jenkins) is a riveting work of issues that remain relevant and deeply troubling.
The Invisible Man
H. G. Wells
Some ideas simply can’t be improved upon. H. G. Wells’ game-changing novella about a man who’s figured out a way to become invisible—but who can’t find a way to turn himself back—is still one of the creepiest and most imaginative works of science fiction, and it does what sci-fi does best: explores the startling ramifications of human progress and technology, something infinitely more relevant now than it was in 1897.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Most people are familiar with Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel of surrealism, paradox, and whimsy—but we’re here to recommend a specific edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Yayoi Kusama is a world-renowned pop artist who’s long had a condition that makes her see spots, which comes out in her art. Her visuals accompanying this masterpiece are so powerful and original, so stunning and bizarre, they make the experience of reading this classic completely fresh and new.
The Frolic of the Beasts
Yukio Mishima published numerous widely acclaimed novels in his life before committing suicide in 1970. The Frolic of the Beasts, the story of a dark and complex love triangle between a student, his professor, and the professor’s wife, was published in 1961 and is now available in English for the first time. A haunting love story, Mishima’s novel introduces English readers to a major figure in Japanese literature.
Here at Read It Forward, we talk a lot about new books because, well, we love books. But that doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten about the classics, those tried-and-true stories that never get old. So, we’ve put together a group of books everyone should read in their lifetime, including some titles you may not find on other lists like this (though of course, there a few classics too wonderful not to include). A few new books made the list, too—we couldn’t help it!—but they’re updated versions of other classic works, and trust us, you don’t want to miss them.
Editor: Eliza Smith; Featured Image: Matt McCarty