Orange Prize for Fiction's "50 Essential Reads by Contemporary Authors"

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To support the 2004 award, the Orange Prize for Fiction researched the UK’s first ever living library of 50 contemporary ‘essential reads’.

The books were chosen by a sample of 500 people attending the first week of the Guardian Hay festival and represent the audience’s definitive ‘must have’ bookshelf by living writers.

("alternate list source":

  1. 1.
    American Pastoral
    by Philip Roth

  2. 2.
    Atonement: A Novel
    by Ian McEwan

  3. 3.
    Being Dead: A Novel
    by Jim Crace

  4. 4.
    Birdsong: A Novel of Love and War
    by Sebastian Faulks

  5. 5.
    The Blind Assassin: A Novel
    by Margaret Atwood

  6. 6.
    Captain Corelli's Mandolin
    by Louis de Bernieres

  7. 7.
    Cloudstreet: A Novel
    by Tim Winton

  8. 8.
    The Corrections: A Novel
    by Jonathan Franzen

  9. 9.
    by J. M. Coetzee

  10. 10.
    Enduring Love: A Novel
    by Ian McEwan

  11. 11.
    by Sarah Waters

  12. 12.
    Faith singer
    by Rosie Scott

  13. 13.
    Fred & Edie: A Novel
    by Jill Dawson

  14. 14.
    Fugitive Pieces: A Novel
    by Anne Michaels

  15. 15.
    Girl With a Pearl Earring: A Novel
    by Tracy Chevalier

  16. 16.
    The Golden Notebook: Perennial Classics edition
    by Doris Lessing

  17. 17.
    Grace Notes: A Novel
    by Bernard MacLaverty

  18. 18.
    The Handmaid's Tale
    by Margaret Atwood

  19. 19.
    High Fidelity
    by Nick Hornby

  20. 21.
    Hotel World
    by Ali Smith

  21. 22.
    The House of the Spirits
    by Isabel Allende

  22. 23.
    Midnight's Children (Everyman's Library)
    by Salman Rushdie

  23. 24.
    by Stephen King

  24. 25.

  25. 26.
    by Martin Amis

  26. 27.
    Music & Silence
    by Rose Tremain

  27. 28.
    The Name of the Rose (Everyman's Library (Cloth))
    by Umberto Eco

  28. 29.
    One Hundred Years of Solitude
    by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

  29. 30.
    Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit
    by Jeanette Winterson

  30. 31.
    The Passion
    by Jeanette Winterson

  31. 32.
    The Poisonwood Bible (Oprah's Book Club)
    by Barbara Kingsolver

  32. 33.
    A Prayer for Owen Meany (Modern Library)
    by John Irving

  33. 34.

  34. 36.
    by Jilly Cooper

  35. 37.
    The Secret History
    by Donna Tartt

  36. 38.
    The Shipping News
    by E. Annie Proulx

  37. 39.
    by Kurt Vonnegut

  38. 40.
    The Story of Tracy Beaker
    by Jacqueline Wilson

  39. 41.
    A Suitable Boy: A Novel (Modern Classics)
    by Vikram Seth

  40. 42.
    The Tin Drum
    by Gunter Grass

  41. 43.
    by Irvine Welsh

  42. 44.
    Unless: A Novel
    by Carol Shields

  43. 45.
    What I Loved: A Novel
    by Siri Hustvedt

  44. 46.
    White Teeth: A Novel
    by Zadie Smith

  45. 47.
    The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel
    by Haruki Murakami

  46. 48.
    The Winshaw Legacy: or, What a Carve Up!
    by Jonathan Coe

  47. 49.
    Middlesex: A Novel
    by Jeffrey Eugenides

  48. 50.
    Women's Room
    by Marilyn French

This is a community list. You can contribute, edit, or help maintain it by adding it to your lists.
Created by Robot Co-op on Nov 30, 2005.


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thanks — 5 years ago

thanks to whoever did this list and helping me delve back into fiction which i was feeling at a lost as to where to start, sadly..and im sure there may well be several fellow list tickers amongst us -i now feel doomed to working my way through all until i can tick 50 which means ill have no life as ive also got 20 dvd lists to complete – we do love ticking though dont we!

Hit and miss so far though – hated Disgrace – soooooooo depressing. Music and silence an absolute joy. and erm…do i really have to read riders then?

The Secret History — 6 years ago

Doesn’t it bother anybody else that Secret is spelled Secert on this list?

Only 50 Please — 6 years ago

Took off someone’s personal addition to the list. Remember, you can always make your own version of a list if you disagree with the official one. Please stop adding things to this one. Thank you.


Source... — 6 years ago

Okay, I finally found a new list source and added it in (as well as an alternate in case the first one conks out on us again…)

51 — 6 years ago

There are now 51 books listed…

Hmmmm — 6 years ago

I don’t mean to be horrid, but what is the source of this list? The Orange Prize for Fiction listing in Wiki has a number of books not listed here. But this is a good list…

. — 6 years ago

Middlesex is an excellent book, if you’re working on this list make that one of your first!

hi — 7 years ago

glad to see fingersmith there. many people i know and have described this book to, brush it off as a lesbian themed book, nothing more. i think they are VERY wrong. fingersmith is one of (acually THE) most beautifully written peice of literature i have ever read. The characters are so deep and real, and the love between the two main girls is….just..i cant even describe how skillfully it was created by miss waters. 10/10. stunning.


#50 — 7 years ago

I just added the missing book(s) – Updike’s Rabbit series – and changed Regeneration to the Regeneration Trilogy, since that’s what’s actually on the list.

Is anyone else having trouble with the list source link? I had to google a cached version to find the list…

Cloudstreet — 7 years ago

SO glad to see Cloudstreet by Tim Winton getting a mention. One of the finest authors in the world, and this is his best book IMHO. Beautiful characters, descriptions and setting that instantly transport your senses into the book and a story about luck, both good and bad that captures the imagination. I literally fell in love with this book.

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