If you are a voracious reader with a penchant for a page turner but have not yet found the desire to tackle one of the great classics of literature, you are not alone. Although there is a certain recognition in finishing a Tolstoy, a Dostoyevsky or a Dickens, the idea of shoving your way through the doorstep of a novel can be anything but fun if you are looking for entertainment and escape.
Enter: the modern classic. While there’s no agreed-upon definition of what exactly a modern classic book is (Penguin publishers in Bloomsbury all have their own lists), each book I’ve selected below has been published in the over the past sixty years.
From the award-winning novel by one of Nigeria’s most renowned literary heroes to the creme de la creme of campus novels, read on for some of the most famous books of the past decades that deserve a place on your bookshelf.
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Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s gripping novel (which won the 2013 US National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction) is a powerful story about love and race.
Adiche’s third novel, Americanatakes place between Lagos, London and the United States, and centers on the star-crossed lovers, Ifemelu and Obinze, as they face difficult choices and challenges in the countries they come to call home.
First novel by Jeffrey Eugenides, virgins who committed suicide, was released in 1993 to widespread critical acclaim. A haunting and poignant coming-of-age story set in a quiet suburb of Detroit, virgins who committed suicide tells the story of the five Lisbon sisters, who all die by suicide in a single year.
Lying in black humor and a quivering sense of unease, virgins who committed suicide remains Eugenide’s most beloved book thanks to its hypnotic and unforgettable narrative that explores themes of teenage love and untimely death.
Whitehead’s wildly inventive book, The Underground Railroad, which has since been made into a TV miniseries, won its American author both a Pulitzer and a National Book Award – and was also praised by obama and Oprah.
A thrilling and undeniable read that follows the adventures of a young slave girl as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the pre-war South, The Underground Railroad is essential reading for bookworms.
Tartt’s first novel was published in 1992 and instantly won the author a legion of loyal followers, despite his notoriously private nature.
Widely considered one of the best campus novels ever written, The secret story is narrated by Richard Papen – one of six smart and eccentric misfits at an elite Vermont college around which the book is set. Fusing impeccably crafted narrative, fast-paced plot and elegant prose, The secret story is masterful storytelling at its finest.
A sprawling saga between Korea and Japan, Pachinko is the second novel by Harlem-based author and journalist Min Jin Lee. The story begins in the early 1900s, when teenage Sunja, the beloved daughter of a crippled fisherman, falls in love with a wealthy foreigner at the seaside near her home in Korea.
What follows is a powerful, poignant and deeply moving story of love, sacrifice and ambition that will stay with readers long after the last page has been turned.
A beautifully crafted and haunting story set in a series of Los Angeles foster homes, white oleander is a dark and heady tale about the intricacies and complexities between mother and daughter, Ingrid and Astrid.
Rich in lyrical prose and lively storytelling, white oleander is an immersive and evocative literary experience that will leave readers wanting more.
Angelou’s first memoirs I know why the caged bird sings instantly became a modern American classic, loved by readers around the world. Angelou’s memorable and masterful command of language dominates the narrative as she tenderly addresses issues of assault, rape and racism.
An unforgettable and moving memoir that continues to touch the hearts of readers more than fifty years after its first publication, no list of American classics would be complete without an appearance by Angelou.
In 1983, Alice Walker became the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for The purple color – a book that also won the National Book Award.
An iconic depiction of the lives of African American women in early 20th century rural Georgia, in The purple colorWalker uses a range of storytelling techniques (such as what Walker called black folk language), short chapters, and poor grammar to weave together a powerful story of redemption and love.
The critically acclaimed bestseller that became an instant hit despite its length and difficult subject matter, Hanya Yanagihara’s second book, A little lifewas shortlisted for the Booker Prize and has since become a cultural reference for readers around the world.
A deft, dark depiction of heartbreak that’s not for the faint-hearted, it’s a nuanced book about hope and friendship that’s as stark as it is beautiful.