501 Must Read Books
Bounty Books has published a book entitled "501 Must-Read Books". This comprehensive book will inspire you to read many of the great classics as well as modern works of fiction which are destined to become classics. Categories include memoirs, travel, classic fiction, modern fiction, children's books, science fiction, thrillers and history.
Below, we will feature books included in this publication providing their information about the book as well as a link to purchase a copy. We will add new titles each week so be sure to check back often!
1. Surfacing - Margaret Atwood
A young Canadian woman artist, her estranged lover, and a young married couple, return to the wilderness of Northern Quebec and her childhood, in search of her lost father.
While the wilderness is colonized by holidaymakers and her own companions, she comes to realize that she too has been colonized by all she has been taught about herself and her potential, both as an artist and a woman.
Increasingly convinced that her father has drowned in the fathomless lake, she dives in and undergoes an extraordinary metamorphosis. She strips herself, layer by layer of her femininity, her beliefs, her personal history, its truths and lies, and ultimately even of language, to find the bare truth and her primeval self.
Surfacing is a compulsive read, an utterly compelling narrative, part detective story, part mystical quest, and a metaphor for the search in the fragmented woman of the wholeness of self. Some 30 years after its publication, the book now also seems to represent the post-colonial human condition a well as that of women.
Check out our other books by Margaret Atwood!
2. The Diviners - Margaret Laurence
The Diviners is the third and final novel in Margaret Laurence's much acclaimed Manawaka cycle, the culmination of this epic work. Laurence is an outstanding Canadian writer, one of the best novelists of the 20th century, and this novel deservedly won her the Governor General's Award for Fiction in 1974.
Morag Gunn is a writer who lives alone in the fictional Canadian prairie of Manawaka. She is involved in an epic struggle to endure, embrace and understand both her solitude and her relationship with her lover, and with her daughter Pique, who seems lost in her loneliness.
Morag is a magnificent, honest and credible woman and a marvellous creation, who with integrity, humour and wit comes to understand that she really does need the love of her family, but not more than she needs her work, her independence and her solitude.
Check out our other books by Margaret Laurence!
3. The Sound and the Fury - William Faulkner
'Life is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.' This quotation, from Shakespeare's Macbeth, forms the very basis of this, William Faulkner's acknowledged masterpiece.
This deeply haunting tale is told in four parts, each in the voice of its own narrator, with its own nuance and idiom. Benjy, the 33-year-old idiot son, Quentin the weak Harvard scholar, Jason, the selfish greedy youngest boy, and their black servant Dilsey, each give their perspective on the decline of the southern aristocratic Compson family.
The first part is told in flashback though Benjy's disjointed memories, with the vocabulary and distractions of a retarded child, the second by Quintin and the third by Jason. Their absent sister Caddy's voice remains unheard though she is vital to the story. Instead, Dilsey's view is the last we read.
The Sound and the Fury is a tale told by a genius, reaching unforgettable and most unbearably moving heights and depths of expression.
Check out our other books by William Faulkner!
4. The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
The narratorial voice of this novel is what makes it such a very impressive one. It is narrated by Nick Carraway, who rents a house at West Egg in Long Island across the water from his cousin, Daisy. His neighbour there is the enigmatic Jay Gatsby who lives the high life from the profits of his minor criminal activities. Gatsby's infamous parties are attended by many guests who do not know their host.
Nick becomes cynically fascinated and transfixed by Gatsby and their friendship nurtures many confidences. Carraway learns that Gatsby and Daisy had been in love, but that Daisy had not waited for him to return from the war and had married another. Nick arranges a meeting between the two, and Daisy finds herself impressed by the change in Gatsby's fortunes. Daisy's husband Tom, himself already involved in an affair with the garage-owner's wife Myrtle, becomes jealous of Gatsby's attentions to his wide. Then Myrtle is killed in an accident and Tom tells Myrtle's husband that Gatsby is responsible.
The novel is beautifully spare in its prose style and the voice of the narrator effectively captures the moral vacuity of a post-war America obsessed with wealth and status.
5. The English Patient – Michael Ondaatje
This haunting tale is presented to us in a tapestry of interwoven threads of past and present, spoken and interior dialogue. Ondaatje's Postmodernist style is visual and well suited to film and multi-media interpretation. The English Patient is a Booker Prize winner and the film won an academy award.
Set in Italy at the end of the Second World War, the narrative reveals the lives, characters and tragedies of four people. Hana, the Canadian nurse who stays behind to nurse an anonymous man; the terminally ill burns patient who is revealed to be German and not English; Carvaggio a thief turned spy for British Intelligence; and Kip the Indian Sikh who is a bomb disposal expert. Isolated in a rural villa these four develop a network of relationships and a 'family bond' that helps each to resolve their emotional and political pasts and move on.
The English Patient sensitively portrays the universal themes of unconditional love and the strength of national and cultural identity.
Check out our other books by Michael Ondaatje!
6. Ways of Escape - Graham Greene
In the Preface to his second volume of memoirs, Ways of Escape, Graham Greene quotes WH. Auden: 'Man needs escape as he needs food and deep sleep.' As someone who suffered from manic-depression, Greene needed escape perhaps more than most. He sought it through travel, danger, drugs, alcohol, women and religion, but most of all, through writing.
Ways of Escape is a discussion of the process of writing, and the circumstances surrounding many of his books. Greene also talks about his own favourite authors (including Henry James) and his friendships with other literary figures such as T.S. Eliot and Evelyn Waugh.
Throughout his life, Greene criss-crossed the globe in search of adventure and inspiration (not to mention escape), and his wanderings took him to such political hot-spots as Vietnam, Haiti, Cuba, Paraguay and Kenya. One of the most evocative sections of the book is a passage from his journal dated December 31, 1953, in which he describes an opium den in Saigon. Greene was also a scriptwriter during the golden years of Hollywood, and his anecdotes about Carol Reed, David Selznik, Alexander Korda and Shirley Temple prove to be most entertaining.
Whether you are familiar with his oeuvre, or are a newcomer to 'Greeneland', Ways of Escape (best read in conjunction with A Sort of Life) is a must-read for a candid portrayal of a complex and gifted writer.
Check out our other books by Graham Greene!
7. Cold Heaven - Brian Moore
Brian Moore was an extraordinarily versatile writer of taut, carefully crafted novels in a variety of genres, often favouring the thriller to explore his anti-doctrinaire themes. Graham Greene once listed him as his favourite living novelist. He was also short-listed for the Booker Prize three times. In Cold Heaven, he brings all the considerable power of his intelligence, empathy and skill to the subjects of loss and guilt.
Marie's husband Alex is killed in a boating accident, and like many who suffer loss in a sudden and tragic way, she finds it difficult to believe that he is dead. Indeed he begins to appear in her life, it would seem very much alive. As Marie was contemplating leaving him for another man just before his death, she questions whether guilt and grief are causing her to see visions and, if so, what do they mean? Or is Alex in fact still alive? Rediscovering the Catholicism of her youth, Marie searches for the answers.
A tense, psychological, very literary thriller, Cold Heaven is also an examination of faith and love.
Check out our other books by Brian Moore!
8. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - Mark Haddon
Mathematical genius Christopher Boone is 15 and suffers from Asperger's Syndrome (a form of autism in which everything is overwhelming because of the lack of mental and emotional filters that most people possess). One night, he discovers his neighbor's poodle, Wellington, impaled on a garden fork. Wrongly blamed for the killing, he decides to imitate one of his literary heroes, Sherlock Holmes, and investigate the murder using similar detective logic, and to write about it as he does so. During his investigation, he also uncovers facts closer to home and, believing himself to be in danger from the killer, runs away to London.
The author's work with sufferers of Asperger's Syndrome means that he is able to portray Christopher's world view in accurate, believable detail, understanding what it is like to be terrified of yellow or of shaking hands, but not to be aware of, or disturbed by, the danger of being on the tracks in front of an underground train.
By turns funny and sad, but always moving, Christopher's literal-minded observations of the world around him - where adults shout at him for not obeying arbitrary rules that he doesn't understand or know the need for, and he has to impose pattern and routine on the chaos that confronts him - and make him a character to be admired, not pitied. Mark Haddon's skill lies in writing so that although Christopher is unaware of emotional undercurrents and buances of mood, the reader is made aware of them. It is a beautifully written book, suitable for older children and adults alike.
9. Lost Horizon - James Hilton
This book has been hugely popular since it was written in 1933; indeed it has its place in the Hall of Fame as the first paperback to be published (1939). Even before its softcover debut, Frank Capra has made it into a film. President Roosevelt also named his retreat 'Shangri-la' after the utopian world described in the novel. (This is the same retreat now known as Camp David.) Lost Horizon is an enchanting, fantasy adventure that can also be seen as a mediation as the gathering clouds of the Second World War loomed.
Lost Horiozn is set in the Tibetan mountains where a plane crashes, leaving the four survivors stranded. They are High Conway, a long-serving British diplomat, his assistant Mallinson, the evangelical Miss Brinklow and Barnard, an American. They are found by natives and taken to a green idyllic lamasery high in the mountains called Shangri-la, where the inhabitants live to a great old age.
The story as it unfolds recounts the spiritual journeys of these four, but particularly that of Conway. Here he discovers tranquility, love and a sense of purpose that his life has lacked. Slowly, each sees and learns more of the Eastern philosophy epitomized by everything in moderation; and the value of contemplation - achieved by doing nothing.
This is also a tale of paradise lost, or perhaps it was always just an illusion? A Magical read!
Check out our other books by James Hilton!
10. The Vicar of Wakefield – Oliver Goldsmith
This influential novel, sold on behalf of the author by Dr Johnson, found its way into Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther, Jane Austen's Emma and Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, and was the only one published by this poet, playwright, novelist, librettist, historian and essayist.
Told in the first person by Dr Primrose (the vicar), it begins on the evening of his son's wedding, which is cancelled when the Primroses' tranquil life is wrecked by the news of their bankruptcy. The son, George, is dispatched to make his way in the world and the rest of the family move to a more modest parish on the land of Squire Thornhill.
They meet Mr Burchell at an inn, and he later saves their daughter, Sophia, from drowning. She is smitten, but the ambitious Mrs Primrose won't have her daughter marry a pauper. Their relative stability at the new parish is only disturbed by the connivings of Squire Thornhill, who plans to have his way with one of Primrose's daughters by marrying her in a sham ceremony (as he has done with other women). After rescuing Olivia, they return to find their house in flames. Despite their utter destitution, Thornhill still insists on payment of rent. The disasters and the denouements stack up as the novel drives towards its ending which is as idyllic as its beginning.
11. The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne
Born in Salem, Massachusetts, to a wealthy settler family, Nathaniel Hawthorne was a respected novelist and short story writer. He was troubled in later life by his ascendancy from John Hawthorne, who had judged at the Salem witch trials.
Published when he was 45 years old, The Scarlet Letter won instant critical and public acclaim. Set in neighbouring Boston in the 17th century, the story tells the tale of Hester prynne whose husband was lost and presumed dead. After an affair with a local man which yields a child, she is vilified by her society and subjected to public interrogation conducted maliciously and virulently by the local minister Arthur Dimmesdale. Hester refuses to reveal the identity of her lover and she is forced to wear a scarlet letter 'A’ (for adulterer) on her clothing at all times.
As the years pass, Hester earns some respect in her community by living well, but she is constantly reminded of her guilt. Unbeknownst to the community, her husband returns as the town's doctor to witness the public persecution of his wife. Revealing that Indians had captured him, he makes her swear to keep his true identity a secret. He discovers that none other than Dimmesdale was Hester's lover. Realizing that Dimmesdale's mysterious illness derives from his burden of guilt, Hester's husband offers him medical help and decides to exact his revenge by keeping him well physically but torturing him emotionally.
The novel's conclusion is far from ideal. Despite the death of Dimmesdale, Hester decides to continue wearing her scarlet letter as a mark of penance and endurance in a world of sin.
Check out our other books by Nathaniel Hawthorne!
12. Moby-Dick– Herman Melville
Cast and set as part of a timeless and allegorical world, Moby-Dick is a novel rich in symbolism and metaphor. The names of the characters all have biblical resonances, and the Epilogue begins with a quotation from the Book of Job: 'and I only am escaped alone to tell thee'.
The novel's extraordinary oddness comprises an encyclopaedia of whaling lore, a Biblical meditation on the value of life, and a study of Man's relationship with both nature and his countrymen. The adventures that take place in the novel are so well known that they have entered the American consciousness. 'Call me Ishmael', the novel begins, announcing its narrator, a young outcast who seeks to find real meaning by following a life at sea.
He joins the crew of The Pequod and sets sail on Christmas Day, mastered by the monomaniacal Captain Ahab whose sole desire is to capture and kill the monster of the sea, the whale known as Moby-Dick. Tension mounts on the ship w1til the whale is sighted and several other vessels enter the chase. The whale's famous cunning wins out in the end and he destroys the ships. Captain Ahab is last seen accidentally pinioned to the whale and only Ishmael survives to tell this strange and fertile tale.
13. Waverly– Sir Walter Scott
Waverley was Scott's 14th published work which solidified his reputation as Scotland's most famous novelist. He was a prolific writer, both in poetry and prose fiction. Subtitled 'Tis Sixty Years Since', Waverley is a historical novel that was the first of its kind. Instead of using the historical setting as a mere backdrop to the novel (as the Gothic genre had done before), it sets its characters within the thrall of real events - in this case, the Jacobite uprising.
Edward Waverley, a fine young gentleman, obtains a commission in the army in 1745, and while on leave attracts the attentions of the Baron of Bradwardine's daughter, Rose. On his travels, he later meets and falls in love with Flora, the daughter of a Highland chieftain, putting Edward in a politically compromising position. Despite suffering the burdens of intrigues he does not marry Flora and instead returns to Rose. The Highland Chieftain is convicted of treason and Flora goes into a convent.
The fame that Waverley earned for Walter Scott was international and was such that Edinburgh's Scott Monument is the tallest literary effigy in the United Kingdom.
Check out our other books by Sir Walter Scott!
14. Dracula– Bram Stoker
One of the most spectacular novels of the 19th century, Dracula still frightens its readers today just as it did over a century ago. The story, like that of Frankenstein, has become a modern myth and has been performed countless times on stage, radio, television and in film.
Presented in a series of formats (such as letters, diaries, even news items), it tells the story of a London solicitor, Harker, recruited by Count Dracula to acquire property for him in England. Harker's journey to the Count's home in Transylvania is an ominous one, and after his arrival the sense of dread and fear is palpable as the tension rises and Harker slowly begins to realize his client's horrible eccentlicities.
Perhaps the novel's most powerful moment is when Harker sees his employer crawling face-downwards on the outside wall of his castle, like a bat. Harker escapes and Dracula follows him to England where Harker's fiancee and her friend come into the count's line of sight. Aided by Van Helsing - an expert in vampirism - Harker has to kill one of his own who has become a vampire after Dracula drained her veins. They then pursue Dracula back to Transylvania where his long life finally comes to an end.
Check out our other books by Bram Stoker!
15. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire– Edward Gibbon
The continuing popularity of Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is in part due to his subject matter. The Roman Empire presents the most intriguing of historical paradoxes: a golden age of civilization, learning and achievement and a symbol of decadence, cruelty and volatility. 'Two models of historical explanation, 'progress' and 'corruption', are enshrined in one subject.
The time scale of Gibbon's work is bewildering, covering about 1300 years from the 'Age of the Antonines' in 180 AD to the fall of Constantinople in 1453. However, the thematic diversity this generates is the most remarkable part of his project. The 'decline' of the Roman Empire becomes a catalyst for telling multiple, interconnected stories, such as the development of Christianity within Pagan culture, the competition of Islamic power and territory, the threat of Barbarian forces from Northern Europe and the evolution of political strategy in the face of massive colonial responsibility.
These broad narratives are told through detailed documentation of the practice of religion, politics, warfare and learning within the multiple sites of the Empire's domain. Gibbon's narrative therefore defies genre, at once a sweeping history of politics and belief and a minute sociology of public life.
Gibbon transforms our understanding of- politics, religion and empire by writing this work, but most significantly he transforms our concept of history itself. Famous for meticulous accuracy and careful interrogation of sources, the text is one of the great products of Enlightenment study, displaying a commitment to encyclopaedic survey, rational analysis and religious critique. As they did on publication, Chapters 15 and 16 of his Decline and Fall continue to generate the most scholarly controversy, suggesting that Christianity disrupted a relatively tolerant Roman society with its missionary zeal. Gibbon's text should be revisited today to inform our reaction to current religious fanaticism and global politics.
Check out our other books by Edward Gibbon!
16. Possession– A.S. Byatt
In the fiercely competitive world of academia, two young researchers, Roland Michell and Maud Bailey, are each researching individually into the lives and works of two previously unconnected Victorian poets, Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte.
As their fascination deepens, their research throws up hitherto unsuspected clues, which lead them from London to North Yorkshire and the magical west of Brittany, pursued by jealous colleagues and in pursuit of a mystery.
This extraordinarily ambitious novel is manifestly a great work of depth and scholarship, of ideas and analysis. But it is also a multi-layered love story, a Victorian novel and a very modern one, blending academia with spiritualism, passion with poetry, much of it original to the book.
AS. Byatt's breadth of knowledge allows her to mix myth with modern university life, and romance with a detective story that is richly satisfying on many levels and so generous that it leaves the reader believing that they share Byatt's erudition.
Check out our other books by A.S. Byatt!
17. Unless – Carol Shields
This is an extraordinary book which explores profound social and gender issues through the genre of everyday life. It is not a book that shocks with language or creates new grammar to make an impact. The rage against social injustice and the questioning of why this must be, is done through conventional means and ordinary events (like dusting). And in doing so, it is all the more powerful.
The story centres on Reta Winters, a middleeaged woman with a happy and successful life. Reta is a mother of three, her partner Tom is a doctor, and she is an awarddwinning writer of light fiction and a translator of French feminist works.
Reta's sunny world is destabilized when her eldest daughter drops out of university and life, sits on the pavement with a sign around her neck saying 'Goodness', and mutely begs for money. Reta's bewilderment and grief spark her off on questioning the role of women and their disempowerment by men, often with their own compliance. In usual Shields style, this is done with humour and a finesse that are a delight to read.
Check out our other books by Carol Shields!