There are probably 100 lists out there of the “best” 100 books.

I came across this one over at BOOKRIOT: From Zero to Well-Read in 100 Books by Jeff O’Neal.

It’s a good approach, because he isn’t saying these are the only books that matter, or even that they’re the best 100– just that if you read these 100, you’d be set to join the literary discussion at the big kids’ table.

Here’s his list, in alphabetical order:

  1. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  2. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
  3. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
  4. All Quiet on the Western Front by Eric Maria Remarque
  5. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Klay  by Michael Chabon
  6. American Pastoral by Philip Roth
  7. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  8. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  9. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
  10. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  11. Beloved by Toni Morrison
  12. Beowulf
  13. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  14. Brave New World by Alduos Huxley
  15. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
  16. The Call of the Wild  by Jack London
  17. Candide by Voltaire
  18. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
  19. Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
  20. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  21. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  22. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
  23. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
  24. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
  25. The Complete Stories of Edgar Allan Poe
  26. The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor 
  27. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
  28. Crime & Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  29. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
  30. Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
  31. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
  32. Dream of Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin
  33. Dune by Frank Herbert
  34. Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
  35. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  36. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
  37. Faust by Goethe
  38. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  39. Game of Thrones by George RR Martin
  40. The Golden Bowl by Henry James
  41. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
  42. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  43. The Gospels
  44. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  45. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  46. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  47. Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  48. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  49. Harry Potter & The Sorceror’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
  50. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  51. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
  52. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  53. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
  54. House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday
  55. Howl by Allen Ginsberg
  56. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  57. if on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino
  58. The Iliad by Homer
  59. The Inferno by Dante
  60. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
  61. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  62. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
  63. The Life of Pi by Yann Martel
  64. The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
  65. The Little Prince by Antoine  de Saint-Exepury
  66. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  67. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  68. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  69. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
  70. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
  71. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
  72. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
  73. The Odyssey by Homer
  74. Oedipus, King by Sophocles
  75. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  76. A Passage to India by E.M. Forster
  77. The Pentateuch
  78. Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
  79. Rabbit, Run by John Updike
  80. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  81. Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare
  82. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  83. Slaughterhouse-5 by Kurt Vonnegut
  84. The Sound and The Fury by William Faulkner
  85. The Stand by Stephen King
  86. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
  87. Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust
  88. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  89. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
  90. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
  91. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  92. Ulysses by James Joyce
  93. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
  94. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
  95. Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee
  96. Watchmen by Alan Moore
  97. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
  98. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
  99. 1984 by George Orwell
  100. 50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James

Not everyone appreciated his choices. The article generated over 100 comments about:

  • why these books got picked,
  • how few of the chosen titles many of us have read (only 36 for me),
  • suggestions for missing titles,
  • who gets to say which are the right books, and
  • can we be “well-read” if we’ve read the wrong books?

Seems like he made a lot of people either angry or ashamed. Come on, people! Top 100s can be a great reference, but we don’t have to live and die by them.

Am I really missing out by skipping Fifty Shades of Grey? Doubt it.

What about On the Road by Jack Kerouac? It’s on almost every list out there, but I will never be stoned enough or bored enough to finish the thing. Does that make me illiterate?

Nah. My “score” of 36 on O’Neal’s list just means our tastes overlap about 36% of the time. If reading part of On the Road or any other book counts, I’m well over 40. Including alternate titles by the authors on his list, that rises to 59. Champ!

Whichever way, I think we’d have plenty to talk about over our big kids’ lunch.

*Do you know a good list of best modern books/authors? There’s more consensus on the classics, but newer lists seem arbitrary. The mods are where I’m lacking– recommendations appreciated!


12 thoughts on “100”

  1. I think a lot of the angry people are ashamed people unwilling to admit it. I actually try to stick primarily to classics and ancient mythology. It feels like the purest inspiration for fantasy writing, and everything else is just a rehashing or diluting of the originals.

    There is nothing new under the sun. Why do we need to read modern books? With that said, I would definitely say Game of Thrones. He’s a genius when it comes to writing. Neil Gaiman is ranted and raved about as a genius, but sadly I haven’t read anything by him yet. Is Flannery O’Conner out of this category now? Is her writing too old? I love her work.


  2. I think it’s hard to be sure of the “100 books that you must read” or that have been read or are all-time classics. Everyone has their own opinion and what one person thinks is the greatest book ever, another could think it’s the worst book they have ever read. I love this article from book riot about the over-lap between most loved books and most hated books: http://bookriot.com/2013/06/25/the-good-the-bad-and-the-unread-taking-a-closer-look-at-reader-picks/


  3. I have read the Canterbury Tales with my students and… that’s it! this is a good list, although by now, I have a genre I prefer…however, I wish I had taken advantage when some of these were assigned in school :/ I do have that debt with my cultural baggage: read classics! 🙂 Alexandra


  4. I’ve read 35! 🙂

    All lists are controversial and subjective but I think, this one, overall, is not that bad. I’m ok with all the classics included (I can’t stand “On the road” either but it’s an iconic book and it deserves a spot), but I disagree with some of contemporany books, for example, 50 shades, Gone Girl or The Hunger Games? I wouldn’t have included them because In my opinion time is the only one that can tell if a book deserve a place or not in a top 100 list and those are too recent, but, like I said before any list is subjective.


  5. I’d add anything by Kate Atkinson. My favourite, and the first book of hers I ever read, was Behind the Scenes in the Museum; also loved Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger and Room by Emma Donoghue.


    1. Awesome. I had Life After Life for a week but didn’t end up reading it…life after life got in the way!
      All three of these deserve a spot on my mod list. Thanks so much for commenting!


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