The books we'll never forget

There are many reasons why we may never forget a book. Whether it be a novel with expert storytelling, or non-fiction providing a reality check, these books will stay on your mind long after the final page. 

Experience unforgettable journeys with books that leave a lasting impression. The best ones, whether fiction or non-fiction, make us think and feel, and compel us to pick them up again (and again) and recommend them to loved ones. Get a new perspective and emerge forever changed with these unforgettable reads.

The fiction books we’ll never forget 

Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies

by Maddie Mortimer

Book cover for Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies

Maddie Mortimer’s unique voice, typographical experimentation and resonant themes wins her debut novel, Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies, a place on this list. We follow Lia, her husband Harry and their daughter Iris after a sudden diagnosis derails their family life. But the most distinctive character is the first-person voice of a malignant force within Lia as it explores the interior contours of her body. Based on her own experience of growing up with a mother with breast cancer, Mortimer explores how the illness is not something to fight, but an abstract idea to live alongside, told through words that dance and weave across the page.

Original, memorable, shimmering.
Sarah Moss

A Little Life

by Hanya Yanagihara

Book cover for A Little Life

There is a reason that Hanya Yanigahara’s A Little Life is a million copy bestseller and has now been adapted into a West End play. Her flawless character development transports us into the lives of Jude, Willem, JB and Malcolm in a way we can’t leave behind. We follow the central characters as they try to make their way in New York – broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. Gradually, it is Jude and his unspeakable childhood that is revealed. By midlife he is both a terrifyingly talented litigator and an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by trauma. Yanigahara plunges into the depths of this darkness as she follows Jude for decades, yet ultimately tells a story of love and friendship. Readers will never forget A Little Life – and will never forget Jude. 

I'm not exaggerating when I say this novel challenged everything I thought I knew about love and friendship. It's one of those books that stays with you forever.
Dua Lipa
@ryleecambria I’m scarred for life. This book will tear you to shreds and haunt you forever. That’s all goodnight #alittlelife #alittlelifebook #alittlelifenovel #hauntme #traumabooks #booktok #booktoker #booksoftiktok ♬ What Was I Made For? [From The Motion Picture "Barbie"] - Billie Eilish

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

by Douglas Adams

Book cover for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Douglas Adams’ series is a work of inspired lunacy that has influenced a generation. It's an ordinary Thursday lunchtime for Arthur Dent until his house gets demolished. The Earth follows shortly afterwards to make way for a new hyperspace express route, and his best friend has just announced that he's an alien. However, this isn’t just a sci-fi novel. It is a cutting satire on philosophy and religion, and ultimately asks us the question of all questions – what is the meaning of life? And even if it doesn’t provide the answer, it does at least remind us never to forget a towel. First published in 1979, this is a book that has stood the test of time because it is – ultimately – too weird to forget. 

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Before Your Memory Fades

Book cover for Before Your Memory Fades

The third novel in the international bestselling Before the Coffee Gets Cold series follows four new customers in their time travelling adventures. A daughter who begrudges her deceased parents for leaving her orphaned. A comedian who aches for his beloved and their shared dreams. A younger sister whose grief has become all-consuming. And a young man who realizes his love for his childhood friend too late. While each story is unique, they are all beautiful, heartwarming and at points, heartbreaking. But what makes the book truly unforgettable is the questions it asks: who would you meet if you could travel through time? And what would you change? Questions you’ll be thinking about and discussing long after finishing. 

What You Need From The Night

by Laurent Petitmangin

Book cover for What You Need From The Night

At just 160 pages, what What You Need From the Night lacks in length, is made up for in emotion. Set in a deprived area of France, we meet our protagonist as a lone parent looking after his two teenage sons, Fus and Gilou, after the death of his wife. While Gilou sets his sights on a university in Paris, Fus, despite his socialist upbringing, falls in with the local far-right group. Fus soon becomes embroiled in violence, forcing his father to reconcile his paternal love with the shame and anger this brings. This is a beautiful and tender exploration of the difficulties of parenting a child who must grow up and forge their own path, even when that path conflicts with everything they have been taught. The reader is forced to consider just how far familial bonds can stretch, and how unconditional love can sometimes end in tragedy. 

Heartbreaking . . . haunts you long after you've put it down.

Vanity Fair

by William Makepeace Thackeray

Book cover for Vanity Fair

It wouldn’t be right for a list of unforgettable books to not include a bonafide classic – a book so memorable it is as popular today as it was upon publication. Among lots of contenders, we’ve chosen Vanity Fair. Its satire of early nineteenth-century society still resonates nearly two hundred years later – so much so that contemporary author Sarah May’s Becky is based on Thackery’s novel. Vanity Fair follows Becky Sharp, who will do anything to get to the top. She couldn’t be more different from her rich, sweet-natured schoolmate, Amelia Sedley. Their parallel lives are marked by love, lust, marriage, fortune and loss, as they navigate the corrupt circus of upper-class Regency England. Readers will never forget the scandals of this literary masterpiece, or Becky Sharp herself – the ultimate anti-herione. 

The World and All That It Holds

by Aleksandar Hemon

Book cover for The World and All That It Holds

A masterfully well-researched historical fiction, an epic romance, a story of human resilience, a ‘globe-trotting and century-spanning’ novel. The World and All That It Holds is all of these – and it is this combination that wins it its place as a book we’ll never forget. The book follows Pinto, a Sephardic Jew, and Osman, a Muslim, both of whom are conscripted into the Austro-Hungarian army in World War One. The horrors of war are softened by moments of tenderness between Pinto and Osman, written in a way we rarely see love between two men conveyed. Set among one of humanity’s most cataclysmic eras, this book goes beyond the historical headlines and instead shows how love and the human spirit of ordinary souls can triumph amidst all adversity.    

Alexsandar Hemon's new novel is immense. ... It contains almost as much as its title promises. By turns lyrical and sardonic, it is as emotionally compelling as it is clever. I'll be surprised if I enjoy a novel more this year.
The Guardian

American Psycho

by Bret Easton Ellis

Book cover for American Psycho

American Psycho is one of the most controversial novels of all time. Originally due to be published by Simon & Schuster in the US, they then withdrew with CEO Richard E. Snyder claiming, ‘It was an error of judgement to put our name on a book of such questionable taste’. Whatever your personal opinion on the book (and if you’ve read it already, we’re sure you have one), we’re willing to bet that you remember it. This violent and outrageous black comedy about the darkest side of human nature follows Patrick Bateman who, behind a good looking, charming and successful facade, is in fact a sadistic serial killer. You’ll end this novel feeling unsettled, but also with an appreciation of why this is a seminal book. 

For its savagely coherent picture of a society lethally addicted to blandness, it should be judged by the highest standards.
The Sunday Times

The non-fiction books we'll never forget 

So You've Been Publicly Shamed

by Jon Ronson

Book cover for So You've Been Publicly Shamed

We all use the internet – you are, in fact, using it right now. But read So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed and expect your perception of the web to be shattered and rebuilt in new and unforgettable ways. The book explores how the rise of social media has seen a renaissance in public shaming by giving the previously silent majority a voice. Jon Ronson argues this is mercilessly finding people’s faults, in turn using shame as a form of social control – and we all, knowingly or unknowingly, play our part in this reality. A commentary on modern life, as eye-opening as it is hilarious, there is no doubt that you turn the last page left with plenty of food for thought. 

You can be having a laugh while understanding a social phenomenon in a completely unique way.
The BBC Radio 2 Arts Show with Claudia Winkleman

Hope Not Fear

by Hassan Akkad

Book cover for Hope Not Fear

Documentary maker and activist Hassan Akkad’s memoir encapsulates the issues of our times in this honest, moving and urgent memoir. Since he was forced to flee Syria, Akkad has since found work as a hospital cleaner, contributed to the Bafta-winning documentary Exodus and campaigned for equal rights for immigrant NHS workers during the pandemic. Despite his personal story of suffering and trauma, the ultimate message of the book is one of kindness and empathy. By writing with such good humour and generosity of spirit, Akkad uplifts his readers, leaving us compelled and inspired to fight modern injustices ourselves.

A journey of hope and connection . . . this will do much to restore your faith.

Empire of Pain

by Patrick Radden Keefe

Book cover for Empire of Pain

Empire of Pain will leave your jaw gaping at the limitless potential of humankind – and not in a good way. Award-winning journalist Patrick Radden Keefe unpicks the story of the Sackler family, one of the richest families in the world whose greed and corruption led to a pandemic of drug addiction which has killed nearly half a million people. The book is full of bombshell revelations and “they did what?!” moments, which will both make your blood boil and keep you turning the pages. While anger is likely to be the lasting emotion upon finishing Empire of Pain we can at least feel grateful that Radden Keefe has exposed the Sacklers and permanently tarnished their reputation.

You feel almost guilty for enjoying it so much.
The Times

Losing Earth

by Nathaniel Rich

Book cover for Losing Earth

It’s hard not to think about climate change and global warming in our everyday lives. There is a plethora of literature, press and conversation about it. What Losing Earth does differently is to, rather than project into the future, examine our past, arguing this is crucial to understanding the battles we face today. By 1979, we knew all that we know now about the science of climate change – what was happening, why it was happening, and how to stop it. Over the next ten years, we had the very real opportunity to act. Obviously, we failed. We learn how individuals and businesses knowingly ruined this chance, leaving us with an urgency to act now like never before. 

Black and British

by David Olusoga

Book cover for Black and British

This illuminating, eye-opening re-examination of our shared history considers the limitations of what we are taught at school and are fed throughout our adult lives by revealing huge swathes of experiences that have hitherto been silenced. Drawing on new genealogical research, original records, and expert testimony, Black and British covers Roman Britain, all the way to the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020. David Olusoga show how Black British history is not a singular history, but one that belongs to us all. While black British history is too often forgotten by our institutions, this book certainly won’t be.