Lolita , Vladimir Nabokov
Lo lee ta. We probably don’t have to tell you, but we consider Nabokov one of the finest prose stylists of the English language, his every phrase fit to be mulled over, to be rolled around in your mouth like a rare delicacy. Except there are hundreds of them, right there on the page, you lucky reader.
The Sound and the Fury , William Faulkner
Though it’s tempting to just whiz on through this novel, letting the shifting perspectives fill your head like voices on a train, we advocate a slow, careful reading. That way, you can drink in Faulkner’s expressive dialogue line by line, filing each paragraph into the emotional, temporal, or psychological box where it belongs.
Bleak House, Charles Dickens
We could have probably chosen any one of Dickens’ novels for this slot — after all, he generally wrote them in installments, so each section had to be dense enough to hold his readers over for some time. But Bleak House is one of the most complex and engaging works in Dickens’ canon (at least according to us), each minor character and sub-plot worth lingering over.
Gilead , Marilynne Robinson
Though Robinson’s exquisite novel is slim, it’s like a slice of obscenely rich chocolate cake — to be devoured slowly and with utmost attention. It’s also as delicious, though probably more likely to make you cry (well, depending). “A good sermon,” Marilynne Robinson once wrote, “is one side of a passionate conversation.” Sparse and clean and deeply affecting, this book will make you a devotee, hanging on every word.
The Stranger’s Child , Alan Hollinghurst
Of this novel, more recent than some of the others on our list, but no less worthy, James Wood wrote, “His prose has the power of re-description, whereby we are made to notice something hitherto neglected. Yet, unlike a good deal of modern writing, this re-description is not achieved only by inventing brilliant metaphors, or by flourishing some sparkling detail, or by laying down a line of clever commentary. Instead, Hollinghurst works quietly, like a poet, goading all the words in his sentences — nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs — into a stealthy equality.” If that doesn’t invite some savoring, we don’t know what will.
Mrs. Dalloway , Virginia Woolf
Sure, it only spans a single day, a single party, a single defenestration. But, uncomfortable though it may be, we want to live in Clarissa Dalloway’s whirring mind forever.
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet , David Mitchell
We’re longtime fans of David Mitchell here, it’s true. But his most recent novel sparked a phenomenon we haven’t really felt since we were children, reading the last installment of a beloved series — we had to force ourselves to slow down, to read each page carefully, because we loved it so much we didn’t want to finish it, couldn’t bear to eat it all up so quickly. And now we sort of wish we could go back in time and read it for the first time again. Alas.
C , Tom McCarthy
From the very moment you begin this strange, shifting novel, you’re on the lookout: Carrefax, copper, carbon, Cairo. Every eponymous letter catches your eye, stirs a question. And yet, like so many things in this puzzle box of a novel, the answer is slippery, ethereal, unimportant. But that’s all right, because half the fun is digging, thinking, wondering.
The Remains of the Day , Kazuo Ishiguro
This is a quiet book but a stunning one, fit to accompany its reader for as many long lonely years as its own characters experience. Ishiguro’s story unravels in the details — where the light is, a small movement — so one could read blithely through and only half-understand the depths of his tale. Instead, we suggest reading slowly, running your finger over the page. Like in a good short story, in this novel, everything means something.
A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan
You’ve probably read this novel already, but if you haven’t, consider this your sign to get on it. This is the only novel we’ve read in the last ten years that, upon finishing, we turned over and immediately started reading again. Yes, it’s that good.