Reading Lists

11/24 UPDATE: The more I look at the list below, the more it annoys me.

First, not only is all the formatting totally apesh*t, but it doesn’t even accurately capture the ones I put in blue. What I see as I compose this is not what happens when I publish this post, so you really won’t know which 35 I have read. My sense of tidiness and order is hugely offended by the mishmash that follows. I suppose I could learn something about HTML and fix it, but ye gods, I can’t know everything.

Second, Steve and Simon and others are right about the oddness of this list. It isn’t the first time I have seen it around the interwebs. In my excitement about a book list (any book list) I didn’t really think critically about what was on it. Although I did notice the Shakespeare duplication and the absolute dubiosity (I think I just made that word up, and I like it.) of Mitch Albom being on the list, I really didn’t think about what a crap list it is for the reasons that some of you noted in the comments and for others.

Most reading lists are bound to elicit praise and criticism in varying doses, it kind of goes with the territory. A vast world of books and a vast world of readers with different tastes and points of view, could there be any other result. I will say, however, that for all its faults the Modern Library Top 100 of the 20th century does a much better job than the “BBC list” of capturing some sense of great books that literate English speakers might consider canon-worthy.

Plus on the Modern Library list, I have read 61 out of 100 so I look a whole lot better. (Of course I have been purposefully reading from that list since it first came out in the late 1990s.)  You may already have noticed I have a permanent page up top devoted to my intermittent devotion to that list. You can also look at it here.

And many thanks to dpv at The Hogpath Bugle who gives us a great link that deals with the provenance of this FB meme.

My friend Staci posted this on FB, but FB wouldn’t let me paste this into a note. So I am posting it here. [And now Blogger is doing funny things to the font. Sorry it ain’t pretty.]
Have you read more than 6 of these books? The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books listed here.  
Staci thought I would have read about 90% of these. She was wrong, but with 35 read, I certainly did better than 6.
I am putting the ones I have read in blue.
The ones in italics I have partially read.
The ones with the strike through are the ones I am VERY unlikely to even want to read.

 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 Faulk
 18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
 19 The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
 20 Middlemarch – George Eliot
 21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
 22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald
 24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
 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 
 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 – A.A. 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 Meaney – 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 Inferno – Dante  
 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 – E.B. 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 – Enid Blyton
 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

29 thoughts on “Reading Lists

  1. Mystica November 23, 2010 / 5:37 pm

    I was chuffed that I did well myself. So many of the books were text books for me!!! Hardy and Dickens and Austen and Shakespeare and Dumas!!! Thank God for my literature teacher. I think she did a good job with me as she inculcated a love of literature very early on.


  2. Susan in TX November 23, 2010 / 5:44 pm

    Fifty-seven. Many of them were required at some point in my life, though. There were a few I have never heard of, and one that I abandoned. Like you, there are also some that I will never read. Interesting list.


  3. Ted November 23, 2010 / 7:50 pm

    52, much to my surprise. Happy Thanksgiving, Thomas.


  4. Paperback Reader November 23, 2010 / 8:09 pm

    61 read counting the duplicates and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare – I haven't read them all but am so close to it that it is a feat in itself!

    This has done the rounds on FB several times but I remember when The Big Read first aired (who knows who they actually surveyed but everyone I know has read way more than 6). Around 2003/4 my book group chose a few we hadn't read to read & A Prayer for Owen Meany became one of my favourite books.


  5. StuckInABook November 23, 2010 / 9:17 pm

    42 for me… some very odd choices on there, as well as some duplications (Hamlet and The Complete Works of Shakespeare – is someone not telling me something?)

    Can't BELIEVE you haven't read Winnie the Pooh – do it! The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe also brilliant. And the Faraway Tree books… this isn't making me look as erudite as I'd hoped, just picking out the children's books…


  6. StuckInABook November 23, 2010 / 9:18 pm

    Oh, and I loved The Big Read when it was on – although this list isn't the same as the one they had. Lots of similarities, though.


  7. Emily Barton November 23, 2010 / 10:10 pm

    Oooo, this is great. I must copy it and do it on my own.


  8. music-books-steve November 24, 2010 / 12:27 am

    I've read about 29. Here's the note that I've been leaving on FB when friends post this. It's long so will probably take a few posts.

    My total is around 29 or so. There a two or three that I can't honestly remember whether I've read. Does it count double if you've read them twice? (I may be one of the few who has read both Ulysses and the Bible.) Odd list in many ways; very Anglo-centric and predominantly prose, but even so, why no Twain, no Cather, no epics (Milton, Homer), no Hemingway, no Faulkner, no Qur'an, and even among the big Brits, no Trollope, no Graham Greene?

    I'm embarrassed to admit there are several I've never heard of. And I hereby announce that I have no intention of ever reading a word of Mitch Albom.


  9. music-books-steve November 24, 2010 / 12:28 am

    This list comes by every so often from one friend or another, and I'm always just as mystified by it as I am now. WHAT is the common denominator? — certainly not literary merit, certainly not popularity (though this comes close, I think)…, certainly not “the books one SHOULD have read” — maybe it's “books that sometimes come up in conversation with reasonably literate middle class Brits” [?] (explaining, also, the nostalgic dose of books from the British nursery and adolescence). Seems a bit heavy on books that were later adapted as films, which sort of fits my “conversation” theory (and explains the presence of relatively minor authors like Stella Gibbons, but making the absence of Forster even more peculiar.)

    But, golly, Bill Bryson on the same list as Jane Austen!? And the COMPLETE works of Shakespeare??? Wouldn't, say, “any six complete plays,” be a little more realistic? And why does Hamlet get an independent listing of its own? The Tolkien Rings AND the Hobbit on a list that includes only a hundred works!!!


  10. Sandra November 24, 2010 / 12:43 am

    Interesting. I've read 28 with several others unfinished so not bad really.


  11. dpv November 24, 2010 / 1:49 am

    I’ve read “The Little Prince” in English and French, and parts of it in Italian. Does that count as one book or two and a half?

    Thomas, for your readers who are interested in the source and/or validity of this meme, refer them to


  12. Mary November 24, 2010 / 2:59 am

    54 for me. Our FB group decided it was a list for middle-aged women…which most of us are!!


  13. lizzysiddal November 24, 2010 / 3:45 am

    I haven't seen this before so was surprised to find that I score 65! Some were read a long, long time ago and I don't remember much about them but they still count don't they?


  14. Mrs. B. November 24, 2010 / 5:25 am

    I've read 44. You can read which ones at my blog today. No wonder I'm having a hard time choosing my next classic. I desperately need some recommendations before the end of the year.


  15. Thomas at My Porch November 24, 2010 / 9:13 am

    Mystica: The list certainly makes me want to go pick up my unread copy of The Count of Monte Cristo.

    Susan: Do you ever have the urge to go back and read those old required books just for fun?

    Ted: Thanks. I hope you havea great Thanksgiving as well.

    Claire: I avoided Owen Meany for years. Finally, after three very different friends all independently told me I needed to read it, I did. And I too loved it. In fact it helped me focus my life at the time in a really positive way.

    Simon: I will read Winnie the Pooh, I defeinitely want to check out the Faraway Tree books, but The Lion…may be asking too much.

    Emily: On second thought, check out the Modern Library list instead.

    Steve: As you will notice from the update I posted, your comments got me riled up. I could say ditto to everything you said. Although I have to say I think Bill Bryson is the kind of guy Jane Austen would marry.

    Sandra: Do you want to go back and finish any of the unfinished titles?

    dpv: Thanks so much for that link. I am usually quite the doubting Thomas, but it never occurred to me to take a Snopsian approach to this meme.

    Mary: Middle age. Sigh. I guess I should be happy if I get 41 more years.

    Lizzy: Oh yeah, they count. I had to stop myself in a few cases because I realized that I only thought I had read them or in one case I had only seen the movie.

    Mrs B: I will look at your list and see if I can think of anything to recommend.

    Polly: We readers do enjoy a list don't we?


  16. C.B. James November 24, 2010 / 11:22 am

    I got a 67 myself. Has anyone seen the original source? I have a hard time believing this came from the BBC. The BBC has several “World Book Club” type programs. They're well aware of English language literature throughout the world.

    And there really are not that many “English” titles on the list.


  17. Steph November 24, 2010 / 11:51 am

    I have read almost half the list – 49 books. Some of the books that I read were very good, but some were crap (The Da Vinci Code, anyone?). I have no idea how this hodgepodge of a list was compiled, but I certainly wouldn't be using it as a guide to future books I ought to read. Still, it was fun to see how many of them I could check off!


  18. jane November 24, 2010 / 11:51 am

    I've read 50 of them although a couple of those (Life of Pi, 5 people you meet in heaven, the da Vinci code) I really wish I hadn't, and several I quite desperately wish I had. As has been said, it is rather a peculiar list – although notable omissions in such a short list are more excusable than including any of the above 3 novels. It is also rather peculiar to include the Bible and leave out other holy texts, others of which (especially the Bhagavad Gita) have a lot more to offer non-believers than the Bible does.

    The Modern Library list is one I would love to work through though, and the Time Magazine list is promising too (it is described as the 'all time 100 novels' but actually only chooses from those published from 1923 onwards:,29569,1951793,00.html Also amusing is the article linked to in which the two responsible for the list describe how they came up with it, and its intended purpose. I quote:

    One is to instruct. The other of course is to enrage. We're bracing ourselves for the e-mails that start out: “You moron! You pathetic bourgeoise insect! How could you have left off…(insert title here).” We say Mrs. Dalloway. You say Mrs. Bridge. We say Naked Lunch. You say Breakfast at Tiffanys. Let's call the whole thing off? Just the opposite—bring it on. Sometimes judgment is best formed under fire. But please, no e-mails about Ulysses. Rules are rules.


  19. LifetimeReader November 24, 2010 / 11:58 am

    How wonderful to see Swallows and Amazons on the list! My whole family loves Ransome's entire series, but the main title is our very favorite, followed by Winter Holiday. I think you might love these–very cosy and wonderful.


  20. Mrs. B. November 24, 2010 / 6:47 pm

    Just back to say that I'm getting some great ideas of what to read next from both lists and people's comments. I see you haven't read any Hardy (start with Tess) or the Woman in White. You simply must!


  21. Susan in TX November 25, 2010 / 1:10 am

    Actually, yes, to your question. I've been re-reading some of those required books with my kids and enjoying them so much more the second time around — and I think helping their “first” taste of them to be a little more palatable than my own were. :)


  22. irisonbooks November 25, 2010 / 8:12 am

    I have read 28. I am using the fact that I'm not-English (an excuse Stu helped me come up with) and that the list is very weird, as an excuse for why I have read so little of the books on there.


  23. StuckInABook November 25, 2010 / 8:11 pm

    Do try Winnie the Pooh, I think it's best as an adult… thinking about it, I'm not sure the same could be said for the Faraway Tree books – might only be enjoyable for children. On The Lion etc.. ok, probably for the same reasons that I wouldn't read Philip Pullman…(!)


  24. agoodstoppingpoint November 26, 2010 / 7:34 pm

    like dpv, when this came around on Facebook, I poked around to find the origin of the list. I ended up putting the original list up on my Facebook profile instead of the meme's list, and remarked that the only thing it shows is how close my reading experience is to the taste of the British public. :)

    But we readers do love a book list!

    – Christy


  25. Thomas at My Porch November 27, 2010 / 8:29 am

    CB: The BBC list has about 30 books that are different than this one.

    Steph: The Da Vinci Code was crap on so many levels, but I still enjoyed reading it. (blushing)

    Jane: I must go look at that Time list.

    Lifetime: I don't know anything about those books. I should look into them.

    Mrs. B: I have read The Mayor of Casterbridge and have started Tess a few times.

    Susan: That sounds like fun.

    Iris: It is very weird.

    Simon: Now I need to find out who Philip Pullman is.

    Claire: So when are your going to finish the final 28?

    Christy: I haven't taken a close enough look at the BBC list. I will have to do then when I look at the Time list.


  26. Paperback Reader November 27, 2010 / 3:21 pm

    Hm, over the next few years? ;) The majority of them are books I won but I've heard The Shadow of the Wind is woeful so I doubt I'll complete the list… Some of the other dreadful additions I have already read (and wish I hadn't).


  27. Ash December 6, 2010 / 12:49 am

    I've read 30, and I'm only twenty so I'd say that's pretty good.


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