Chris Ware: Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth
A perennial favorite, and one I re-read every year or so. This incredible, multilayered, seemingly inscrutable yet abundantly accessible work changed my mind about the graphic novel. This is a story that could not be told in words alone. His artwork is not standard overblown comic book fare at all; it is precise and architectural. Ware's artistry is not only visual, it is historical, narrative, deeply psychological and completely unique. He plays on the tropes of the old "comix" and the hyperbole of the back-page ads for X-Ray Specs, blends that with the voice of innocence and amazement of the Chicago Exposition of 1893, and then, in a perfect hat trick, adds our current post-modern nihilist, isolated and lonely existence of the 21st century to bring it home. I cannot describe the plot, because the plot, as cathartic as it is, is only one vehicle for what you experience. Be prepared to be confused and overwhelmed and moved to tears in this journey from son to father to generations past.
Dorothy Dunnett: The Game of Kings (Lymond Chronicles, 1)
It's about time for me to begin my decennial re-reading of the Lymond Chronicles. I've actually read this, the first volume of the six, so many times that I've worn out two paperback versions. I make it all the way through all six every ten years at least. This series is a splendid addition to any Desert Island Reading List. If you like your heroes tortured, your buckles swashed with erudition, romances long on intellect yet short on the formulaic ripping of bodices, and sagas so sweeping all beaches would be free of sand, this is your meat. Recommended companion: The Dorothy Dunnet Companion Vol. I & II -- a concordance for this and Niccolo, her other series, which I find less compelling. Yes, she's such a reference-intense, not to say dense, writer that two volumes of clarification ARE necessary.
Charlotte Brontë: Jane Eyre (Penguin Classics)
This has a post all its own. A brilliant, courageous work, shamefully relegated to the "gothic" or "romantic" pile. This is the work that started a thousand imitators, all of which pale in comparison to the language, the intelligence, and the iconoclastic bravery of the original.