This popped up in my email a while back. Here are mine (in no particular order):
Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis
The best thing I've ever read about the audacity of hypocrisy and the cult of personality. Gantry's gift of gab is exceeded only by his hubris and shamelessness. Lewis took a lot of grief for setting his story in the world of evangelism, but it could have been set pretty much anywhere.
The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
Witnessing Lily Bart's long, humiliating decline in the society world she inhabits is heartwrenching. A smart beauty who aspires to more than just a suitable, loveless marriage - but equally unwilling to give up the good life by marrying solely for love - Lily turns out to be a little too smart for her own good, but not smart enough to understand that she can't buck the system in which she resides.
L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy
The crown jewel of Ellroy's first L.A. Quartet and the basis for one my favorite movies ever. An epic story of corruption and redemption in 1950's-era LAPD in which no one escapes unscathed.
Queenpin by Megan Abbott
A brutal, take-no-prisoners tale of a ruthless female mobster and her unexpectedly quick learning protogee.
The Shining by Stephen King
I can still remember finishing this book and being blown away by how I couldn't shake the tragic fate that befell the Torrance family. The loss of husband/father Jack Torrance, to me, was as disturbing as any horror the Overlook Hotel could throw at its unfortunate guests.
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
"Gregor Samsa awoke to discover he had turned into a giant cockroach." Not sure which of Gregor's fates were worse - turning into a giant bug, or finding out how inconvenient and disposable he is to his own family once he is no longer able to financially support them.
Black Gold by Marguerite Henry
One of the many equine books I devoured as a horse-crazy girl, Black Gold is the fact-based tale of the ill-fated 1924 Kentucky Derby winner. Even as a child I can remember being surprised that a kid's book would end with the untimely death of such a beautiful animal, and being saddened by his decline after winning one of the most famous races in the world despite his humble background.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
Famous for its startling twist ending, this was my introduction to Christie's famous, fussy Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. Poirot has retired to the small village of King's Abbott to do nothing more taxing than tending to his garden, but the mysterious death of a prominent local pulls him into a murder investigation.
Skeleton Crew by Stephen King
One of King's collections of short stories from the 80's, along with Graveyard Shift. Probably the most famous story to come out of Skeleton Crew was The Mist, which became a feature film in 2007, but there were three lesser-vaunted stories in particular that really got their hooks into me: time traveling tale The Jaunt, Word Processor of the Gods, in which a writer with a miserable family life receives a supernatural gift from beyond the grave and in his office, and the horrific Survivor Type, featuring a shipwrecked doctor who will do anything to survive. And I mean anything.
Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay
The book that unleashed Dexter Morgan on an unsuspecting world. Dexter is the darkly humorous story of a sociopathic serial killer who was trained (by his adopted father, a cop) to target only individuals who have slipped through the cracks of the law enforcement and legal systems in order to elude capture. It spawned several follow-up novels (including the upcoming Dexter is Dead) and the hit Showtime series.