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Chinua Achebe, 1971
Nigerian man is blessed by the survival of most of his family and his house after a civil war. He makes a mini-fortune and then gets robbed. He continues in his old life, seemingly unfazed, because "nothing puzzles God."
Things Fall Apart, Arrow of God, Girls at War and Other Stories
James Baldwin, 1957
Harlem schoolteacher learns that his younger brother has been jailed for heroin. His brother lives with him for a couple weeks once he gets out of jail and learns Sonny's sufferings by listening to his music.
Tell Me How Long the Trains Been Gone, If Beale Street Could Talk, Giovanni's Room
The Lady with the Dog
Anton Chekhov, 1899
Russian banker begins yet another affair with a younger woman, but this time, the affair is complicated by love.
Playwright - The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters, The Cherry Orchard
The Story of an Hour
Kate Chopin, 1894
Woman is bored with her life, celebrates her husband's death, and then dies when she realizes he's alive.
The Awakening, Desirees Baby, Bayou Folk
The House on Mango Street
Sandra Cisneros, 1984
Preteen, Hispanic girl tells the story of her new house on Mango Street - not with a white picket fence and perfect shutters, but crumbling bricks and promises of something better.
Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories
The Open Boat
Stephen Crane, 1897
Men stranded at sea during a storm, hoping in vain for shoreline people to come out and save them.
Red Badge of Courage
Ralph Ellison, 1952
African American high school graduate, before giving a speech for a hall of white bigwigs, wrestles other African Americans for the white bigwigs' entertainment and chases coins on an electric rug that shocks them. They mock him and threaten him and then give him a scholarship.
William Faulkner, 1939
Abner Scopes is kicked out of smalltown Mississippi for allegedly burning down a neighbor's barn; under the employment of Major de Spain, he ruins a rug. His son Sarty Snopes warns Major de Spain that his dad is about to burn down his barn. As Sarty flees, he hears three gunshots, possibly indicating his father's murder. He flees town to begin life anew.
The Hamlet, The Town, The Mansion
F Scott Fitzgerald, 1922
Dexter Green quits his job as a caddy only to grow up and play on the very same course. As he advances through society, he becomes one of Judy Jones' many affairs. When she's off on vacation, he gets engaged to Irene, but when Judy comes back to town, he breaks off the engagement. He's scorned, and Judy dumps him a few weeks later. When Dexter comes back from WWI, he learns that Judy Jones has married some less-than-worthy guy and her beauty has faded; Dexter realizes his home and his dream and his long lost love mean nothing.
The Great Gatsby
Margaret Atwood, 1983
Six lettered sections describing the many different middles that can come between "They met" and "They die."
Poet, critic: The Edible Woman, The Circle Game
Toni Cade Bambara, 1972
A new woman to the neighborhood takes a group of schoolchildren from Harlem to FAO Schwartz, just to point out that they can't afford anything because the government favors the rich.
The Salt Eaters, The Black Woman
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love
Raymond Carver, 1981
Drinking a whole bottle of gin, two couples sit and discuss different forms of love they've experienced in their lives - abuse, divorce, etc.
Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?, Cathedral
The Red Convertible
Louise Erdich, 1984
Two American Indian brothers buy a red convertible Olds and drive all over Montana and the Northwest until the older brother gets shipped to Vietnam. His return reveals a mentally affected man who can't handle his old life, not even the car. He kills himself in a river, and then the younger brother drives the car into the river.
Willa Cather, 1905
A young man, bored with his middle class life, gets in trouble at school and at home for working at Carnegie Hall and idolizing the glitzy actors. He steals $1000, stays at the Waldorf-Astoria, spends the nightlife with a San Franciscan, learns that the theft has been made public and his father is coming to NYC to fetch him, and kills himself in front of a train.
The Troll Garden Alexander's Bridge, O Pioneers!
A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings
Gabrial Garcia Marquez, 1955
An angel-like character who speaks an unknown language appears in the courtyard of a married couple, who lock him in a chicken coop and charge admission for curious visitors. The local priest declares he can't be an angel because he doesn't speak Latin. The married couple make a ton of money and build a mansion, but never treat the man very well. A new freak has risen to fame, and when the man grows a few new feathers and flies away, the married couple is glad he's gone.
One Hundred Years of Solitude, won the Nobel Prize 1972
The Yellow Wallpaper
Charlotte Perkins Gilman, 1892
The husband of a "delicate" woman moves her out to the country and forces her to virtually abandon her children and her writing hobby so that she can be cured from her mental sickness. She loyally does as he asks, even relegating herself to the upstairs nursery with an awful yellow wallpaper. Obsessing over the pattern, she sees a character within it; ultimately, she becomes the character trapped within the wallpaper.
Women and Economics
Young Goodman Browne
Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1835
A newlywed man is led deeply into a forest late in the night by a hooded fellow - some Satan character. Despite Browne's mild apprehensions, he's ultimately tempted to an un-Christian gathering, surprisingly attended also by local political and clerical leaders.
The Scarlet Letter, The House of Seven Gables, The Marble Faun
A Clean, Well-Lighted Place
Ernest Hemingway, 1926
An elderly customer sits drunk at a bar in the wee hours of the morning, having tried to kill himself last week. The young waiter rushes the man out while the older waiter defends him. The older waiter goes and sits at another bar, monologue-ing about insomnia and, basically, his own depressing.
Farewell to Arms, For Whom The Bell Tolls, The Old Man and the Sea, Nobel Prize 1954
Shirley Jackson, 1948
A community holds an annual lottery for someone to get stoned.
Hangasman, The Haunting of Hill House, The Bird's Nest
A White Heron
Sarah Orne Jewett, 1886
A stranger approaches a family and offers money for the whereabouts of a beautiful white heron. The little girl knows the answer, and she's intrigued by the young man, but she can't offer up the heron's life for selfish reasons.
The Country of Pointed Firs
James Joyce, 1914
A young man falls for his friend's sister and offers to buy her something grand from the Araby market. He gets to the market late and discovers how dim and unappealing the market - and the women working there - truly are.
Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ulysses
Franz Kafka, 1915
A young man wakes up one day in the body of some weird armadillo bug creature. His family and his boss freak out, not knowing what to do about him. His sister kindly feeds and takes care of him, but as time wears on, the family gets sick of taking care of him. He was the breadwinner, and now they all have to have jobs to stay in the apartment. When he pitifully dies, they joyfully embrace the changes and the future.
The Trial, The Castle, The Judgement
First Snow on Fiji
Yasunari Kawabata, 1959
Two former lovers bump into each other. The woman - Utako - has just been through a painful divorce; the man - Jiro - has a wife and kids at home. They impulsively spend the night together at a spa, reconnecting and renewing the strength their lives have drained out of them.
Nobel 68, The Izu Dancer, Snow Country, Thousand Cranes
Jamaica Kincaid, 1978
Instructions on life for a teenage girl from an overbearing mother. Two pages, one sentence with innumerable semi colons.
At the Bottom of the River, Annie John
The Rocking Horse Winner
DH Lawrence, 1926
A young boy, aware of his family's tendency to spend more than they make for appearance's sake, determines that he is lucky at betting on horse races, along with his uncle and gardener. He obsessively and violently rocks on a rocking horse, coming to a certain answer. He ultimately kills himself doing this, and his uncle declares he's better off given his obsession with luck, money, and gambling.
Lady Chatterby's Lover
Naguib Mahfouz, 1962
A sick man seeks a legendary old saint, whom everyone has stories about but no one can locate. He finally finds someone who might give him a solid lead, but the man makes him get so drunk he passes out and never gets to ask. When he awakes, he learns that Zaabalawi, the saint, had cared for him as he drunkenly slept, only to disappear into the city again.
Midaq Alley, Nobel 88
Guy de Maupassant, 1894
A woman bored with her husband's dull job and life relishes the opportunity to attend a ball and borrows jewelry from a friend. She loses the necklace, and she and her husband take out a huge loan to buy a replacement. They spend decades working it off, bitter and miserable. She ultimately runs into the friend and learns that the original necklace had been a cheap replication, not an expensive, authentic one.
Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street
Herman Mellville, 1853
A lawyer hires an odd scribe to join his crew of three, and while the man starts off glum yet prolific, Bartleby ends up rejecting any work and becoming an annoying, yet polite, ever-present body in the office. Even when the lawyer tries to move offices, Bartleby keeps on living in the office. Ultimately, Bartleby is jailed and dies of starvation. The narrator ends up learning that Bartleby had once worked in a Dead Letter office.
Moby-Dick, The Piazza Tales
The Management of Grief
Bharati Mukherjee, 1988
A woman has lost most of her family in a plane crash, along with several others from her Indian community. Because she reacts so calmly, the government asks for her help in translating and working with other relatives. The other relatives move on in different ways: her daughter moves on by rebelling and moving to California, her neighbor joins a religious community, one gentleman moves to a new state to teach, two elderly relatives reject the entire reality of it all.
The Tiger's Daughter, Jasmine
Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?
Joyce Carol Oates, 1966
A teenage girl relishes the opportunities to hook up with boys in secrecy until
The Things They Carried
Tim O'Brien, 1986
Soldier in Vietnam details the burdens - tangible and otherwise - that he and his cohorts carry. One man is shot by a sniper, and the narrator blames himself because he's obsessing over a young girl back home.
Going After Cacciato
A Good Man Is Hard to Find
Flannery O'Connor, 1955
A family leaves their Georgia home for a vacation in Florida, two chubby kids and a know-it-all grandmother who suggests a side road to see a house. They run into an escaped convict named The Misfit, who subsequently kills the whole family even as the grandmother tries to talk her way out of it.
A Conversation with My Father
Grace Paley, 1974
The narrator's father requests that she write a story, and the narrator responds with unsatisfactory results. The father wants detail and emotion. The woman tells a story about the woman across the street whose son has abandoned her for drugs.
The Little Disturbances of Man
The Cask of Amontillado
Edgar Allen Poe, 1846
Fortunato apparently insulted Montresor years ago, so Montresor plots to kill him during Carnivale one year. He lures him into his catacombs seeking a rare/expensive wine, and when they get down there, he chains him to a wall and starts entombing him alive. Fortunato thinks its a joke, they cries for help, and Montresor never gets caught, never seems repentent.
The Raven, Tamelane, Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque
The Jilting of Granny Weatherall
Katerine Anne Porter, 1930
An old woman lay dying, rambling in stream of consciousness about her kids and the baby she lost and the time she was left at the altar. She's spent her whole life trying to overcome these hardships, working past them and working to ignore them, but now as she lay dying, they haunt her.
Ship of Fools, Pale Horse/Pale Rider, Pulitzer 66
John Steinbeck, 1938
Elisa is gardening chrysanthemums, and her husband Henry finishes negotiating a big cattle deal. He offers to take her out to dinner, and in the meantime, a traveling workman stops by, annoying Elisa asking for work. When he takes interest in her flowers, she excitedly pots some for him to take to another customer and then gives him work. She's attracted to him. On the way to dinner, she sees the pots in the road, and she cries, feeling much more weak than she did earlier in the day.
Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, Of Mine and Men, Pulitzer 40
Amy Tan, 1989
A young girl's mother continuously pressures her to be a genius in something, all in the name of the American dream. The young girl botches a piano recital intentionally, the beginning of a life of rebellion.
The Joy Luck Club
A and P
John Updike, 1961
A teenage boy working as a cashier watches three girls walk around his store wearing nothing but a bathing suit. When the manager comes over and tells the girls to put some clothes on, the cashier quits saying that the manager was harsh on them.
The Centaur, Rabbit is Rich, Pulitzer 82, 91
Alice Walker, 1973
A mother and her grown daughter welcome home the other daughter, who has changed her name to represent her African heritage and met some boy who has the same beliefs as her. The outsider daughter talks down to them and demands a couple old authentic blankets. The mother has enough and gives those blankets to the daughter she lives with and tells the other daughter to take some other blankets.
The Color Purple, Pulitzer 83
A Worn Path
Eudora Welty, 1941
An old woman - Phoenix Jackson - travels a long, long path with many dangerous obstacles to get to a doctor's office where we learn that her grandson swallowed lye many years ago and requires medicine to survive. She makes the long trip whenever he needs it, no questions asked.
The Optimist's Daughter, A Curtain of Green, Pulitzer 73