Irish writer Anne Enright is the author of seven novels, including The Gathering, which won the 2007 Man Booker Prize. In her latest, Actress, an Irish novelist prepares to write a biography of her mother, a former star of stage and screen.

Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987).

The story of an escaped slave and her murdered daughter, this novel contains wrenching truths. Beloved is not just a work of literary genius; it also improves our understanding of what it means to be human. Morrison brought us all that bit further along.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955).

Nabokov's novel is a warning to all stylists that, sometimes, a brilliantly written book can be not only morally void — as some of them want to be — but also repugnant. I am not sure if this is a recommendation or a warning; it is all very brilliantly done.

In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje (1987).

This book goes everywhere that the beauty of the language takes it. Set from the 1910s through the 1930s, it is a shifting, thrilling, traveling tale of the immigrants who built Canada. Ondaatje's prose is a generous guide: Every sentence opens the heart.

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter (1979).

Carter wrote the first and best collection of fairy tales in which the traditional fates of the female characters are reversed. Beauty becomes a fabulous beast; Little Red Riding Hood seduces the wolf. Carter was a high stylist, and this collection is lush, subversive, and truly liberating.

Flaubert and Madame Bovary by Francis Steegmuller (1939).

It is hard to describe the life of a writer — most of us spend our time sitting alone in a room. It is exactly these silent difficulties and triumphs that Steegmuller, a translator and longtime Flaubert scholar, understood best, and that understanding informs this double portrait of a book and its tormented creator.

The Progress of Love by Alice Munro (1986).

Pick up any volume of stories by the Nobel laureate and you will find quiet excellence, compassion, and precision. If you love life as well as books, you must read them all — and then read them again. This collection contains the iconic story "Miles City, Montana," about a family trip that climaxes in a near-tragedy. It is one of the best stories about motherhood ever written.

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