General Question

beccabunny59's avatar

What book is a "must-read" for one who might claim to be "well-read?"?

Asked by beccabunny59 (42points) December 2nd, 2008

And why? Please be truthful. I will be compiling next year’s reading list from this! Thanks, y’all!

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80 Answers

steve6's avatar

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

SuperMouse's avatar

The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald

eambos's avatar

1984 by George Orwell.

martinf's avatar

The Bus Driver Who Wanted To Be God – Etgar Keret
im guessing ‘must read’ doesnt mean classic…

madcapper's avatar

I would agree with 1984, great book

beccabunny59's avatar

Yeah martinf – not just “classics” – whatever you guys think is good and on the must read list! Thanks for your input!

steve6's avatar

All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque
Crime and Punishment – Fedor Dostoieffsky
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain
On the Road – Jack Kerouac

skfinkel's avatar

Moby Dick. More current authors: David Foster Wallace, Phillip Roth.

Bluefreedom's avatar

Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee
Roots – Alex Haley
Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
Shogun – James Clavell
Master of the Game – Sidney Sheldon
The Color Purple – Alice Walker
The Stand – Stephen King

gailcalled's avatar

@becca: What are some serious books that you have loved? We can list 100’s of ideas; I have been reading since I was 6 and still have a long way to go. I have never read The Magic Mountain or any of Herman Hesse, for example.

TheKitchenSink's avatar

Animal Farm, Catcher in the Rye (even though I interminably hate that book), Fahrenheit 451, A Separate Peace, Lord of the Flies, etc

arnbev959's avatar

On the Road – Kerouac

Walden – Thoreau

A Boy’s Will / North of Boston – Frost

Adventures / Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes – Conan-Doyle

Journals of John Muir

Journals of Lewis and Clark

The Stranger – Camus

Steppenwulf, Siddhartha – Hesse (Gail, you’re missing out.)

Grendle – Gardner

The Picture of Dorian Gray – Wilde

Travels with Charlie – Steinbeck

The Mayor of Casterbridge – Hardy

If on a winter’s night a traveler – Calvino

The Age of Reason – Sartre

gailcalled's avatar

Pete; I will get to them; I promise.)

steve6's avatar

She says with a smile?

eambos's avatar

You must read Siddhartha, it is a great work of fiction.

wondersteph's avatar

I have to go with The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath – the way her poetic nature goes into her novel is….amazing.
Or Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers.

Jeruba's avatar

@Becca, a reading list for yourself or for students?

The thing about being well read is that it takes a lot of reading, both broad and deep. I don’t really think there’s such a thing as a single list of titles that any avowedly well-read person will have read. But you could probably create (or find online) a list of, say, 100 titles of which any well-read person will have read some.

Time: 100 All-Time Novels
Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels
100 Greatest Novels of All Time
And more: Google’s search results

You could certainly do worse than to pick one of these lists (or just their intersection points) and start working your way through. But any well-read person will also have read many obscure and idiosyncratic and even indefensible lesser works, none of which the person might want to be seen recommending and yet all of which might add to one’s depth, perspective, powers of discrimination, and sheer variety of experience as a reader. That’s what it takes to be well read and not just a list of greatest hits.

jessturtle23's avatar

In Cold Blood by Capote. That book has given me a complex since reading it but it was awesome. Songs of Solomon by Toni Morrison is one of the best books I have ever read. Anything by Barbara Kingsolver especially The Bean Trees and The Poisonwood Bible. I’m not near my library so that’s all I have.

Tantigirl's avatar

Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Series. Also Barry Hughart’s Bridge of Birds.

wondersteph's avatar

@jessturtle23 – I LOVE love love Barbara Kingsolver! Good choice.

madcapper's avatar

Yes Siddartha is also a very good read

aidje's avatar

A few that haven’t been mentioned:

Dune – Frank Herbert
Lord of the Rings trilogy – Tolkien
Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson
Jurassic Park – Michael Crichton
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
The Fountainhead – Ayn Rand (so I’m told; I haven’t read it myself yet)
A Christmas Carol – Dickens
A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories – Flannery O’Connor

It would also be good to have some level of familiarity with the Quran, the Bible, and the Bhagavad Gita.

Jeruba's avatar

How interesting that virtually every nomination is fiction, even though the question does not impose that limitation. When you get into the realm of nonfiction, though, it is a whole other matter. It becomes harder to consider the literary merit of a work in its own right. But there are classics such as Machiavelli’s The Prince, the essays of Montaigne, and the works of the Existentialist writers that cross over into literature.

And then again, the question isn’t about literature but about being well read. Doesn’t that have to include some important nonfiction?

TitsMcGhee's avatar

Definitely The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, L’Etranger by Albert Camus (The Stranger), Candide by Voltaire, The Divine Comedy by Dante Alegheri, A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey, Howl by Allen Ginsberg, The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, Lolita, Anna Karenina, Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (Ovid’s Metamorpheses are good too!)...

aidje's avatar

A couple of nonfiction books came to mind, but I wasn’t sure that I could list them as “must-reads”. A lot of people would consider themselves so far removed from the ideas put forth in the books that they would consider them to be not worth reading. Anyway, I’ll go ahead and add:

The Kingdom of God Is Within You – Tolstoy
Blue Like Jazz – Donald Miller
Fear and Trembling – Kierkegaard

Also, I had originally meant to list the following nonfiction book, but I simply forgot:

Hiroshima – John Hersey

steve6's avatar

The Communist Manifesto (non-fiction)
Hells Angels – Hunter S. Thompson (non-fiction)

steve6's avatar

@cat4thcb, are you there? did u fall asleep?

Cat4thCB's avatar

i think that being well-read also means being well-rounded, reading from all genres.

the Richard Sharpe series, set during the Napoleonic Wars, by Bernard Cornwell

virtually anything by Louis L’Amour, quite the well-read Renaissance man himself. i especially like his collection of short stories in Off the Mangrove Coast

Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier (romance)
Smoke – Donald E. Westlake (crime/comedy)
True Detective – Max Allan Collins (historical crime)
Shutter Island – Dennis Lehane (psychological)
Lord Ravensley – Constance Heaven (historical romance)
Where the Red Fern Grows – Wilson Rawls (adventure)
Danny the Champion of the World – Roald Dahl (comedy)
Where the Sidewalk Ends – Shel Silverstein (poetry)
Q Clearance – Peter Bechley (political)

steve6's avatar

You are the first person to hail Benchley in a long time. I like all his books. I have first editions of them all. Westlake is good too. So is Dahl. What took you so long? I was ready to call 911.

Jeruba's avatar

@Aidje, lurve for Kierkegaard.

Cat4thCB's avatar

@steve6 cold hands, tired brain, a tummy looking for a treat, and a bothersome cat

steve6's avatar

@cat, I did the same thing earlier. My dog kocked over a full coffee all over a brand new stove. My cat is outside freezing where she can do no harm.

tabbycat's avatar

Get yourself a copy of ‘1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die’ by Peter Ackroyd:–1

There are a few things I wish were on it that are not, but all in all, it’s an excellent listing and guide to a lifetime of reading. I have a copy on the end table near my bed.

jbfletcherfan's avatar

I’m currently reading The Memory Keepers Daughter by Kim Edwards. I’m not done with it yet, but I know the gist of the story. It’s a page turner for sure. It’s a true testament of love & devotion.

amandala's avatar

I agree with In Cold Blood and Song of Solomon. The Poisonwood Bible was also one of the best books I’ve ever read. My others favorites:

Invisible Man – Ellison
One Hundred Years of Solitude – Marquez
Lolita – Nabokov
Anna Karenina (or any Tolstoy, really) – Tolstoy

And I also love Hunter S. Thompson. His book The Great Shark Hunt is not only well-written and poignant, but is also funny as hell.

johnnyknoxville08's avatar

The Road by Cormac McCarthy. it gave me nightmares…so good though.

janbb's avatar

And now for some classics:

War and Peace – Tolstoy
Pride and Prejudice – Austen
Our Mutual Friend – Dickens
Barchester Towers – Trollope
My Antonia – Willa Cather (it’s wonderful)
Sons and Lovers – D.H. Lawrence

And somewhat newer:

The Lord of the Rings – Tolkien
Beloved – Toni Morrison
World’s End – T.C. Boyle
The Bonesetter’s Daughter – Amy Tan
Time and Again – Jack Finney (great time-travel book)
The Dark is Rising Sequence – Susan Cooper

tabbycat's avatar

My favorites are too numerous to mention, but here are a few:
Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
The Mayor of Casterbridge – Thomas Hardy
The Ambassadors – Henry James
Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen. Sense and Sensibility and Emma are also important.
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
Moby Dick – Melville
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain
The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Dubliners – James Joyce
Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf
A Passage to India and A Room with a View – E.M. Forster
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
Franny and Zooey and Nine Stories – J. D. Salinger (I’m not much of a fan of ‘Catcher’)
Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
Buddenbrooks – Thomas Mann

As far as recent classics go:
The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver
The English Patient – Michael Ondaatje
The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
The Stone Diaries – Carol Shields
Nobody’s Fool – Richard Russo
The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini
Stones for Ibarra – Harriet Doerr

tabbycat's avatar

I forgot “Madame Bovary” by Flaubert.

tabbycat's avatar

Also, ‘Brideshead Revisited’ by Evelyn Waugh.

janbb's avatar

@ tabbycat – Great list! You and I should get together and talk books sometime. I loved Nobody’s Fool and Mrs. Dalloway and….

tabbycat's avatar

@janbb, Yes, everyone mentions the later Russo books like ‘Empire Falls’ and ‘Bridge of Sighs,’ but ‘Nobody’s Fool’ is still my favorite. But I’ll read any book by Russo or Woolf, or indeed most of the authors I mentioned in my list.

When I love an author, I tend to want to read everything they’ve ever done.

TitsMcGhee's avatar

@janbb: Augh, Amy Tan!!!! Not a fan at all!

shrubbery's avatar

Good Omens – Terry Pratchett + Neil Gaimon
His Dark Materials Trilogy – Philip Pulman
The Power of One – Bryce Courtenay

psharma's avatar

Get the ‘Lifetime Reading Plan’ by Clifton Fadiman. Of course, you should’ve started reading the classics at age 2 to finish his recos in a lifetime, but it’s absolutely worth it!

tabbycat's avatar

@psharma, Yes, that’s an excellent book. I used to have a copy. I wonder what happened to it.

BlueDing's avatar

Harry Potter!! I’m not kidding. I love to read, and I’ve read all my life, and I majored in English Literature. And I love Harry Potter and think everyone should read it! :)

psharma's avatar

@Tabbycat – love and share your list to a large extent. I’ve never understood why The Great Gatsby makes it to every top 10 list. Personally, it didn’t do much for me. I wonder if I should read it again, now that I’m older and wiser.

aprilsimnel's avatar

Leviathan – Thomas Hobbes
Plato’s Republic

tabbycat's avatar

@psharma, Though I admire ‘The Great Gatsby’ and believe it belongs on the list, I must say that I personally prefer most of the other books I mentioned to it.

jessicajane's avatar

Anna Karenina – Tolstoy
The Picture of Dorian Gray – Wilde

a more recent novel – The Reluctant Fundamentalist – Hamid
it provides an interesting view point and is quite clever in the way it is told.

skfinkel's avatar

What a great list.
I am currently reading David Foster Wallace’s :“Consider the Lobster” essays that are very smart and funny.
I love short stories as well, and would include Alice Munroe, Grace Paley, Tillie Olsen (As I Stand Here Ironing is stunning), and Primo Levy. Also, Tolstoy’s short stories.

janbb's avatar

@ susan – “I Stand Here Ironing” is one of my favorite stories! I also love Grace Paley. Joanne Greenberg is another great short story writer in that vein.

garnerwoods's avatar

Usually I will find out what book famous people has read, what are their favorite books, hope that any book which bring influence on them, will bring good influence on me too.. also, as famous n successful people combined with their experience, I’m sure they have better taste on their choice too.

Stephen King’s Favorite:
This Book Will Save Your Life by A. M. Homes
Saturday by Ian McEwan
The Mad Cook of Pymatuning: A Novel by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
The Tenderness of Wolves: A Novel by Stef Penney
When Will There Be Good News?: A Novel by Kate Atkinson

J.K. Rowling’s Favorite:
The Five Red Herrings by Dorothy L. Sayers
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
Skellig by David Almond
The Woman Who Walked into Doors by Roddy Doyle

Jeffrey Eugenides, author, Pulitzer prize winner
“Herzog,” by Saul Bellow
“Love in a Fallen City,” by Eileen Chang
“The Lay of the Land,” by Richard Ford

Oprah Winfrey’s Favorite:
White Oleander by Janet Fitch
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

For complete list visit

chasgun's avatar

the sea by john banville

nebule's avatar

It strikes me day after day that if one could spend all one’s time simply just reading, one would still never have enough time to read all the books one so desires…. how very depressing!

And I’m not quite sure whether this list is serving to get me more and more excited about all the books i can read…or more frustrated that I don’t have more time…

Personally I’m not a HUGE Ian McEwan fan but I think everyone should read A Prayer for Owen Meany (as he is a big author over here in UK)...its genius, witty, heartbreaking….

Jeruba's avatar

@lynneblundell, A Prayer for Owen Meany was written by John Irving. Were you thinking of a different book?

I have a very literate and well-read friend who regards Owen Meany as her favorite book. I am a pretty serious reader myself, and I hated it from beginning to end.

gailcalled's avatar

I hated “Owen Meany” also.

eambos's avatar

Atlas Shrugged

nebule's avatar

@Jeruba! Yes totally right! sorry – bit of a brain escape moment! lol… I guess you either get Owen Meany or you don’t ..some great books are like that i think. I don’t even like Ian McEwan! WHAT was i thinking!!! LOL!!!

Jeruba's avatar

Not caring for something does not necessarily mean you don’t “get” it. It’s a mistake to assume that understanding and taste are the same thing.

nebule's avatar

I’m using the term “getting” it generally as wasn’t meant to offend!

gailcalled's avatar

I “get” Ayn Rand but dislike her novels also.

nebule's avatar

right…ok. enough said

ekglad's avatar

Life of Pi and the watchmen are refreshing and contemplative

steve6's avatar

Junk by William S. Burroughs

TaoSan's avatar

Bukowski – Ham on Rye
For the plain shock value, dirty old man

Hitler – Mein Kampf
To illustrate how one delusional man’s misguided sense of destiny can turn into a boring tome yet still able to move the masses

Hawking – A brief history of time
What’s there to say, super-genius in a wheelchair explains black holes, big bang, string theories with only one single formula in the entire book: E=MC2

Capital – Carl Marx
Another tome, but a good illustration that Communism at it’s root has produced a couple of good ideas

Homer – Iliad and Odyssey
If the right translation is used, this is pleasant “Superhero” reading, while providing an avenue to Philosophy and History

jayson's avatar

I’d believe that ‘well-read’ would mean as many books as is possible to read. Typically from a wide variety of genres and authors and periods in time.

emilia_eclaire's avatar

Wow, I’m really surprised that the only poets mentioned have been Shel Silverstein, Robert Frost, and Allen Ginsberg. How bizarre! Though other works by Plath and Bukowski have been mentioned. If you’d like to round out your “well-read” list with a few 20th century poets I would recommend picking up Selected Poems by W. H. Auden, Early Poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay, Life Studies by Robert Lowell, Ariel by Sylvia Plath, some Elizabeth Bishop perhaps, 77 Dream Songs by John Berryman, and for something uber-modern, Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson, which I would recommend to everyone regardless of whether they like poetry or not.

Those are some of my personal faves, I’m sure others would like to add!

emilia_eclaire's avatar

oh and Frank O’Hara! Anything by him.

steve6's avatar

Suggest what read.

DrtNWtr's avatar

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

standardtoaster's avatar

The Prince- Niccolo Machiavelli
Don Quixote- Cervantes
Through the Looking Glass/Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland- Lewis Carroll
Waiting for Godot- Samuel Beckett
War and Peace- Leo Tolstoy
The Art of War- Sun Tzu
Cat’s Cradle/Slaughterhouse 5— Kurt Vonnegut
Faust- Goethe
Pride and Prejudice- Jane Austin
Of Mice and Men- John Steinbeck

TheLastOfTheFamous's avatar

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

Cartman's avatar

There is no such thing as a “must read” book. If you collect all the lists of peoples must reads the list would be almost infinite, and if you put all the books you like on a list most of them are bound to be on someone’s must read list.

I think people should read books they enjoy, that’s what reading is all about.

uluru's avatar

I do not wish to be so esoteric…but, how else does one find a “must read” these day’s? We certainly cannot spend hours inside of a library..which would be wonderful…So, we turn to our “book comrads” in the hopes we have not left out that one true piece of literature that could respectively change our life. Merely a thought.

Aesthetic_Mess's avatar

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

keobooks's avatar

As a library professional, I need to not just read classics, but also read new books to be considered “well read” in my field. I use this website to get new lists and award winners. There is a new mix of new and classic books, Check out the years listed at the top and the different challenges.

krrazypassions's avatar

The Alchemist- Paulo Coehlo

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