Here's my third installment of the list. Just one more to go.
51. Watership Down, by Richard Adams. Animals have been used many times to illustrate human heroism and human villainy. It’s never been done better.
52. Something by Jack London. People talk most about Call of the Wild and White Fang, but the best thing London did were his short stories, like “To Build a Fire” and “A Piece of Steak.”
53. Plutarch’s Lives, by Plutarch. Louis L’Amour introduced me to this book and it’s definitely worth reading, particularly as an introduction to historical literature and biography.
54. Something by Dashiell Hammett. One of the first noir writers. Many folks recommend The Maltese Falcon or The Thin Man. Both are worthwhile, but I actually like Red Harvest the best.
55. Cosmos, by Carl Sagan. The best introduction to our planet, solar system, and universe I’ve ever read. An excellent source of information about science, and full of Sagan’s sense of wonder, which I found contagious.
56. The Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas. I felt I should include at least one modern poetry collection, and Thomas is my favorite poet and the one who has most influenced me. His influence has extended much further than that, though
57. Why People Believe Weird Things, by Michael Shermer. With one exception, this book is a relentless expose on pseudoscience and superstition. A very good lesson in rational thinking.
58. The Year of Living Biblically, by A. J. Jacobs. Besides being pretty funny, this book really examines the difficulties one stumbles upon in trying to live a religious life based on the Bible. It shows very clearly that an absolutely literal interpretation of the Bible is neither possible nor desirable.
59. Never Cry Wolf, by Farley Mowat. One of the funniest and most endearing books I’ve ever read. I was assigned this book and griped around for a week about being ‘told’ what to read. But from the first page I was hooked and roaring with laughter. Mowat’s sensitivities for wild creatures is inspiring.
60. Something by Loren Eiseley. Eiseley is probably our greatest naturalist since Thoreau. All his nature essays are outstanding. I recommend his collection called The Night Country most, but The Immense Journey is also awesome.
61. The Closing of the American Mind, by Allan Bloom. An indictment on higher education in America, and the problems he pointed out in 1987 are still with us today. In fact, they’re growing worse.
62. House Made of Dawn, by N. Scott Momaday. One of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read, second only to The Snow Leopard. A novel about a Native American character by a Native American author.
63. Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes. To my chagrin, I’ve never read this. Considering that it’s generally judged one of the cornerstones of modern western literature I think I better get to it. I think we all should.
64. Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe. Love this book. Perhaps the archetypal story of marooning, and quite a few books and films have taken their cue from it, including a decent SF film called Robinson Crusoe on Mars.
65. The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer. Very old stories, from the 14th century, written in a form of English very different from our modern tongue. Thus, they are difficult to understand and there is a voluminous concordance that usually goes with it to explain meanings and differences. I’ve never read all of it but have read a number of selections. Shows how much English has changed.
66. Something by Nathanial Hawthorne. The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables are his best known and I liked both, but I prefer his short stories. An important American writer.
67. Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison. A collection of Science fiction stories from 1967. It broke emphatically with the prototypical SF story and introduced the “New Wave” of SF, which dominated for the next few decades. New Wave put far less emphasis on technological advancement and exploration and adventure, and far more on social and political issues. Although the stories in this collection are awesome, the New Wave also produced some stinkers in my opinion. However, any modern SF writer from the literary side of the field owes a debt to Dangerous Visions.
68. The Virginian, by Owen Wister. This work, published in 1902, is considered the first “Wild West” novel It generally created the cowboy hero stereotype. A bit slow for modern readers, at times, it’s a set of loosely connected stories without a main plot. It’s really a character study of the “Virginian,” but it’s enjoyable, if leisurely. I thought about putting Shane, by Jack Schaefer, here. It’s more of a prototypical western, but it saw print in 1949.
69. Something by Cormac McCarthy. McCarthy is my favorite modern literary writer. He creates compelling characters and still tells a great story. My favorite by him is The Road, and it’s one of his most approachable books, but I also liked All the Pretty Horses and No Country for Old Men.
70. Something about Robin Hood. This is actually more about the character than a specific book. Everyone ought to know Robin Hood’s story. It’s been hugely influential in our culture, all the way to Star Trek.
71. Critique of Pure Reason, by Immanuel Kant. One of the most influential philosophical texts of all time. A difficult read but it really does all make sense once you work your way through it.
72. Something about King Arthur. Like with Robin Hood, everyone should have some familiarity with King Arthur, which is probably the single most influential legend in Western Civilization. There are numerous books about Arthur. I’ve read quite a few, and you probably have too. Most canonical might be T. H. White’s The Once and Future King, which I’ve actually not read.
73. At least something from Friedrich Nietzsche. Thus Spoke Zarathustra and Beyond Good and Evil are his best known works. I’ve read a fair amount about Nietzsche’s beliefs but have not read any book length materials actually by him. I need to correct that and will do so in the new year.
74. The Power of Myth, by Joseph Campbell. I’ve not read Campbell’s highly influential work because, from everything I’ve heard, I just don’t buy it. However, I of all people should know that what people say about a work and what the work itself says can be two separate things. I intend to get to this in the new year and figure most everyone ought to know something about it.
75. At least something from the greats of Russian Literature. That is Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and/or Anton Chekhov. From these writers, I’ve only read short stories. Nothing so far has made much impression on me, but I do want to try a novel by Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky, particularly War and Peace or Crime and Punishment. I’ve downloaded War and Peace to my Kindle but haven’t yet gotten up the courage to begin.
76. At least something from James Joyce. I’ve only read Joyce’s short work and it sucks. I have his most famous work, Ulysses, but have not the courage to confront that battle at the moment. I thought long and hard about including this. Joyce may have once been relevant but is he still? Maybe there’s a benefit to suffering through such a work, though, and if I have to then so do you.
77. The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde. Wilde has a sense of wry humor with an edge of cynicism that resonates with me. I don’t know why, since I have nothing else in common with him. Yet, his work is always a delight. This is his only published novel. More’s the pity.
78. A book’s worth of Robert E. Howard. Howard wrote mostly short stories, but few writers in history could throw readers more headlong into adventure. I’d suggest The Best of Robert E. Howard, Volume 1: Crimson Shadows, from Del Rey, which includes many of his best pieces and gives a good sample of his work.
79. The Broken Sword, by Poul Anderson. Fantasy has never been done better, and I include The Lord of the Rings in that judgment.
80. Something from J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. There are 7 volumes in the series and I think once you read one you’ll want to read all. I did. This remains the only series, ever, that I read entirely back to back, without taking a break between books. The first couple are clearly for younger readers but by three the series really hits its stride. That one is Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.