I kind of got out of the loop when I was out of town last week, only skimming the sites I normally read, which must be how I missed William Grimes’s New York Times article “Volumes to Go Before You Die.” I only saw it because Deirdre Fulton wrote a response on The Phoenix‘s literary blog Word Up. Essentially, British professor Peter Boxall surveyed over a hundred notable literary critics and scholars to determine the 1001 most notable books of all time, and published his findings as 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.

Now, I love a good list, so there was simply no way that I was going to go through Boxall’s findings and not tally up my score. Like Ms. Fulton, I used this handy-dandy spreadsheet to help me out, courtesy of Arukiyomi, and got some pretty shameful results: I’ve only read 136 of the 1001 books, or 13.59%, and some of them are just flat-out inexplicable. For instance, why is it that I’ve read Interview with the Vampire and not any Joyce whatsoever?

Anyway, here’s my list, though I should add that I never finished The Magic Mountain, mostly because it seemed like it was never going to end.

  1. 1984 by George Orwell
  2. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
  3. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
  4. A Home at the End of the World by Michael Cunningham
  5. A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift
  6. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
  7. A Room With a View by E. M. Forster
  8. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
  9. Ada by Vladimir Nabokov
  10. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  11. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
  12. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
  13. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
  14. Amsterdam by Ian McEwan
  15. Anagrams by Lorrie Moore
  16. Animal Farm by George Orwell
  17. Atonement by Ian McEwan
  18. Beloved by Toni Morrison
  19. Billy Bathgate by E. L. Doctorow
  20. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
  21. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  22. Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
  23. Burmese Days by George Orwell
  24. Candide by Voltaire
  25. Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
  26. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
  27. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  28. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
  29. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières
  30. The Cider House Rules by John Irving
  31. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  32. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
  33. Crash by J. G. Ballard
  34. Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton
  35. Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
  36. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
  37. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
  38. Dracula by Bram Stoker
  39. Emma by Jane Austen
  40. Empire of the Sun by J. G. Ballard
  41. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
  42. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
  43. Felicia’s Journey by William Trevor
  44. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
  45. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  46. Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard
  47. Glamorama by Bret Easton Ellis
  48. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
  49. The Godfather by Mario Puzo
  50. The Golden Bowl by Henry James
  51. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  52. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  53. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  54. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  55. Hard Times by Charles Dickens
  56. Hideous Kinky by Esther Freud
  57. The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
  58. The Hours by Michael Cunningham
  59. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
  60. The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  61. The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
  62. Howards End by E. M. Forster
  63. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  64. I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
  65. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  66. Interview With the Vampire by Anne Rice
  67. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  68. The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells
  69. Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
  70. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
  71. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
  72. Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis
  73. Like Life by Lorrie Moore
  74. Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
  75. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  76. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  77. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  78. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  79. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
  80. The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann
  81. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
  82. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
  83. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
  84. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
  85. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
  86. Neuromancer by William Gibson
  87. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
  88. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  89. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  90. Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
  91. Persuasion by Jane Austen
  92. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  93. The Plot Against America by Philip Roth
  94. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
  95. Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth
  96. The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
  97. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  98. The Quiet American by Graham Greene
  99. Rashomon by Akutagawa Ryunosuke
  100. Regeneration by Pat Barker
  101. Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
  102. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  103. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
  104. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
  105. The Shining by Stephen King
  106. The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx
  107. Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Høeg
  108. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
  109. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
  110. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein
  111. The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
  112. Sula by Toni Morrison
  113. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
  114. The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
  115. Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  116. Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
  117. Them by Joyce Carol Oates
  118. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
  119. The Third Man by Graham Greene
  120. The Time Machine by H. G. Wells
  121. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John Le Carré
  122. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  123. The Trial by Franz Kafka
  124. Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh
  125. Underworld by Don DeLillo
  126. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
  127. The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
  128. Walden by Henry David Thoreau
  129. The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells
  130. Watchmen by Alan Moore and David Gibbons
  131. White Noise by Don DeLillo
  132. White Teeth by Zadie Smith
  133. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
  134. The Wings of the Dove by Henry James
  135. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
  136. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

9 thoughts on “Semi-Embarrassing…

  1. Thanks for making the handiest spreadsheet ever! I keep on meaning to give The Magic Mountain another go, but it has yet to happen…

  2. I don’t mind that this book includes Anne Rice and not James Joyce. Everyone on Earth knows they are supposed to read “Ulysses” before they die. To me, this book is more a collection of obscure and semi-obscure treasures, the sorts of books your friends thrust into your hands and say “you’ve just GOT to read this!” Which someone actually did to me once with an Anne Rice novel (that would be the one about castrati) and it was way awesomer than “Ulysses.”

  3. Plus, Joyce is totally on the list! “Ulysses” is number 723 on the spreadsheet an “Portrait of an artist . . . ” is like 736 or so.

  4. It’s funny, Josh — Ben and I just had a conversation about the list last night. Neither of us can get over Bret Easton Ellis being included for Glamorama, but that’s besides the point. The point is that I was saying I can’t believe I’VE read Interview with the Vampire and NOT any Joyce, not that the Boxall included Interview with the Vampire and not any works by Joyce.

  5. Oh, clearly I don’t know how to read. I thought you meant the inclusion of the books in the book were “inexplicable.” Me go back to school now.

    And “Middlemarch” isn’t that intense. It’s actually a very sly, amusing, interesting book and not as nineteenth century-y as you might think. It’s one of my all time favorites and one of the relatively few books on the list that I didn’t hate.

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