Do you ever wonder which books by a contemporary author you love will live on through the ages? 50 or 100 years from now, will Zadie Smith be remembered just for White Teeth, or will her complete body of work be studied? Will anybody actually remember any of Donna Tartt’s books, or will all the hubbub about her Pulitzer-winning bestseller be forgotten? Some writers have bodies of work that people keep reading and studying long after they’ve gone, while others, if they’re lucky, are remembered for just one book. But sometimes, as you’ll see with this list, being remembered for just one book isn’t such a bad thing.
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
Harper Lee wrote one of the most important, controversial, beloved, and well-known American books of the last century, and she hasn’t given us another book since. That’s basically the literary equivalent to dropping the mic.
In Search of Lost Time, Marcel Proust
If you’re going to write one book that everybody remembers you for, you may as well stretch it out for seven big volumes. And while, yes, Proust did write other things, they’ve all been pretty much eclipsed by the biggest book you will likely ever attempt to read.
Dr. Zhivago, Boris Pasternak
Even though he was a great poet, Pasternak will probably be remembered most for this novel that netted him the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Oblomov, Ivan Goncharov
One of the great Russian novels of all time, and also probably the only one by Goncharov that most people know.
The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
Great poet, but can you name any of her other novels?
Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
If you’re going to be the Brontë sister with just one book to your name, that book might as well be one of the 19th century’s greatest.
Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
It won the National Book Award and is still considered one of the most important American novels of the 20th century, but it’s the only one published in Ellison’s lifetime, and the only one most people know by him.