Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges (1964). Simultaneously philosophical and nightmarish, this collection of short stories, parables, and essays popularized both Latin American magic realism as well as metafiction.

Last Exit to Brooklyn

Last Exit to Brooklyn byHubert Selby, Jr. (1957). This stylistically uncompromising and innovative, gritty and notorious novel is a famously bleak, foul-mouthed and frank collection of six linked stories set in the violent neighbourhoods of Brooklyn. Selby brings out the dope addicts, hoodlums, prostitutes, workers, and thieves brawling in the borough’s back alleys of Brooklyn.

Leaves of Grass

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (1855–91). Whitman spent half his life writing, revising, and republishing this collection, which is, at heart, a love song to the idea of America. Uneven and exuberant, Whitman acknowledges that “I celebrate myself, and sing myself,” yet he celebrates all of America in his long-lined free verse.

Les Misérables

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo (1862). Twenty years in the writing, this masterpiece of melodrama sweeps across unspeakable poverty, assumed identities, the sewers of Paris, and the battle of Waterloo while also making time for love, politics, architecture, history, and Hugo’s burning invective against social inequities.

Lies of Silence

Lies of Silence by Brian Moore (1990). A failed Irish poet who loathes his country decides to run away with his mistress to London. But then IRA terrorists snatch his shrewish wife, threatening to kill her unless he parks an explosive-laden car outside a hotel where a Protestant minister will be speaking.