Light Years

Light Years by James Salter (1975). This compact novel offers achingly perceptive scenes from a marriage during a twenty-year period. As Viri and Nedra Berland host dinner parties, shop in New York City, summer on Long Island, and take on lovers, they experience happiness, bereavement, isolation, and divorce.

Light in August

Light in August by William Faulkner (1932). This novel contains two of Faulkner’s most telling characters, the doggedly optimistic Lena Grove, who is searching for the father of her unborn child, and the doomed Joe Christmas, an orphan of uncertain race and towering rage.

Little Women

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868). Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy: for girls who grew up reading about these four sisters, the names run together as readily as John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Maybe the magic of foursomes explains this novel’s enduring appeal. Readers get their pick of heroines: motherly Meg, harum-scarum Jo, goodness-personified Beth, or naughty Amy.

Little, Big

Little, Big by John Crowley (1981). When Smoky Barnable marries Daily Alice Drinkwater, in a pagan ceremony attended by guests seen and not seen, he enters a strange and magical family. Through the pages of this multigenerational fantasy epic, Crowley details the Drinkwater family’s connection to the world of Faerie—“the further in you go, the bigger it gets”—and the tale that shapes their fate.


Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955). “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.” So begins the Russian master’s infamous novel about Humbert Humbert, a middle-aged man who falls madly, obsessively in love with a twelve-year-old “nymphet,” Dolores Haze. So he marries the girl’s mother. When she dies he becomes Lolita’s father.

London Fields

London Fields by Martin Amis (1989). Nicola Six, a psychic femme fatale in a soul-sick, lightly futuristic London, has a premonition that one of two men she’s just met will murder her, and then she works to make that happen. All of Amis’s tropes—the coming apocalypse, the self-consciousness of authorship, and hilarious clashes of sexes and classes—get full play in this sprawling romp of a novel.

Lonesome Dove

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry (1985). Memorable characters (including prostitutes, outlaws, heroes, and Indians) grace this Pulitzer Prize–winning novel that examines the myths and reality of the American West through the story of two men driving cattle from Texas to Montana. As Augustus McCrae and W. F.