Inspired by @ListPrompts I'm just doing fiction, and books I've actually read. Not ranked--that's just too hard.
  1. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
    The best novel written in English. Insightful, funny, profound.
  2. Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert
    Have only read in translation (Constance Garnett's) but am impressed by how great a book it is when our heroine is so deeply unlovable.
  3. A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving
    He is our Dickens, and this book has enough memorable characters for anyone. All the feels.
  4. March, Geraldine Brooks
    I've read it three times in the last few years. A fully-imagined world to go alongside Little Women. I'll read anything Brooks writes.
  5. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
    I put off reading these because my brothers were obsessed with them (like, learned to write Elvish level obsessed). :) Turns out this trilogy is good in every way a book can be good. Completely absorbing.
  6. Angle of Repose, Wallace Stegner
    Just a beautiful, layered story in unforgettable settings of the American west (Stegner's specialty). I've read this twice and some scenes are indelible. If I could write screenplays, I'd write one of this book.
  7. The Aubrey/Maturin series, Patrick O'Brian
    "Master and Commander" is just the beginning. Nineteen books (yes, 19!) following the friendship and exploits of Captain "Lucky Jack" Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, naturalist and spy in the British navy, through the Napoleonic wars. British naval fiction is a niche, and this is the best of the genre. (Yes, I've read all of Hornblower.) War, humor, technical sailing, suspense, love and death, betrayal, loyalty, community, it's all here. I've read the whole series twice. They're BRILLIANT.
  8. Tristram Shandy, Laurence Sterne
    I get one obscure entry from my days as a PhD student of English literature. Postmodern in the 18th century, hysterically funny, weird, singular.
  9. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, Edmund Morris
    Not fiction, obviously, but an unforgettable story. The first part of Morris's TR trilogy, this goes from his birth to the delivery of the telegram with news of McKinley's death. Made me fall in love with TR a little bit. We could use him on the scene right now.
  10. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
    From the grim beginning (Bewick's Birds in the frigid window seat!) to the completely satisfying ending, Jane is a heroine worthy of our love and respect.