Books You Must Read
By D. J. McAdam
I will begin this introduction to the list below in the worst possible way, which is by apologizing for the title. No one must read anything, in the sense of being compelled to read something by another.
But those of us who love books, and who love reading, know that we must read. The command is self-generated, and will not be denied. To travel my morning commute into Washington without a book to read on the train is a punishment that I would not wish on my worst enemies. Actually, I exaggerate; I have no “worst enemies,” and those that I disliked in the past were generally illiterate, anyway. But I digress.
As I was saying, we – people like you and I – must read. We must finish a book, and then begin another. Sometimes, this transition is an easy one; at other times, less so. There are occasions when we are forced to ask ourselves, “What book should I read next?” There are times – dreadful times – when we find no easy answer to this question, when we wrack our brains until we reach a point when no book seems like the right choice.
This happened to me recently. I thrashed about for a week, figuratively, or at least semi-figuratively. I became sullen. I was morose. The sunny skies of literature darkened. All was dark, gray, gloomy, and empty.
That was when the thought came to me. If I didn’t know what to read next – and, clearly, I didn’t – maybe someone else did.
There are hundreds – thousands, perhaps – of recommended reading lists. I read all of them. They were all (well, almost all) some help, and I am back to reading again. But the thought occurred to me that none of them was quite perfect. The list below may not be perfect, either, but I did have a specific design in mind when embarking upon assembling it. I thought it better to offer a list of books one must read then a list of the 100 greatest books of all time, whatever they may be. In other words, the books on this list are books you want to be sure to read; whether or not they are great, or the greatest, is a moot point.
A few more words of introduction, then we’ll surge ahead. First, the list is not in a specific order, so you do not have to follow the order that the books are in. Dive in anywhere, or choose every fifth book, or something like that. Second, the list is one that I plan on adding to in the future; thus, if your absolute best, most favorite, most loved book is not on the list, please do not despair. Third, I am obviously not free of bias in terms of reading preferences. English is my primary language, I live in the United States, and I am male. The list no doubt reflects this orientation, though I would like to say that there seems to be a tendency which did not exist when I was young of male readers feeling a need to read male writers, and females reading female writers. I can assure you that this is an utterly ridiculous approach to reading, and any male who is too self conscious to board a train with a copy of Jane Eyre under his arm should reproach himself for silliness. Fourth, I have only listed books that I have actually read and enjoyed, an approach which certainly could leave out a great deal of worthwhile books.
At any rate, the next time you ask yourself, “What should I read next?” I hope this list will prove helpful.
Books You Must Read
- Plato, The Republic
- Homer, The Odyssey
- William Shakespeare – One really must read all of Shakespeare.
- Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights
- Nathaniel Hawthorne, The House of the Seven Gables
- Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo. If one is reading this in the English translation, one would wish to read the unabridged version, translated by Robin Buss. If one has only read the abridged version, one owes it to oneself to read the full version.
- Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
- Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
- Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White. This is the book Collins himself considered his masterpiece, though he is better remembered for The Moonstone. It is, perhaps, the most meticulously plotted of all Victorian novels.
- Owen Wister, The Virginian
- Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment
- Franz Kafka, The Trial
- Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
- James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
- Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
- Herman Melville, Moby Dick
- Egar Allan Poe, Complete Short Stories
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, Collected Essays
- Henry David Thoreau, Walden. In my mind, Thoreau and Emerson should be read regularly by all Americans, but that’s just one man’s opinion.
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
- Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre
- Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles
- Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales
- Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
- Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
- Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
- Hermann Hesse, The Glass Bead Game
- Bram Stoker, Dracula
- Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels
- Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography
- Jack London, The Call of the Wild
- Henry James, The American
- Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome
- Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
- Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
- George Orwell, Animal Farm
- Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon
- Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep
- P. G. Wodehouse, Carry On, Jeeves
- Jules Verne, A Journey to the Center of the Earth
- Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe
- Robert Louis Stevenson, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
- Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot
- Sherwood Anderson, Winesburg, Ohio
- Henry James, Daisy Miller
- E. W. Hornung, Raffles, The Amateur Cracksman
- Henry James, Washington Square
- James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson
- Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged. This is the book you must read, but you might want to read The Fountainhead first.
- F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
- John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
- Hermann Hesse, Demian
- Hermann Hesse, Steppenwolf
- Albert Camus, The Stranger
- Jack Kerouac, On the Road
- Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
- Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
- George Orwell, 1984
- Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
- Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
- Sun Tzu, The Art of War
- Thomas Paine, Common Sense and Other Essays
- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
- Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front
- St. Augustine, Confessions
- Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote
- W. Somerset Maugham, The Razor’s Edge
- W. Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage
- H. G. Wells, The Time Machine
- Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac
- Ernest Dimnet, The Art of Thinking
- Anne Rice, The Witching Hour
- Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, Brimstone. One could actually recommend all of the Agent Pendergast novels; if one were to begin at the beginning, one would choose Relic and proceed from there.
- Thomas Hardy, The Return of the Native
- Ivan Turgenev, Fathers and Sons
Books Under Consideration (A Sampling)
Origin of Species, Common Sense, Utopia, Ivanhoe, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, Compleat Angler, Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Mecca, Travels of Marco Polo, The Moonstone, Death in Venice, Les Miserables, Vanity Fair, David Copperfield, The Cloister and the Hearth, The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon, Treasure Island, The Vicar of Wakefield, St. Leon, Fahrenheit 451, Marius the Epicurean, The Red and the Black . . .
Books I Definitely Decided Not to Place On the List
To Kill a Mockingbird, The Way We Live Now, tons of other books….
Other – and Perhaps Wiser – Opinions
- 100 Best Books, by John Cowper Powys