Here's part 2 of my list. Please note, the numbers assigned to these books do not indicate a rank ordering on my part. In other words, I'm not saying that number 1 is necessairly a more imporant read than number 50.
21. On Writing Well, by William Zinsser. Primarily meant for nonfiction writers but in reality the best book for writers ever. An excellent book to read for anyone who has to write as part of their career.
22. Watchmen, by Alan Moore. Graphic novels should be represented on any list of this sort because they’re becoming so big a part of our culture. This one is probably the best one yet written. It’s my favorite at least.
23. The Epic of Gilgamesh. One of the oldest examples of literature in the world. And not a bad story.
24. Beowulf. The great Anglo-Saxon poem cycle. One of the most enduring heroic myths of Europe.
25. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, by Dee Brown. Heart rending. It definitely changed my view of the world and of American History. I love America, but our history is not one of white clothed innocence. We need to know it.
26. The Science Fiction Hall of Fame: Volume One, edited by Robert Silverberg. The single greatest collection of SF short stories ever. Not a clunker in the bunch and there are some of the most powerful tales of any kind I’ve ever read, such as “Flowers for Algernon,” “Nightfall,” “The Nine Billion Names of God,” and “The Cold Equations.”
27. Lord of the Flies, by William Golding. Sometimes the folks who anoint the classics get it right. A real window into human behavior. I put this one into the horror genre.
28. Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad. I find this novel flawed but it is nonetheless powerful and has influenced many later works of literature and film, most notably Apocalypse Now. One day I’m going to write my own version.
29. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley. A tale of genetic manipulation that should be a warning for people today.
30. 1984, by George Orwell. The world of 1984 came early behind the Iron Curtain and it will certainly come again. Elements are with us now, in America, in China and North Korea, in many other places.
31. Animal Farm, by George Orwell. Orwell is the only writer on my list with two books but I just couldn’t figure a way around it. A morality tale for us all.
32. Walden Two, by B. F. Skinner. Not content with rewriting the field of psychology with such works as Beyond Freedom and Dignity, Skinner wrote this novel laying out his idea of a utopian society in which every behavior is controlled by appropriate reinforcement. Many find it horrifying; that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
33. Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson. The classic adventure novel that has fired the imaginations of generations of young readers, including me.
34. At least some Jules Verne. Verne, in France, was one of the first science fiction writers and his work is seminal. He wrote a lot of books but I’d recommend Journey to the Center of the Earth or Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea.
35. At least some H. G. Wells. Wells was Verne’s counterpart in English and I generally prefer his work to Verne’s, although only slightly. He also wrote many great books but I’d recommend The Island of Dr. Moreau, The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, or The Invisible Man.
36. Ghost Story, by Peter Straub. The scariest book I’ve ever read. I wish I could write this kind of complex book and make it work like Straub did. He’s one writer whose talent makes me jealous.
37. Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak. Too charming not to include. My son’s favorite book as a child, and my favorite to read to him.
38. Dante’s Inferno, by Dante Alighieri. I’ve seen Hell done better but this version has much to recommend it. Hugely influential.
39. Something by Stephen King. King is a juggernaut, hugely influential on other writers and on TV and film. I’m not a huge King fan but everyone should know a bit about him. I’d recommend Misery, The Shining, or Salem’s Lot.
40. A book’s length of O. Henry. Considering today’s flash fiction explosion, you’d think O. Henry would be cited more often. His pieces are masterpieces of the concise. “The Gift of the Magi” is most famous but most of his stories are worthwhile.
41. Something by Rudyard Kipling. The Jungle Book is well worth the read and Kipling’s best known work. I’d personally recommend his poetry the most.
42. The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien. Probably the single biggest influence on modern fantasy literature. A great story. A modern myth.
43. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain. I’m not Twain’s biggest fan but this is a really good book. If you only read one Twain, I’d give this one the edge over The Adventures of Tom Sawyer because it’s more culturally relevant. Both are good adventures.
44. At least something by Sigmund Freud. Freud wasn’t a psychologist and couldn’t be called a scientist. He actually delayed the development of psychology as a science. However, his work has been hugely influential on our culture and entertainment. I’d recommend Civilization and Its Discontents, or The Future of an Illusion. Both have interesting things to say about the battle between the individual and society.
45. Native Son, by Richard Wright. Bigger Thomas is born poor, born black, born in the inner city, and born for jail, or so it seems in this tremendous novel. The great thing about this work is that it doesn’t turn Bigger into a hero; it doesn’t mythologize him. It puts his character into a realistic context that introduced many readers to the forces that have shaped our inner cities and the lives of the African Americans who live there.
46. Something by James Baldwin. Baldwin was one of America’s best literary writers, writing fiction and nonfiction with equal ease. I like his fiction a bit more. In fiction, Go Tell it on the Mountain (novel), or Going to Meet the Man (short stories) are his best known and well worth the read. I have a slight preference for a little novel called Giovanni’s Room. In nonfiction, Notes of a Native Son, (essays) is the way to go. I hesitate to say it because it shouldn’t make any difference, but one reason I find Baldwin’s work fascinating is because he comes from such a different background from me. Baldwin was both African American, and gay.
47. Cultural Literacy, by E.D. Hirsch, Jr.. This book is subtitled: What Every American Needs to Know. Hirsch thinks he knows everything that you should know. In many cases he was right, or so it seemed to me. In other cases he was full of it. It was fun making that determination.
48. Something by William Faulkner. I don’t like Faulkner’s novel length works, although some of his short stories are pretty good. But there’s no denying his influence on American literature and culture. I’d recommend nothing of novel length by Faulkner really, but I forced my way through The Sound and the Fury and perhaps you should too.
49. Something by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I’d recommend One Hundred Years of Solitude, but most of Marquez’s work illustrates the field of magical realism and it’s worth becoming acquainted with.
50. The Prince, by Machiavelli. The single best guide for tyrants and those who would resist them ever written.