Literature! It can be entertaining, enlightening and informative but sometimes you just don't know what to pick up next. Sure, there are plenty of bestsellers and popular books out there but that doesn't mean they're any good and a real reader knows that finding something that challenges them as well as fills them with joy and fear and sorrow and loss, all at once, can be harder to find than just browsing the bookshop shelves. Here we look at a selection of books that will change how you see the world. Being only a few, it is hardly a definitive list but it gives a starting point for the avid reader.
1. The Trial by Franz Kafka
Telling the story of a man on trial for a crime that is never explained in the novel, it was a posthumously published novel by the Czech writer and is widely considered to be his best piece of work and one of the best novels in the German language. Dark, twisted and complex, it delves into the human psyche and pulls apart modern paranoias. Depending on your view, it's either a parable or a prophecy of the excesses of modern bureaucracy wedded to the madness of totalitarianism.
2. Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton
On the surface, just a narrative about a man trying to find his lost sons but what rises out of this book is a social critique of the history, culture, and context that gave rise to the apartheid in South Africa, arguably one of history's most shocking divisions of humanity. Many are taught about the policy of apartheid itself but not the time before that, leading to its implementation. Jarring, it will change your views on a nation, and the world.
3. Small Gods by Terry Pratchett
The vast canon of Terry Pratchett has many memorable and worthy books that could be mentioned but few are as searing in their satires as this. Taking square aim at organized religion, it lampoons its role with wit and charm throughout that is characteristic of the author's absurd and comical Discworld universe.Despite its subject matter, the tale is never heavy-handed and deals with topics that both believers and non-believers can get behind.
4. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Characterized by irony and sarcasm, this book reads like an erotic novel with touching moments of tenderness, harsh cruelties, and sharp wit. However, when you realize the narrative is about an older man and a 12-year-old girl, it takes on a darker and far more sinister tone encapsulated in the voice of the unreliable narrator.
The erasure of the child's narrative and the wry comments on American culture make this a dark must-read.
5. Inferno by Dante Alighieri
An epic poem that twists and turns its way through a trilogy of books known as the Divine Comedy as a man ascends from hell through Earth to heaven. This book starts it all off and presented the Western world with its definitive view of the Christian afterlife as well as redefining the rules of poetry itself. A 12th-century religious text, it presents a narrative view on what greets us on the other side.
6. 1984 by George Orwell
Orwell mastered dystopian fiction with his writings and it would be hard to choose between this and his Animal Farm in terms of important classical literature but this take on surveillance culture, pseudo-fascist totalitarian governments and the meanings of freedom have never felt so apt in times like these.
It doesn't make for light-hearted reading but it is, none the less, important.
7. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
The strength of this novel comes from the fact it doesn't really know what it wants to be so it plays out as a nostalgic piece about a forgotten despite being set in a dystopian past with futuristic elements, a twisted love triangle in a coming of age story with sci-fi elements throughout. To give too much away about this book would be detrimental to the reading experience. That said, it follows a carer and her two young charges desperately trying to grow up.
8. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou is perhaps best-known for her poetry and is highly celebrated as one of the most prominent African-American female poets. However, Angelou also wrote a seven-volume autobiography about her sensational life and this is the first installment of that explores her childhood rape, trauma, sexuality and experiences of racism. Undoubtedly traumatic, it is a vital piece on race, gender, and equality.
9. Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
To look at the sheer size of this book might put a few off but for those who take the plunge they will be treated to an epic journey that is semi-autobiographical and tells of an Australian fugitive who goes on to lead a life nothing short of jaw-dropping as he finds himself in India as a Bombay slum doctor, then a gangland gun runner to an unwitting participant in the Afghanistan war. Stunning, striking and telling of the joys and pitfalls of life.
10. All Out War: The Full Story of How Brexit Sank Britain's Political Class by Tim Shipman
Britain leaving the European Union may not be a political notion that concerns you but it actually has great consequences for the whole planet and this detailing of how it came about and what it means not only presents a balanced view of the goings on but also spills on the scandal and political background of this incident. Informative as well as entertaining, it shows a far more complex story than the one you've probably heard.
11. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
A tale of Okonkwo, a leader in a fictional Nigerian village, it plays out into a tragic telling of how British colonialism irreversibly affected the cultures of the world and tore apart lives and communities. The quintessential post-colonial novel, it strikes out at the once colonial leaders and, despite presenting an imperfect culture to start with, it shows how it didn't necessarily make things better. A timely warning on the influences we inflict on the world and a challenge to the keep-what-you kill mentality often found in former colonial powers.
12. The Lord of The Rings by JRR Tolkien
Many have seen the Oscar-winning films and become obsessed with the epic fantasy lands of Tolkien's enduring narrative but the sheer scope and scale of this trilogy alone make it worth reading as whole languages, civilizations and their histories were created as part of the research for this fantasy series.
It shows the reader what literature can achieve and it is the unbeatable height of fictional storytelling.
13. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
On the complete opposite end of epic fantasy is this defining work of literary realism that tells of adultery and isolation in rural France and is considered Flaubert's masterpiece. Its influence on literature is almost so familiar that it has become to be considered the norm as the way the language is spun and the story spills forth makes it almost perfect prose.
A reaction to the romantic novels of the age, it showed a more realistic and level-headed approach to the world that had not been seen before.
14. Shoot The Damn Dog: A Memoir of Depression by Sally Brampton
Blasting apart the stigmas and stereotypes of depression, this book is brutal and personal in its first-hand account of dealing and coping with depression and is vital to those wishing to further understand the mental illness. Touching and torturous at times it is a book of great relevance in a time where humanity is becoming less and less connected. Understated and underappreciated, the more people that read this book the better.
15. Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
Former South African president and civil rights activist, Nelson Mandela is one of the most important and influential figures in modern political history and his two-part autobiography tells of his fight against apartheid and his imprisonment on the infamous Robben Island that came with that as well as his run for the presidency.
A man who changed the world, this book tells his story from his perspective.
16. The Walsh Family Series by Marian Keyes
Consisting of 5 novels and an e-book short, this series takes on the view of a different sister from the same family in each novel and uses this to challenge the stereotypes and norms of women's literature in a far-reaching collection that touches upon addiction, grief, sexuality, and depression within a family. Littered with humor, the reading never becomes too dark or heavyset despite its moments of pain.
17. The 9/11 Commission Report
Hardly an entertaining read and, being a report, it is very dry but for those wishing to further understand the events of one of the 21st centuries defining moments, in a world that has been incalculably changed by what happened on September the 11th 2001. It's not perfect and has been accused of 'whitewashing' responsibility but still holds grave importance.
Covering the events in the tiniest of details, it should put to bed some of the conspiracy theories out there and grant a better understanding of how and why the world changed.
18. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junto Diaz
Part of the problem with writing about this unforgettable novel is that it is, practically, undefinable. A history of the Dominican Republic under its brutal dictator, a historical figure so often overlooked by European and American media, it also has elements of science fiction and a Spanglish dictionary. Showing the immigrant experience of diaspora, it is historically and culturally relevant on many levels.
19. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Like Romeo and Juliet before it, this story is often misinterpreted as an epic love story but if you cast these misconceptions aside, you will find an interesting and dark read about obsession, violence, and cruelty that is one of the best Gothic offerings from any of the famed Bronte sisters. Its depictions of mental and physical cruelty are stark and the relationships are complex which makes the offerings all the more fruitful.
20. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Many may remember this classic children's story fondly or may have even seen the recent film adaptation, but take a look again and you will find a beautifully spun tale (with equally gorgeous illustration) about human relationships as well as being an allegorical social critique of the ways we interact with each other. As the internet and other devices make us more distant whilst keeping us in constant contact, this book holds extra importance.
21. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
A genre-bending novel that takes in crime reporting as the novelist actually visited and spoke to the murderers of this real-life crime. Telling the reader of those who perpetrated the crime from the outset, the skill in the novel is how it holds the reader in suspense throughout from then on in. It stands out from both fiction and non-fiction as a narrative and is all the more striking for it.
22. Tales of The Unexpected by Roald Dahl
Better known for his fantastical and gruesome children's stories, this collection of short stories for the adult reader is no less grim or creative than his creations for the younger reader. With an element of the absurd to them, their fantastic twists are what really makes them so brilliant as, time and again, you never see what's coming. A masterclass in the short story, it shows the medium as an equal to that of the novel.
23. We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
In what initially appears to be a straight-up thriller, this book holds many secrets and stylistic quirks as it becomes something far more than what it is billed as. Guilt, love, and accountability are all themes that crop up in the softly poetic prose that somehow manages to remain tense and suspenseful as well as thought-provoking. With moments of philosophical musing as well, its hidden depth is what makes it so great.
24. How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran
A memoir come manifesto that takes in social commentary and satire along the way. This novel approaches the idea of feminity and feminism in the modern age and asks what it is to be a woman and challenges the typical notions of femininity. As fierce as it is funny, it is an intelligent view on a time when feminism is still needed to be put in the spotlight. A vital read for all genders, if only to better understand one another.
25. American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis
A scathing critique of 1980s corporate America, it is surprising how many people you may well know like this psychopathic careerist obsessed with looks and the way he presents himself to the world and constantly competing to be the best of the best in everything that he does.
It may have been set in the early 90s but it sets the precedent for a generation of credit crunches, working brunches, and endless selfies.
26. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson by Emily Dickinson
One of the most foremost American female poets of all time, Emily Dickinson broke the most for poetry being written in the late 19th century and fearful publishers did not often reproduce her work. After death, though, she became widely celebrated with her work touching on themes such as love, life, death, madness, immortality, and despair. This collection shows her work in all its far-reaching and poignant glory.
27. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
A story of the 'immigration experience' this book is an epic that spans from a Nigeria under dictatorship right through to post 9/11 America that sees the struggles with leaving your homeland, racism, diaspora, and identity all come to the fore in this expansive and touching booking that also includes a magnificently woven love story into the narrative. With a notable range across different societies and reflections of global tensions, this book is a modern story of the world we live in.
28. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
As the title might suggest, this non-fiction piece summarizes the most important moments in human history and manages to draw clear connections to the modern day in how these events remain relevant. Entertaining and informative, it communicates history in such a way that its hard not to become interested in it. Telling of how human investment in certain issues remains vital, it grows in importance with each passing day.
29. King Lear by William Shakespeare
Picking any single play by the bard is a momentous task but this epic tragedy is as good as any other and less read than the likes of Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet that are taught in schools. As a ruler descends into madness it shows tyranny and demagoguery ad could be considered an extremely apt read at the moment. Drama in its highest form.
30. Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar
A stream of consciousness novel that can be read in two different manners with 99 'expendable' chapters and a sequence of chapters that can either appear random or fill in missing information on characters and aesthetics around the story. Described by the author himself as a 'counter-novel' it re-defines what a novel can be and do.Intense and original, it plays with the reader and toys with how they perceive the very form itself.
31. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
One of the great Russian novels, this story tells of infidelity and unhappiness within a family of high-achievers set against the backdrop of feudal Russia. A pinnacle in realist fiction it takes in social, political and historical issues in Russia and it also points at social hypocrisies and the different treatment of men and women. Often cited as a perfect novel it is considered one of the best ever written by many authors.
32. The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
What Tolkien did for fantasy, Conan Doyle did for the detective novel as his coldly logical protagonist uses his incredible skills of deduction in a series of thrilling mysteries that rewrote the genre and raised the bar for all involved. The enduring popularity of the character is evident from television and films these days. Go back to where it all began and discover for yourself why the character is so beloved.
33. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
A vast and wide-ranging novel that discusses the effect of a mutated gene on several generations of a family, it follows an intersex protagonist delve through the novel's main themes like nature versus nurture, rebirth, and the differing experiences of what society constructs as polar opposites. Also looking at the American dream, gender identity and politics this won the Pulitzer Prize for its epic scope.
34. The Metamorphoses by Ovid
Comprising of 15 novels and over 250 myths and legends, this magnum opus of Roman author Ovid is an epic tragedy of a poem that takes everything into account from Greek mythology through to the history of the entire world making it one of the most influential novels of Western ideas and ideals. An essential read if you wish to understand the culture you are coming from.
35. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
Spilling forth the bloody history of Colombia through the lives of a single family, it uses magical realism to weave history into the narrative that is ostensibly about people and how they live their lives in the shadow of tragedy and great upheaval. Thematically concerned with the inevitable and inescapable repetition of history the book compresses a century worth of events into a readable and entertaining story.
One of the greatest novels in the Spanish language it deals with everything from solitude to the fluidity of time.