Books are one of God's great gifts to humanity. No matter how tired you are, how boring your day has been or how stressful your situation is, no matter whether your relationship has fallen to pieces, your job is a nightmare, and your house is a mess, you can pick up a book and immediately be transported to a better place, a more exciting place, a sexier place - or at least, a place that is not the one you're in.
Books can carry you to kingdoms where you will battle dragons and soar over mountains. They can put you in the mind of a serial killer or the detective chasing her; a warrior and the soldiers under her command; a spy and his enemy counterpart. When a book is well-crafted, the reader will become one with the characters on its pages and come to feel like you truly are them. You exult when they succeed, and you bleed with them when they fail. You know them inside and out, and may literally see their world through their eyes.
Truly, books are as close to magic as we have in the real world, and the characters in them are our guides. Let's see how many of them you remember.
"Emma" is one of Austen's most successful books. It features the beautiful heiress Emma Woodhouse, who dominates her little community of Highfield and has to learn to use her powers for good.
Dickens' massive doorstop-sized books are so big because they were serialized, and he was being paid by the word. His commentary on the cruelty of Victorian England's harsh class system was considered seminal in its day, and still relevant now.
Agatha Christie is considered the greatest crime writer of all time. Her Miss Marple series are just one of several major detective novels she published.
George Orwell's seminal work about a totalitarian state is as relevant now as ever. Hero Winston Smith tries to rebel against the all-seeing Party but they have their hooks in too deep.
This book series by J. K. Rowling, originally published in 1997, is among the most successful of all time. Rowling briefly became a billionaire but has now given so much to charity that she is not anymore.
Ursula LeGuin is one of the doyennes of high fantasy. "Earthsea" is her masterpiece, a world in which there are no large continents - and plenty of adventures.
Didion is an American writer and journalist. In this book she explores Maria's messed-up marriage against the backdrop of a very debauched and rootless Los Angeles.
Plath's novel explores the horrors of untreated - or worse, mistreated - severe mental illness, and also the struggles of women who cannot access contraception and are thus limited in their life choices. While her heroine Esther comes through her struggles, Plath herself was not so fortunate.
We never get a last name for Celie. She is the hero of Walker's very sad but inspiring story of the lives of Black women in the American South, which won the Pulitzer in 1983.
This book was written by feminist and Civil Rights activist Maya Angelou. She wrote it following the death of Martin Luther King, at the urging of her mentor James Baldwin and writer Judy Feiffer.
This feminist masterpiece by Margaret Atwood depicts an America brought low and remade into a patriarchal society in which most women are enslaved and all are oppressed. It is currently an Emmy-winning TV series.
This book came out in two volumes in 1868 and 1869. It was an instant hit. An abolitionist and feminist, Alcott helped to support her family with her writing.
This book by Harriet Beecher Stowe remains one of the most popular in American history. It established the saintly Uncle Tom, a slave who bears atrocious treatment with incredible grace, as a sympathetic figure in the minds of millions of Americans. Coming out in 1852, it helped the Abolitionist cause.
This story follows Scarlett, the daughter of a rich plantation owner, as her family is reduced to poverty during the Civil War. Having never had to fend for herself, Scarlett now has to claw back her family's wealth by any means necessary. It was a hit as soon as it came out in 1936.
Harper Lee was a reclusive figure who published this one masterpiece and then vanished. It tells the story of a man who insists on defending an innocent Black man even though he knows the racist court system will string him up anyway - as seen through the eyes of Scout, the lawyer's daughter.
This book is about a Black woman of such a fair complexion that she can "pass" as white and thus marry a white man, conferring the associated freedoms on her and their daughter. When he discovers her secret, he threatens her life. Larsen is an important writer of the Harlem Renaissance.
Gaskell was a social satirist and contemporary of Charles Dickens. This novel explores the difference between the industrial north of England with its capitalist and worker classes, and the south, which had not experienced the Industrial Revolution in the same way.
This is an important book by a self-described runaway slave. It follows her semi-autobiographical story as she is sold from master to master and eventually forced to flee to the north with the help of Aunt Hetty, a kindly woman who also taught her to read and write.
This book by Anne Brontë was her second. She published it as Acton Bell; like her sisters, Anne Brontë was unable to get traction with a woman's name. George Eliot (Mary Evans) also had to take this unfortunate decision.
This is the story of a wolf who falls in with humans during the Goldrush in the Klondike. He experiences the full panoply of human betrayal and cruelty until eventually, he finds peace with a kindly Californian.
This book is about a teacher who dabbles too much in politics and in sculpting the minds of her pupils. Sandy Stranger, her brightest pupil, soon betrays her and is part of her undoing.
Like the Bronte sisters, George Eliot had to hide her gender when publishing. Hence, "Daniel Deronda" was published not by Mary Evans, but under this pseudonym.
This book by Edith Wharton is set in the upper class of New York during the Gilded Age. It is about the loves and losses of that class, and how their money isolates and corrupts them.
This book was turned into the movie "Bright Young Things". It made a national sensation of Waugh, who went on to huge success with other books like "Scoop" and "Brideshead Revisited."
This novel is technically considered to be the first novel. Written by Daniel Defoe, it contains a number of defining tropes. It also features a hero with remarkable assumptions regarding how you attain ownership of an island!
Bilbo Baggins is the hero of "The Hobbit;" his nephew Frodo is the hero of "Lord of the Rings," the sequel. Bilbo finds the Ring of power and brings it back home with him.
Peter was rejected by Mrs. Dalloway back when she was 18. Throughout the novel she reflects on whether she made the right choice in rejecting his marriage proposal.
Robert Walton is a seafarer who picks up the haunted Dr. Frankenstein from the ice. He hears the story through Frankenstein and then the monster's first person perspectives.
Dracula is the first big vampire novel, though the idea of a vampire goes back to Longinus, the centurion who stabbed Christ. Bram Stoker's book defined most of the tropes we know in the genre.
This adventure book by Alexandre Dumas is about Edmond Dantes, who is unjustly imprisoned for 14 years. He eventually escapes and, using a treasure he is directed to by a priest in a neighboring cell, exacts revenge upon those who had him locked up.
Animal Farm is the second Orwell novel on our list. It's a social satire and dystopia about the fall of capitalism and its replacement with a society that initially strives to be communist in reality but ultimately descends into tyranny and corruption.
"Treasure Island" by Robert Louis Stevenson is the seminal pirate book. It established nearly all the things we assume about pirates now, from how they speak to the parrots to the peg legs and beyond.
"Lord of the Flies" is about a group of boys who land on an island after an unspecified disaster. They struggle to self-govern and soon descend into barbarity.
This is F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel about the uber-wealthy elite of the fictional Long Island town of West and East Egg. Jay Gatsby seeks to reconnect with his lost love, Daisy Buchanan, with whom he is obsessed.
This is Aldous Huxley's important dystopia about a world in which humans are grown in test-tubes and family is considered a ludicrous idea. It presages many of the ideas that we now take for granted, which is amazing considering it was published in 1931.