Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

Holly Golightly is a sparkling ‘American geisha’ in 1940s New York, who lives by accepting the generosity of her wealthy admirers. She is beautiful, mysterious and occasionally vulnerable, as she drinks martinis and clutches her breakfast at the jewellery store. Of all the characters he created, she was Capote’s favourite.  

A Month in the Country by  J. L. Carr

Over the course of a golden summer, shortly after the First World War, young veteran Tom Birkin takes a job in the village church of Oxgodby. As he removes layers of whitewash to reveal a huge medieval wall painting, he finds his own psychological scars soothed by the tranquil beauty of the English countryside. 

Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

In his poetic memoir, the airman Saint-Exupéry, author of Le Petit Prince, describes the awe-inspiring experience of flying an aeroplane above the Mediterranean, battling with turbulence over Patagonia and surviving a crash in the Libyan Desert. With wisdom and humour he articulates an admirable life, lived to the full.

Potiki by Patricia Grace

A peaceful Māori community lives by the sea in New Zealand, fishing, telling stories and meeting in their beautifully carved marae. So when ‘the dollarman’ and his band of developers arrive, they come together to protect their ancestral lands. Patricia Grace is a Māori writer herself, who lives close to her own marae on Hongoeka Bay.

The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton

Hinton wrote The Outsiders while at high school. Set on the streets of Tulsa, Oklahoma, it tells the story of two teenage gangs, the Greasers and the Socs, who fight across the class divide and find themselves passing violently into adulthood. Francis Ford Coppola directed the 1983 film adaptation starring Patrick Swayze.

Closely Watched Trains by Bohumil Hrabal

Miloš Hrma is the dopey but loveable apprentice guard at a sleepy Czech railway station. He spends his time thinking about football and how to lose his virginity, but also finds himself supporting the Czech Resistance. Hrabal himself was a railway labourer and dispatcher during the Second World War.

Gilgi, One of Us by Irmgard Keun

Gilgi is a young, ambitious woman in 1920s Germany, who holds her own in the workplace and defends her independence with sass and style. So no one is more surprised than her when she finds herself falling unexpectedly in love. Keun’s first novel was an instant success and ‘Gilgi’ entered the language of Weimar Germany.

The Futurological Congress by Stanislaw Lem

In this science fiction romp, cosmonaut Ijon Tichy is dispatched to Earth to attend the Eighth Futurological Congress in Costa Rica, but a riot erupts in the Hilton Hotel when the water is laced with hallucinogenic drugs and, as things become increasingly strange, Tichy begins to lose touch with reality.

The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark

Lise has worked for a dull Nordic accountancy firm for sixteen long years, until one day she suddenly decides to quit her job and travel abroad in search of excitement. Spark reveals at the beginning of the novel that Lise is going to be murdered at the end, so the book becomes what she calls a ‘whydunnit’.

Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima

We follow a young woman over the course of a year, abandoned by her husband and struggling to raise her two-year-old daughter in a small Tokyo apartment. As the seasons revolve, light streams through her windows, dapples in the park and seeps out of streetlamps, and she gradually finds new sources of inner strength.

Henry Eliot is the Creative Editor of Penguin Classics and the author of The Penguin Classics Book.

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