Grimm’s Fairy Tales (1812–14). Where Hans Christian Anderson was sweetly folklorish and gentle, the German folk tales collected by Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm are gritty and fearless. Their legendary stories—among them Hansel and Gretel, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty—are as violent as they are enchanting.
Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift (1726, 1735). Lemuel Gulliver, a ship’s doctor, embarks on four wondrous voyages from England to remote nations. Gulliver towers over six-inch Lilliputians and cowers under the giants in Brobdingnag. He witnesses a flying island and a country where horses are civilized and people are brutes.
Hamlet by William Shakespeare (1600). The most famous play ever written, Hamlet tells the story of a melancholic prince charged with avenging the murder of his father at the hands of his uncle, who then married his mother and, becoming King of Denmark, robbed Hamlet of the throne.
Hard Times by Charles Dickens (1854). “Now, what I want is, Facts,” reads the opening of this entertaining melodrama animated by impassioned social protest and indignant satire. In the humorless martinet Gradgrind, who preaches and practices uncompromising logic and efficiency, Dickens lampoons the soulless utilitarianism of Victorian philosopher John Stuart Mill.
Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson (1955). “One night Harold decided to go for a walk in the moonlight.” But there was no moon. So the little boy drew one with his purple crayon. Then he drew a path to walk on. Soon he was using his purple crayon to create real adventures in the forest, ocean, and the air, before drawing a bead for home and bed.
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh (1964). Eleven year-old Harriet M. Welsch is a spy living on New York's Upper East Side. In her notebook, she writes down everything she knows about everyone, even her classmates and her best friends. Then Harriet loses track of her notebook, and it ends up in the wrong hands.
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (1899). In a novella with prose as lush and brooding as its jungle setting, Phillip Marlowe travels to the Belgian Congo to pilot a trading company’s steamship. There he witnesses the brutality of colonial exploitation, epitomized by Kurtz, an enigmatic white ivory trader. To understand evil, Marlowe seeks out Kurtz, whom he finds amongst the natives, dying.
Heat and Dust by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (1975). In 1920s India, the wife of an English officer strangled by propriety falls for a minor prince with a taste for crime. She aborts their child and leaves her husband. Fifty years later, her ex-husband’s granddaughter returns to India to investigate the scandal.
Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen (1890). Like Anna Karenina and Emma Bovary, Hedda Gabler is trapped in a loveless marriage, which she entered into for security and cannot leave for fear of scandal. Though she is “crowing for life,” societal norms constrict her, making Hedda a manipulative and frustrated woman.
Henderson the Rain King by Saul Bellow (1956). Bellow’s characters often stumble along comic paths toward equilibrium, and none of the Nobel laureate’s creations is more rollicking than Eugene Henderson.