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The list by Harold Bloom that starts off this node is perhaps the most pretentious and self-absorbed list of its kind that I've ever seen. While most of the books in it are good, to call it a list of books you should have read by now and include six titles by John Ashbery smacks of a world of self-absorbed cultural irrelevance. These aren't 278 books you should have read by now, these are 278 books that a pretentious literary twat should have read by now.

Books you should have read by now should be engrossing, but at the same time have some degree of cultural relevance. Books you should have read by now shouldn't involve seven titles by the same tired author, but should include a huge amount of diversity, both topical and authorwise.

I could make a much better list... and in fact, I have.

278 Books You Should Have Read By Now
the 18thCandidate version

If you think a book should be on this list... That's wonderful and all. I'm sure you've got a wonderfully written book there, one of great prose and of wide interest. The problem is... this is my list, not yours.

If you think a book shouldn't be on this list... Too bad. The point of this list is to cross-cut as much of English letters as can be done in a list of this size. Some are fiction, some are non-fiction; some are genre-based, some are not; some are highbrow, some are decidedly lowbrow; some are expected, some are quite surprising. Read them all if you want to be a well rounded human being.

If you'd like to read some of these, but don't know where to start... Pick one completely at random. If that scares you, read some of the linked writeups for the books. If you still can't make up your mind, ask me by listing some of your favorites and I'll see what I can come up with.

And now, the list... (with some commentary below)

  1. King James Bible
  2. Quran
  3. Abbey, Edward - Desert Solitaire
  4. Abbott, Edwin - Flatland
  5. Achebe, Chinua - Things Fall Apart
  6. Adams, Douglas - The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
  7. Adams, Henry - The Education of Henry Adams
  8. Adams, Richard - Watership Down
  9. Aesop - Aesop's Fables
  10. Agee, James - Let Us Now Praise Famous Men
  11. Alcott, Louisa May - Little Women
  12. Aligheri, Dante - The Divine Comedy
  13. Amis, Kingsley - Lucky Jim
  14. Anderson, Sherwood - Winesburg, Ohio
  15. Asimov, Isaac - Gold
  16. Atwood, Margaret - The Handmaid's Tale
  17. Austen, Jane - Emma
  18. Baldwin, James - Giovanni's Room
  19. Barth, John - Lost in the Funhouse
  20. Baum, L. Frank - The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
  21. Beckett, Samuel - Waiting for Godot
  22. Bellow, Saul - Herzog
  23. Berger, Thomas - Little Big Man
  24. Bester, Alfred - The Stars My Destination
  25. Bissinger, H.G. - Friday Night Lights
  26. Borges, Jorge Luis - Ficciones
  27. Boyle, T. Coraghessan - The Tortilla Curtain
  28. Bradbury, Ray - Fahrenheit 451
  29. Bradley, Marion Zimmer - The Mists of Avalon
  30. Bronte, Charlotte - Jane Eyre
  31. Bronte, Emily - Wuthering Heights
  32. Brown, Dee - Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee
  33. Buck, Pearl S. - The Good Earth
  34. Bukowski, Charles - Post Office
  35. Burgess, Anthony - A Clockwork Orange
  36. Burroughs, William S. - Naked Lunch
  37. Calvino, Italo - If on a Winter's Night a Traveler
  38. Camus, Albert - The Stranger
  39. Capote, Truman - In Cold Blood
  40. Card, Orson Scott - Ender's Game
  41. Carroll, Jim - The Basketball Diaries
  42. Carroll, Lewis - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
  43. Carroll, Peter - Liber Null
  44. Carson, Rachel - Silent Spring
  45. Cather, Willa - My Antonia
  46. Cervantes, Miguel de - Don Quixote
  47. Chabon, Michael - The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
  48. Chandler, Raymond - The Long Goodbye
  49. Cheever, John - The Stories of John Cheever
  50. Chopin, Kate - The Awakening
  51. Clarke, Arthur C. - Childhood's End
  52. Confucius - The Analects
  53. Conrad, Joseph - Heart of Darkness
  54. Pat Conroy - The Prince of Tides
  55. Cooper, James Fenimore - The Last of the Mohicans
  56. Coupland, Douglas - Microserfs
  57. Cunningham, Michael - The Hours
  58. Dahl, Roald - Danny the Champion of the World
  59. Danielewski, Mark - House of Leaves
  60. Davies, Robertson - The Deptford Trilogy
  61. Dawkins, Richard - The Blind Watchmaker
  62. Delany, Samuel - Dhalgren
  63. De Beauvoir, Simone - The Second Sex
  64. DeLillo, Dom - Underworld
  65. Dick, Philip K. - The Man in the High Castle
  66. Dickens, Charles - David Copperfield
  67. Dickey, James - Deliverance
  68. Dickinson, Emily - The Complete Poems
  69. Dinesen, Isak - Out of Africa
  70. Doctorow, E.L. - World's Fair
  71. Dostoyevsky, Fyodor - The Brothers Karamazov
  72. Dreiser, Theodore - An American Tragedy
  73. DuBois, W.E.B. - The Souls of Black Folk
  74. Dumas, Alexandre - The Count of Monte Cristo
  75. du Maurier, Daphne - Rebecca
  76. Eco, Umberto - Foucault's Pendulum
  77. Eggers, Dave - A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
  78. Eliot, George - Silas Marner
  79. Eliot, T.S. - The Waste Land
  80. Ellis, Bret Easton - American Psycho
  81. Ellison, Harlan - The Essential Ellison
  82. Ellison, Ralph - Invisible Man
  83. Ellroy, James - L.A. Confidential
  84. Euclid - The Elements
  85. Eugenides, Jeffrey - The Virgin Suicides
  86. Faulkner, William - The Sound and the Fury
  87. Fielding, Henry - Tom Jones
  88. Fitzgerald, F. Scott - The Great Gatsby
  89. Flaubert, Gustave - Madame Bovary
  90. Fo, Dario - Accidental Death of an Anarchist
  91. Ford, Richard - The Sportswriter
  92. Forster, E.M. - A Room With A View
  93. Fowles, John - The Magus
  94. Gaarder, Jostein - Sophie's World
  95. Gabaldon, Diana - Outlander
  96. Gaiman, Neil - American Gods
  97. Garcia Marquez, Gabriel - One Hundred Years of Solitude
  98. Gibran, Kahlil - The Prophet
  99. Gibson, William - Count Zero
  100. Ginsberg, Allen - Howl
  101. Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von - Faust
  102. Golding, William - Lord of the Flies
  103. Grahame, Kenneth - The Wind in the Willows
  104. Grass, Günter - The Tin Drum
  105. Greene, Graham - The Power and the Glory
  106. Grimm, Wilhelm and Jacob - The Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales
  107. Haggard, H. Rider - She
  108. Haley, Alex - Roots
  109. Hardy, Thomas - Tess of the d'Urbervilles
  110. Hamilton, Edith - Mythology
  111. Hammett, Dashiell - The Maltese Falcon
  112. Hansberry, Lorraine - A Raisin in the Sun
  113. Harris, Mark - Bang the Drum Slowly
  114. Hawking, Stephen - A Brief History of Time
  115. Hawthorne, Nathaniel - The Scarlet Letter
  116. Heinlein, Robert - The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
  117. Heller, Joseph - Catch 22
  118. Hemingway, Ernest - A Farewell To Arms
  119. Henry, O. - 41 Stories
  120. Herbert, Frank - Dune
  121. Hesse, Herman - Siddharta
  122. Hofstadter, Douglas - Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid
  123. Homer - The Odyssey
  124. Hornby, Nick - High Fidelity
  125. Hughes, Langston - The Collected Poems
  126. Hugo, Victor - Les Miserables
  127. Hurston, Zora Neale - Their Eyes Were Watching God
  128. Huxley, Aldous - Brave New World
  129. Ibsen, Henrik - The Wild Duck
  130. Irving, John - A Prayer For Owen Meany
  131. Jackson, Shirley - The Lottery and Other Stories
  132. James, William - The Varieties of Religious Experience
  133. Jin, Ha - War Trash
  134. Jones, Edward P. - The Known World
  135. Jones, James - From Here to Eternity
  136. Joyce, James - Ulysses
  137. Kafka, Franz - The Metamorphosis
  138. Keats, John - The Complete Poems
  139. Kerouac, Jack - On the Road
  140. Kesey, Ken - One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest
  141. Keyes, Daniel - Flowers for Algernon
  142. King, Stephen - It
  143. Kingsolver, Barbara - The Poisonwood Bible
  144. Kinsella, W.P. - Shoeless Joe
  145. Kipling, Rudyard - Kim
  146. Knowles, John - A Separate Peace
  147. Koestler, Arthur - Darkness at Noon
  148. Kohn, Alfie - No Contest
  149. Kristol, Irving - Neoconservatism
  150. Kundera, Milan - The Unbearable Lightness of Being
  151. Lahiri, Jhumpa - Interpreter of Maladies
  152. Larson, Erik - The Devil in the White City
  153. Larson, Gary - The Complete Far Side
  154. Lawrence, D.H. - Sons and Lovers
  155. Lee, Harper - To Kill A Mockingbird
  156. LeGuin, Ursula K. - The Left Hand of Darkness
  157. Lem, Stanislaw - Memoirs Found in a Bathtub
  158. Leonard, Elmore - Swag
  159. Leopold, Aldo - A Sand County Almanac
  160. Levy, Steven - Hackers
  161. Lewis, C.S. - Mere Christianity
  162. Lewis, Meriwether and Clark, William - The Journals of Lewis and Clark
  163. Lewis, Michael - Moneyball
  164. Lewis, Sinclair - It Can't Happen Here
  165. London, Jack - The Call of the Wild
  166. Lowry, Lois - The Giver
  167. Mailer, Norman - The Executioner's Song
  168. Marlowe, Christopher - Doctor Faustus
  169. Martin, George R.R. - A Game of Thrones
  170. Marx, Karl - The Communist Manifesto
  171. Masters, Edgar Lee - Spoon River Anthology
  172. McCarthy, Cormac - The Border Trilogy
  173. McCourt, Frank - Angela's Ashes
  174. McMurtry, Larry - Lonesome Dove
  175. Mellick, Carlton III - Razor Wire Pubic Hair
  176. Miller, Arthur - Death of a Salesman
  177. Miller, Henry - Tropic of Cancer
  178. Miller Jr., Walter M. - A Canticle for Leibowitz
  179. Milne, A.A. - Winnie the Pooh
  180. Milton, John - Paradise Lost
  181. Moore, Alan - The Watchmen
  182. More, Thomas - Utopia
  183. Morris, Edmund - Dutch
  184. Morrison, Toni - Beloved
  185. Murakami, Haruki - The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
  186. Nabokov, Vladimir - Lolita
  187. Nietzsche, Friedrich - The Portable Nietzsche
  188. Oates, Joyce Carol - We Were The Mulvaneys
  189. O'Nan, Stewart - A Prayer for the Dying
  190. Orczy, Baroness Emmuska - The Scarlet Pimpernel
  191. Orwell, George - 1984
  192. Palahniuk, Chuck - Fight Club
  193. Perez, Richard - The Loser's Club
  194. Pirsig, Robert - Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
  195. Plath, Sylvia - The Bell Jar
  196. Plato - The Republic
  197. Poe, Edgar Allan - Collected Tales and Poems
  198. Pound, Ezra - Selected Poems
  199. Pullman, Philip - Northern Lights
  200. Pynchon, Thomas - The Crying of Lot 49
  201. Quinn, Daniel - Ishmael
  202. Rand, Ayn - The Fountainhead
  203. Remarque, Erich Maria - All Quiet on the Western Front
  204. Reynolds, Sheri - The Rapture of Canaan
  205. Rhys, Jean - Wide Sargasso Sea
  206. Robbins, Tom - Still Life With Woodpecker
  207. Roberts, J.M. - The New History of the World
  208. Robinson, Kim Stanley - The Years of Rice and Salt
  209. Robinson, Marilynne - Housekeeping
  210. Roth, Philip - Portnoy's Complaint
  211. Rowling, J.K. - Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  212. Rushdie, Salman - The Satanic Verses
  213. Russo, Richard - Empire Falls
  214. Sachar, Louis - Holes
  215. Salinger, J.D. - The Catcher in the Rye
  216. Schlosser, Eric - Fast Food Nation
  217. Scott, Walter - Ivanhoe
  218. Sedaris, David - Me Talk Pretty One Day
  219. Shakespeare, William - Hamlet
  220. Shakur, Tupac - The Rose That Grew From Concrete
  221. Shaw, Bernard - Pygmalion
  222. Shelley, Mary - Frankenstein
  223. Shirer, William - The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
  224. Shute, Nevil - On the Beach
  225. Simmons, Dan - Hyperion
  226. Sinclair, Upton - The Jungle
  227. Spark, Muriel - The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
  228. Spiegelman, Art - Maus
  229. Steinbeck, John - The Grapes of Wrath
  230. Stephenson, Neal - Quicksilver
  231. Stevenson, Robert Louis - Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  232. Stoker, Bram - Dracula
  233. Stowe, Harriet Beecher - Uncle Tom's Cabin
  234. Styron, William - Sophie's Choice
  235. Sundman, John F.X. - Acts of the Apostles
  236. Svevo, Italo - Confessions of Zeno
  237. Swift, Jonathan - Gulliver's Travels
  238. Takami, Koushun - Battle Royale
  239. Tan, Amy - The Joy Luck Club
  240. Tartt, Donna - The Secret History
  241. Thomas, Dylan - The Collected Poems
  242. Thompson, Craig - Blankets
  243. Thompson, Hunter S. - Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72
  244. Thoreau, Henry David - Walden
  245. Tocqueville, Alexis de - Democracy in America
  246. Tolkien, J.R.R. - The Lord of the Rings
  247. Tolstoy, Leo - Anna Karenina
  248. Toole, John Kennedy - A Confederacy of Dunces
  249. Trumbo, Dalton - Johnny Got His Gun
  250. Twain, Mark - The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  251. Ulrich, Laurel Thatcher - A Midwife's Tale
  252. Updike, John - Rabbit, Run
  253. Vergil - The Aeneid
  254. Vinge, Vernor - A Deepness in the Sky
  255. Voltaire - Candide
  256. Vonnegut, Kurt - Slaughterhouse Five
  257. Walker, Alice - The Color Purple
  258. Wallace, David Foster - Infinite Jest
  259. Warren, Robert Penn - All The King's Men
  260. Watterson, Bill - The Complete Calvin and Hobbes
  261. Waugh, Evelyn - Brideshead Revisited
  262. Webb, Mary - Precious Bane
  263. Wells, H.G. - The War of the Worlds
  264. Welsh, Irvine - Trainspotting
  265. Wharton, Edith - The Age of Innocence
  266. White, E.B. - Charlotte's Web
  267. White, T.H. - The Once and Future King
  268. Whitman, Walt - Leaves of Grass
  269. Wilde, Oscar - The Picture of Dorian Gray
  270. Wilder, Thornton - The Bridge of San Luis Rey
  271. Williams, Tennessee - A Streetcar Named Desire
  272. Wolff, Tobias - This Boy's Life
  273. Wolfe, Tom - The Right Stuff
  274. Woolf, Virginia - To the Lighthouse
  275. Wordsworth, William - The Major Works
  276. Wright, Richard - Native Son
  277. Yeats, William Butler - The Collected Works, Volume I
  278. Zinn, Howard - A People's History of the United States

Some Notes: This list was challenging to create. The goal was to create a culturally relevant and yet still challenging list of literary works that can speak to a modern audience without boring them. At the same time, I wanted desperately to avoid repeating the same voices and the same types of works, both within this list and also with respect to the lists that you often see of this kind. To me, the Harold Bloom list was a particularly terrible example of such a list, as it was caught up in literary snobbery to the point that the list became largely inaccessible.

I simply began by listing every book that had left an indelible mark on my psyche. After that, I sent this list to a wide number of friends and acquaintances, asking them to add books to the list that made an impact, while also marking any books that I had listed that made them feel that way. Thankfully, I have friends who are very outspoken and quite enjoy making such lists. Eventually, the list became long enough that I eliminated any books that did not have multiple mentions, leaving me still with a rather large catalogue of works to look at.

At one point, this book had more than four hundred works on it, and paring it down to the 278 that you see above was often tricky, particularly when deciding between multiple works by the same author. A few in particular were difficult: Douglas Coupland is a great voice, but which of his works speak best today: Generation X? Microserfs? How about Girlfriend in a Coma? Try doing the same thing with Tom Wolfe or Sinclair Lewis.

Everyone I have shown this list to has reacted with some sort of outrage, either due to a selection listed here that they deem ridiculous or a particular written work that they felt really deserved inclusion. That's a wonderful thing; that means I did this list right. If several people agreed completely with the list, I'd say that this list was a complete failure. The point of literature is to challenge the reader, ideally without overwhelming the reader, and also establish a particular point of view.

As for the idea that this list will grow out of date, I agree, for the most part. It will need a bit of maintenance every year or two, as the culture shifts and moves and grows. This is particularly true of the more modern pieces on the list, which describe aspects of the modern life that are constantly in flux. Fast Food Nation is a profound work, but how relevant will it be in twenty years? It's hard to say.

Nevertheless, it would be safe to say that tackling the books on this list would be a good way to make yourself a well-rounded reader, exposed to many different ideas, philosophies, and styles.

Now get to your local library and get cracking.