The dazzling, fearless debut novel that won the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction and the book the New York Times hails as "a future classic."
I once read that Lydia Davis--as a younger writer--would post Beckett quotes on her wall, to try and learn how to hone language down to its most essential elements. In this collection of her hyper-short stories (some are no more than a sentence or two), it is obvious that her study paid off. Take, for example, her story titled Example of the Continuing Past Tense in a Hotel Room which reads simply, "Your housekeeper has been Shelly." OOF!
LeGuin is perhaps best known for her quiet, contemplative, and sociology-minded science fiction for adults. However, for me, A Wizard of Earthsea is her most expertly crafted and beautifully meditative work. Though it has been labeled a young-adult novel by distributors (and has a truly terribly designed cover that I can only assume was a misguided attempt to woo teenage readers), it is a piece of YA fiction in the way that Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away is often shelved next to kids' animated films. Both can fit into these categories, but they also refuse to talk down to their young audiences, and instead craft stories that explore the ageless beauty of the world.
Calvino is a genius, and is no work is that more apparent than If on a Winter's Night a Traveler. It's best read at night, a little drunk or a little too sleepy, when you can fully slip (or fall head-first) into the world Calvino effortlessly weaves into existence, in which the protagonist is You, sitting there, reading Calvino's new book, If on a Winter's Night a Traveler.
Filled with surrealism and dark humor, Sideways Stories is a sometimes overlooked YA masterpiece. Though he's perhaps most well-known for his superb YA novel Holes, Sachar has an amazing knack for writing surprisingly deep young characters while also playing with conventional YA story structures. It feels like the godparent of current kids' shows like Adventure Time and Gravity Falls. More than that, though, I'm pretty sure this book was the formative text for my younger-self's sense of humor.