Saturday, February 27, 2010

Your Lifetime Reading List: Get Started Now!

For the past couple of days, I have been trolling online in search of the ultimate list of Recommended Reading for the Well-Educated Person.

One of my missions in life and in education is to encourage and inspire wide reading, so I thought that posting a great list here might be useful.

Not to sound like a typical, grumpy, middle-aged reactionary, but as a teacher, I am noticing that many students don't have the same reading background that I (or my peers in school) did.

If I mention Jung or Freud, chances are that most people don't know that these men were famous psychoanalysts, or what ideas they each espoused.

Allusions I might make to "Big Brother" or "newspeak" go right over the heads of most students.

On the one hand, it's somewhat understandable given that childrens' lives seem much more packed with scheduled activities, leaving less time for reading (on the other, how about no more excuses? Let's just read more!).  Still, when I was young, there was no "screen time" built into our days, either--and I know firsthand what a time suck that is.

I have no doubt that wide reading, and near-constant reading, makes a world of difference in terms of general education and being able to make connections between ideas and to--ultimately--think for oneself.

It can also virtually guarantee success on the inevitably important (if annoying) standardized tests we all must take at crucial junctures in our lives.

I found many lists of recommended books online,  all titled differently: Top Books, Most Influential Books, Best Books, Books for the Well-Educated, etc.--but in perusing my stack of print-outs, I find that (as is sadly true for much of life), many of the lists seem basically the same. Lists that are broken into chunks of 100 books seem to be leaving out many worthwhile titles; and some lists just seem...odd.

(I also don't understand the numbering of some lists. Are they numbered in order of importance, or in the order  in which the list-compilers thought of them? Numbering books seems to be a problematic exercise.)

I wish I had time to compile the perfect list, but for the sake of time (and because my ideal list would be dauntingly long and, thus, no one would pay any attention to it), here is a short list--conveniently separated into categories--of books I hope everyone will eventually read.

  • I haven't italicized any titles because it would take too long.
  • Poetry is not included here; I will tackle that list separately.
  • Feel free to suggest additions to this initial list, and please don't assume that if one category is markedly shorter than another that it means that is not a worthwhile genre to just means that I have to go to Target now and buy birthday presents for children.

Happy Reading!

Thinking (Philosophy, Psychology, Theories, Spirituality)
I and Thou: Martin Buber
The School and the Child by John Dewey
The Musical Illusionist by Alex Rose
The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud
Memories, Dreams, Reflections by Carl Jung
Being and Time by Martin Heidegger
The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton
The Montessori Method by Maria Montessori
Intelligent Life in the Universe by Carl Sagan
Phenomenon of Man by Teilhard de Chardin
A Theory of Semiotics by Umberto Eco
Principles of Psychology by William James
Thus Spake Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche
The Descent of Man by Charles Darwin
The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
The Tibetan Book of the Dead
I Ching

The Bible (I like the King James version, for study of Biblical history; Old Testament is especially useful for literary study)
The Upanishads
Dhammapada by Gautama Buddha
Tao Te Ching
The Koran
Histories by Herodotus
The Odyssey by Homer
Plato's Dialogues
Aristotle's Politics
The Aeneid, Virgil
Heloise and Abelard by George Moore
The Prince, Machiavelli
Essays, Michel de Montaigne
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
The Plays of William Shakespeare
Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
Letters and Speeches, Abraham Lincoln

The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan
Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
The Autobiography of Malcom X by Malcolm X
Gorillas in the Mist by Dian Fossey
The Story of My Life by Helen Keller
The Liars' Club by Mark Karr
This Boy's Life by Tobias Wolff
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams
Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov
Aspects of the Novel by E.M. Forster
How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster
What I Saw at The Revolution by Peggy Noonan
Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

The Stranger by Albert Camus
The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Atonement by Ian McEwan
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
White Teeth by Zadie Smith
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
The Unbearable  Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
A Room with a View by E.M. Forster
Howard's End by E.M. Forster
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Call of the Wild by Jack London
Sophie's Choice by William Styron
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maugham
Deliverance by James Dickey
Animal Farm by George Orwell
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence
Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger
Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth
Nobody's Fool by Richard Russo
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles
The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
The Godfather by Mario Puzo


  1. WOW!! Thank you so much for this amazing list. I can see you're into Philosophy...

  2. Thanks, but this list barely scratches the surface. I am sure I left out so many worthwhile reads. Well, all reading is worthwhile. Remind me to post about how to manage reading loads because that's something else I should do!



  3. I recently purchased a book entitled "1001 Books to Read Before You Die". Naturally, my over-achieving self has decided to attempt exactly what the title recommends. You can also find the list online. I've actually started a blog about it, if you're ever bored and want something to read. It's called Last Leaf, the name of the bookstore my dad dreamed of opening when he was a college student.

    As I'm sure you already could surmise, practically all of your required reading was on the list =)

  4. Elizabeth CollinsMarch 2, 2010 at 1:41 PM

    I like those 1,001 books (I gave my father the 1,001 Places to See Before You Die book. It might have been entitled "Places to Go" or "Places to Visit"--sorry).

    The blog is a great idea, as is the ambitious reading project! Good luck!

  5. Not actually knowing you but knowing of you, I can ascertain that you've read at least these books, though obviously many more. You inspire me to read more and to make the time to love literature.

  6. I've read thousands of books. My kids have reached the 5,000 milestone themselves, actually (many of those books I read to them). The library has been keeping track of how many books we've checked out otherwise I wouldn't have guessed it was even that many.

    I have a cousin in England who is brilliant and reads a book a day. Yes, a book EVERY DAY. Now, that's impressive!

  7. "I have no doubt that wide reading, and near-constant reading, makes a world of difference in terms of general education and being able to make connections between ideas and to--ultimately--think for oneself."

    This reminded me of something Terry Pratchett wrote in "Guards! Guards":

    "People were stupid, sometimes. They thought the Library was a dangerous place because of all the magical books, which was true enough, but what made it really one of the most dangerous places there could ever be was the simple fact that it was a library."

  8. Suspicion of intellectualism, banning and burning of books, censorship of thoughts and's all a slippery slope that leads, inevitably and sadly, to fascism. We've seen it before. The trick now, I expect, is not to stand for it even in its latent or infantilized stages.

    Thanks for reading and commenting.