Books, Books, Books

Via Tom, a big long list of books with which to showcase either my broad cultural background or pathetic cultural ignorance. As Tom’s original source notes, the claim that most Americans have only read six of these is kind of hard to credit, given that I was assigned more than six of them by the time I finished high school.

As always with Top N lists, I have to wonder where this mess came from. I mean, I like Bill Bryson, but Notes From a Small Island doesn’t fit in this. And The Wasp Factory?

It’d probably be more fun to get hundreds of people to go through this list and mark which books they liked, and which ones they thought were a complete waste of time. Maybe I’ll do that some other time– for now, the list below the fold has books I’ve read in bold, and books I started but didn’t finish in italics.

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

Comments

  1. #1 Janne
    July 23, 2008

    Not really my own culture so I have pretty large gaps here. Read books listed below; really enjoyed marked with (+), waste of time marked with (-). Not listing books I never finished.

    2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien (+)
    4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling (+)
    5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
    6 The Bible (-)
    8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell
    10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
    14 Complete Works of Shakespeare (+,-) – clumping together twenty-something works into one does not strike me as a good idea.
    16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
    25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams (+)
    27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky (-)
    29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll (+)
    30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Graham
    32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
    33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis
    36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis
    40 Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne
    41 Animal Farm – George Orwell (+)
    49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding (-)
    52 Dune – Frank Herbert
    57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
    65 Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
    66 On The Road – Jack Kerouac (-)
    70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville
    71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
    72 Dracula – Bram Stoker (+)
    81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
    89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
    92 The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery
    97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
    98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare

  2. #2 RyanG
    July 23, 2008

    Sadly I’ve only read 18 of them… and even that’s just because the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe apparently counts twice for some reason.

  3. #3 Scott Spiegelberg
    July 23, 2008

    Why do they have #33 and #36 as separate entities? TThe only other one like that is Shakespeare’s complete works vs. Hamlet.

  4. #4 perry
    July 23, 2008

    16 here. Many more if it counts if you’ve seen the movie!!!!! :-)

  5. #5 chezjake
    July 23, 2008

    I’ve read 48 of them — many because I had college courses in the 19th Century English Novel and 19th Century French Literature.

    There’s still some huge gaps in that list – no Hemingway? no Camus? no Faulkner?

  6. #6 Markk
    July 23, 2008

    What is this supposed to measure? Dan Brown is on the list for heavens sake. If you didn’t read the DaVinci Code it should count as a plus. The Wasp Factory though. What an odd list.

  7. #7 JSinger
    July 23, 2008

    The DaVinci Code is actually worth a look if you’re interested in the craft of writing; it’s absolutely dreadful but somehow still compelling. I hated it starting from maybe page 2 but still couldn’t resist plowing through about a third of it.

  8. #8 Matt
    July 24, 2008

    Here’s my honest list. There’s another several I started but somehow didn’t finish (usually started at a friends’s house but couldn’t bring home). Frankly there’s a pretty good number in the wider list that I’m ashamed not to have read yet, but at least I do get to read books at a reasonable pace even in grad school. There’s also probably a dozen more on the list that I own but haven’t read yet. And finally, there’s no books on here that I consider a waste of time. All of them were enjoyable reads.

    Here’s the ones I have read to completion:

    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
    8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell
    10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
    12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
    16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
    25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
    27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
    33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis
    36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis
    40 Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne
    43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
    52 Dune – Frank Herbert
    57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
    65 Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
    81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
    87 Charlotte’s Web – EB White
    89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
    98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare

  9. #9 llewelly
    July 24, 2008

    I’ve read 54 of those books – but there is some real garbage on that list, like Lolita, Anna Karennia, The Da Vinci Code, Dracula just to mention a few. There are also a lot of books which, while not exactly bad, are just generic adventure novels like The Three Musketeers , which have no more unique cultural content than a pot-boiler read-one-and-you’ve-read-them-all Clive Cussler or Ian Flemming novel. The good books more than make up for the bad, but it’s a very uneven list, if I judge it by the 54 I’ve read.

  10. #10 woot
    July 24, 2008

    Lolita is garbage? I consider it the finest piece of literature I’ve ever read, and I read constantly.

  11. #11 'As You Know' Bob
    July 24, 2008

    …the claim that most Americans have only read six of these is kind of hard to credit, given that I was assigned more than six of them by the time I finished high school.

    The median American has a high school education – and even when they were in school, the typical American probably wasn’t one of the kids on the ‘academic’ track. (And probably not doing the assigned reading, either.)

    I work in an office that’s almost entirely college graduates, and most of my co-workers don’t read.

  12. #12 asad
    July 24, 2008

    2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
    4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling
    5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
    8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell
    13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
    16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
    18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
    22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald
    25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
    27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
    28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
    29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
    33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis
    36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis
    37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
    41 Animal Farm – George Orwell
    42 The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
    49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding
    51 Life of Pi – Yann Martel
    52 Dune – Frank Herbert
    57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
    58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
    60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
    61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
    62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
    70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville
    87 Charlotte’s Web – EB White
    88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom
    95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole

    29. Not bad for a physicist.

    Asad

  13. #13 George
    July 24, 2008

    @#9: Tolstoy is garbage? Nabokov is garbage? Have you actually read either of those books?

  14. #14 Jefrir
    July 24, 2008

    I’ve read 28 of them, and most of those were by the time I was twelve due to the large number of children’s books on there. Mind you, I’m quite capable of getting through five books a week when I’ve got nothing pressing to do.
    Not reading the things even though they are assigned in school isn’t hard to understand: even I didn’t read all the books I got assigned for uni and I like reading. Unless you’re actually going to pass or fail on the basis of having read the book, a large number of the kids aren’t going to bother.

  15. #15 theoreticalminimum
    July 24, 2008

    I read only 4! Frankly, this is quite an odd list.

  16. #16 CCPhysicist
    July 24, 2008

    My list (I think I counted 24 read completely) is on my blog along with two comments about books I found oddly missing: one by Updike, the other by Halliday and Resnick.

    I concur 100% that the NEA has a very odd list. I’m sure some are children’s books because children are in the target audience … but why not Hemingway’s collected short stories or Huck Finn?

  17. #17 Zeno
    July 24, 2008

    My count seems to be thirty-four of those books. Funny, The Wasp Factory is one of the few books by Iain Banks that I haven’t read yet. Love his stuff, especially when he uses the name “Iain M. Banks.” Banks uses his middle initial when he writes sf.

    Weird list, though.

  18. #18 Eric Lund
    July 24, 2008

    It is indeed a curious list. Several of the books on the list were published in the last ten years or so: The Kite Runner, Memoirs of a Geisha, The DaVinci Code, and The Lovely Bones, to name four. That’s too soon to call something a classic. Some of the other authors on that list are still alive.

    The omissions are curious, too. In addition to the omissions that Jake #5 noted, there is nothing by Borges, Chaucer, or Grimm.

    I’ve read about 25 of those books. That includes one (One Hundred Years of Solitude) that I have read only in the original Spanish.

  19. #19 Ben M
    July 24, 2008

    I think the inclusion of “Da Vinci Code” etc. is appropriate for an NEA project to promote reading. Imagine yourself as a not-particularly-active reader. You stumble across a site encouraging you to read, which asks how many books you’ve read on this list.

    If the list consists entirely of high-culture literature (“Have you read Lolita? Remembrance of Things Past? The Epic of Gilgamesh? The complete works of Haldor Laxness?”, the target audience won’t recognize most of the works, and may well have read exactly zero. That’s not a source of encouragement; that doesn’t make you want to pick up one of the listed books to get yourself from zero to one. It makes you feel like an outsider—like a foreigner to the bookish community responsible for such lists.

    On the other hand, including “Da Vinci” and “Harry Potter” means that millions of people can score 1 or 2 instead of zero. Including recent (and well-promoted) books like “Time Traveler’s Wife” means that some of the people who scored 2 will have recently heard of a good candidate to get them to 3.

    If the list consists entirely of Western Canon Classics, it’s nothing but a self-congratulation tool for the already-well-read. That’s a reasonable thing to have, but I’m glad that the NEA is also serving casual readers.

    (The double-inclusion of Shakespeare and Narnia is just sloppy, though.)

  20. #20 Jennifer Ouellette
    July 24, 2008

    The key phrase here is “most Americans.” The people inclined to take the challenge are those most likely to have read more than six. They’re probably more likely to be better educated than the average American, too. It’s hard to believe, I know, but there are a huge number of people in America who almost never read books, and when they do choose to read a book, it’s probably not going to be “literature.”

  21. #21 Alex
    July 24, 2008

    Counting only the ones I’ve read cover-to-cover, I get 31. Then there are another 10 that I’ve partially read or been exposed to in other forms: condensed versions, movies, or other adaptations (I saw the operatic version of “The Handmaid’s Tale” – with Margaret Atwood in attendance, even).

    Like Asad said, not bad for a physicist.

    My favorite on the list is probably “One Hundred Years of Solitude”. The first time I read it, I tore through it in one sitting. Every few years or so I decide to read something written by whoever won the Nobel Prize in Literature that year, and I’ve always found myself disappointed when they’re not as good as Garcia Marquez.

    The only one on the list I haven’t read in English was “Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal”, which I picked up in Mexico to practice my Spanish. Later, when I watched the first Harry Potter movie, I found it a little disconcerting that they were all speaking English.

  22. #22 Ray
    July 25, 2008

    This list isn’t on the NEA Big read site anywhere that I can find, and I have no reason to believe it has anything to do with the NEA.
    It looks like the usual kind of ’100 books’ list that floats around the blogosphere – a bunch of classics and assigned reading to lend credibility, sprinkled with crap that kidnaps that credibility, shoots it in the back of the head and buries it in a snowdrift by the side of the road, the day before the thaw.

  23. #23 Ray
    July 25, 2008

    Two better lists
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2002/may/08/books.booksnews
    (31)
    http://www.randomhouse.com/modernlibrary/100bestnovels.html
    (the one on the left obviously)(28)
    and here’s 100 books from a British poll for World Book Day, which seems to be the source for the list above
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1544033/The-top-100-books.html

  24. #24 Chad Orzel
    July 25, 2008

    Thanks for the better lists.
    The source linked in the post did mention that the list was lifted from a British surce, but I didn’t look for the original. It was pretty obviously a list originating in the YooKay, given the lack of perennial school asignments like The Scarlet Letter or anything by Twain, but it’s good to have it confirmed.

    As to the question of how many of these average people will have read, I’m completely willing to believe that nobody reads these for pleasure, but my opinion of the claim is low because seven of those (counting the Narnia books only once, plus number 5, 41, 49, 57, 61, and 98) were part of the regular curriculum in my school (that is, not honors or AP classes) several of those before the high-school level.

    You can quibble about whether that actually counts as “reading” them, but anybody with a high-school diploma from Whitney Point in the 80′s (which wasn’t exactly Phillips Andover) has at least had to look at the pages of seven of those books. If you used an American-generated list, that number would almost certainly be higher.

  25. #25 Ian
    July 25, 2008

    I’m sorry we’re wasting bandwidth and server space on something like this. It’s really nothing better than a chain-email based on a Pavlovian effect. People see a list they want to be a part of, or be excluded from, or see a quiz they can’t help but check out and suddenly everyone is knee-jerking.

    Plus if it’s a British list, it’s no use recalling what you may have been required to study in a US school!

    Talk about the LHC instead, Chad! C’mon! you know you want to. You know we want to read it….

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