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100 books I think you should read

Updated: Sep 15, 2020

In my last blog I asked What is a Classic? and I considered that possibly the best we could do would be to cumulate all our “100 books you should read” lists and see what that looked like as a definition of a classic.

To kick things off I have created my own list, below. In doing so, I have tried to include writers from all continents, a mixture of male and female writers from different racial backgrounds, and a range of themes and genres, including: childrens’ literature; autobiographical, existential and adventure writing; current and older books; crime, dystopian and science fiction; non-fiction, poetry, civil rights, feminist, comedy; novels about war, slavery and mental health; magical realism, mystical and nature writing; historic, modernist and futuristic writing; and a smattering of personal favourites. I have limited myself to one book per writer.

Things to note are:

  • This is just my list. Whilst I’ve tried to be diverse the list is naturally biased to the white/male/European. This is fine though as it is subjective, and other people will cover different areas and come at this list from different angles.

  • Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit is the only acknowledged LGBT book on my list. I thought about throwing a couple of other LGBT subject matter books in there but I didn’t know any books that were quite good enough to sneak into the 100. Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness, Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, Rose Tremain's Music and Silence and EM Forster’s Maurice all came close but I’d be happy if you could recommend me books from this genre that should have made my list.

  • There is some overlap with my favourite 100 books list but not as much as you’d think. On this list I’ve gone for books I think you should read if you only ever read 100 books so have erred towards classics and important works, for example I’ve picked Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd over my favourite of his Under the Greenwood Tree, as it is more typical of his writing.

The decisions were not easy. As I got down to the last few difficult decisions were made. Patrick Suskind’s Perfume, Sebastian Faulks’ Human Traces, Alexander Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Douglas Coupland’s Miss Wyoming, Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Iain Banks’ The Steep Approach to Garbadale, Mikhail Lermentov’s A Hero of Our Time and Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis all narrowly missed out.

So with no further ado, here is my “If-you-only-ever-read-100-books-I-think-you-should-read-these” list:

1 1984, George Orwell

2 A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole

3 A Fortunate Life, AB Facey

4 A Fraction of the Whole, Steve Toltz

5 A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson

6 A Song of Ice and Fire, GRR Martin

7 A Study in Scarlet, Arthur Conan Doyle

8 A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

9 All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque

10 Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

11 Anne of Green Gables, LM Montgomery

12 Beloved, Toni Morrison

13 Bonjour Tristesse, Francoise Sagan

14 Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame, Charles Bukowski

15 By Grand Central Station I sat down and wept, Elizabeth Smart

16 Catch 22, Joseph Heller

17 Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger

18 Crime and Punishment, Fyedor Dostoievsky

19 Darkness at Noon, Arthur Koestler

20 Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes

21 Far from the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy

22 Fathers and Sons, Ivan Turgenev

23 Flowers for Algernon, Daniel Keyes

24 Goodbye to all that, Robert Graves

25 Heart of a Dog, Mikhail Bulgakov

26 Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad

27 Howard's End, EM Forster

28 Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard, Kiran Desai

29 I know why the caged bird sings, Maya Angelou

30 Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison

31 Jamaica Inn, Daphne du Maurier

32 Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Jules Verne

33 Journey to the River Sea, Eva Ibbotsen

34 Just Kids, Patti Smith

35 Kim, Rudyard Kipling

36 Les Miserables, Victor Hugo

37 Little Women, Louisa May Alcott

38 Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkein

39 Macbeth, William Shakespeare

40 Matilda, Roald Dahl

41 Middlemarch, George Eliot

42 My Antonia, Willa Cather

43 Narrative of the life of... Frederick Douglass

44 Native Son, Richard Wright

45 Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

46 North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell

47 Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami

48 One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey

49 Oranges are not the only fruit, Jeannette Winterson

50 Petronille, Amelie Nothomb

51 Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

52 Sonnets from the Portuguese, Elizabeth Barrett Browning

53 Sunset Song, Lewis Grassic Gibbon

54 Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu

55 Testament of Youth, Vera Brittain

56 The Thirty-Nine Steps, John Buchan

57 The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain

58 The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath

59 The Book of Sand, Jorge Luis Borges

60 The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

61 The Cider House Rules, John Irving

62 The Code of the Woosters, PG Wodehouse

63 The Collected Poems, Emily Dickinson

64 The Collected Poems, Langston Hughes

65 The Collected Poems, Samuel Taylor Coleridge

66 The Dice Man, Luke Rineheart

67 The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin

68 The Girl with the Pearl Earring, Tracy Chevalier

69 The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck

70 The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers

71 The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams

72 The Honey Siege, Gil Buhet

73 The House at Pooh Corner, AA Milne

74 The Living Mountain, Nan Shepherd

75 The Odyssey (*poetry translation only), Homer

76 The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway

77 The River Between, Ngugi wa thong'o

78 The Road, Cormac McCarthy

79 The Road Home, Rose Tremain

80 The Rubiayat of… Omar Khayyam

81 The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett

82 The Secret History, Donna Tartt

83 The Three Musketeers, Alexandre Dumas

84 The Wild Places, Robert Macfarlane

85 The Yellow Wallpaper, Charlotte Perkins Gilman

86 Their Eyes were watching God, Zora Neale Hurston

87 Therese Racquin, Emile Zola

88 Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe

89 To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

90 To the lighthouse, Virginia Woolf

91 Two Sides of the Moon, David Scott and Alexei Leonov

92 Vernon God Little, DBC Pierre

93 Villette, Charlotte Bronte

94 We, Yevgeny Zamyatin

95 We have always lived in the castle, Shirley Jackson

96 We should all be feminists, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

97 White Teeth, Zadie Smith

98 White Tiger, Aravind Adiga

99 Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel

100 Zigzag Street, Nick Earls

What do you think of that!?

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