The Aspern Papers by Henry James (Dover, $9).
I could have chosen Daisy Miller or even The Turn of the Screw to illustrate how great James is at silences and ambiguities. In The Aspern Papers, a man lies his way into a widow's home to look for the documents left behind by a great poet. This story, in which an intellectual pursuit generates acute psychological tension, is one of James' best.
The Farewells by Juan Carlos Onetti (out of print, $10 and up).
A mysterious man arrives for a quite Faulkner-like stay at a sanatorium, and while he convalesces catches the interest of the locals. This story by a 20th-century Latin American master turns around the power of gossip and our fear of how others see us.
The Fall by Albert Camus (Vintage, $14).
A Parisian lawyer corners the reader in an Amsterdam bar and talks at length about his fall from grace. Camus' 1956 novel is a concentrated study of one man's moral doom, delivered in a long monologue that we, as listeners, find equally bothersome and irresistible.
The Trial by Franz Kafka (Oxford, $10).
Building a whole novel around a question that is never answered, Kafka created a new way of looking at the world and (not) understanding our place in it. Why is Josef K. being arrested? We will never know, and that's the whole point of this 1925 work.
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (Mariner, $14).
Woolf gives us a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, a high-society Londoner, as she prepares to host a party and looks back on choices she made many years earlier. Mrs. Dalloway is among the great novels whose subject is the past, or that interpretation of the past that we call memory, and it stood by me while I was writing Reputations and describing characters trying desperately to remember important things.
Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel García Márquez (Vintage, $14).
Published in 1981, this is a masterpiece in the shape of a tragedy. Built upon one man's recollections, fallible though they may be, the novel refashions a real-life 1951 crime into myth.
— Colombian novelist Juan Gabriel Vásquez is the author of The Informers and The Sound of Things Falling. His new novel, Reputations, follows a political cartoonist as he reassesses his role in a congressman's suicide.