Every so often some version of this list bubbles up into my consciousness. Mostly it’s when I guiltily remind myself I’m way behind on my reading (my bookshelves can attest to that). So I did a web search and pulled up a bunch of these lists of the top hundred books you should read. The “you” in question is debatable, of course, as are the lists. There are tons and tons and tons, everyone from The New York Times to the BBC, PBS, booksellers and publishers of course, as well as more obscure sites like The Art of Manliness (glad to see that people are finally treating manliness as the art form that it is).
Here’s one site I found, a writer at Medium who compiled his list of the top hundred. Let’s see how I align with his list.
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Read it, loved it, recommend it, mainly for the technique of the unreliable narrator. Nick Carraway is a creep.
- Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. Tried it in college. I was too young for it. Didn’t make it very far.
- On the Road by Jack Kerouac. Read this soon after I got out of the army. I liked it well enough, even though its antiestablishment, pre-hippie vibes were dated.
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Controversy be damned, this one should be higher up on this list.
- The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien. Tried reading The Hobbit in high school. Hated it, so I never got to this one, and I never will. The movies were great.
- Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. I recently tried reading this. It’s one of those books that is too well written. I couldn’t stomach a book about a pedophile. Despite the great writing, I will not finish it and I couldn’t recommend it.
- The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. This book gets slagged a lot, and I get why, but I think it’s phenomenal. Salinger broke new ground with his storytelling and POV character style, a style that’s been imitated almost to death. But it’s great in its original incarnation. Also spawned one of my favorite lyrics by country artist Orville Peck: “You’re just another boy caught in the rye.”
- Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. Read this book several years ago. It’s about a world and a time I know little about–interesting, fascinating, expertly written, and highly recommended.
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Know the story, never read it, but I did write a story based off his Jabberwocky poem that got included in an anthology.
- Ulysses by James Joyce. A friend of mine who is a Joyce fanatic had me read this book chapter by chapter and discuss it with her over wine. Ulysses is a challenge, but he maps out the modern novel.
- Lord of the Flies by William Golding. I think I might have read it in high school? Can’t remember, but this is one of those stories almost everyone knows, even if they’ve never read it.
- The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Read it. Loved it. I can never forget that final scene. Also, one of my favorite songs, Rose of Sharyn by Killswitch Engage, shares the name with a character in this book.
- 1984 by George Orwell. Why read it when we’re living it? Just kidding.
- Jayne Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Never read it, though I did read Wuthering Heights by her sister Emily, and also Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair, which is a strange and fun take on Bronte’s title character.
- Moby-Dick by Herman Melville. I tried reading it in college. I kept falling asleep.
- Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. I read and loved Woolf’s mercifully briefer answer to Joyce’s Ulysses.
- A Passage to India by E.M. Forster. Nope
- Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Yes. And I loved it. Dystopic sci-fi at its finest.
- Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. Yes, years ago. Not something I’d usually pick up but well worth the read.
- The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark. I don’t know her.
- One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Here’s the thing. I hate Garcia Marquez. Every time I read his writing I get depressed because I will never write anything half as good, this included.
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I tried but it wasn’t for me. I think the main problem is that Austen, like Salinger, started a literary tradition that’s been done to death. I read Salinger early in my reading career. I tried reading Austen too late.
- Animal Farm by George Orwell. Yep, back in high school, and I still remember it vividly. Some things never change.
- Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky. Working on it right now. Intense.
- Beloved by Toni Morrison. Not yet but it’s on my list.
- Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. Nope.
- Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. Yes. When I was ten. Way too young. Then again a few years ago. Classic.
- The Stranger by Albert Camus. Nope. I read The Plague though. Dark is an understatement.
- Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. Nope.
- Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. No again.
- Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Yes. She is one of the parents of modern horror. Great book.
If you’ve made it this far you get the point and I won’t go on until 100. It’s fun, though, to look back on what you’ve read and loved (or didn’t), and to add more books to your pile waiting to be read.