100 books to read
I'm a big believer in self-improvement. I read a lot, but primarily non-fiction and I felt I had a fiction-gap that needed filling. So, I decided to look into what are supposed to be the most important works. There's no shortage of '100 books to read before you die' lists, but the problem was this: they all disagree with each other.
So, I decided to pull together the most reputable lists and see where there's overlap. In short, that's how this list was born. I've found it extremely helpful and have had friends ask repeatedly for it so I'm making it public here for anyone who would also find it useful in their self-improvement journey. If you've got questions/comments, reach out.
A note on the list: I'm committed to evolving this list over time. So, it may get tweaked now and then as I amalgamate more lists. Also, I'm writing a description for each book. I haven't quite finished that yet, but will continue to fill those in until it's done.
Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgeraldt — Set among the rich of 1920’s New York City, the mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby pursues his quixotic passion and obsession for the former debutante Daisy Buchanan. Audiobook
On the Road by Jack Kerouac — Inspired by the author’s own experiences, the story of cross-country road trips by a number of penniless young people who are in love with life, beauty, jazz, sex, drugs, speed, and mysticism.N
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee — A novel set in the American south exploring themes of justice and innocence through the experiences of a six year old girl, Scout, watching as her father defends a black man in court in the 30s. Audiobook
The Lord Of The Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien — From quiet beginnings in the Shire the story follows hobbits Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin across Middle-earth to stop the Dark Lord Sauron, who had in an earlier age created the One Ring to rule the other Rings of Power as the ultimate weapon in his campaign to conquer Middle-earth. Audiobook
The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger — Holden Caulfield narrates his story from the previous Christmas, when he was kicked out of a preparatory school, to present as we learn about his life and his attempt to make sense of himself, meaning, and the events that have shaped him. Audiobook
Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie — Saleem was born at midnight on the night of India’s independence. He is one of only 1,001 children born at that hour and each was endowed with an incredible talent. Audiobook
Ulysses by James Joyce — Considered one of the most important works of modernist literature, Ulysses chronicles the peripatetic appointments and encounters of Leopold Bloom in Dublin in the course of an ordinary day. Audiobook
The Grapes Of Wrath by John Steinbeck — Set against the backdrop of the great depression, Tom and his family are forced from their farm in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl and set out for California along with thousands of others in search of a better life. Audiobook
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf — The novel Mrs. Dalloway follows the thoughts, experiences, and memories of several characters on a single day in London, most notably Mrs. Dalloway herself, the wife of a politician in post-World War I, as she plans a dinner party for that evening. Some have said the book contains some of the most beautifully written sentences in English literature. Audiobook
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe — Okonkwo is an ambitious man determined to be the leader of is Umuofia, the village in which he lives. His beliefs and zealousness for the ways and traditions of the land are his guide.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark — Miss Jean Brodie is determined to instill in her students independence, passion, and ambition. She advises her girls, “Safety does not come first. Goodness, Truth, and Beauty come first. Follow me.” Audiobook
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez — The novel, first published in Spanish as Cien años de soledad in 1967, is a tale of seven generations of the Buendía family that also spans 100 years of turbulent Latin American history. José Arcadio Buendía builds the beautiful city of Macondo in the middle of a swamp. At first prosperous, a tropical storm lasting nearly five years almost destroys the town, and by the fifth Buendía generation its moral compass as well. Audiobook
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut — The semi-autobiographical account of the firebombing of Dresden, Germany by the British and American air forces in the February of 1945. Slaughterhouse Five is the story of Billy Pilgrim, a decidedly non-heroic man who travels back and forth through flashbacks, visiting his birth, death, all the moments in between. Audiobook
The Stranger by Albert Camus — This 1942 novel exemplifies Camus’ existentialism, Meursault tells the before and after account of his murder of another man shortly after his mother’s funeral. Audiobook
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe — First published in London in 1719, Crusoe is the sole survivor of a shipwreck, leaving him on an uninhabited island and provides the account of how he survived and the unlikely helpers along the way. Audiobook
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas — Edmond, a young sailor from Marseilles, is set to become captain of own ship and to marry his beloved. However, spiteful enemies provoke his arrest and lifelong imprisonment, until he intends to escape in search of hidden treasure. Audiobook
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë — The story revolves around the tempestuous romance between Heathcliff, anorphan who is taken home to Wuthering Heights on impulse, and Catherine Earnshaw, a strong-willed girl whose mother died delivering her. Audiobook
The Call of the Wild by Jack London — A compelling tale of a bold dog that, thrust into the harsh life of the Alaska Gold Rush, ultimately faces a choice between living in man’s world and returning to nature. Audiobook
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame — Published in the early 1900s, The Wind in the Willows are animal tales by British writer Kenneth Grahame that began as a series of bedtime stories for his son. Audiobook
Scoop by Evelyn Waugh — Based on Waugh’s own experience as a war correspondent in Ethiopia, Scoop chronicles Lord Copper’s decision to appoint just the right chap to cover a promising war in the African Republic of Ishmaelia. So begins the story, a comedy of mistaken identity and brilliantly irreverent satire of the frenzied pursuit of hot news. Audiobook
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler — A dying millionaire hires a private detective to take care of the blackmailer of one of his two troublesome daughters. However, he finds himself involved with more than just extortion. Kidnapping, pornography, and murder are just a few of the complications he finds himself in. Audiobook
Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis — Jim has accidentally landed a job in one of England’s newly formed universities, which promises a comfortable future- that is to say, if he can keep away fellow lecturer Margaret’s unwelcome advances and navigate a host of other socially unbearable circumstances. Audiobook
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams — The book was originally a BBC radio program. Seconds before Earth is demolished, Arthur is retrieved from the planet by his friend Ford starting their comedic journey through space. Audiobook
Middlemarch by George Eliot —The novel examines the classes and lives of all those living in Middlemarch, a relatively unexciting town. The story canvasses the landed gentry down to professional workers, with focuses on Dorothy and Tertius, both of which have disastrous marriages. Audiobook
Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth — Alexander Portnoy describes to his psychotherapist, in one continuous monologue, his life and lust-crazed existence as a young Jewish bachelor.
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton — Three people’s lives are woven together are deeply affected by the rigidness of high society New York in the 1920s. Newland, a restrained young attorney, is engaged to marry May, but falls in love with her beautiful and unconventional cousin, Ellen. Despite his fear of a dull marriage he goes through with the ceremony, but continues to see Ellen. Audiobook
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway — Inspired by Hemingway’s trips to Spain, a 1926 novel that portrays American and British expatriates who travel from Paris to a Festival in Pamplona to watch the running of the bulls and bullfights. Audiobook
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf — A stream of consciousness passing of time as the Ramsey family visit the lighthouse between 1910 and 1920, exploring themes of the transience of life and work as well as the subjective nature of reality. Audiobook
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers — The novel is centered upon John Singer, a deaf-mute living in Georgia in the 1930s, the only man for whom four other characters in the town find a true confidant. Audiobook
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner — Set in Mississippi in the early 20th century, Faulkner’s first major novel describes the decay and fall of the aristocratic Compson family — and, implicitly, of an entire social order. Audiobook
Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov — Fictional poet John Shade creates a 999 line poem that focuses on various aspects of his life. Shade’s friend and editor Charles Kinbotes write a forward and commentary on the poem, which focuses primarily on his own concerns, and thereby reveals a plot piece by piece. Audiobook
Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller — Tropic of Cancer shifts between past and present and largely functions as an immersive meditation on the human condition. As a struggling writer, Miller describes his experience living in Paris in the 30’s, a bohemian existence where he psychologically suffers from hunger, homelessness, loneliness, and depression over his recent separation from his wife. Audiobook
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys — Wide Sargasso Sea explores the power of relationships between men and women and develops postcolonial themes, such as racism, displacement, and assimilation.
Under The Net by Iris Murdoch — Set in a part of London where struggling writers rub shoulders with the successful. Its hero, Jake Donaghue, is drifting, clever, likeable and makes a living out of translation work. A meeting with Anna, an old flame, leads him into a series of fantastic adventures. Audiobook
Tom Jones by Henry Fielding — First published in London, 1749, Tom Jones is a comic tale, which is both bildungsroman and picaresque that is among the earliest English prose to be classified as a novel. Audiobook
Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne — A meandering story that tells of the many trivial accidents, which are perceived as pseudo-scientific calamities, of Tristram’s life, from conception and beyond. Audiobook
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert — Published in 1857, the story of a beautiful farm girl raised in a convent, Emma imagines married life to be an exciting adventure and is let down to find that her good natured, but relatively boring husband, isn’t what she hoped for. She seeks true intimacy in romantic novels and then other men to find her life spiralling out of control. Audiobook
The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James — James explores themes of personal freedom, responsibility, and betrayal through the story of a spirited young American woman who, in confronting her destiny, finds it overwhelming. After inheriting a large amount of money she becomes the victim of scheming by two American expatriates. Audiobook
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson — A classic novella first published in the 1800’s tells the story of a man and his two alter egos: the respected Dr. Henry Jekyll and the loathsome Mr. Edward Hyde. Audiobook
Nostromo by Joseph Conrad — Set in a fictitious South American country, the story begins halfway through the revolution, where rich businessman, Charles Gould, uses proceeds from his silver mine to keep peace by supporting the current dictator. Instead he sparks chaos and war and must trust Nostromo with a boat of silver to keep it from falling into the hands of revolutionaries. Audiobook
The Rainbow by D. H. Lawrence — Lawrence focuses on themes of individual’s struggle for growth and fulfilment within the smothering strictures of of English social life through the lens of three generations of the Brangwen family living in Nottinghamshire. Audiobook
The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford — Just prior to WWI, two wealthy couples meet at a spa in Germany and spend several years in comfortable friendship until it is revealed that one of the wives and one of the husbands are in an affair. Death and meaning follow. Audiobook
The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass — Oskar Matzerath tells us his life story from the confinement of a mental institution, from birth and coming of age in the time of World Wars I and II.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John Le Carré — The book follows the endevors of taciturn, aging spymaster forced out of retirement to find a Soviet mole in the British Secret Intelligence Service. Audiobook
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison — A man’s attempt to fly from the top of Mercy hospital, resulting in his death, causes a scene which sends Ruth, a heavily pregnant woman, into labor and ushers in the birth of Macon “Milkman” Dead III, the first African American born in the hospital. The story follows his life. Audiobook
Money by Martin Amis — Money is a tale about a true consumer, John Self. He spends extravagantly and with abandon, mindless of consequence, as he seeks to satisfy his appetites: alcohol, tobacco, pills, pornography, junk food, and more. Audiobook
Oscar And Lucinda by Peter Carey — Oscar is an uptight preacher’s kid, Lucinda a frizzy-haired heiress. Life events means each grow up to develop a guilty passion for gambling. When the two finally meet they are brought together by their disposition for risk, loneliness, and their awkwardly blossoming mutual affection. Audiobook
Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham — Philip was abandoned as a child and raised by an unaffectionate family. In school he struggles to fit in and grows up with a desire for love, art, and experience. After a failed art career he begins studies in London, where he meets an uncaring waitress with whom he falls into a potent, agonizing, and life-changing love affair. Audiobook
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon — Set in 1939 NYC, a teenage budding magician, Joe, arrives on the doorstep of his cousin, Sammy. While the long shadow of Hitler falls across Europe, America is happily in height of the Golden Age of comic books, and Sammy is looking for a way to cash in on the craze.Audiobook
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz — The story is centered on Oscar De León (nicknamed Oscar Wao), an overweight Dominican boy growing up in New Jersey, who is obsessed with science fiction and fantasy novels and with falling in love, as well as the curse that has plagued his family for generations. Audiobook
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen — Corrections is centered on the troubles of an elderly Midwestern couple and their three adult children, telling the story of their lives from the 1950s to “one last Christmas” together near the turn of the century. Audiobook
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster — A tollbooth mysteriously appears in Milo’s room, he drives through only because he’s got nothing better to do. But on the other side, things seem different. Milo visits the Island of Conclusions, learns about time from a ticking watchdog named Tock, and much more.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami — The unreality vortex circling around several loosely connected searches by the protagonist-narrator, Toru Okada, a lost man-boy in his early 30's. Audiobook
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston — The novel narrates main character Janie Crawford’s blossoming from a vivid but voiceless, teenage girl into a woman with her hand on the wheel of her own destiny. Audiobook
Watchmen by Alan Moore — In an alternate 1985 America, costumed superheroes are part of everyday life. When one of his former comrades is murdered, masked vigilante Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) uncovers a plot to kill and discredit all past and present superheroes.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera — A novel possessing both comedy and trauma, the author addresses, ‘Being’ in a world in which lives are irreversibly shaped choices and chance events in which everything occurs only once, existence seems to lose its substance, its weight. Audiobook
You can listen to books too
If you don't have time to sit and read -I don't- then you can 'read' on the go with Audible. I've made it through countless books this way and swear by it. Audible offers a free 30 day trial. I highly recommend giving it a try.
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