8. Jane Eyre, accompanied by Wide Sargasso Sea
Author (Jane Eyre): Charlotte Brontë (Wide Sargasso Sea): Jean Rhys
Why it’s important (Jane Eyre): Contains elements of social criticism, with a strong sense of morality at its core, but is nonetheless a novel many consider ahead of its time given the individualistic character of Jane and the novel’s exploration of sexuality, religion, and proto-feminism. (Wide Sargasso Sea): Rhys’s novel re-imagines Brontë’s devilish madwoman in the attic. As with many post-colonial works, the novel deals largely with the themes of racial inequality and the harshness of displacement and assimilation.
Summary (Jane Eyre): Follows the emotions and experiences of eponymous Jane Eyre, her growth to adulthood, and her love for Mr. Rochester, the byronic master of Thornfield Hall. (Wide Sargasso Sea): The novel acts as a prequel to Brontë’s Jane Eyre. It is the story of Antoinette Cosway (known as Bertha Mason in Jane Eyre), a white Creole heiress, from the time of her youth in the Caribbean to her unhappy marriage with Rochester and relocation to England. Cosway is caught in an oppressive patriarchal society in which she belongs neither to the white Europeans nor the black Jamaicans.
Awards/Notes (Jane Eyre): Has inspired numerous adaptations, musicals and films; reviewed and studied by numerous scholars and currently included in many school curricula. (Wide Sargasso Sea): Winner of the WH Smith Literary Award in 1967; named by Time as one of the 100 best English-language novels since 1923; rated #94 on the list of Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels; winner of Cheltenham Booker Prize 2006 for year 1966.
9. Raising Stony Mayhall
Author: Daryl Gregory
Why it’s important: Delves into themes of “fitting in” and what it means to be an “outsider.” Explores the current nature of politics and the social struggles of various activist groups.
Summary: In 1968, after the first zombie outbreak, Wanda Mayhall and her three young daughters discover the body of a teenage mother during a snowstorm. Wrapped in the woman’s arms is a baby, stone-cold, not breathing, and without a pulse. But then his eyes open and look up at Wanda—and he begins to move. The family hides the child—whom they name Stony—rather than turn him over to authorities that would destroy him. Against all scientific reason, the undead boy begins to grow. For years his adoptive mother and sisters manage to keep his existence a secret—until one terrifying night when Stony is forced to run and he learns that he is not the only living dead boy left in the world.
Awards/Notes: Previous works by Gregory have either won, or been nominated, for numerous awards, including the 2009 Crawford Award, the World Fantasy Award, and the Philip K. Dick Award. Raising Stony Mayhall has garnered positive reviews from critics.
10. Things Fall Apart
Author: Chinua Achebe
Why it’s important: Seen as the archetypal modern African novel in English, and one of the first African novels written in English to receive global critical acclaim. It is a staple book in schools throughout Africa and widely read and studied in English-speaking countries around the world.
Summary: Tells two intertwining stories, both centering on Okonkwo, a “strong man” of an Ibo village in Nigeria. The first, a powerful fable of the immemorial conflict between the individual and society, traces Okonkwo’s fall from grace with the tribal world. The second, as modern as the first is ancient, concerns the clash of cultures and the destruction of Okonkwo’s world with the arrival of aggressive European missionaries.
Awards/Notes: Time Magazine included the novel in its TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005. The novel has been translated into more than fifty languages, and is often used in literature, world history, and African studies courses across the world.