Hunger by Knut Hamsun (Penguin, $15). An intense, bitter, and brilliant first novel written in 1890 by a Scandinavian Dostoyevsky who went on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. I give it to my creative-writing students—in this admirable translation from the Norwegian by Sverre Lyngstad—to put them off a literary career. It never works.
Dangerous Visions edited by Harlan Ellison (Gollancz, $18). This 1967 collection of science fiction stories includes the great masters of the genre at the time, and the times were rich indeed. If science fiction is still a closed book to you, try these prophetic, insightful, and ingenious views of a future, and reform. A bonus: Writers everywhere are much cheered by the blessed Ellison's "pay the writer" rant, which you can watch on YouTube.
The Siege by Ismail Kadare (Grove, $15). First published in Albania in 1970, The Siege is now available in a truly literary English translation by David Bellos. Kadare, a frequent Nobel Prize contender, gives a lively and sophisticated view of the practicalities, absurdities, and inevitabilities of warfare from the point of view of a medieval quartermaster.
Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (New Directions, $14). A black comedy but with nothing funny about it, a Depression (and depression) novel more apt today than ever, as a young (male) advice columnist takes on board the awfulness of life. Nothing changes. Once read, this book is never forgotten.
Dickens' Women by Miriam Margolyes and Sonia Fraser (Hesperus, $15). A riveting read and a riotous performance by Margolyes—a fresh view of Dickens to re-energize the blasé.
Care of Wooden Floors by Will Wiles (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24). A notable first novel, in which our hero looks after the immaculate apartment of a famous musician friend. Wooden floors loom large in his life, as do the ruinous cats Shossy and Stravvy. Impeccably stylish, impressively satirical—though it might just be yourself that you're laughing at.
— Some 40 years after writing the first episode of Upstairs, Downstairs, novelist Fay Weldon is creating a trilogy about an aristocratic family in Edwardian London. The second of those novels, Long Live the King, will be published May 7.