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A simple core – a mother’s attempts to reunite her disparate children for a family Christmas – burgeons into a story about the complexities wrought on the American dream by pharmaceuticals, sexuality and shyster capitalism.Through the Lambert family Franzen conjures up a modern Everyman with ordinary lives teetering on the edge of bathos, tragedy or triumph.

And at the centre of the book is a plot twist that turns everything on its head.

The film version of The Human Stain, starring Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman, is not to be recommended. Persepolis By Marjane Satrapi JONATHAN CAPE, 2003 While the French may be besotted with them, graphic novels – apart from those by cult practitioners such as Art Spiegelman and Joe Sacco – have never had much credibility on these shores. In simple, bold, black-and-white drawings she tells the story of her childhood as the daughter of two well-meaning Marxists in revolutionary Iran.

The book was a key part of his mission statement about decency and optimism and helped to win him the goodwill of much of the world.

As well as defining a moment in time, it also proved that Obama can write as winningly as he talks. By Jonathan Franzen FOURTH ESTATE, 2001 A big book in size, theme and ambitions, The Corrections put Jonathan Franzen in the vanguard of America’s bright young novelists.

The Human Stain By Philip Roth JONATHAN CAPE, 2000 The first major book of the decade is a true Great American Novel.

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