James Joyce$22.00 $20.24
An obvious candidate for this category, but people reading it in the twenty-first century tend to focus on the book's difficulty at the expense of its irony, its side-splitting humor, and its tenderness. When I say this book is worth your time, I mean it's worth the time it takes to ignore the difficulty and find the human.
Proust's longer books are definitely worth the time (especially In Search of Lost Time and Pleasures and Regrets, if you can find it), but this selection of letters translated by Lydia Davis is funny, heart-rending, and offers a peculiar insight into a peculiar man.
Peter Handke$15.00 $13.80
Ignore the back cover! Ignore the front cover! Ignore the immediate impression of overwrought pretension! This novel is short and highly readable, as long as you suspend your need for a character to be named. Let yourself consider why the characters aren't named later, once you've become attached to them, and don't be put off by the incredibly clever play between stereotypes and real personalities.
It's true that this is a book about an unsatisfied academic. It's also true that it navigates the space between literature and philosophy, and therefore I might be more inclined to enjoy it than someone who isn't pursuing a career in these things. But really, on a more fundamental level, the book approaches all of Solstad's major themes with brevity and caution: friendship, love, and parenthood are treated kindly but without reserve.
Eavan Boland$19.95 $18.35
Eavan Boland died on April 27, 2020 - the globe lost a particular kind of nuance that day. Maybe a closer reading of her work would provide us with a revision of the flamboyant virtue-signaling that so often stands in for real feeling. Maybe not; maybe it should just be read, re-read, and read again, because it is poetry of the highest order from the country that decided what orders in poetry ought to look like.
Djuna Barnes$14.95 $13.75
Like thousands of other writers, Djuna Barnes read Joyce and wanted to do something similar, something that innovated on top of his innovation. Unlike most of those writers, she succeeded. Her line to line writing requires some getting used to, but it is designed to require an investment because it performs a world within itself - for every line you commit to navigating, you receive an entire world of sense and meaning in return.