Toni Morrison

To read Toni Morrison’s Beloved is nothing short of a life-changing experience. This extraordinary novel charts the life of Sethe, who for many years lived as a slave at a farm called Sweet Home. Her new life in Ohio is full of hope but eighteen years on she is still not free. Her home is not only haunted by the memories of her past but also by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single world: Beloved. 

When Breath Becomes Air

Paul Kalanithi

A gift and a legacy from the late Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air is a memoir of a doctor turned patient. At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s training as a neurosurgeon, Paul was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, the next he was a patient struggling to live. A global bestseller, this unforgettable book teaches us how to live in the face of death – and it’s one of the most beautiful and inspiring books I have ever read.

American Pastoral

Philip Roth

Roth’s alter-ego Nathan Zuckerman narrates the story of legendary high school athlete Seymour ‘Swede’ Levov. As we are transported into the Swede’s story, the layers of myth surrounding him begin to unravel. And when his teenage daughter commits a savage act of political terrorism, the Swede is wrenched out of his all-American life and can only watch as his pastoral idyll is methodically torn apart. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1998 and perhaps the Great American Novel of the twentieth century.

Revolutionary Road

Richard Yates

Married couple Frank and April, though youthful and vibrant, are increasingly bored by the mundanities of suburban life. Resolving that their ordinary, dull life cannot continue in the same way, each step they take towards making their lives extraordinary is a step further away from each other. We wait in anticipation as the couple’s efforts lead only to betrayal and, ultimately, a tragic ending. Perfect for fans of Death of a Salesman or The Great Gatsby, it traces the heart-wrenching downfall of one couple and their American Dream. 

Native Son

Richard Wright

Bigger Thomas is a young black man trapped in a life of poverty in the slums of white Chicago. Unwittingly involved in a wealthy woman’s death, he is hunted relentlessly, baited by prejudiced officials, charged with murder and driven to acknowledge a strange pride in his crime. A character whose fear and anger challenged racial stereotypes, Wright’s novel proved incredibly controversial, shocking its first readers in 1940. A gripping and furious novel, it remains as powerful and important today as it ever was.


John Williams

The great forgotten classic that became a bestseller more than forty years after it was first published, Stoner is as perfect a novel as you will find. William Stoner is a quiet man who leaves his rural home for university. He becomes an academic, marries the wrong woman, and lives an unremarkable life. Yet with truthfulness, compassion and intense power, this novel uncovers a story of universal value and reclaims the significance of an individual life. A reading experience like no other, it is a paean to the power of literature.

The Girls

Emma Cline

The ultimate coming-of-age story set during the summer of love, this cult novel was inspired by the Manson murders. Cline captures the complexities of fourteen-year-old Evie, who falls under the sway of a group of older girls, follows them into a cult led by the charismatic Russell, and is unwittingly caught up in an act of unthinkable violence. Both shocking and sensitive, The Girls captures the dying days of a floundering counter-culture. If you love The Secret History and Jeffrey Eugenides you won’t be able to put this down. 


Alex Haley

Roots follows the story of one family over the course of two centuries, from the small African village of Juffure to the United States of America. Tracing seven generations of ancestry, Haley encounters the history of his family from slaves to freedmen as he unravels his past and unveils the figures and events that have shaped his own ability to enjoy the freedoms and liberties that his ancestors were denied. This Pulitzer Prize-winning work is a timeless novel that continues to resonate today.


The Narrow Road to the Deep North

Richard Flanagan

This novel is the one Flanagan was born to write. An utterly devastating story of love, death and war centred on surgeon Dorrigo Evans’s harrowing experiences as a prisoner of war in a Japanese camp on Burma’s Death Railway. We see him as a young man making his way in the world, and then trying to save lives and to stay alive himself in the horrors of the camp. Not only does he survive but prospers, yet what has he lost along the way? Flanagan’s father was a survivor of the Death Railway; he died the day this manuscript was completed. 


Selected Stories

Alice Munro

Is there a short story writer to rival Alice Munro? Hers are tales of everyday life and the secrets we hold down beneath the surface – from ourselves and from others – the pain and promises, loves and fears of apparently ordinary men and women whom she renders extraordinary and unforgettable. Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, she has rightly been compared to Chekhov; like his work, these stories will cast your world – inner and outer – in new light.


A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers

Xiaolu Guo

Xiaolu Guo was born in south China. She studied film at the Beijing Film Academy and published six books in China before she moved to London in 2002. A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers is a funny, sexy, romantic novel about what happens when a Chinese girl adrift in Britain falls for an Englishman adrift in life. Named as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists, Guo is a writer not to be missed.


All That Man Is

David Szalay

This is unlike any other book I have ever read: David breaks all the rules of a ‘novel’, and the result is a book full of energy and power, and a heartbreaking, hilarious portrait of modern masculinity. Nine men, nine lives, each of them away from home, and each of them striving – in the suburbs of Prague, beside a Belgian motorway, in a cheap Cypriot hotel – to understand just what it means to be alive, here and now.  

The Hare With Amber Eyes

Edmund De Waal

This is a book about family, European history and identity. Edmund de Waal inherited his great-uncle’s collection of netsuke – tiny, intricate Japanese carvings. When he started to explore how they had made their way from Japan to Paris, Vienna, Odessa and back to Tokyo, he unlocked a fascinating story winding through generations of his remarkable family and set against a tumultuous century.

And the Weak Suffer What They Must?

Yanis Varoufakis

Since bursting onto the political scene during the Eurozone crisis in 2015, Varoufakis’s clarity of insight and swaggering style have established him as one of the world’s leading voices on the economy. This book draws on his personal experiences of negotiating with Europe’s financiers and offers concrete policies to reform Europe. He reminds us of our history in order to save European capitalism and democracy from the abyss.

A Train in Winter: A Story of Resistance, Friendship and Survival in Auschwitz 

Caroline Moorehead

In January 1943, 230 French women resisters were rounded up from the Gestapo detention camps and sent on a train to Auschwitz – the only train, in the four years of German occupation, to take women of the resistance to a death camp. The youngest was a schoolgirl of 15, the eldest a farmer’s wife of 68. Of the group, 49 survivors would return to France. Above all, this is a book about courage, survival, friendship and endurance and one which stands out among the many about World War Two and the Nazis’ concentration camps.


At the Existentialist Cafe

Sarah Bakewell

Paris, 1932 – 33: three young friends meet over apricot cocktails at the Bec-de-Gaz bar on the rue Montparnasse. They are Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and their friend Raymond Aron, who opens their eyes to a radical new way of thinking. Fascinating, quirky and with a riveting narrative, you will fall in love with Bakewell’s idiosyncratic approach to biography. Few writers are as gifted at explaining complicated ideas like her subjects’ existentialism as Bakewell.


Guns, Germs and Steel

Jared Diamond

This short history of everybody for the past 13,000 years is a popular science masterpiece. Jared Diamond explores why human history has unfolded so differently across the globe in an ambitious synthesis of history, biology, ecology and linguistics. It remains a groundbreaking read, and one which Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens, cites as his biggest influence.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Yuval Noah Harari

Sapiens is a million-copy bestseller and nothing short of a sensation. It’s a dazzling tour of the last 100,000 years of our history, telling the story of our journey from insignificant apes to rulers of the world. Harari shows us how our species came to dominate, how we came together to create cities and nations, money and laws, how we’ve become enslaved to bureaucracy and consumerism and asks the all important question: what does our future hold after all that’s come before it?

McMafia: Seriously Organised Crime

Misha Glenny

Have you ever bought a pirated DVD? Taken drugs? Fallen for a phishing scam? Organised crime is part of all our worlds – often without us even knowing. McMafia is a journey through the new world of international organised crime, from gunrunners in Ukraine to money launderers in Dubai, by way of drug syndicates in Canada and cyber criminals in Brazil. Glenny’s investigations take him across five continents and into the worlds of countless gangsters, policemen and victims of organised crime. The inspiration for the BBC drama series starring James Norton.


A Rising Man

Abir Mukherjee

It is 1919 and Captain Sam Wyndham, who has recently joined Calcutta’s police force, is called to the scene of a horrifying murder. The victim was a senior official and a note in his mouth warns the British to leave India or face the consequences. Wyndham and his new assistant, Sergeant ‘Surrender-not’ Banerjee, must solve the case quickly – but there are some who will do anything to stop them. The first in a series that will have you hooked.

Midnight’s Children

Salman Rushdie

Born at the precise moment of India’s independence, Saleem Sinai is destined from birth to be special. We’re drawn into a fascinating family saga as Saleem discovers that his life is inseparably linked to that of his motherland – his every act is mirrored and magnified in the events that shape the newborn nation of India. Rushdie’s novel revolutionised the way we think of the ‘English’ novel, and his inimitable use of language will draw you hook, line and sinker into his sweeping narrative. And it won the Booker of Bookers, if you needed any more reasons to read it.


Persepolis I & II

Marjane Satrapi

This is the wise, honest, sometimes heartbreaking story of Marjane Satrapi’s early life in Tehran, tracing her journey from a young girl to a young woman. Alongside the dawn of the Islamic Revolution and the devastating effects of war with Iraq, we witness Marjane, the outspoken child of radical Marxists, struggling to flourish in a state where, as a woman, you have no right to show your hair, wear make-up, run in public, or question authority. Satrapi is brilliant at finding humour in the ridiculousness of life in a fundamentalist state, condemning its cost to the human spirit.


Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha

Roddy Doyle

This is the novel that won Roddy Doyle the Booker Prize. It gives us a child’s-eye view of the world: fun and games on the street, often with an edge of danger, struggles with his friends, increasing boredom at school and a growing sense that not all is right with his parents – Paddy Clarke sees everything but finds he’s understanding less and less. Funny and heart-breaking, it’s one of Doyle’s very best novels.

The Gathering

Anne Enright

Winner of the Man Booker Prize in 2007, The Gathering is the story of the Hegarty clan, gathered in Dublin for the wake of their wayward brother Liam. It wasn’t the drink that killed him – although that certainly helped – it was what happened to him as a boy in his grandmother’s house, in the winter of 1968. A novel about love and disappointment, about thwarted lust and limitless desire, and about how our fate is written on the body, not in the stars.


The Leopard

Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa

In the spring of 1860, Fabrizio, the charismatic Prince of Salina, still rules over thousands of acres, and hundreds of people, in mingled splendour and squalor. Then comes Garibaldi’s landing in Sicily and the Prince must decide whether to resist the forces of change or come to terms with them once and for all. An Italian classic.

The Name of the Rose

Umberto Eco

The Name of the Rose is arguably the best murder investigation novel of the twentieth century, though it’s set in 1327. Brother William of Baskerville has been sent to uncover suspected heresy at an Italian abbey, but his enquiries are interrupted by seven unexplained deaths, so he abandons his first assignment and takes on the role of murder investigator. Eco’s genius makes reading this a thrill like no other, as his protagonist deciphers secret symbols and coded manuscripts in the dead of night.


Norwegian Wood

Haruki Murakami

With a haunting, enigmatic love story at its core, Murakami’s bestselling novel has captured hearts and minds with its nostalgic retelling of heady, adolescent love. After hearing the refrain of her favourite Beatles song, Toru recalls his first love Naoko as he is transported back almost twenty years to his student days in Tokyo. Murakami explores the fragile bonds of youth and passion and the kaleidoscopic spectrum of human emotion, as Toru must choose between the future and the past.

In Praise of Shadows

Junichiro Tanizaki

This short essay is a must-read in the canon of Japanese literature by one of the country’s greatest novelists. Tanizaki’s eye ranges over architecture, jade, food and toilets with an acute sense of the use of space in buildings. Comparisons of light and darkness are used to contrast the Western and Asian worlds in this book that has been praised for its insight into issues of modernity and culture. A book to make you stop and look at the many objects around you; it is truly enchanting.

Other worlds

The Night Circus

Erin Morgenstern

The premise of The Night Circus is enchanting: ‘The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.’ You ache to attend this extraordinary and truly magical feast for the senses, this circus you wish your brain could dream up. But beyond the black-and-white striped canvas, the maze of clouds, the dazzling acrobats and the chocolate mice is the story of a great duel, forbidden love and a mysterious, deadly game.

The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories

Angela Carter

In this groundbreaking set of stories Angela Carter takes familiar fairy tales and legends – Red Riding Hood, Bluebeard, Puss in Boots, Beauty and the Beast, vampires and werewolves – and turns them into something altogether darker and more extraordinary. Her radical reimagining of classic texts, metamorphosed through a feminist lens, makes this collection truly unforgettable. You’ll never think about Snow White in the same way again…

Brave New World

Aldous Huxley

Far in the future, the World Controllers have created the ideal society. Through clever use of genetic engineering, brainwashing and recreational sex and drugs all its members are happy consumers. Bernard Marx seems alone in harbouring an ill-defined longing to break free. A visit to one of the few remaining Savage Reservations, where the old life continues, may be the cure for his distress. For admirers of Nineteen Eighty-Four, this should be at the top of your dystopian reading list.

The Handmaid’s Tale

Margaret Atwood

Offred is a handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. Her only function is to breed, to bear the child of her Commander on behalf of his wife. If she deviates from her duty, she will, like all dissenters, be hanged at the wall or sent out to die slowly of radiation sickness. She chose this life – though the other option was exile to the Colonies. That has been one of her few freedoms in this repressive state where, separated from her husband and daughter, she can trust no one. Now a cultural phenomenon, this is the time to read it if you haven’t already.


The Master and Margarita

Mikhail Bulgakov

When Satan arrives in 1930s Moscow, he brings with him a league of misfits that includes his mistress, the witch Hella, and a black cat with an unwholesome taste for vodka. Hellbent on terrorising the elite of the city, they announce their visit in theatrical outbursts of song, sudden deaths and expanding dimensions. It is striking not only for its imaginative scope, but also its disavowal of Realism, overthrown in favour of a carnivalesque satire intended to gouge away the respectable, atheistic façade of Russian society. This book was a long time in the making; after several maddening false starts, Bulgakov finally finished writing the novel in 1940, 12 years after he began it. 


A Death in the Family

Karl Ove Knausgaard

Knausgaard’s autobiographical novel – the first in his world-famous My Struggle series – tracks his childhood and teenage years, his infatuation with rock music, his relationship with his loving yet almost invisible mother and his distant and unpredictable father, culminating in his bewildered grief when his father dies. When he becomes a father himself, he must balance the demands of caring for a young family with his determination to write great literature. Knausgaard’s piercing honesty alchemises the ordinary rigmarole of life into the universal struggles, great and small, that we all face in our lives.

The Snowman

Jo Nesbo

The first snow has fallen and a young boy wakes to find his mother missing. When he ventures outside, he sees her favourite scarf wrapped around the neck of a snowman. Harry Hole, a brilliant yet troubled detective, soon discovers that an alarming number of wives and mothers have gone missing over the years. Then another woman disappears and Harry’s worst suspicion is confirmed: a serial killer is operating on his home turf. Jo Nesbo is the king of thriller writers and this is his most celebrated book.

South Africa


J. M. Coetzee

The aftermath of apartheid looms over this novel about David Lurie, a university professor at the end of his career. When he is accused of sexual misconduct he decides to skip the investigation and tedious rehabilitation process and instead accepts disgrace. He moves to the country to live with his daughter, Lucy, and to contemplate his fate. But when the farm is attacked by a gang, Lucy raped and David beaten up, father and daughter are brought into conflict. Disgrace earned Coetzee his second Booker Prize win and is undoubtedly his masterpiece.

South America

In Patagonia

Bruce Chatwin

The story goes that Bruce Chatwin’s editor at the Sunday Times received a telegram one morning which read ‘Have gone to Patagonia’. In fact, he received a letter which was slightly longer, though the sentiment was the same. This book, which was the result of Chatwin’s travels in South America, reinvented the travel writing genre. A spellbinding mosaic of biography, history, travel writing and memoir, it is, as his wife Elizabeth Chatwin said, ‘the narrative of an actual journey and a symbolic one’. 

United Kingdom

The Past

Tessa Hadley

Four siblings meet up in their grandparents’ old house for three long, hot summer weeks. But under the idyllic surface lie shattering tensions. Roland has come with his new wife, and his sisters don’t like her. Fran has brought her children, who soon uncover an ugly secret in a ruined cottage in the woods. Alice has invited Kasim, an outsider, who makes plans to seduce Roland’s teenage daughter. And Harriet, the eldest, finds her quiet self-possession ripped apart by passion. This is a stunning, timeless novel beloved by some of this century's greatest writers.

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

Jeanette Winterson

Jeanette Winterson is probably the only person who can write about growing up in poverty, terrorised by an overbearing, Evangelical mother, and make it not just a bit funny but very funny. Seemingly destined to become a missionary, Winterson instead falls in love – with a woman – and finds herself on a very different path. A punchy, tender, innovative tale about giving up everything you know in order to live as you truly want to, and the devastating cost of doing so. 

Crow Country

Mark Cocker

Such is Mark Cocker’s skill in evoking his wonder at the humble crow that, reading this book, you imagine yourself with him, standing in a muddy field at the end of a clear, cold day, looking up at the mass of black swarming the sky as the light fades. Fascinated by the flock near his Norfolk home, Cocker goes in search of crows around the country, uncovering their inner lives and learning to listen for the richness of their song.


Roger Deakin

Roger Deakin was a passionate advocate of the swimmer’s right to roam. So, in 1996, he set out to swim through the British Isles. To follow him on his journey is to have the British landscape completely reframed. It also unlocks and makes new the beautiful language of our waterscapes: the sea, rock pools, rivers and streams, tarns, lakes, lochs, ponds, lidos, swimming pools and spas, fens, dykes, moats, aqueducts, canals, waterfalls... One for swimmers, nature lovers and storytellers alike.

H is for Hawk

Helen Macdonald

There has been a resurgence in nature writing in the past few years, thanks largely to this phenomenal memoir from Helen Macdonald. A record of a spiritual journey, H is for Hawk is an unflinchingly honest account of Macdonald’s struggle with grief during the difficult process of her hawk’s taming and her own untaming. It is also a kaleidoscopic biography of the brilliant and troubled novelist T. H. White, a book about memory, nature and nation and how to reconcile death with life and love.

The Pier Falls

Mark Haddon

From the author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, this collection of short stories will leave you reeling. On an otherwise ordinary day, we see a seaside pier collapse with devastating repercussions. We witness a man, surrounded by his family on Christmas Eve, shoot a stranger in the chest. We meet a thirty-stone loner who manages to find love even though he’s confined to his living room. And we watch as a woman rescued from a suicide attempt helps the man who saved her in just as profound a way. Compelling and devastating in equal measure.

The Road Home

Rose Tremain

More than a decade ago, Rose Tremain was turning her humane, unflinching eye onto the plight of economic migrants. Through Lev we see just how difficult life in London is for the outsiders who try to make their way there. This is a gorgeous, unexpectedly funny and moving story, which rightfully won the Baileys Prize for Women’s Fiction.


Irvine Welsh

Trainspotting was the book that launched – with an almighty, raging roar – Irvine Welsh’s extraordinary career, and revealed the dark side of genteel Edinburgh. In grimy, visceral, sickening and desperately funny prose, the novel charts the lives of a group of Scottish heroin addicts. Meet Renton, Begbie, Sick Boy and Spud, and find out just how far they are prepared to go to break the cycle of despair they find themselves in. Trainspotting is the defining book of an era. Choose it.

All the Birds, Singing

Evie Wyld

Jake Whyte is the sole resident of an old farmhouse on an unnamed, unforgiving British island. She lives with her untamed companion, Dog, and a flock of sheep. But something is coming for the sheep. There are foxes in the woods, and rumours of an obscure, formidable beast. And then there is Jake’s unknown past, a story hidden thousands of miles away and years ago, in a landscape of different colour and sound, a story held in the scars that stripe her back. This is a thrilling, dark tale from one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists.



Diana Evans

Identical twins Georgia and Bessi live in the loft of 26 Waifer Avenue, a place of beanbags, nectarines and secrets. For their mother and father downstairs, though, there is no such harmony. Forced to create their own identities, the children build a separate universe – but when reality comes knocking, the fantasies of childhood start to give way. 26a has the heartbreak of Monica Ali’s Brick Lane, the vibrancy of Zadie Smith’s White Teeth and a very special magic of its own.

The Children Act

Ian McEwan

The heroine of Ian McEwan’s darkly gripping novel is a family judge, faced daily with the most difficult decisions. But the case of a seventeen-year-old boy who is refusing medical treatment on religious grounds is the one which, finally, gets entirely under her skin and forces her to question everything. It’s a short sharp shock of a read, which will stay with you long after you’ve turned the final, devastating page.

Mrs Dalloway

Virginia Woolf

‘Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.’ So begins a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, as she sets out to prepare for the party she is hosting that evening. We’re given glimpses into the intricacies of Clarissa’s inner life, including her complex feelings for an old friend and her treatment for a bout of depression. As the emotions stirred up from her memories collide with the realities of her present, she finds herself re-examining the choices she has made, questioning how her life might have been. The quintessential modern classic – vivid, moving and enchanting.

The End of the Affair

Graham Greene

Graham Greene is remarkable for the fact that he wrote in so many different genres – a mock detective story in Our Man in Havana, travel writing in Journey Without Maps, religious questioning in The Power and The Glory. The End of the Affair is also steeped in religion: writer Maurice Bendrix begins an affair with Sarah Mile and when Sarah breaks it off Maurice becomes convinced she is seeing someone else (other than her husband). This short novel is incredibly powerful and was inspired by an affair Greene himself had. Read it in an afternoon as the world rages by.

The Sense of an Ending

Julian Barnes

Tony is an unremarkable man with a seemingly uneventful life behind him who one day receives a solicitor’s letter informing him he has been left a legacy in a will. The legacy itself is mysterious – the diary of a school friend who committed suicide decades ago – but even odder, the diary is in the possession of an ex-girlfriend who will not give it up. As Tony revisits that time in his life we realise that perhaps his version of his life isn’t entirely reliable. Winner of the Man Booker Prize, it’s as compelling as a thriller and quietly devastating.


We Need New Names

NoViolet Bulawayo

Growing up in a shanty called Paradise, ten-year-old Darling and her friends spend their time stealing guavas, singing Lady Gaga at the tops of their voices and dreaming of a new life somewhere safe. For Darling this dream will come true when she is sent to live with relatives in the USA, but her new life is far from the paradise she and her friends had dreamed of and there’s no way home. A brilliant coming-of-age story, this Man Booker-shortlisted novel will stay with you long after you finish it.

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