I want to begin with a few honorable mentions that I won't describe, just throw out there in case you're interested:
Honorable Mention 1: The Kushiel Legacy by Jacqueline Carey-In a world where the Fallen Angels remained on earth and spawned half-human children, the Angeline, and live at the mercy of the whims and dispositions of their angelic ancestors. A young girl who must feel pain to feel fulfilled finds herself drawn into continuous courtly intrigues.
Honorable Mention 2: Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub-A fairy tale of a boy and his friend who travel through worlds to save a dying Queen.
Honorable Mention 3: Swan Song by Robert McCammon-In a post-apocolyptic wasteland, a young girl who is the key to restoring humanity fights a growing evil.
On with the show.....
Mystery by Peter Straub
Probably my favorite modern author, Peter Straub has the undeniable ability to bring tears to my eyes, make my heart race, and shock me into shrieking aloud. This is the beautifully worded story of a young man on an island community who falls head over heels into a deadly mystery that takes him deeper into the identities of himself and all those around him. A fine work of art, scary and thrilling and warm and familiar. Peter Straub is more intelligent, more poetic, and more eloquent than any other writer of the horror genre alive today.
Hamlet by William Shakespeare
I consider Hamlet the single greatest story ever written. The imagery, the individual words, the well constructed ideals all paint a portrait of a life that could be lived in any country, in any time period one could dream up. Of course, Shakespeare is the wordsmith, and this tale is the best showcase of his craft that exists.
Weaveworld by Clive Barker
No doubt Clive Barker can scare the pants of anyone, but I prefer his more fairy tale-ish wares. Weaveworld, which I read as a teenager for the first time, is a magnificent story of a not-so-far-away land in peril. The language is poetic and the suspense seems very real. Not really a fantasy so much as an adventure, Weaveworld blends some of the best words into some of the most beautiful sentences I've read in all my literary life.
"Nothing ever begins. There is no first moment; no single word or place from which this or any story springs.
The threads can always be traced back to some earlier tale, and the tales that preceded that; though as the narrator's voice recedes the connections will seem to grow more tenuous, for each age will want the tale told as if it were of its own making."
Oedipus Rex by Sophocles
I wish more people would give the classics a chance. The language and imagery in the written play of Oedipus is breathtaking and very modern for having been written in 429 B.C. The story is not the titilating love between a mother and son as the name has come to mean over the centuries. It is the anguished story of a good man and king who sees the suffering of his people and seeks wisdom and help from the gods in ending their pain. In his search for answers, he discovers the truth about his identity that ultimately distroys everyone he holds dear. The poetry and depth and strenth of emotion is expressed in a short play in such a way as most authors cannot express in 1,000 pages of a novel.
Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier
I first fell in love with the movie when I was around six or seven years old when it came on PBS at least once a year. That was in the days before VCRs. I read the book when I was in my early teens and performed the opening monologue for a speech class contest once, which I won, incidentally. The most intriguing thing about this story for me was the lack of naming of the main, narrative character. This single, almost off-hand decision on the author's part was so fascinating, forcing the reader to follow the journey and the bizarre triangle of Mr. deWinter and the 2 Mrs. deWinters, that the past and present seem to gently collide into one another in a heady collage of images, emotions, and sensations.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
My father began reading this to me every autumn when I was five years old. We began around the middle of August and he would read a few pages a night, pacing it just so, so we would finish on Halloween week, when Jem and Scout finally meet Boo Radley. I read it to my daughter when she was 9 and we both lay on the bed sobbing together when it was over, then I allowed her to watch the movie. Both transport me back in time to when I was a young Southern girl full of imagination and ideas to change the world. When I pick it up occassionally and begin to read, I still hear my father's voice, soothing in the warm fall nights, counting the days until Halloween when I would hear my father read those magnificent words, "Thank you, Arthur, for my children."