10 Books to Add to Your Modern Library

Fill your shelves (or ereader) with indispensable works.  

modern library books

If you're a lit lover, you probably enjoy adding titles to your personal library. But as the times change, so does the list of “must have” books. Classic libraries include authors like Shakespeare, Dickens, and Tolstoy. But which books do you add to give your library a modern twist? Enter The Modern Library.

Established in 1917, The Modern Library was created with the purpose of exposing Americans to modern literature. The imprint, now owned by Random House, has expanded their mission to feature writers who have pushed the envelope, classic novels that have been overlooked, cornerstone nonfiction works, and more. 

If you’re looking to stock your library with essential reads, this list has something for you. 

controversial horror books

Blood Meridian

By Cormac McCarthy

Also known as The Evening Redness in the West, McCarthy’s novel is based on true events that took place shortly after the Mexican-American War. Blood Meridian tells the story of a young teenager, referred to simply as ‘the Kid’. Having recently lost his mother, the Kid runs away from his family home in Tennessee. 

Seeking a new way of life, he makes his way to Texas, only to be caught up in the violence and brutality of the infamous Glanton Gang. The Kid becomes part of their operations, taking on the vile practice of collecting the scalps of Native Americans for a reward. Blood Meridian reexamines the classic narrative of the Old West, picking apart the myth of idyllic conquest, and exposing the grim and gory practices that accompanied America’s expansion. 

invisible man modern library

Invisible Man

By Ralph Ellison

Ellison’s groundbreaking novel delves into the complex experiences of an unnamed African American narrator in mid-20th century America. The unnamed protagonist navigates facets of society that treat him as though he is invisible—unseen and unheard as he navigates the difficult racial landscape of a pre-Civil Rights America.

The protagonist, now in his 40s, takes the reader on a journey from his high school graduation, through his harrowing college expulsion. Being expelled from college leaves him to seek his life and fortunes elsewhere, and he travels from his home in South Carolina to Harlem, where he's exposed to an amount of privilege among the Black population that he’s never experienced. He soon learns, however, that life in Harlem is hardly utopia. 

the betrothed, a modern library book

The Betrothed

By Alessandro Manzoni

Set in 17th-century Italy, Manzoni’s The Betrothed tells the harrowing tale of two lovers. Renzo and Lucia plan to marry, but their plans are ruined by Don Rodrigo. Rodrigo, a local Baron, has his own romantic designs on Lucia. Fearing that they have no other recourse, Renzo and Lucia leave their home with the intention of marrying in Milan. 

Of course, the best laid plans of mice and men are oft ruined by famine. Lucia takes refuge at a nearby convent as Renzo struggles to find a monk that may be able to marry them. Caught up in the city’s ravenous mob, Renzo’s quest is thwarted, and it seems as though he and Lucia will never be able to wed. 

slaughterhouse-five modern library


By Kurt Vonnegut

Vonnegut’s satirical anti-war novel follows the time-bending life of Billy Pilgrim. The reader follows Billy's experiences as an optometrist, soldier, prisoner of war, and, most shockingly, as a time traveler. 

After experiencing the devastating bombing of Dresden during the Season World War, Billy encounters a race of aliens called the Tralfamadorians. They perceive time differently and teach Billy how to become “unstuck” in time, blurring the novel’s lines between reality and fantasy. 

passing modern library


By Nella Larsen

Larsen’s novel juxtaposes racial identity with the roaring backdrop of Harlem in the 1920s. Passing tells the story of two light-skinned African American women, Irene Redfield and Clare Kendry, who can "pass" as white. 

Irene lives a stable and conventional life with her husband in the Black community, while Clare has chosen to pass as white to access the privileges systematically denied to her because of her race. 

Friends as children, Irene and Clare reconnect as adults. Irene finds herself uneasy about what she considers Clare's act of deception, and her own place in a society routine hampered by racial boundaries.

american indian stories, an overlooked classic book

American Indian Stories

By Zitkála-Šá

Zitkála-Šá's collection of autobiographical essays gives the reader an immersive perspective of the lives of Native Americans in the early 20th century. She discusses her experiences as a Yankton Dakota Sioux woman, navigating the shifting landscape of her culture.

Zitkála-Šá's recalls her childhood experiences on the Yankton Reservation, exploring the clash between her Native heritage and the pressures of assimilation in missionary-run schools. She also reflects on her time at school, and the constant erasure of her cultural identity. American Indian Stories examines the evolving issues of cultural appropriation, as well as the challenges faced by Native individuals in preserving their heritage.

villette, an overlooked classic novel


By Charlotte Brontë

Villete follows Lucy Snowe, an Englishwoman who travels to find gainful employment and escape her troubled past. The start of the novel finds Lucy living abroad, gaining a position as a teacher at a girls' school in Villette, a fictional town modeled after Brussels. Forced to make the best of her circumstances, Lucy struggles to adjust to a new culture and language.

cloud atlas modern library

Cloud Atlas

By David Mitchell

Mitchell’s novel is a narrative-weaving, heart-wrenching masterpiece. The nested narratives create a literary turducken that will keep you engaged for the length of the novel. 

The first narrative, set in the 19th century, involves a young American notary traveling in the Pacific. Subsequent stories include a 1930s composer, a 1970s investigative journalist, a present-day publisher, a cloned servant in a futuristic dystopia, and a primitive post-apocalyptic tribesman. Just as you find yourself settling into the rhythm of a narrative, it’s interrupted at a critical moment. When you do manage to find your way back to it, it resumes in reverse chronological order in a style that’s sure to set your head spinning. 

the day of the triffids modern library

The Day of the Triffids

By John Wyndham

When Bill Masen awakens in a hospital bed, he doesn’t expect to be considered among the luckiest people on the planet. As he comes to, he learns that a meteor shower has blinded a vast majority of the planet. As society begins to collapse, another threat emerges in the form of Triffids—bioengineered plants that are not only capable of walking, but have a lethal sting. With most of humanity blind and defenseless, the Triffids plunge the world into even deeper chaos. 

As Bill struggles to navigate this rapidly shifting society, he encounters various survivors. Some are trying to rebuild society, but others, more dangerously, are reveling in and further fueling the growing division. 

breakfast at tiffany's and other voices, other rooms

Breakfast at Tiffanys and Other Voices, Other Rooms

By Truman Capote

Widely considered to be two of Truman Capote’s most influential works, Breakfast at Tiffany's and Other Voices, Other Rooms are two prime examples of Capote’s ability to hone in on some of the most poignant and painful parts of the human experience.

Breakfast at Tiffany's tells the story of Holly Golightly, an unconventional New York socialite. She and the unnamed narrator drift from party to party, searching for a glimmer of joy in the superficial social scene. Alternately, Other Voices, Other Rooms draws readers to the other end of the narrative spectrum, from the glimmering apartments of New York, to a grim, decaying mansion in rural Alabama. 

Joel Knox is sent to live with his mother’s relatives after his mother passes away. In an unfamiliar environment, and on a quest to learn the truth of his estranged father, Joel grapples with loss and confusion.