Book Meme

Below the fold is a memetic book list. You are supposed to copy it on to your blog and bold the ones you’ve read. The initial assertion is that the ‘average American’ has read six items on this list of 100. Since this is an international blog, I’d like to see what the non-American perspective is on that.

I’ve bolded any that I’ve read but I cannot guarantee that everything was in unabridged form since some of these items were read quite some time ago (though I don’t usually read such versions). I did not use italics to indicate books I started but never finished. I’ve only done that twice in my whole life. I also did not indicate which ones I have seen as movies, stage plays, or adapted series. All of them, probably.

A few other notes, in order of appearance:

6. I’ve read all the books of the torah, more than once, and the apostles, and probably a half dozen other books of the bible. But one person’s ‘total bible’ is not the same as another.

Items 9 and 19 are in the house and I am supposed to read them soon.

I strongly recommend The Secret History … it is not a classic compared to many on this list, but stands out as one that people may not know about. (I don’t recommend Donna Tartt’s second book so much.)

Moby Dick (70) was the most boring book I ever read in my life. Sorry, maybe that was just me.

I would like to know, of the unbolded books, what should I read? What am I missing?

The meme comes from here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch – George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House – Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis
34 Emma – Jane Austen
35 Persuasion – Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne
41 Animal Farm – George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving
45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding
50 Atonement – Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi – Yann Martel
52 Dune – Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History – Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road – Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
72 Dracula – Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses – James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal – Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession – AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web – EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection
91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
94 Watership Down – Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

One of these days I’m going to make my own book list. THEN you’ll see a lot of bolded entries, by jove!


  1. #1 Onkel Bob
    July 24, 2008

    I never read that Secret History, but the one by Procopius is a classic. The students love my excerpts describing the empress Theodora:

    On the field of pleasure she was never defeated. Often she would go picnicking with ten young men or more, in the flower of their strength and virility, and dallied with them all, the whole night through.

  2. #2 Stephanie Z
    July 24, 2008

    Well, I still like Little Women, but it’s the second most religiony of Alcott’s works. I much prefer Anne of Green Gables these days, and not just because I’ve been to Green Gables.

    Crime and Punishment is excellent. War and Peace is not as good as Anna Karenina, at least in the currently available translation. There’s supposed to be another one available soon that doesn’t suck all the life out of the story.

    Emma is funny, as is the Hitchhiker’s Guide, but Emma is much more subtle. I love Dumas and Dahl. Dune is okay, and you might as well read Charlotte’s Web. It takes no time at all.

  3. #3 Stephanie Z
    July 24, 2008

    And let me know if you want to borrow any of these. I still own most of them.

  4. #4 Donna
    July 24, 2008

    I did this about a week ago…
    I don’t think a lot of thought went into this simply because they ask if you’ve read “The Complete Works of Shakespeare” and then go onto include “Hamlet” (which I would argue is not his best work, and never mind that they didn’t include Christopher Marlowe). I think, though, that Dumas is an absolute must read. The Three Musketeers is my favorite book-EVER!!

  5. #5 Greg Laden
    July 24, 2008

    I think I have read Charlotte’s Web but I did not bold it because I wasn’t sure …. If it is a children’s book with not too many words than I’ve read it.

    Donna: Yes, and they have “The Lion….” sitting there outside the Chronicles of Narnia.

    There could be a much better list.

  6. #6 Robert M. Bradford
    July 24, 2008

    I have to agree with Stephanie in recommending Emma and even though it didn’t make the list I would also recommend Mansfield Park. Also I would recommend David Copperfield it was a fun book to read.

  7. #7 llewelly
    July 25, 2008

    The Handmaid’s Tale is a gripping adventure novel that raises some very disturbing gender and political issues. Very well written, but it can be hard to read (and at the same time hard to put down) if the topics stress you.

    Lord of the Flies is also very well written, and quite disturbing, although it’s not as groundbreaking as Handmaid’s Tale.

    Dune is probably the best political intrigue novel I have ever read, and it takes place in a fascinating and unusual fantasy universe which has a number of interesting mental powers and odd technologies. Finally, it has a message about religion which is striking and disturbing.

    A Confederacy of Dunces is what every sitcom wishes it was, but falls far short of. One of the funniest books I have ever read. If you say ‘Boethius’ in the presence of an O’Toole fan, they’ll probably giggle like a school girl.

  8. #8 JanieBelle
    July 25, 2008

    Ok, two things:

    Whoever said that “The Average American has read six of these” or whatever… I think (s)he pulled that out of the ol’ rectal cavity. I want to see the data.

    I know I may be a bit more well read than “The Average American” perhaps, but I’ve read six of the first seven and eight of the first ten, right off. (And that’s counting all the Harry Potter books as one book and The Lord of the Rings books as one as well.) I can’t possibly be that more well read than “The Average American”, unless “The Average American” skipped four years of high school English classes.

    Second, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe (#36) is part of The Chronicles of Narnia (#33), and anyone who has read them would know that. Likewise Hamlet (#99) would be part of Complete Works of Shakespeare (#14) (and how many people have actually read every single thing Shakespeare wrote?) Why is The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes on the list but not the other Holmes books? That all combines to tell me much about the person who originated this meme, and lends credence to my first point.

    I’m guessing someone threw together a list of book titles copied and pasted from Amazon’s top 100 for 2007 or some such, and made up the crap about “The Average American” from whole cloth.

    All that said, I’ve read just short of half of the books on the list. (Mostly for English classes, to be honest. Some of them I would not have read otherwise, and several of them I found quite forgettable. I really really wanted to like Jane Austin, but just don’t, and the Bronte sisters make me want to stab my eyes out with a fork, for instance.)

    Exactly one book on this list falls under “started but never finished” for me, and that’s Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Ugh. Winner of the Worst Book Not Written By Denyse O’Leary Award.

    It was so bad that my senior English teacher promised an automatic ‘A’ to anyone who would read it and do a book report on it. Nobody claimed that prize. It’s a long, rambling, pointless “Days of Our Czarist-era Russian Lives” with like eleventy bajillion characters gossiping about each other. (and oh yeah some guy named Napoleon gratuitously invades) The end.

    Recommended from your list of “have not read”:

    Lolita, by Nabokov – definitely in my top five on that list, but not for the sensitive sort or the shallow, superficial type of reader.

    The Wind in the Willows, by Grahame – Great little story and worth the price of admission.

    A Tale Of Two Cities, by Dickens – Dickens actually took some getting used to for me, I didn’t care for him much at first, but by the time I got around to this one, I was a fan. Tale is probably my favorite Dickens novel.

  9. #9 ildi
    July 25, 2008

    I remember hearing that “Time Traveler’s Wife” is very good, so I just added that to my list. I wonder if it’s as good as Heinlein’s “The Door into Summer”? (Must wade through my piles of books and find that one to re-read.)

    You haven’t read Gone With the Wind? You must not be from the South… (I know I have that one here somewhere, also…)

  10. #10 Jérôme ^
    July 25, 2008

    It’s funny that there are also some non-English books in the list; for example, I read all six French books (Dumas, Hugo, Zola are great authors; Saint-Exupery is just crap however). Given how this is English-language oriented, I’m still proud to have read 21 items total, including Dickens, Adams, Shakespeare and Orwell in original English. I’m a bit surprised about including plays in the list though, since you might well have seen them but not read them.

    I wonder what a more internationalized version of this might look like. This should at least include Cervantes, Goethe, Borges, Lagerlöf (despite being « for children », Nils Holgersson is better than Saint-Exupery, and I guess every Swede read it!), perhaps Dante (but 14th-century verse is a bit hard to read); probably Balzac, Voltaire, Camus, Maupassant, Vian, La Fontaine, Céline, Rabelais, and Perrault as well, but there might be some bias here…

  11. #11 D
    July 25, 2008

    A bit arbitrary, non? Some of them are pish. I will admit to not finishing a few and only reading a few others ‘cos I was forced to.

    Anyone who thinks Iain (M) Banks finest work was the Wasp Factory hasn’t read the Excession. Or doesn’t understand SF. Both of which IMV are mortal sins.

  12. #12 chris y
    July 25, 2008

    Hey ho. What not to read? Brigit Jones bloody Diary, which was originally serialised in a newspaper and reads like it; Brideshead Revisited, unless you’re interested in religious snobbery – if you want to read Waugh, try the early, funny ones. The Complete Works of Shakespeare condemns you to ploughing through Titus Andronicus, Measure for Measure and a bunch of sub-standard early poetry: the guy was great, but he worked under a lot of pressure, and everybody has off days.

    Positive recommendations? Endorse most of those up thread. Also, Cold Comfort Farm – still ROTFL funny after all these years; The Shadow of the Wind; Lolita. Midnight’s Children remains Rushdie’s best work and is pretty good. Save Ulysses for your retirement: it’s hard work, but rewarding.

  13. #13 Derek
    July 25, 2008

    I didn’t buy into the six prediction, but it turns out I’ve read six of them.

  14. #14 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    July 25, 2008

    JanieBelle, I think whoever compiled this list did it by running through the first 100 of their bookshelf. Look at all the Hardy on there.

    As I went through the list, I realized that I spend far too much time on the internets and not enough time just reading.

    Greg, I respect you, but you are “fucked in the heed” if you don’t like Moby Dick. It’s seventeen books in one. Melville mixed in literary styles, science (even if much of it is wrong,) poetry. It’s a soup-to-nuts book.

  15. #15 scicurious
    July 25, 2008

    Phillip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” is a set that is meant to a response to CS Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia”. Both of them are really good reads.

    I agree with JanieBelle, “Lolita” is a fantastic book, incredibly well written. Also with llewelly, “The Handmaid’s Tale” is really good, I went on to read almost all of Atwood’s stuff, though I still feel Handmaid’s Tale is her best.

    I would say the Complete Works of Shakespeare are worth SEEING, but I wouldn’t necessarily want to read them all, and this is from someone who’s mother has a degree in Shakespearean Lit. They are meant to be viewed in performance, not read (in fact, I wrote a whole aesthetics term paper on that). The exceptions are of course the sonnets, but many people would argue that those also are meant to be heard in recitation. But they are almost all (with the exception of Henry VIII) well worth seeing a good performance.

    Definitely read Douglas Adams! “The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” had me in stiches, and I think I’ve read the whole series three or four times now.

    “Memoirs of a Geisha” and all the Jane Austen are excellent, but then I’m a girl, and I know most guys REALLY don’t like that stuff.

    Whoever put “Bridget Jones’ Diary” on here needs to do some REAL reading. It’s horrid and certainly doesn’t belong in some of the august company it’s listed with.

    For something NOT on the list, have you read George RR Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire”? It’s a five part series (the fifth part comes out Sept 30), and is an excellent fantasy epic.

  16. #16 Barn Owl
    July 25, 2008

    AS Byatt’s Possession is one of my favorite novels, and of the “unbolded” books on your list, it’s the one I’d recommend first. The two Garcia Marquez novels are both fantastic, but I’d recommend Love in the Time of Cholera first. I also loved The Kite Runner, Atonement, and A Prayer for Owen Meany.

    Bleak House is perhaps one of Dickens’ best novels, and I liked it well enough to read it a couple of times; though Our Mutual Friend is my favorite. Ulysses is in a class by itself, IMO; definitely worth the effort, and you might want to invest in a companion guide, such as the Gilbert book.

    I may have missed it, but it’s a shame there’s no Pynchon on the list.

  17. #17 Bee
    July 25, 2008

    I’ve read seventy-two of them, but I’ve been a book addict since I was about seven, and I’m not an American. I’m not very picky – I’ll read anything that’s available, with the possible exception of Harlequin Romances or anything by Danielle Steele (there’s always a cereal box back to read in such an emergency).

    The list just looks like a fairly voracious reader’s personal ‘life list’, especially considering what commonly familiar literature is left out.

  18. #18 Greg Laden
    July 25, 2008

    OK, let me add something about Moby Dick. This was not a case of me reading a novel because I wanted to. I never did that (which is why I have no read Lord of the Flies: I wrote the book review and passed the English test, then told my English teacher that I had never read it and please top assigning books, I’m busy reading. …. her response was perfect: OK, no more assigned readings for you, but may I recommend a few titles and you can tell me what you think?) Anyway, I was doing research pertaining to the boat on which the story Moby Dick was partly based (involved in excavating the site). Even though the research was beyond the call of duty (we just had to dig the site out before they widened the bridge) it was still me reading the fiction book in the context of research, and I’m not a lit person. So I did not enjoy it. No abstract, no useful headings, no methods section…..

    I vastly enjoyed Chase’s Diary, however, the book written by a crew member on that boat describing the cannibalism, etc. But that was not a literary work.

  19. #19 chris
    July 25, 2008

    I’d like to pile on the recommendations for “Lolita” and “Confederacy of Dunces”. It’s been a while since I read either, but they remain among my favorites.

  20. #20 Analiese
    July 25, 2008

    WOW – I seem to be a much more voracious reader according to this list (I’m at 58-72 with the partial reads included) than I do when looking through the quite different list at the first of your “here” links (Laelaps). There, I scored a 9, mainly due to Stephen Jay Gould, Goodall, and Sagan. Interestingly, however (and you should take a cue from this, Greg) the Hitchhiker’s Guide appears on BOTH lists. It is indeed a fine piece of work, guaranteed to leave you in stitches. From page 1.

    Other than that, YOU MUST READ THE KITE RUNNER!
    It will tear you apart and you will cherish the pain.

    Also LOVED: One Hundred Years of Solitude
    The Handmaid’s Tale
    Ulysses (I’m a freak for Joyce)
    A Confederacy of Dunces
    The Bell Jar

    Life of Pi and The Curious Incident…were both thoroughly enjoyable.

    @ildi: skip the Niffenegger. The gimmick just doesn’t sustain those many many pages. I did tear through it…but then wondered why??

  21. #21 Theo Bromine
    July 25, 2008

    …told my English teacher that I had never read it and please top assigning books, I’m busy reading. …. her response was perfect: OK, no more assigned readings for you, but may I recommend a few titles and you can tell me what you think?

    What a great teacher!

    (I’ve read 32, but the list does seem rather odd and somewhat haphazard)

  22. #22 StuV
    July 25, 2008

    Hitchhiker’s Guide. Immediately. Run, don’t walk. We’ll wait. (Actually, ALL of Douglas Adams — the two Dirk Gently books are not to be missed either).

    After that, you can move on to Life of Pi.

  23. #23 laurisa
    July 25, 2008

    KUDOS to all the Hitchhikers out there tearing on towards the Restaurant at the End of the Universe! Come on gLaden, Dawkins even gave dAdams big ups in Delusion. Go ahead and get The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide. There are so many ridiculous events that seem EXACTLY like working in Africa!! Brilliant series. Besides, it spawned the best saying in the whole world “so long and thanks for all the fish!” I use that daily.

    Call me Ishmael, but I appreciate Mike’s comment. What an excuse: ‘I’m a researcher not a reader.’ greg.

    The Color Purple is amazing. The 5 in Heaven was lame. And maybe my french isn’t that great but I am reading Saint-Exupery and find it humorous.

  24. #24 greg laden
    July 25, 2008

    I may well read the HH Guide shortly. But I do want you all to know this: The HH series started as a radio show, and I listened to that when it was first available in the US, and saw much of the early TV show. To me, the guide is a secondary product. (I’ve browsed through it, of course).

    Also on radio in those days were: The Seven Towers of Invergress; Firesign Theater, and an obscure British group called Money something or another.

    I just listed to one of the Firsign Theater albums the other day …. brilliant stuff.

  25. #25 Stephanie Z
    July 25, 2008

    Come on, folks. Give Greg a break on the Melville. Haven’t you ever had a close friend rabidly recommend a book, only to read it and say, “Meh”?

    Sometimes it just takes one thing to ruin even a well-written book. For me, it’s when the ending is predetermined (to me). Everyone I know who’s read it loves Hughart’s Bridge of Birds, but I looked around in the middle, listed the characters and mysteries, and drew all the lines. After that, I had a tough time reading without calling the characters idiots, because even the “smart” ones were ignoring the economics.

    One of my best friends is completely puzzled over the reaction of just about everyone he knows to Kushner’s Swordspoint. It’s my favorite book, all politics and identity. He just sees a muddle of unsympathetic characters. The lack of a hero to root for spoils it for him.

    So Greg doesn’t like Moby Dick. Big deal. Surely you can find something better to yell at him about.

  26. #26 laurisa
    July 25, 2008

    ok stephanie, lemme try…..

    hey greg, you’re a jackass!

    or whatever. I did know that hitchhiker’s was a radio show and can appreciate that you have had exposure. after such high recommendations, of course, I may have to look into that Firesign bit.

    what’s the bit with the da vinci code? people love or hate it. was that the movie with tHanks maybe?

  27. #27 Stephanie Z
    July 25, 2008

    See? Much more satisfying, right?

    My understanding on the Da Vinci code is that reaction to it depends largely on how new the ideas are to you and your tolerance for strange metaphors.

  28. #28 Ana
    July 25, 2008

    This list (and just who’s list is it?) is making my brain hurt. And not just for the inclusion of Nuffinburger…

    There is not a single Vonnegut!

    Also not on the list is “Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress,” and it should be. Read that one too. All of you. It’s a treasure.

  29. #29 Greg Laden
    July 25, 2008

    There is not a single Vonnegut!

    … which definitely makes this NOT a list of great books or a comprehensive list of the must reads. I like Mike’s theory: These were the books on the shelf at the time of the offense.

    I liked Da Vinci code. It was a perfectly good junk novel. I loved the fact that many people freaked out about it.

  30. #30 Bumper
    July 25, 2008

    If you have a child Swallows and Amazons might be good to read together (especially now that it is summertime). I happened to find it and read it when I was a kid living for a short time in England. Its an adventure story with a group of youngsters who spend their summer living on a little island, sailing around and having all sorts of good fun. Just the thing you wish you could do when you are that age.

    Bridget Jones is a joke. At first I didn’t remember I’d read it. Then I remembered all the weight notations at the beginnings of the entries. Skip it.

    In recent years I’ve read Time Traveler’s Wife, Curious Incident, and the Lovely Bones, all of which I recommend. For a classic, I recommend A Tale of Two Cities; read it several times, still enjoy it. Loved Hitchhiker’s Guide too.

  31. #31 Anne Gilbert
    July 25, 2008

    I must be an oddball. I read War and Peace not once, but twice. From cover to cover. I didn’t really have any trouble with it. Well, I take that back. I did. The first quarter of it(and I think that’s what tends to “throw” a lot of people), were the names. Tolstoy used the Russian convention of naming everybody by name and patronymic, which isn’t used in most other places(at least in the West). It was fortunate I’d studied some Russian when I read it, otherwise, I would have been just as put off as others who never finished it. OTOH, I’m not sure I could read it again at the present time. As for the others, I think I’ve read about half the works on the list, many of them the bolded ones. And no, I haven’t read Moby Dick.
    Anne G

  32. #32 Doug Alder
    July 26, 2008

    I did this list (or one very much like it) back in March. It’s a fun exercise 🙂

  33. #33 hysperia
    July 29, 2008

    Wev where whoever came up with the list – this was kinda fun. Even just to be reminded of some of these books. I’ve read 65 of them, I’m a Canadian and yeah, I probably read more than the avergae Canadian, but I did read a great many of them during the course of my high school education. However, that was a long time ago now …


  34. #34 hysperia
    July 29, 2008

    Oh, btw, I started “Moby Dick” and just couldn’t hack it. I’ve started it many times, as one of those books that everyone “should” read, and found it intolerably boring. I love that first line though, “Call me Ishmael.” Don’t know why.