Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (Signet, $6).
I chose six novels, all more than a century old (and one over two centuries), but their authors' love of life and passionate concern for lives that are ignored or unvalued keep them fresh year after year, reading after reading. Jane Austen's Mansfield Park is the least popular of her works. The heroine, Fanny Price, isn't feisty, fiery, and likable — she's poor, shy, insecure, introverted, and awfully law-abiding. But I love her for her courage. Despite shame and contempt, she holds to what she thinks is right. Her story, like the others here, has given me deep pleasure and a whole lot to think about.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (Bantam, $6).
Of Jane Eyre, I just want to say that if you think you know the book because you've seen a movie based on it, do think again.
Silas Marner by George Eliot (Bantam, $5).
Silas Marner was probably on the 1945 high school curriculum because it was short and not about sex. I hated it — didn't have a clue what it was about. Eliot (real name Mary Ann Evans) writes with a dry, adult humor and depth of experience of pain I could only appreciate when I finally finished growing up.
Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell (Dover, $7).
Gaskell's first novel, the tale of a working-class girl in Manchester during the Industrial Revolution, probably isn't her best, but I've not yet got through it without tears. It's so alive with indignation, sympathy, and compassion.
Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (Signet, $6).
Uncle Tom's Cabin may be, today, the most misunderstood, misread American novel. I hope its vitality, generosity, and human warmth will carry it on past this period of prejudice and eclipse.
The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett (Dover, $4).
An 1849 story suite about a village on the coast of Maine. Its setting and characters are so vivid that I think of Dunnet Landing as a place I've been, where I'm very fond of the people. And the beauty of it is, I can go back there whenever I want.
— Novelist, essayist, and short-story writer Ursula K. Le Guin is America's reigning queen of literary science fiction. Her new essay collection, No Time to Spare, offers ruminations on politics, literature, and growing older.