Fiction books are what keep reading fun and exciting. And making reading enjoyable and exciting is critical to reading more in general; it's the key to developing a voracious, sustainable, and lifelong love of books.
Give fiction books a chance if you don't normally read them. The best novels will teach you as much (if not more) about being human than hundreds of nonfiction books.
And what if you already enjoy fiction? Then you've come to the right place.
These lists have appeared before, from Amazon.com to the Telegraph to Time Magazine and elsewhere. There are numerous lists of the 100 best books of all time, and despite their similarities, they are all distinct. Because of the glorious subjectivity of art, no two of these lists should ever be identical.
So this is our list, a one-of-a-kind snowflake born of our love of books. This time, we limited ourselves to fiction. There are some expected classics as well as some more contemporary fare. There's some science fiction, some YA, and, most importantly, some unforgettable stories.
Brit Bennett, "The Vanishing Half"
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett exists just outside the realm of realism, in that space where a touch of fantasy serves to highlight the strangeness of reality. Bennett creates the tiny Black town of Mallard, La., where residents take pride in their light skin, and identical twins Stella and Desiree Vignes grow up in the 1950s, all too aware of racial violence and oppression. It seems almost inevitable, then, that the girls flee together in search of better opportunities—and soon Stella makes the decision, easy at first but becoming more difficult with time, to pass as white. She vanishes, leaving a devastated Desiree behind.
Bennett weaves a layered and satisfying story that shifts through time and multiple characters' points of view to tracing the impact of a single decision on Stella, her family, and the next generation. The year's novel in 2020 was The Vanishing Half, an eloquent new entry into literature on that most vital of subjects, identity.
Lola Jaye, "The Attic Child"
Plot: Celestine, a twelve-year-old, is locked in the attic of a seaside house in 1907. He was taken from his home in Africa and is now treated as a servant. Even as his mother's face and real name fade, he dreams of home and family. Decades later, a young orphan girl is banished to the same attic. She discovers mysterious artifacts beneath the floorboards and a sentence etched in an unknown language on a wall. She realizes that she is not the first child to be imprisoned in the attic.
This must-read novel explores the early Black British experience through love, loss, and family secrets.
"One Good Thing." Potter Alexandra
Plot: Liv Brooks is taken aback by the unexpected events in her life. She has recently divorced, and her life feels unsettled when she relocates from London to the Yorkshire Dales in an attempt to restart her life. However, new beginnings can be difficult and lonely. Liv adopts Harry, an elderly dog from a nearby shelter. Walking around the village with Harry, Liv meets others needing a fresh start, from a lonely older man named Valentine to a fearful child named Stanley and an angry teen named Maya.
This amusing, honest, and heartfelt story is about having the courage to change your life and find new meanings.
Mikhail Bulgakov's "The Master and Margarita"
Bulgakov's classic novel was a scathing critique of Stalinist Russia's political and religious oppression. The devil arrives on Earth and wreaks havoc in Russia with his motley crew of a black cat, a tall man with broken glasses, and a hitman. Because there is so much to unpack in this book, there's much to process in its allegorical layers.
Megha Majumdar, "A Burning"
Plot: Jivan, a poor Muslim woman living in Kolkata's slums, comments on Facebook after witnessing a terrorist attack, criticizing her government's response. It's a terrible action because she's arrested and accused of assisting the attackers. Megha Majumdar's exquisitely plotted debut novel details Jivan's plight with absorbing urgency. Majumdar introduces two key perspectives beyond Jivan: the protagonist's former gym teacher, PT Sir, who has ties to the right-wing political party that seeks to seal her fate, and Lovely, an outcast with dreams of becoming an actor who is the only person who can prove Jivan's innocence.
Majumdar reveals the intersections of their ambitions and fears by switching between their three voices, resulting in an unsettling investigation of corruption, class, and tragedy.
Laura van den Berg, "I Hold a Wolf by the Ears."
Laura van den Berg's beautiful and daring collection of 11 stories features a cast of contemplative women navigating strange, sad, and unsettling situations. Among them are the "grief freelancer," who earns extra money by impersonating the deceased, the wife whose husband is unknowingly drugging with sedative-laced seltzer, and the daughter who joins her ailing mother on a bittersweet final tour of Italy.
The characters in these stories are all broken in different ways, but they are all quietly wrestling with life's most difficult questions—the meaning of loneliness and loss and the endurance of love.
I Hold a Wolf by the Ears is masterful short fiction: van den Berg captures the cruelest of traumas on one page, then provides a dose of healing humor on the next.
Patricia Highsmith's "The Talented Mr. Ripley"
Plot: Tom Ripley is many things: a con man, a genius, and a sociopath. After reconnecting with his old friend Dickie in Europe, Tom decides he's too envious of Dickie's life to ever return to his boring old life in America. Hence, he devises a novel way to live the life he's always desired.
If you enjoy suspense and have never read Patricia Highsmith, put this story down and get a copy.
Lana Bastaic's "Catch the Rabbit"
Plot: Sara hasn't seen or heard from Lejla, her childhood best friend, in years. She's happy in Dublin with her partner, their avocado plant, and their naturist neighbor. But when Lejla calls and demands that Sara return to Bosnia, Sara finds herself unable to refuse. What begins as a road trip turns into a journey into the past as the two women set out to find Armin, Lejla's brother, who went missing near the end of the Bosnian War. Only Lejla and Sara believed Armin was still alive after everyone else assumed he was dead.
Catch the Rabbit, translated into English by Lana Bastaic, tells the story of how we put the people we love on pedestals and then wait for them to fall off, how loss permanently marks us, and how the traumas of War reverberate down the years.
Megan Campisi's "The Sin Eater"
Plot: May, a fourteen-year-old girl, is orphaned and must fight for her life. She is arrested for stealing a loaf of bread and sentenced to the harshest punishment imaginable: she must become a sin eater, shunned by society, and condemned to take on the sins of the dead. But May's invisibility opens up new possibilities. When she is summoned to hear the sins of one of the Queen's dying courtiers, she stumbles upon a dark conspiracy that only she can unravel.
If that gave you goosebumps, imagine when you read the book.
Tomi Adeyemi's "Children of Blood and Bone"
Zélie, the protagonist of this West African fantasy debut, recalls a time when the soil of Orsha was soaked in magic, and her mother gathered souls. However, under the orders of a heartless king, magic is vanishing, and anyone with those abilities is being hunted down. Zélie and her mother are forced to live in secrecy. But, with the assistance of a renegade princess, she has the opportunity to strike back. How will she manage her magical abilities and feelings for an enemy?
Kristin Hannah's "Firefly Lane"
Kristin Hannah writes some of the best and most heartbreaking fiction out there, and Firefly Lane is no exception. Kate Mularkey has accepted her position at the bottom of her school's social hierarchy. Tully Hart, dubbed "the coolest girl in the world," moves in across the street and wants to be Kate's best friend. For thirty years, the couple is inseparable until a terrible betrayal tears them apart. The Netflix series Firefly Lane stars Katherine Heigl as Tully Hart and Sarah Chalke as Kate Mularkey.
Jessie Burton's "The Confession"
Elise meets Constance, a successful writer, in 1980 and quickly falls under her spell, moving to Los Angeles to be with her. Rose Simmons is still looking for answers about her mother, who disappeared after she was born, three decades later. She is drawn to the door of reclusive novelist Constance Holden in search of a confession after learning that she was the last person to see her mother alive.
This Million-copy bestselling author Jessie Burton's third novel is a powerful and deeply moving story about secrets, motherhood, and friendship.
Douglas Stuart, "Shuggie and Bain"
Douglas Stuart's acclaimed debut novel draws heavily on his upbringing in 1980s Glasgow, where Hugh "Shuggie" Bain, like Stuart, is growing up with an alcoholic mother and facing a homophobic culture that makes him feel like an outcast. Long before he can, his father and two older siblings have left the house. Shuggie and Agnes struggle to control their lives against the backdrop of a city neglected by the government and in decline, frequently being swept away by the waves of her addiction.
While the setting is bleak, with descriptions of quiet humiliations—Agnes' late-night calls to her ex-taxi husband's company, lingering mugs filled with day-old beer—the novel's guiding light is the boy's enduring love for his mother. Stuart creates beautifully observed inner lives for both characters, capturing Shuggie's devotion to his sometimes vivacious and glamorous mother and the pain from witnessing her transformation into a hateful, unpredictable stranger through alcohol. The novel, a National Book Award finalist and Booker Prize winner, is a gut punch.