What books should I have read?

I’m 22, and I’ve never been a big fan of reading books. So much so, that people act quite surprised when I tell them I haven’t read any of the famous books like Lord of the Rings, 1984, Sherlock Holmes, etc.
So what are the famous books a 22 year old graduate should have read? Reccomendations please…

I am not sure anyone can answer what you should have read. You’re going to get a LOT of recommendations from people, based on their subjective judgements. Although I am an avid reader, I am going to limit myself to a dumb answer… you should have started reading a whole lot younger :smiley:

OK, OK… try Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky.

First of all, go grab a copy of An Incomplete Education. It’s essentially Cliff’s Notes for all the things you were “supposed to learn” but didn’t. It includes a bunch of useful history, art, and drama, and the literature section gets you through some of the “biggies”.

Next, decide which kind of crowds you’re trying to please here–how well-read are they? What do they read for fun? Lord of the Rings is a serious undertaking, and the books are marvelous. 1984 is also a wonderful book. But many of the books that you’ll get shocked looks for not having read are not so much enjoyable as they are “important”. If you understand why they’re important, where they fit into the history of literature, you can probably skip them. For example, Dickens can be a lot of fun to read, but I found books like Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice tough to deal with; they poke fun at a society that no longer exists, so to me, the joke was lost if you didn’t live it or study it extensively in history class.

Are you reading for pleasure, or to “check off the boxes”? If you’re just doing it because you feel you’re supposed to, your eyes are going to travel over each word in sequence, and hours later, you’ll set it aside and say “Hm. I guess that was okay.” That will almost certainly happen if you try to read Faulkner without preparing. If your goal is to read and appreciate the books, buy copies you can mark up, bring a highlighter or a pen, and be aggressive about marking them up as you read. “Looks like Sutpen is crazy” or “Keeps using the word HONOR” or “I think this character has a secret” and so forth. Read it once for plot and theme, and a second time to appreciate the foreshadowing and the structure of the book as a tool to convey the theme.

To get a good selection, Google for “best book” lists or high school summer reading lists. Narrow it down to 20 titles that you’ve heard good things about, and since you’re just getting started, don’t focus too exclusively on one author. You may have to come back and ask SDMB questions like “okay, if I’m going to read ONLY ONE book by Vonnegut, which one should it be?”

And if that’s not confusing enough, here’s my list, in no particular order:

  • A Light In August, The Sound and the Fury, or Absalom! Absalom!
  • 1984 and Animal Farm
  • Catch-22
  • Heart of Darkness or Victory
  • Great Expectations
  • Hamlet and then Waiting for Godot and then Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (it gets less depressing as you go!)
  • The Lord of the Rings
  • Lord of the Flies
  • Ender’s Game
  • The Great Gatsby
  • The Catcher in the Rye
  • Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas
  • The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test or The Right Stuff followed by Bonfire of the Vanities or A Man In Full
  • The Watchmen
  • Any large collection of Roald Dahl’s short stories, and any two of his children’s books.
    And even if people really pound them home, I feel you can skip Ethan Frome, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and Jane Eyre, each of which I read twice and still failed to enjoy.

How about To Kill a Mockingbird? Even if you read it in junior high, I think it’s worth another read-through.

I second Ender’s Game for sci-fi, and The Time Machine by Wells; with regards to fantasy, The Last Unicorn and The Neverending Story are obscure but wonderful. (Neither are, well, girly, and they’re both a lot more succinct than Tolkein.)

I’ll be paying attention to this thread myself, since I’m woefully under-read.

I haven’t read those books either, and I love reading. Really, is there a particular reason you want to read those books beyond “I shoulda done so?” Because as someone above pointed out, you’re not going to really get anything out of them if that’s the case. As much as I love to read (like many people, I have boxes and boxes of books that I’ve read, sometimes several times), I never liked having to read those “important” books in school, because they weren’t books I chose. If you want to read, start simple. Harry Potter, a John Grisham, or something equally popular. The more you read, the more you’ll desire to branch out.

I agree with any and all of the choices above! My additions would include:

“The Complete Stories of Sherlock Holmes” … or at least “The Sign of the Four” or “The Hound of the Baskervilles”

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”

Oh, there are just so many more!!!
But, by all means read “To Kill a Mockingbird”! It will give you a good background before you tackle some of the earlier John Grisham novels.

I was gonna chip in with Shakespeare but reading the plays is a bit odd, you really need to see them, The language makes much more sense when it’s spoken.

I’m guessing Tuco that if you’re not the bookish type you’ve probably not got into Bill’s works. Top of the list would be Hamlet and Macbeth and then Richard III(not a sequel), The Tempest, Henry V(sort of a sequel), oops this list is getting a bit daunting. How about starting with some of Kenneth Branagh’s flicks, he’s done Hamlet, Henry V and some others. Honest watching these films is not a slog :slight_smile:

I’ve been working my way down this list. Most of the books on there have been good, and they are accepted as classics. Just keep in mind that it’s a high school list. You’ll still get funny looks from avid readers if you finish the list but haven’t added Lolita, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, etc.

My two recommendations are To Kill A Mockingbird, which is a fun, entertaining read on the surface, but you can dig much deeper into it, and Heart of Darkness because it is still so commonly referred. You’ll even see movie scenes that take cues from Conrad. But it is not easy to read.

I’ll second Great Expectations (Charles Dickens) and add a few more:

Pride and Prejudice or Emma or * Sense and Sensibility* - Jane Austen (yes they are good and they are funny)

Another vote for Crime and Punishment - Dostoevsky
The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
1984 and Animal Farm - George Orwell
and To Kill a Mocking Bird - Harper Lee


The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
Anna Karenina - Tolstoy
Madame Bovary - Flaubert (though this is a little depressing)
A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole (have I got his surname right? :o )
and I know it’s long but it’s very commonly referred to and funny too:

Don Quixote - Cervantes

I also enjoyed A Man in Full more than Bonfire of the Vanities (Tom Wolfe) but both are good.

I loved Bright Lights, Big City - Jay McInerney

There are loads more. Something you could do is read two books at the same time - a long, old one and one or two short snappy modern ones for relief if the going gets tough, or alternate long, heavy books with shorter, lighter or more contemporary ones.

Then eventually when you’ve done a fair bit of reading and if you’re starting to get into literature in a big way go ahead and tackle Ulysses by James Joyce (well it was the Bloomsday centenary yesterday - I have to give it a plug :slight_smile: ). Though there are tough bits it’s well worth it and, I thought, a very uplifting and sweet book.

Good luck!

I’m of the view that reading is a skill just like most other things. If you start trying to read books with difficult phrasing, or ones written from another period, you may find yourself having no pleasure, all frustration, and no reason to continue on. Maybe you are one of those people who thrive on frustration and failure, but I’m definately not.

With that in mind, I’d recommend Vonnegut’s novels. His books generally aren’t too big, and they are split into tiny sections with sometimes two major breaks on a page, so it is easy to go from section to section. He writes pretty simply, IMO, and in an easy, conversational tone. He is also fairly contemporary so that you don’t have to deal with archaic phrasing that can make some books a real chore. At the same time, he can be very deep and thought-provoking, and should be rightfully considered a major American author.

Another author I’d recommend, just as much in fact, is Tom Robbins. His books Even Cowgirls Get the Blues and Another Roadside Attraction are two that I’d recommend right up front. I haven’t read his recent stuff, but his “older” books are great. He is another easy-to-read author who obtains some philosophical depth.

Non-fiction-wise, I’d suggest The Day the Universe Changed and Connections both by James Burke. One book details a number of events that led to complete revolutions in the way we see the world, e.g. medicine before and after solving the cholera puzzle; the other is a number of histories of technological items, detailing the diverse and suprising connections (get it?), and the obscure accidental observations, that made them possible.

I didn’t start reading fairly seriously until I was twenty-three or so, and the two authors that I really delved into at first were Vonnegut & Robbins. If I had started with the Canon of Great Literature, then I would probably have given up fairly quickly.

Henry Fielding, Tom Jones. Nothing deep, but bawdy fun, a panoramic look at 18th century English society from high to low as the title hero gets by one scrape after another. It’s long but episodic; you can read the chapters as individual stories.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden and *Civil Disobedience *. Walden is my favorite book, period. A timeless examination of values and spiritual quest vs. what modern society is doing to us. It seems to become only more relevant as time goes on. I strongly recommend the annotated edition, but you can still read the original text of Walden online.

Sometimes I’ll read an anthology of short stories and if I enjoy a particular story, will then search out more by the author. And for someone who’s not a big reader, short stories are less of a committment than novels.

Huckleberry Finn and anything else by Mark Twain.

Making reading lists is fun!

Some I haven’t seen suggested yet, or just want to second the suggestion already made:
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, May Angelou

The Color Purple, Alice Walker

Flowers for Algernon, I can’t remember the first name Keyes

Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury

The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Ernest Gaines

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, D. Brown?

The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank

The Story of My Life, Helen Keller

The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin

The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom

Charlotte Jane Eyre, Brontë,

Last of the Mohicans, James Fenimore Cooper

Catch 22, Joseph Heller

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith

I’ll third Ender’s Game (Don’t go on to the sequels for a while. It is a good sequence of books but they don’t necessarily follow the same themes and style).

Classic Science Fiction: Dune (the first book, or the first three if you’re ambitious), Stranger in a Strange Land [Read the unabridged version first, compare with the 60’s edition (with 1/3 of the novel cut)]. I’m an unabashed Heinlein fan so any of the later books are good, save “The Number of the Beast” which has very flat characterization. Edgar Rice Burroughs is also a good place to start. Most of his work is very dated, but the stories are timeless swashbuckling good yarns.

Character Driven Science Fiction: Try “The Dark Beyond The Stars” by Frank M. Robinson, a bit obscure but worth a read. “Steel Beach” and “Golden Globe” by John Varley are also worth a go: many references to Heinlein’s ideals as well as references to Shakespeare and the like. I’m also a fan of James Alan Gardner, YMMV

Allusive [word coining alert] Science Fiction: Very dark, but try “The Gap” series by Stephen R. Donaldson based on “Der Ring des Nibelungen” Opera Cycle by Wagner.

If you want a lighter start into Fantasy you might want to try David Eddings. Start with “The Redemption of Althalus” as it is a stand alone book. If you like the style, go for the Belgariad and Mallorean series. “The Hobbit” is a good intro to Tolkein.

If you want to try John Grisham, I’d recommend “A Time To Kill”, his first book. It has it’s flaws but it is one of the few of his books I’ve been able to finish.

Harry Potter is a good read, you might also want to venture into Philip Pullman’s “Dark Materials” trilogy (I’m suprised the rapid Anti-Harry fundamentalists aren’t in arms over this series!)

Strangely enough, I haven’t read a lot of the “Classsics” that well read people are supposed to have gone through, I’m not culturally bereft because I’ve picked things up [cultural references] from other readings. The two main cultural sources that you will see over and over, especially in works from the earlier 20th century are the Bible and Shakespeare. I would suggest that rather than reading the plays, you go and catch a few: Hamlet is a must see (in a few different versions if you can [Mel Gibson’s Perfomance is typical, Kenneth Branagh’s is the complete text, see it live a time or two]). Romeo and Juliet is worth seeing (Personally I like the Baz Luhrman version, YMMV). There are a couple of other readily available movies of the plays: Much Ado About Nothing, Henry V, both good.

Modern Fiction: Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan books are good reads (political and action oriented), he has a gift for setting up disparate plot threads which tie together in the end. Start with “The Hunt For Read October” [if you want to see the movie, watch it first, then read (I’m still a fan of the movie and would likely not be if I’d read the book first]. David Morrel and Robert Ludlum are good for intrigue/thriller type books.

Fluff, if you must: Clive Cussler’s a brutally easy read, his characters have a tendency to info-dump in their dialogue but his plots are fun. Michael Chrichton: good ideas but cops out in the end (most of his books could have the last two-three chapters ripped up and rewritten to finish the stories properly but they’re usually worth a read). Try “Airframe” to start. The “Classic Crichton” books are “The Terminal Man”, “The Andromeda Strain”, and “The Great Train Robbery”. Jurassic Park is worth a read, but there isn’t much more to it than what was in the movie.

I’m sure many others can point out more general and/or classic literature choices, my specialty is genre fiction :slight_smile:

In my “Must buy for Future Kids List”: Charlotte’s Web, Julie of the Wolves, Bridge to Terebithia, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIHM, Island of the Blue Dolphins, The Complete Roald Dahl Collection (thanks for the reminder Jurph) and a few others (I will of course share my Harry Potter with them, if and when).

Somebody’s bound to come up with a reading list including Edgar Allan Poe :slight_smile:

That would be Daniel Keyes.

Childhood’s End by Arthur C Clarke

Some thirty years ago I read somewhere that 50% of the adult U.S. population had never read a book in their lives, outside schoolwork. I was flabbergasted. I’ve seen regularly on the way to work a woman’s license plate frame: So Many Books – So Little Time. I instantly fell in love with her.


The snob in me wants to point out St. John’s College’sGreat Books Program , but the slacker in me insists on mentioning that I’ve only read about five of the books on that list.

I think every culturally literate adult should read some reasonably popular translation of the Bible, although whether you believe in it or not is entirely your affair. Angsty youths should read On the Road by Jack Kerouac and Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger, just to see what the fuss is about. Every boy of a certain age should read the Boy Scout Handbook just to see what basic skills he should have in life.

There’s a set of children’s books called Journeys Through Bookland that’s basically a survey course of western literature. Volume 1 is nursery rhymes and innocuous Bible stories, but the selections get progressively mature through the later volumes (some of them edited for brevity); Volume 10, the index, is the cribbed source of many term papers in my family.

Oh, and some books that should be required reading at the high school level, but aren’t:

Parliament of Whores by PJ O’Rourke
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
Portnoy’s Complaint by Phillip Roth

In addition to the above (sorry if I repeat something):

James Clavell’s “King Rat” - it’s not very famous, but perhaps the most powerful book I’ve ever read.

Bradbury’s “Martian Chronicles” and “Illustrated Man.”

Huxley’s “Brave New World”

Most stuff by Vonnegut - “Cat’s Cradle” and “Mother Night” are the best, and “Breakfast of Champions” is incredible after you’re acquainted with the author.

“Atlas Shrugged” and “Anthem” by Ayn Rand. Fantastic narrative and philosophy coupled with some of the worst dialogue ever written. “The Fountainhead” is also supposedly good, but I haven’t been able to find a copy.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X

If someone says they’ve nver cooked a meal before and want to know where to start, some of y’all would tell them to start with a delicate souffle, wouldn’t you?

js_africanus is right: reading IS a skill, and you’d no more start with the hard ones than you’d start learning to play fiddle by tackling Beethoven’s Ninth. Sure, those are great lists of books; but they’re not great lists of books for people unaccustomed to reading.

Tuck what books have you read and liked? That’s a good indication of where to start.