I often have strong disagreements with those 100 books everyone ought to read lists. For one, they’re generally very narrow and limiting. There is a huge wealth of literature out there, and an educated individual knows about breadth as well as depth. An educated person doesn’t just read literary novels, or just nonfiction. Second, some entries in such lists seem rather extreme. I don’t think you necessarily need to read everything Shakespeare wrote, for example. I think there are a lot of authors people need to be familiar with, but a specific book by them might not be required. Third, the world has changed and continues to change. There are books that once were critical for an educated person to know about, but maybe that’s no longer true. Forth, there are books that get chosen for such lists because they've been anointed by some “expert” along the way and no one is willing to really say the truth, which is that they suck. All of this is by way of saying that I’ve made my own list and annotated it. And now I’m going to blog it. The list is pretty long so it’ll take several days to get it all in. I make my start today. Feel free to disagree or argue. That’s one thing that makes these lists fun.
1. The Bible. Whether you believe in it or not, there is no arguing with the cultural importance and influence of this book.
2. The Origin of the Species, by Charles Darwin. Probably the most important scientific book ever written. Profoundly influential in every aspect of the modern world.
3. The Koran. Included for the same reasons I included the Bible.
4. The Communist Manifesto, by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Twenty years ago I’d not have hesitated to include this. It’s importance seems to have faded a bit, but I’m keeping it for now.
5. Moby Dick, by Herman Melville. Considering my love of books, I sort of have to include what is typically recognized as one of the very first modern novels. Sections of it are incredibly boring, but it has also widely influenced modern fiction all the way from Ray Bradbury to Star Trek.
6. Walden, by Henry David Thoreau. I’m not sure anyone has ever seen nature more clearly or appreciated it more. I love this work.
7. Dune, by Frank Herbert. Perhaps the most enduring classic the SF world has ever produced, or perhaps ever will. It rocks!
8. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley. A major influence on both science fiction and horror, and just a damn good novel with a lot of important themes running through it.
9. At least some Shakespeare. I don’t think one needs to read everything Shakespeare ever did, but his plays have been so influential on modern literature, theater and movies that I think everyone ought to have some exposure, particularly to plays like “Hamlet,” “Romeo and Juliet,” and “Macbeth.”
10. The Odyssey, by Homer. Great adventure novel. Highly imaginative. One of the roots of fantasy fiction. I love this one too.
11. Dracula, by Bram Stoker. Not the first vampire novel but certainly the most influential one.
12. A book’s worth of Edgar Allan Poe, including his poetry. Many “100 books to read” lists “short” the short story writer. I’m not going to do that. In many genres the short story has been as important or more important than the novel. Poe is the grandfather of the detective story and a huge influence on the horror genre. I especially recommend such stories as “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” and “Murders in the Rue Morgue.” One can hardly go wrong with Poe.
13. A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. Hugely influential, and fun. Probably the best known ghost story of all time.
14. A Princess of Mars, by Edgar Rice Burroughs. The prototypical Sword & Planet novel, a big influence on fantasy fiction and on the field known as Space Opera. One of the best sheer adventure novels ever.
15. The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway’s best tale, although some of his short stories are outstanding as well. Pretty much any Hemingway would be good, except for The Torrents of Spring, which is horrible and not Hemingwayesque at all.
16. At least something by John Steinbeck. I recommend, The Grapes of Wrath, Cannery Row, or Of Mice and Men. Steinbeck is sometimes a bit pretentious but he really understood the human condition and the world of the rural poor.
17. Something by Dr. Seuss. Seuss is an icon, the most important children’s author ever, I would argue. I’d recommend The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and Oh the Places You’ll Go, although I also have a fondness for Green Eggs and Ham and The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins.
18. A book’s worth of Sherlock Holmes, by Arthur Conan Doyle. I’m not a huge fan but Holmes is iconic and these stories have been hugely influential. My favorite is probably “The Hound of the Baskervilles.”
19. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury. Almost all Bradbury is worthwhile but this one is probably the most politically and culturally relevant.
20. The Snow Leopard, by Peter Matthiessen. Best book I’ve ever read. Luminescent prose. No book has ever affected me more.