Hunger by Knut Hamsun (Dover, $8). This is the first real Oslo novel, from back when Oslo was called Christiania. The narrator, in the first line, describes it as "that strange city no one escapes from until it has left its mark on him." Hamsun filled the pages that follow with powerful writing, anxiety, and insatiable love.

Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski (Ecco, $15). I'd thought that Ham on Rye was a kind of hipster novel of my generation — until I heard my father, who'd borrowed my copy, laughing out loud. Which meant that Bukowski's semi-autobiographical, Depression-era coming-of-age tale must be quality literature.

Brand by Henrik Ibsen (Penguin, $13). Is Ibsen's Brand a Norwegian psychopath? No, just an idealist who has gone astray. But this 1865 play about a mystical clergyman is still terrifying.

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (Scribner, $15). I probably could have picked any Hemingway novel, but I read this one at a formative time. Blood, booze, sun, and vengeful lovers are always a good combination, but it's the prose that makes this book exceptional.

Watchmen by Alan Moore, with illustrations by Dave Gibbons (DC Comics, $20). Not your average graphic novel, this work about a group of flawed, over-the-hill crime fighters who are roused from retirement by the murder of a former associate is instead an ambitious literary project that takes the superhero genre seriously.

The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Bantam, $7). Dostoyevsky was Hamsun's Russian cousin. In this tale about a young nobleman whose goodness puts him at odds with an avaricious world, Dostoyevsky gives us tragedy, desperate love, human folly, epic courage, death, gallantry, and senseless sacrifice. In short, all the things you want from a Russian novel.

My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard (Archipelago Books, $18 Book One / $26 Book Two). A six-volume literary experiment in which a contemporary Norwegian author describes his own life may sound dull. But Knausgaard's literary experiment is both brutally honest and far from dull. Trust me, it'll be worth waiting for volumes three through six to appear in English translation.

— Norwegian crime novelist Jo Nesbo is the author of the best-selling Harry Hole series. In Police, the series's tenth novel, the hard-bitten Oslo detective is forced to sit on the sidelines as a killer begins cutting down Oslo's police officers.