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 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 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.
(2) Long Day’s Journey into Night by Eugene O’Neill (1956). As one family unravels over the course of an evening, O’Neill offers harrowing portraits of the emotional abuse and the descent into madness and addiction that can result when parents and children withhold love and understanding from each other.
Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad (1900). Marlowe, Conrad’s narrator here (as he is in The Heart of Darkness), ironically labels Jim, the disgraced first mate at the center of his tale, “one of us,” meaning the small British colonial elite. However, Jim violates the code one life-defining night when, in a panic, he abandons his sinking ship while the passengers sleep.
Lord of the Flies by William Golding (1955). Usually the most disturbing book on the ninth-grade reading list—who can forget the pig’s head?—the Nobel laureate’s most famous novel depicts a group of boys stranded on an island after a plane crash.
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez (1985). Márquez takes the love triangle to the limit in this story of an ever hopeful romantic who waits more than fifty years for his first love. When his beloved’s husband dies after a long, happy marriage, Florentino Ariza immediately redeclares his passion. After the enraged widow rejects him, he redoubles his efforts.
Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich (1984). The form of this novel, about two Native American families, reenacts that of a traditional Chippewa Indian story cycle—fourteen stories told by seven characters, forming a collage that forces the reader to sift through and weigh voice against voice, truth against truth.
Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid (1990). Nineteen-year-old Lucy happily leaves her West Indian home and domineering mother to work as an au pair for a well-off and well-meaning American family. But as she develops a new sense of self and independence, she is forced to grapple with life as an outsider, a servant, and a woman of color in a country obsessed with race yet blind to history.