1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die

Jessa Crispin has an interesting interview with Peter Boxall, editor of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. I loved what Boxall said at the end:

“Having benefited from an extraordinary number of emails and letters as well as reviews asking why I haven’t put this or that title on, I think that a second edition of the book would look different in many ways. One irate Australian man wrote a furious, but incredibly insightful letter, giving me a list of perhaps sixty great writers who I had ignored. I found that letter extremely enlightening. I have it still. So the answer is yes, the very idea of a canon of 1001 titles that is closed and complete seems a ludicrous idea. But the aim of the book, as far as I am concerned, is not to produce a finished, exclusive list, but to stimulate debate about what we read and why.”

I love lists. They make me think. I always get good suggestions for further reading as well.

Here are some fun lists I’ve linked to – or posted myself – with cool discussions in the comments.

100 greatest novels of all time

The lifetime reading plan

Book list: Books I’ve read

My list of favorite history/biography/historical fiction

My list of contemporary must-read fiction

My favorite fictional characters

Books that made me cry

I thought I had posted Thomas Jefferson’s essential reading list – he put it in a letter to a nephew, I think – “books an intelligent man MUST have read” – but I can’t find it on my blog. Hmmm. I know I have a copy of it somewhere – it’s wonderful, I’ll post it sometime.

And now: JUST FOR FUN:

Here is the actual list from the book 1001 Books You Must Read. It took me forever but I picked out the ones I read. I had to be honest and leave off books I STARTED but did not complete … and I know I read a picture book of Aesop’s Fables when I was a kid, I think we might have even had a copy – but I don’t know if that’s the “original”. I included it anyway.

Things I noticed:

— I just don’t read that much contemporary fiction anymore, I guess. The list itself is broken up by century (or, by decade, in the more recent years) – and I read a ton of the books in the 80s – many of the hit books, much more fiction back then, but currently not so much. (Oh – and I MUST put Geek Love on the list. I just MUST.)

— I also noticed that once I started going back in time, further and further, there were more and more books I had read. Still:

There are a TON I have not.

Obviously. I have 874 more I need to read before I die!

I’ve read 127 of these books – I listed the ones I read below. I’m totally jet-lagged – so I might have missed some.


The 127 I read off that main list

Atonement – Ian McEwan
House of Leaves – Mark Z. Danielewski
The Hours – Michael Cunningham
Underworld – Don DeLillo
The Shipping News – E. Annie Proulx
Trainspotting – Irvine Welsh
The Stone Diaries – Carol Shields
The Robber Bride – Margaret Atwood
Possessing the Secret of Joy – Alice Walker
Written on the Body – Jeanette Winterson
The English Patient – Michael Ondaatje
Amongst Women – John McGahern
The Things They Carried – Tim O’Brien
Possession – A.S. Byatt
Sexing the Cherry – Jeanette Winterson
Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving
Cat’s Eye – Margaret Atwood
Oscar and Lucinda – Peter Carey
The Black Dahlia – James Ellroy
The Passion – Jeanette Winterson
The Bonfire of the Vanities – Tom Wolfe
Beloved – Toni Morrison
The Drowned and the Saved – Primo Levi
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit – Jeanette Winterson
The Cider House Rules – John Irving
Less Than Zero – Bret Easton Ellis
Contact – Carl Sagan
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
White Noise – Don DeLillo
Dictionary of the Khazars – Milorad Pavi?
The Lover – Marguerite Duras
The Unbearable Lightness of Being – Milan Kundera
Waterland – Graham Swift
The Color Purple – Alice Walker
Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
The Cement Garden – Ian McEwan
The World According to Garp – John Irving
The Virgin in the Garden – A.S. Byatt
Delta of Venus – Anaïs Nin
The Shining – Stephen King
Interview With the Vampire – Anne Rice
Ragtime – E.L. Doctorow
Surfacing – Margaret Atwood
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Hunter S. Thompson
Slaughterhouse-five – Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
The French Lieutenant’s Woman – John Fowles
The Godfather – Mario Puzo
Cancer Ward – Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn
The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov
In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey
Franny and Zooey – J.D. Salinger
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – Muriel Spark
Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
The Violent Bear it Away – Flannery O’Connor
The Country Girls – Edna O’Brien
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Truman Capote
The Once and Future King – T.H. White
The Lord of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien
Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
Lord of the Flies – William Golding
The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway
Wise Blood – Flannery O’Connor
The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
The Rebel – Albert Camus
Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell
Magic Mountain– Thomas Mann
The Plague – Albert Camus
Animal Farm – George Orwell
The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
For Whom the Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway
The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
Finnegans Wake – James Joyce
At Swim-Two-Birds – Flann O’Brien
The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien
Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
A Farewell to Arms – Ernest Hemingway
Lady Chatterley’s Lover – D.H. Lawrence
The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway
The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
A Passage to India – E.M. Forster
Ulysses – James Joyce
The Age of Innocence – Edith Wharton
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – James Joyce
Ethan Frome – Edith Wharton
Howards End – E.M. Forster
A Room With a View – E.M. Forster
The Jungle – Upton Sinclair
The Awakening – Kate Chopin
Dracula – Bram Stoker
The Yellow Wallpaper – Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain
The Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoevsky
Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
Middlemarch – George Eliot
Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There – Lewis
Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoevsky
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
Notes from the Underground – Fyodor Dostoevsky
Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
Moby-Dick – Herman Melville
The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne
Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë
The Pit and the Pendulum – Edgar Allan Poe
A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
Frankenstein – Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
A Modest Proposal – Jonathan Swift
Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Swift
The Pilgrim’s Progress – John Bunyan
Aesop’s Fables – Aesopus

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9 Responses to 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die

  1. Nightfly says:

    That’s curious – there’s a Wittgenstein’s Mistress AND a Wittgenstein’s Nephew on the list, by two different authors. (I expect a “Wittgenstien’s Mistress’s Nephew’s Mistress” later on, or I shall have to write it myself.)

    #948 – heheheh. Been keeping up with Emily’s blog lately?

    #963 – despite CS Lewis’ own recommendation (he quotes it often in “The Four Loves”) I cannot get through “Tristram Shandy.” I’ve tried for years. Oy.

    All told, I check in a little depressingly at 34, not counting stuff I’ve started and the three or four that I KNOW I’ve read, but of which I can’t recall more than a few definite articles. I go back up if you include stuff they left off – a lot of Twain, “I Claudius,” “A Separate Peace,” “The Red Badge of Courage,” “Goodbye Mr. Chips,” all the Holmes (not just “Baskervilles” and the first 12 stories)… I’m also guessing that “Canterbury Tales” was filed under poetry for the purposes of the list. (I’m also not sure how you include “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” but not similar collections such as Washington Irving’s “Knickerbocker Tales” – Rip Van Winkle and the Headless Horseman are kind of classic.)

  2. red says:

    There are a ton of books I would have included on there. I was glad to see Alice Walker’s Possessing the Secret of Joy on the list – and actually prefer that book to Color Purple. I think Alice Walker can be kind of boring at times – but Possessing the Secret of Joy is a damn fine book, and I would also call it important. That makes it sound ponderous – it’s not. It’s wrenching. Wrenching and searing-hot – I found it nearly unbearable to read. Very good work and I’m glad it was included.

    I’m sure Inferno is not on there as well because it is poetry, not a novel.

    The contemporary novels I would have included would be:

    Adventures of Kavalier and Clay – which is not only one of the best currect books I’ve read recently – but one of the best books I’ve EVER read.

    Geek Love.

    Goldbug Variations.

    But like I said – I don’t read much contemporary fiction – although I’m trying to do more. I’m now reading The Historian and really enjoying it. Also reading a collection of Mary Gaitskill’s stories. She makes me want to be a better writer.

  3. Jeff says:

    These are always humbling, but fun. The healthy dose of Dashiell Hammett helped get me to 48.

    I wonder – are there really people who could say that they have read all of these books? Given the constraints of time on my life, I just don’t ever see being able to get through something like this.

    Of the 48 I’ve read, the only eye-poppers for me were “Get Shorty,” not because I didn’t like it but because I can think of a half-dozen thrillers that I’d include before that one, and “Less Than Zero,” about which I never quite could figure out the fuss.

  4. red says:

    Well, even the Book Slut herself had only read 98! I liked what the editor said in the interview:

    “But the aim of the book, as far as I am concerned, is not to produce a finished, exclusive list, but to stimulate debate about what we read and why.”

    I like that. It’s not an exclusive list, despite the title of the book – it’s just a fun thing to spark a conversation.

    And Jeff – I am so with you on the whole Less than Zero thing. I just did not get what the fuss was about. Was it because it was a zeitgeist book? Right time, right place? He rode on the coattails of Jay McInerney? I thought bright Lights, Big City was much better written – I didn’t even think Less Than Zero was written all that well. Its success was really baffling to me.

  5. Sheila,

    did you happen to get my email? It went to you as a forward, so i don’t know if you deleted it as possible spam? it had to do with a book I just finished.

    Hope all is well.

  6. Dave E. says:

    I agree Red, lists like these are fun as way to spark conversations and broaden interests. Still, I see where Jeff is coming from with the humbling aspect. I feel compelled to say “Hello, I’m Dave and I’m a 68”.

  7. steve on the mountian says:

    I’ve read 153(teenage project to read all of Dickens gave me a leg up) and I share 50 titles with you. I’m pleased to see Georges Perec and Mervyn Peake well represented and disappointed at the lack of any Joyce Cary. My favorite character ever is the artist Gully Jimson in Cary’s ‘The Horse’s Mouth’ (Alec Guiness played him in the flick) Book list things are way cool, don’t ya know.

  8. red says:

    We can all be humble together!!

  9. Carl V. says:

    I’m going to have to get this book. I too love lists and am emailing this post to myself so that I can read all your links later when I have more time.

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