20 Recent Classics You Should Read — Or Re-Read
Every year, we talk about the best books of the last 12 months — both the ones everyone has read and the ones you may have missed — but what about the recent classics you should read? On the list below, I have 20 books from the last 20 years that you should read or revisit ASAP, because great books don't deserve to fade into obscurity.
It's worthwhile to note that I'm not saying any of these books was the be-all, end-all, best book of its publication year. A book's worthiness is a matter of opinion, and there's no way to quantify what makes one book better than the next. These are some pretty dang good books though, many of which have won major literary awards and been selected for celebrity book clubs throughout the years.
The books on the list below date from 1997 to 2017, and were some of the most talked-about books the years they hit store shelves. Chances are pretty good that you'll have heard of at least some of the titles I've included here. Don't let that put you off reading them, however. Even if you've read them all, you should still consider re-reading them as soon as your TBR pile allows, because it's never a bad time to read a classic book.
'The God of Small Things' by Arundhati Roy
This touching novel about love — both in its broadest and most specific senses — centers on fraternal twins Esthappen and Rahel, whose lives are forever controlled and changed by India's "Love Laws," which dictate who can marry whom and under what circumstances.
'Tipping the Velvet' by Sarah Waters
Set in 1890s England, Sarah Waters' debut novel Tipping the Velvet tells the coming-of-age story of Nan, a working-class young woman who moves to London to be with Kitty, the male impersonator she loves.
'The Interpreter of Maladies' by Jhumpa Lahiri
This short-story collection from The Namesake author Jhumpa Lahiri won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the PEN/Hemingway Award. Inside, you'll find nine stories of the Indian diaspora, dealing with the multilayered identities that come with being a person born in the East and living in the West.
'White Teeth' by Zadie Smith
After meeting during their military service in World War II, Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal have maintained their friendship for 30 years. Their lives, and the lives of their children, mesh with those of a local geneticist, Marcus Chalfen, his wife Joyce, their son Joshua, and parents and children live in a constant struggle to balance mutual respect with non-conformity.
'Caramelo' by Sandra Cisneros
Every year, Lala's family makes the journey from Chicago to Mexico City to visit her grandparents, Little Grandfather and Awful Grandmother. In an attempt to better understand her family, Lala begins to investigate and tell the story of how her grandmother came to be "awful."
'The Kite Runner' by Khaled Hosseini
Set in Kabul during the Soviet-Afghan War, The Kite Runner centers on Amir and Hassan — a wealthy boy and his less-fortunate servant — whose friendship is torn apart by acts of cruelty and youthful negligence.
'Gilead' by Marilynne Robinson
The first book in Marilynne Robinson's trilogy of the same name, Gilead is a generational novel that revolves around John Ames, an aging, small-town pastor who endeavors to write an autobiography for his young son to remember him by.
'Never Let Me Go' by Kazuo Ishiguro
In Kazuo Ishiguro's futuristic literary novel, three school chums discover that their lives are far from ordinary. Ruth, Tommy, and Kathy are, in fact, clones, created and raised to become organ donors for their wealthy counterparts. Treated as less-than-human, the three teens feel all the growing pains of love and betrayal just as keenly as anyone else, however.
'The Inheritance of Loss' by Kiran Desai
Set in 1986, Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss tells the story of Sai, an orphaned girl who lives with her grandfather, the Judge, and Biju, the son of the Judge's cook, who lives undocumented in the U.S.
'The Gathering' by Anne Enright
Beginning with the funeral of Liam, The Gathering weaves its way between the Hegarty family, including Liam's sister Veronica, and the secret the two of them shared until his death.
'The Plague of Doves' by Louise Erdrich
Decades after two senseless crimes — one in retaliation for the other — tear apart the community of Pluto, North Dakota, the descendants of the major players find their lives hopelessly interconnected as they spiral toward the truth of who committed the first crime, a mass murder, and why.
'Shanghai Girls' by Lisa See
Living in early 20th-century Shanghai, Pearl and May have grown up in the lap of luxury. But when their father's business goes under, he sells them as brides to single Chinese-American men. As the Japanese begin to bomb China, Pearl and May's journey to America grows more perilous and uncertain by the minute.
'Girl in Translation' by Jean Kwok
Recently arrived from Hong Kong, Kimberly does the best she can to navigate her new life in Brooklyn. This coming-of-age novel follows Kimberly as she moves from working in a sweatshop to attending Yale with a full ride.
'Salvage the Bones' by Jesmyn Ward
Set against the backdrop of Hurricane Katrina, this National Book Award winner centers on 14-year-old Esch, pregnant and pining for her brother's friend, as she, her siblings, and their father weather the storm.
'Silver Sparrow' by Tayari Jones
James Witherspoon has two daughters with different mothers, different families. Dana knows when they meet that Chaurisse is her sister, but Chaurisse thinks she is James' only daughter. The two girls begin a friendship that is destined for a disastrous end in An American Marriage author Tayari Jones' Silver Sparrow.
'The Luminaries' by Eleanor Catton
In the middle of the New Zealand gold rush, newcomer Walter Moody uncovers a series of mysteries in a coastal town, which include a disappeared man, a sudden windfall, and a suicide attempt. As he begins to investigate, he discovers that the situation in Hokitika is even more complicated than he could have imagined.
'The Goldfinch' by Donna Tartt
After 13-year-old Theo's mother dies in an accident he survives, he latches onto a small painting that reminds him of her. As an adult working in an antiques store, Theo's life still largely revolves around that painting, the titular Goldfinch.
'A Little Life' by Hanya Yanagihara
Focusing on the lives of four college friends, Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life follows Willem, JB, Malcolm, and Jude from their university days and into adulthood, where they achieve success and attempt to outrun the past.
'The Underground Railroad' by Colson Whitehead
An enslaved woman named Cora escapes a Georgia plantation on a literal underground railroad, a secret network of subway trains, in this inventive and poignant novel from Zone One author Colson Whitehead.
'Her Body and Other Parties' by Carmen Maria Machado
In this collection, Carmen Maria Machado weaves magical realism, horror, and comedy into her eight captivating short stories about women and womanhood.