Novelist Richard Ford is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Independence Day and three other works of fiction about Frank Bascombe, a sportswriter turned New Jersey real estate agent. Ford's new book is Sorry for Your Trouble, a collection of stories.

The Moviegoer by Walker Percy (1961).

The best New Orleans novel there is — very Southern but as far from Faulkner as imaginable. This National Book Award winner is a tone-perfect, letter-perfect evocation of Henry James' injunction that no themes are so human as those that reflect, out of the confusion of life, the close connection of bliss and bale. You'll laugh, you'll cry.

The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty (1980).

Welty's sensate vocabulary, matched to her limitless availability to, and sympathy for, life densely and intimately lived, renders these powerful stories deeply humane and often uproarious. Nothing you'll ever read is like them.

Black Boy by Richard Wright (1945).

Memoir or novel, Wright's history-defying achievement vividly, bludgeoningly, but most of all truly gives shape and eloquence to a black youth's flight from Jim Crow Mississippi and entry into a literary firmament he might never have dreamed of in that far-away childhood.

The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard (2003).

An overlooked masterpiece, this novel set in postwar Japan, Hong Kong, England, and New Zealand takes as its subject the inferno of war (atomic devastation) and the blaze of human passion (all sorts). Her sentences leave me breathless. Her on-the-page intelligence is unrivaled. This is a novel about how to be civilized.

The Untouchable by John Banville (1997).

It's hard to say which is the best book by the unmatchable Banville. Here are exquisite sentences, a vibrant canvas brimming with masterfully drawn characters, social history, considerable wit and whimsy, astute assessments of lives as lived and, oh, yes, espionage (English) on a grand scale.

Dog Soldiers by Robert Stone (1974).

The quintessential "serious" novel of ideas that is also a ripping drugs 'n' guns page-turner, Dog Soldiers tore into post-Vietnam American culture (which was barely post) and eloquently determined it to be violent, careless, morally disquieting and dubious, but also really, really interesting to read about.

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