When I was in high school I had absolutely no faith in the system, my teachers, my parents, or just about anyone for that matter. I was a little bit concerned that I would be totally unprepared for life if I left my education to all the incompetent idiots that surrounded me. Sure, it was a pretty arrogant attitude, but honestly, time has taught me that I wasn’t exactly wrong.
My tactic to educate myself wasn’t all that creative or brilliant in itself, but it did take a certain amount of discipline and persistence. I merely obtained some random list of “The 100 Greatest Novels Ever Written” and I plowed through them one at a time during my Junior and Senior year in school Honestly, at 16, 17, 18 years of age, most of the themes, etc., were kind of over my head. But I figured that it would do me good to read the books just to familiarize myself with the characters and the basic plots.
Sadly, the reality is that you’re considered pretty well-read if you can just remember the titles and the authors of various books. If you can remember a couple of the characters in them as well, you can probably pass the Praxis test (the exam for getting a license to teach High School, which I have for English and Physics).
These days, I spend more time writing than reading, and it’s kind of a shame really. There will never come a day when you have read “enough” books. However, you do get to a kind of nebulous zone where you can more or less predict what most books are going to be like without reading them (and by that I mean give an educated opinion because you’ve read 20 books that are similar).
For the purposes of this list, I’m just going to crack through the first 100 books that come to mind. They’ll be the ones that made an impression on me as a Literature Major, and the ones I enjoyed discovering for myself. They’re in no particular order of importance, although I am going to bookend this list with books I’ve written myself. The books I’ve written are not world beaters…but I’d be stupid not to include them on a list like this.
So, without further ado, 100 books to add to your reading list:
1. Beyond Birkie Fever by Walter Rhein: I’ve actually written TONS of material, but this book is the best thing I’ve done so far (in my opinion). The key was I stopped trying to be philosophical and just tried to be entertaining. Most of the people who have read it are kind enough to say I succeeded. Maybe later I’ll start weaving in some philosophy again, but for now I’m just trying to entertain. That’s the goal, at least, with the current project I’m working on: a book about Peru.
2. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley: This one was on my mind because I taught it in high school last year. Not particularly well written, but it’s got some great philosophy. Plus, it’s a good book to teach because it references Shakespeare heavily.
3. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare: This one is kind of cheating because it includes ALL the plays and each one of those should really count as a book. If you’re in a hurry, you can more or less get by just reading Hamlet, Romeo and Juliette, and The Tempest (the last is where “Brave New World” got its title from).
4. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger: Countless high school teachers have ruined this one, including myself probably, but if you read it at the right time of your life…it’s good.
5. On the Road by Jack Kerouac: Actually I like the Dharma Bums better.
6. The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac: Traveling book. And now that I’m listing multiple books by one author.
7. Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski: I always get into fights with literary types over Bukowski. They all enjoy him, but they’re critical because they don’t think he’s “deep” enough. My response? What’s the point of being “deep” if nobody READS what you have to say? People READ Bukowski because he’s the most READABLE writer who ever lived. Try it, you’ll like it.
8. Post Office by Charles Buskowski.
9. Factotum by Charles Bukowski.
10. Women by Charles Bukowski.
11. Hollywood by Charles Bukowski. Yes, 5 books by Bukowski and not ONE on this list by Toni Morrison who is a terrible writer in my opinion.
12. The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri: This one is pretty much required reading just because so many other books reference it. In fact, you’d be AMAZED at how much your worldview has been shaped by this book and you didn’t even know it. For example, if you imagine Devils as characters with pointy horns wielding pitchforks, you got that idea from Dante (it’s not in the Bible). The structures of a lot of books reference this one, so it’s a good one to know, as is…
13. The Odyssey by Homer: The journey story, which makes me think of…
14. The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien.
15. The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien. And while I’m on the subject of children’s books, here’s another barrage from a single author…
16. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.
17. Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl.
18. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl.
19. My Uncle Oswald by Roald Dahl. This is one of his adult books. It’s generally loathed by critics, but Roald Dahl is so damn good that the critics can all go and choke on their own vomit for all I care.
20. The Best of Roald Dahl. This is a collection of Dahl’s short stories, which are great. I always had access to a lot of books growing up, and I’d frequently return to this collection above all other things.
21. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams: I believe there are five in this series. You should read them all. My favorite is probably So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, which gets downright philosophical.
22. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams: This book is kind of like a massive riddle you have to sort out as you read. There are also some pretty advanced literary jokes in this one…references to other writers, etc.
23. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman: I’ve played around with this book a number of times, I can sense that it’s important, but it hasn’t truly spoken to me yet. Maybe in another ten years or so.
24. Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain: It’s amazing how much better this is than The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, sort of like the leap from The Hobbit to LOTR. It’s worth knowing even if the ending is screwed up.
25. Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allen Poe: People might not like Poe, but nobody denies that the guy could write.
26. The Call of the Wild by Jack London: Another book I get ripped apart for liking, but London knew how to write, plain and simple.
27. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card: You’ll burn through this cover to cover in one sitting.
28. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky: Maybe the greatest novel ever written, although it’s hard to read it unless you’re stuck in prison or something.
29. The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky: This one is kind of like a dry run for Brothers, it’s a little more accessible, but not quite as good.
30. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky: A little overrated maybe, but still frickin’ good.
31. Notes From Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky: When you decide to start digging into the big D., start here (it’s short).
32. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo: I sat through a movie version of this when I was about 6 years old. I was going to change the channel to find some cartoons, but I made myself watch it. I’m glad I did.
33. War an Peace by Leo Tolstoy: I haven’t revisited this one since I read it on my own in High School, so I’m sure there’s a lot to pick up from it. Still, just downloading this into your head makes you part of a prestigious cult.
34. Innocent Erendira and other Stories by Gabriel Garcia Marquez: This was the one author I was introduced to in college that blew my mind. Yet I haven’t yet read 100 Years of Solitude. I should do that…I should read it in Spanish.
35. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffry Chaucer: Read it in the original Old English, it’ll only take you about 5 seconds to learn. If you don’t read it in Old English, you lose all the rhymes. “Whan that aprill with his shoures soote, The droghte of march hath perced to the roote,”
36. 1984 by George Orwell: Orwell was a student of Huxley when he studied at…was it Eaton?
37. The Adventures of Sherlock Homes by Sir. Arthur Conan Doyle: Maybe not the highest literature, but good.
38. The Collected Poems of Robert Frost: Not too metaphysical, but pretty hard to dispute their greatness.
39. The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum: This series goes on for like a million books, he was the “Harry Potter” of his day.
40. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll: This is like the first “fantasy” book or the first book of “magical realism” but again, scholars lift their nose to it for some reason and give those “first” titles to less deserving works.
41. The Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan: If you’re still having a hard time abandoning religion, this book will help.
42. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury: Another book I can’t put my finger on why I think it’s so fantastic.
43. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury: I spelled Fahrenheit correctly.
44. The Principia by Isaac Newton: I’ve only ever read segments of this, but I have a minor in Physics, so that’s pretty much the same thing. In all honesty, this is probably the most important book every written in all of human history. You wouldn’t be reading this article on your computer if Newton hadn’t written Principia. Heck, you probably wouldn’t have survived childbirth since the infant mortality rate was ridiculous back before Newton and Galileo laid the foundations of the scientific method which gave us this comfortable, modern world. This book is more important, and has saved more lives, than the Bible (and I’m absolutely sincere when I say that).
45. The Starry Messenger by Galileo Galilei: Reading this book is interesting because it shows you how much different Galileo was from Newton. Those two are absolutely married in history as the fathers of modern science (down to the fact that Newton was born within a year of when Galileo died). But where Newton was this silent, reserved, monk-like individual, Galileo never missed an opportunity to promote himself. Take, in point, that the title of this book has a double entendre that suggests it is a message from God (takes a lot of moxy to title your book “A message from God by Galileo” in the sixteenth century…no wonder he got excommunicated).
46. Walden by Henry David Thoreau: A different kind of philosopher than Galileo and Newton, but important too.
47. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller: More of a straight novel here after the deep stuff I’ve been listing. Pretty darn funny too.
48. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey: If you don’t have time to read this, watch the movie with Jack Nicholson.
49. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig: Another travel/philosophy book that made an impression on me when I read it in high school…thus, I’m inclined to think it’s probably not all that good, but I’ll let you decide.
50. Le Mort d’Arthur by Thomas Mallory: I love the King Arthur legends, and I think it’s kind of amusing that the flagship volume that gives us the basic structure was written in FRENCH of all things (this is the greatest ever KING OF ENGLAND…he shouldn’t be immortalized in FRENCH!). This book is pretty tough to read, you’re probably better off with…
51. The Once and Future King by T. H. White: You’re familiar with this book even if you don’t know it. It’s the inspiration for Disney’s “The Sword and the Stone” in which Merlin educates Arthur by transforming him into various animals.
***Note: This is where my memory failed me and I started having to reference my library for great books***
52. The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas: I read this one in grade school before I even read LOTR. When I first read it, I thought it was an adventure story, when I read it when I was a little older, I thought it was a comedy. The only good movie adaptation is Richard Lester’s.
53. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas: The Guy Pearce/Jim Caviezel version of this is pretty darn good, the type of thing you could design a high school literature unit around.
54. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess: Another solid work of psycho fantasy. The movie is good and relevant too because Kubrick directed it.
55. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad: I think I was assigned this novel four or five times in college, and I diligently read it every time. Not because I loved it, but because…well…you’ve got to read it multiple times…or watch Apocalypse Now Redux (which is better than the original release).
56. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli: I used to carry a copy of this book around since it’s written in one paragraph segments that are great to read and reflect on while waiting in line. Now, I just read about fantasy football on my smartphone. Smartphones make us DUMB. If you can’t stomach this, try the 48 Laws of Power or something like that.
57. Star Wars by George Lucas: This is kind of an interesting entry. I include it because Star Wars is clearly the most influential film of all time (again, literary types scoff at me, but they’re wrong). Lucas released this book prior to the film’s release just to try and make a couple bucks to help with marketing. As a book, it’s actually pretty good (Lucas had somebody help him write it, but I forgot who). I think it’s interesting to see how the text (dominant medium prior to about 1950) and film (dominant medium of today) are linked. This book provides an insight into that.
58. Calvin and Hobbes Complete Collection by Bill Watterson: I don’t like to read too much Bill Watterson because he’s about the only writer that makes me want to throw down my pen and never write another word because he’s sooooo much better than I am. However, one of my early readers of Beyond Birkie Fever said the first chapter reminded her of Calvin and Hobbes…which again made me want to throw down my pen because how can I expect another compliment that will ever equal that?
59. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking: This book basically explains how the universe works. If you lack a formal education, this will give you all the tools you need to speak intelligently at any dinner party.
60. The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling: Kipling is good, and he gets unfairly treated for “White Man’s Burden” which I think can be quite easily read as a criticism of Imperialism.
61. The Man Who Would be King by Rudyard Kipling: It’s a short story, but it’s tremendous. Watch the Sean Connery/Michael Caine movie as well. It’s directed by John Huston, and you should know who that is.
62. In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak: I’ve been reading this to my daughter a lot lately. There’s something about it…
63. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak: The movie version of this should be avoided like the plague.
64. The Old Man and the Sea by Earnest Hemingway: I’m not as excited about Hemingway as some of my old college professors were, but he’s pretty darn good. At the very least, read Hills Like White Elephants. I always make my students read that one, it makes for good discussion.
65. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut: Vonnegut is tremendous, you should read Harrison Bergeron too.
66. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
67. Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut
68. How to Talk Dirty and Influence People by Lenny Bruce: It should be better than it is, but it’s Lenny Bruce and he should be recognized.
69. Rabbit, Run by John Updike: Again, a little overrated, but it’s good. A second tier classic I’d say.
70. Beowulf by Anonymous: If you study literature, you’re going to have to read this eventually.
71. The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio: It’s sort of like The Canterbury Tales, but maybe a little dirtier.
72. Moby Dick by Herman Melville: I just put this on here because otherwise BRUNSON in Peru would kill me. He still owes me a Birkie Fever review by the way.
73. Foundation by Isaac Asimov: This is another one that goes on for a hundred books, they’re all pretty much worth reading. This guy is a science fiction giant.
74. Dune by Frank Herbert: Another series that will absorb you, chew you up, and spit you out.
75. Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin: A distant second to Tolkien in the fantasy genre, but second nonetheless. Too bad the series dies after book three.
76. Out of the Silent Planet by C. S. Lewis: This is the first in a series that gets way too religious for me. I like the first one though.
77. The Princess Bride by William Goldman: You’ve probably seen the movie. I’m one of the fortunate ones who got to read the book first. Book is waaaaay better (and I think the movie is pretty darn good).
78. Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk: His flame has fizzled, but he was a revelation when I was in college so he makes MY list.
79. Choke by Chuck Palahniuk.
80. Split Infinity by Piers Anthony: This is one of the silly fantasy novels I used to read in high school. Anthony gets accused of being sexist a lot, but I enjoy this one. The series gets a little ridiculous when it’s extended beyond the initially conceived trilogy.
81. The Complete Chronicles of Conan by Robert E. Howard: If you’re a fan of fantasy, you need to break out some Robert E. Howard. The guy can write! And he killed himself at about 30, so he’s pretty bad ass.
82. The Philip K. Dick Collection by Philip K. Dick: This is another writer you should dive into. You might think that you don’t know him, but you do. He’s influenced more movies than Stephen King including: Blade Runner, Total Recall, Screamers, Minority Report…it goes on and on. All of his original titles were terrible though. For example, Blade Runner was “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” and Total Recall was “We Can Remember It For you Wholesale.” Weird.
83. Animal Farm by George Orwell: Just because
84. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson: For a good little drug induced rant.
85. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: It’s a bygone age, but a good one.
86. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert E. Heinlein: Another trippy one from the sixties.
87. The Stranger by Albert Camus
88. Justine by Marquis de Sade: Actually I only ever spent time with some Sade collection. I used it for some quotes for my final paper for Honors English in High School (I was trying to piss the teacher off). I believe Justine is his most famous work…kind of the first pornographic writer.
89. The Misenchanted Sword by Lawrence Watt-Evans: This is one of my favorite writers from growing up. I even interviewed him once here.
90. The Entrepreneur’s Manual by Richard M. White: This book is out of print now, probably because it’s so effective. My uncle recommended it as THE book for explaining the mindset that allows you to become a successful businessman.
***Note, I’m really running out of steam finding worthy books. I take heart in the fact that there are quite a few series listed above, so the list is already well over 100, but I’m a little discouraged that it’s not so easy to come up with 100 relevant books. I’ll wrack my brain a little bit, and perhaps retread some authors already listed.***
91. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
92. Adventures with the Giants by Catharine F. Sellew: This was the first book I ever bought. It’s a bunch of stories of Norse Mythology. I bought it for $.25 from the school library when they were overturning their selection. I still have the book, although it’s in rough shape now.
93. Watership Down by Richard Adams: The classic tale of how traumatic it is to be a rabbit. My wife didn’t like it, but I have fond memories.
94. Magician by Raymond E. Feist: Another great fantasy series.
95. Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche: Take note, misinterpretations can lead to world wars.
96. The Bhagavad Gita by Vyasa: A worthwhile religious text (there are a few).
97. The Origin of the Species: Somehow that last little note made me think of this book.
98. The Complete Far Side by Gary Larson: I started to think if there were any books I’d be sad not to have if this list were the only books I had to chose from. Gary Larson immediately came to mind.
99. The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne…And Peter Pan by James Berrie: You always think of two when you only have one space.
100. The Bone Sword by Walter Rhein: The first book of mine Rhemalda picked up. It’s not the best, but it doesn’t overextend itself either, and it’s NOT one of those fantasy novels that rips off LOTR!
Ok, I’m sure I’ll think of 10 more selections in the next half hour that are better than at least 20 of the ones listed above, but I can’t think of them right now. It’s pretty hard to come up with a list of 100 great books. Sure, I came up with a bunch of other titles, but none of them could seriously be considered for this list (and considering some of the stuff that did make it…that’s saying something).
Honestly though, once you have everything on here read, you’re solidly educated. Throw some more down in the comments, either the ones I’ve missed or the ones I’ve intentionally left off. Maybe you can change my thinking on the latter.
Oh, and buy my books darn it.
For those of you who haven’t already, make sure you do me a favor a pick up my books Beyond Birkie Fever and The Bone Sword over at the Rhemalda Bookshop! If you happen to write a review somewhere, please let me know! Also, add Birkie and Bone Sword to your cart on Amazon.com!