ane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (Dover, $3.50). A plucky orphan determined to find the love her childhood lacked, a brooding Byronic suitor, a mad woman locked in an attic, dark secrets, vengeance, just desserts: This is a Gothic romance with a feminist twist. Jane may not be beautiful or wellborn, but she stands in the company of literature's greatest heroines.
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (Dover, $5). Narrated by a male Cinderella with a wicked stepfather, this bildungsroman is my favorite among Dickens' novels. Dickens elevated and enriched the Gothic romance through humor and wild flights of fancy, and by creating a world that is often surreal in its rendering of very real social problems.
The Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen (Wordsworth, $15). There's no better place to find an orphan than in a collection of fairy tales. I find Andersen's work chilling and irresistible. In "The Red Shoes," a girl falls in love with a pair of beautiful dancing shoes and is punished for her inability to put anything, even God, above them.
The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (Dover, $3). The story of Lily Bart reads like the proverbial car wreck. It's going to turn out badly; human mistakes — even small ones — accrue to create dire traps. But we can't stop watching and hoping for the reversal that will save Lily.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (Vintage, $15). An unreliable narrator confesses his erotic fixation on a fatherless girl whom he spirits away, at the death of her mother, on a tragicomic road trip across America. Flamboyant in style, sharp in wit, cruel, comic, and morally ambiguous, this is no cautionary tale but a suspenseful examination of the complexity of human personality and the power of forbidden desire.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (Vintage, $15). The scientifically engineered orphans in this suspenseful, dystopian novel discover the purpose of their lives slowly — agonizingly so. Yet the reader, while following their search for understanding, becomes ever more invested in the characters' welfare, while being pulled through a landscape at once strange and familiar.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- 7 ways to be the most interesting person in any room
- Colorado’s new ‘drive high, get a DUI’ commercials are actually pretty clever
- Why is American internet so slow?
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- What the collapse of the Ming Dynasty can tell us about American decline
- Who are the real gay marriage bigots?
- Ukraine's fraught relationship with Russia: A brief history
- 22 TV shows to watch in 2014
- This energy source could solve all of our problems — so why is no one talking about it?
- Sorry Belle Knox, porn still oppresses women
Subscribe to the Week