I don’t know about you, Gentle Reader, but I am a sucker for all those lists about books. You know the ones: 30 things you should read before 30, the best 100 books, books everyone needs to read, etc. etc. etc.
And yet, after I read those lists I always feel a little guilty because I haven’t read all the books on the list. Worse, I get a little argumentative with the writers of these lists. Why on earth would they put a book like Ethan Frome on the list and leave out a clearly more awesome book like How Green Was My Valley?
So I have decided to write my own list of the 100 books I think everyone should read. Right away you should know this list is flawed. I admit it freely and without shame.
I can only recommend books I have read and I’m sure there are good books I haven’t read yet. Also, I’m looking at this list through the eyes of my American heritage- so the greatest influence will be American and English authors.
That being said, I deliberately chose the books on this list because they all have something to give the reader, something that I think everyone could use. For example, the number one spot on my list goes to Harry Potter because you can’t read that book (and hopefully the entire series, hint, hint) without becoming a stronger person. After watching a young person grow up and face evil with conviction and strength, we gain a little of his strength to face our own conflicts better.
Additionally, I tried to put some books on the list from every genre. In my Utopia, people are literarily well-rounded. (Despite the fact that there are four books on this list about vampires. Do as I say, not as I do.) Also, I tried to include a few books from different cultures and different points of view.
Finally, don’t be weirded out when you notice there are lots of children’s books and picture books. Sometimes the simplest things can say the most.
Here is my (flawed, but lovely) list.
1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (J.K. Rowling) Yes this is first on my list. And yes. Everyone should read it.
2. How Green Was My Valley (Richard Llewellyn) Families, love, environmentalism, labor unions, imperialism, bullies, childbirth- this book as it all. Additionally, it is the best written book I have ever read.
3. East of Eden (John Steinbeck) This just might be the best written book in the world. Love, betrayal, murder, loyalty, evil and good are all key components to this novel. Best of all the thread running throughout the book is that we can choose what side we fall on.
4. Sense and Sensibility (Jane Austen) This is perhaps the “easiest” of Austen’s works to read, probably because the situations and scenarios are the most recognizable. It is the story of how two sisters respond to (and ultimately survive) hard economic times, heartbreak, and disappointment in very different ways.
5. Nine Stories (J.D. Salinger) This is quite possibly the best collection of short stories on the planet.
6. Then Penderwicks: a Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy (Jeanne Birdsall) This is probably my second favorite children’s book on the planet. Lovely, charming, funny, and poignant.
7. Three Musketeers (Alexandre Dumas) Read the translations by Lowell Bair- he is the best.
8. The Stand (Stephen King) Because everybody should read one book about an apocalypse that wipes out civilization as we know it- and this one’s my favorite. Mr. King has some serious talent.
9. Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White) Despite being a children’s book (or perhaps because of it), this is the best book I’ve ever read on death and friendship.
10. To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee) I think reading this book makes you a better person inside. Truly.
11. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (Judith Viorst) Sometimes a picture book can say it best.
12. The Princess Bride (William Goldman) Funny, irreverent, and entertaining. Read it and feel good.
13. Little House on the Prairie (Laura Ingalls Wilder)
14. Romeo and Juliet (William Shakespeare) Every American junior high/high school student reads this play for a reason. Some of the best literary phrases and constructs can be found in Shakespeare’s works.
15. The Read-Aloud Handbook (Jim Trelease) Education would be so different if everyone read this book.
16. Oh the Places You’ll Go (Dr. Seuss)
17. Persuasion (Jane Austen) Quite possibly her most sophisticated novel and one of her sweetest in terms of romance.
18. Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)
19. Holes (Louis Sachar) Great literature in middle school form.
20. Hamlet (William Shakespeare) Too many gems inside this play to skip.
21. Dracula (Bram Stoker) Gothic horror at some of its finest.
22. Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery) Don’t argue with me- just read it!
23. The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas) Best book of revenge in the entire world. Again, Lowell Bair is the best French translator.
24. Sugar Fat Salt: How the Food Giants Hooked Us (Michael Moss) I don’t include very many pieces of non-fiction on this list. So when I do, you’ll know I think it’s vital everyone knows what’s inside the book.
25. The Eye of the World (Robert Jordan) This is the first book in what I consider to be the greatest epic fantasy series of all time.
26. Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury) The list needed one dark, deep book on governmental oppression and censorship- this is my favorite.
27. The Book Thief (Markus Zusak) Haunting and memorable. Everyone should read a book when Death is the narrator. Also, the more we read about the Holocaust, the more faith I have that we can avoid another one.
28. The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett) A must-read children’s classic.
29. The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald) I have no rational argument why I need everyone to read this book. The heart wants what the heart wants.
30. A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L’Engle) This is perhaps the best science fiction in the children’s department. It also touches briefly on the question of what is true equality. Is it simply being the same? Or something different.
31. Lord of the Flies (William Golding) Because everyone needs to know what happens when you get a large group of children together without adult supervision.
32. D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths (Ingri d’Aulaire) Everyone needs some Greek mythology in their life.
33. Othello (William Shakespeare) Utterly desolating. So obviously, it’s a must read.
34. Bridge to Terabithia (Katherine Paterson) Because we all need to read things that make us cry.
35. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte) I love this book. I think you might too.
36. Les Miserables (Victor Hugo) Such an epic, sweeping novel. And after reading it, you’ll gain a little insight into France’s kooky history.
37. The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) A true American classic.
38. Farmer Boy (Laura Ingalls Wilder) Yes, I have Laura Ingalls Wilder on here twice. It’s my list.
39. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (Barbara Kingsolver) The list needed a memoir or two (or three) and the information about the American food process is enlightening. Plus, it is simply a well crafted book.
40. The Chosen (Chaim Potok) One of my favorite high school reads. Discusses the Jewish culture and the fight for Zionism after World War II.
41. The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency (Alexander McCall Smith) A lovely read and provides a little bit of African culture.
42. The Portable Dorothy Parker (Dorothy Parker) Parker is one of the wittiest writers I’ve read. Her stories are sharp, clear, and often bitter.
43. Old Yeller (Fred Gipson) Everyone needs to read a sad dog book- this is my favorite.
44. Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden) A fascinating look at Japan’s geisha system.
45. Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Eugene O’Neill) This is a semi-autobiographical play about the author’s life. Moving and emotional.
46. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (Grace Lin) An oriental “Wizard of Oz” type book.
47. Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief (Rick Riordan) Another children’s book I think every one (young and old) should read.
48. America’s Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines (Gail Collins) This is a well-written history of women in America, we were never taught in school.
49. Sunshine (Robin McKinley) The list needed a few books about vampires and this is the best vampire book of all time.
50. The Devil’s Arithmetic (Jane Yolen) A moving children’s book about the Holocaust.
51. The Help (Kathryn Stockett) A strong book about the struggle for Civil Rights in America.
52. Island of the Blue Dolphins (Scott O’Dell) A book from my childhood- and one of the best survival stories I’ve ever read.
53. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Robert Louis Stevenson) Jekyll and Hyde have become such common phrases in our language- you deserve to read how they came to be.
54. The Thirteenth Tale (Diane Setterfield) A contemporary book that is utterly gothic in feel and brilliantly written.
55. The Forgotten Garden (Kate Morton) Lovely, symbolic, and devastating.
56. Swiss Family Robinson (Johann David Wyss) One of my favorite books from childhood- it also contains some very practical information if you’re ever shipwrecked on a tropical island.
57. The Witch of Blackbird Pond (Elizabeth Speare) Historical children’s fiction for the win!
58. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson (Emily Dickinson) Her poetry is (mostly) comprehensible and moving.
59. The Paper Bag Princess (Robert Munsch) Because you’re never too young to learn about feminism.
60. Patriot Games (Tom Clancy) Clancy pays more attention to detail than any author I’ve read. His political/espionage thrillers are the best in the genre.
61. The Lorax (Dr. Seuss) Has the best quote of any book ever: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
62. The Graveyard Book (Neil Gaiman) Just trust me.
63. The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place (E.L. Konigsburg) An excellent middle school book on bullying, activism, and family issues. Extremely well written.
64. Thirteen Reasons Why (Jay Asher) Everyone should read this book before going to high school, whether as a student, a teacher, or a parent of a student.
65. Jacob I have Loved (Katherine Paterson) Because we all wrestle with jealousy and feelings of being inadequate.
66. Angels and Demons (Dan Brown) This is the best of Mr. Brown’s books, in my opinion, and you really should read one of his at some point. Plus, you’ll feel cultured and artistic for a while.
67. Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus (Barbara Park) Everyone’s life could use a little Junie B.
68. The Color Purple (Alice Walker) Memorable
69. Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake (Michael B. Kaplan) Again, trust me.
70. The Dream Songs: Poems (John Berryman) This poetry is much less comprehensible, but incredibly rich in emotions and small details.
71. Eleanor and Park (Rainbow Rowell) One of the best books I’ve read about falling in love.
72. To the Lighthouse (Virginia Woolf) Dense and multi-layered, this book is worth the work.
73. The Lottery Rose (Irene Hunt) A touching children’s book dealing with abuse, foster care, and death.
74. Dealing with Dragons (Patricia C. Wrede) A tongue-in-cheek children’s book of slightly messed up fairy tales.
75. How Children Succeed: Grit Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character (Paul Tough) A brilliant and fascinating read on when adversity can be learned and when it can’t.
76. The Wizard of Earthsea (Ursula K. LeGuin) A children’s book with a nice blend of fantasy and science fiction.
77. The Historian (Elizabeth Kostova) Yes, another vampire book. I have no shame.
78. Ballet Shoes (Noel Streatfield) A children’s book that is utterly charming and lovely.
79. Clover Tig and the Magical Cottage (Kaye Umansky) Hilarious and entertaining children’s fantasy.
80. The Picture of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde) The author got into all sorts of trouble, when this story was first published, for writing immoral and shocking things. You should read this gothic fiction for that reason alone (but, it is also an excellent story.)
81. The Crystal Cave (Mary Stewart) This is one of the best renditions of the story of Merlin I’ve ever read. Historical, but magical.
82. Caddie Woodlawn (Carol Ryrie Brink) Children’s historical fiction at its finest.
83. The Prince of Tides (Pat Conroy) Gorgeous writing, haunting story.
84. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Alan Bradley) A mystery written with a unique style and slant.
85. Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Truman Capote) I feel strongly that everyone should read something of Capote’s.
86. A Mind at a Time (Melvin D. Levine) Non-fiction. An interesting look at how children learn differently.
87. The Moonstone (Wilkie Collins) This is the first real detective story ever written. Sherlock Holmes, Columbo, Philip Marlowe, Jim Rockford, Hercule Poirot? All get their start from here.
88. The Probable Future (Alice Hoffman) Magical realism at it’s finest. Hoffman is a master at the genre and this book is my favorite out of all she has written.
89. The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love (Kristin Kimball) A lovely memoir, nicely written.
90. The Borrower (Rebecca Makkai) A contemporary book about growing up.
91. Gossie and Gertie (Olivier Dunrea) A sweet picture book that sums up how to share without being preachy or moralizing.
92. Where the Red Fern Grows (Wilson Rawls) Just how many sad dog books does one need to read? At least two, this is my second favorite.
93. Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools (Jonathan Kozol) Every one needs to be educated (and horrified) about some of our children’s learning environments.
94. Our Town (Thornton Wilder) A play that teaches us there are no ordinary days.
95. King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub (Audrey Wood) A gorgeous and lighthearted picture book.
96. The Firm (John Grisham) A fast paced thriller.
97. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams) Comedic science fiction at its finest.
98. Educating Esme: Diary of a Teacher’s First Year (Esme Raji Codell) Another memoir set in the American education system. I obviously have some strong feelings on that subject.
99. Etiquette & Espionage (Gail Carriger) Steampunk fiction! (And vampires- sue me.)
100. A Separate Peace (John Knowles) My tenth grade English teacher said this was the first book she ever reread. I looked at her with pity- rereading books is one of my favorite things to do. However, this book is a well crafted coming of age novel.
I absolutely know that I have left off this list a book you feel passionate about. Let me know about it in the comments.