100 Monumental Novels From Literary History

In the millennia since this story was first written down, there have been millions, if not billions, more books written and published. A voracious reader could charge through a stack a day and not even make a dent in the world’s literary canon. 

This truth poses a problem for many readers: How does one know which few thousand books to read in a lifetime? How do you determine which are worth the time and brain space, and which are not? 

Start with these!

The Tale of Genji

Widely considered the world’s first novel, “The Tale of Genji” is a look at courtly life in Japan’s Heian period. The book is also significant in that it was written by a woman, Murasaki Shikibu, who worked as a lady-in-waiting at the imperial court. 

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The Song of the Cid

One of the earliest pieces of Spanish literature, “The Song of the Cid” is an epic based on real-life events that tells the tale of a Castilian hero who works to liberate his beloved Spain from its Moorish captors.  

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The Arabian Nights

Some scholars consider “The Arabian Nights” to be the greatest Arabic, Islamic, and Middle Eastern contribution to world literature. The novel is a collection of short stories (mainly fables and folklore) tied together by a framing device. 

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The Divine Comedy

When discussing Dante Alighieri’s “Divine Comedy,” the BBC called it “Western literature’s very own theory of everything.” A massively important piece of world literature, the nearly 1,000-page tome is an Italian poem from the Middle Ages about a man’s journey through hell, purgatory, and heaven in pursuit of his great love. 

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