What Books Should You Read to Be Well-Read?

atkins-bookshelf-booksSince American poet and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson was a well-read person, it is not surprising how important books were to him; he wrote in one of his journals: “A man is known by the books he reads, by the company he keeps, by the praise he gives, by his dress, by his tastes, by his distastes, by the stories he tells, by his gait, by the notion of his eye, by the look of his house, of his chamber; for nothing on earth is solitary but every thing hath affinities infinite.” Emerson is absolutely right — you can judge a person by the books that he or she has read. So often we hear that a particular person is “well-read.” But what does it really mean to be well-read?

Fortunately, the well-read folks in the GoodReads community put down their books long enough to conduct a poll to provide a precise answer to the important question: which books do you need to read to be considered well-read? Rather than taking the easy route and simply suggesting the Western Canon (via The Great Books or the Harvard Classics) they came up with a helpful list of 100 books — consisting of classic or contemporary novels, short story anthologies, poems, and plays — that a person should read to earn the title (pun intended) of being “well-read.” In short, their list is a precise literary roadmap to becoming well-read. God bless their hearts. Most readers will recognize all the authors and titles (incidentally, Shakespeare and Dickens are the most frequently cited authors, each with four titles; however the least known title is The Man Without Qualities by Austrian author Robert Musil. Musil’s 1,774-page unfinished magnum opus has been compared to James Joyce’s Ulysses (number 91 on the list) and Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (number 51 on the list).

Here are the first 50 titles in the list of books you should read to be well-read:

1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
2. Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse
3. The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil
4. The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge by Rainer Maria Rilke
5. 1984 by George Orwell
6. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
7. Animal Farm by George Orwell
8. The Arabian Nights by various translators
9. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
10. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
11. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
12 Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
13. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
14. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
15. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
16. Macbeth by William Shakespeare
17. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
18. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
19. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
20. Hamlet by William Shakespeare
21 Last of Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper
22. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
23. Dracula by Bram Stoker
24. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
25. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
26. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
27. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
28. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
29. The Iliad by Homer
30. The Agricola and The Germania by Tacitus
31. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
32. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
33. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
34. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
35. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
36. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
37. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
38. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
39. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
40. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
41. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
42. The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry (William Sydney Porter)
43. The Stranger by Albert Camus
44. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
45. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
46. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll
47. Brave New World and Brave New World Revisited by Aldous Huxley
48. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
49. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
50. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Read related posts: The Books That Shaped America
The Books that Influence Us
What to Read Next
30 Books Everyone Should Read
50 Books That Will Change Your Life

The Most Assigned Books in College Classrooms

For further reading: http://www.goodreads.com/list/show/6747.Books_you_need_to_read_to_be_considered_well_read?page=1

Why is the Western Canon Important?

atkins-bookshelf-literatureThe Western canon, the books that scholars consider the most important intellectual and influential works that have shaped Western culture, has been debated since the publication of the 54-volume Great Books of the Western World in 1952. Critics of the Western canon argue that the works do not reflect modern viewpoints (political, religious, moral, cultural, etc.) from around the world; in short, they are written mostly by “dead, white guys from Europe.”

Two of the most passionate defenders of the Western canon are Allan Bloom, from the University of Chicago, and Harold Bloom, from Yale. (Although they have the same last name, the two Blooms are not related.) Allan Bloom wrote the influential The Closing of the American Mind in 1987. Almost a decade later, Harold Bloom continued the discussion of the classics with The Western Canon: the Books and School of the Ages published in 1995.

In a fascinating interview with Eleanor Wachtel, host of CBS Radio’s Original Minds, Bloom fervently explains why the Western canon is important and should be taught:

“A canon is a list. That’s all. We need it because we have to read Shakespeare; we have to study Dante; we have to read Chaucer, Cervantes, the Bible; … we have to read Proust, Tolstoy, Dickens, George Eliot and Jane Austen. It is inescapable that we have to read Joyce and Samuel Beckett. These are absolutely crucial writers. They provide an intellectual — dare I say a spiritual — value which has nothing to do with organized religion or the history of institutional belief. They remind us in every sense of re-minding us. They not only tell us things that we have forgotten but they tell us things we couldn’t possibly know without them. And they reform our minds. They make our minds stronger; they make us more vital. They make us alive!”





For further reading: The Books That Shaped America
The Books that Influence Us
What to Read Next
50 Books That Will Change Your Life

The Most Assigned Books in College Classrooms