100 Books to Read in My Lifetime

Warning! This might all be totally stupid.. But I think I might be onto something here…

There are a lot of lists of books to read in your lifetime (which sounds better than “before you die” as if you can fail at having not completed a thing due to an untimely demise). These are often fun to measure your reading by and get ideas from, but I think they’re fundamentally…a little bit weird too. Most of the time these prescribed lists of 100 books that ‘everybody should read’ have a whole ton of books I have no interest in reading and don’t think I’m at any loss from having not read. I don’t know if there exists a book that is literally for ‘everyone’… But I do like the idea that everyone should read a book that touches on certain topics that make us think or see things from a different perspective. The idea, I think, of lists to read before you croak should be more in reading a book that presents certain ideas to you rather than necessarily having to read one specific book. Know what I mean?

To be honest, I’m still working out all my feelings on all this, but I thought I’d try to construct a list tailored to me. They’re not necessarily all books that I know I’d particularly enjoy, but they’re books that present certain types of challenges and interests that I want to have a go at. For example, I doubt I’ll ever get around to reading all the Jane Austen novels. I haven’t even read one yet and, as it stands, I don’t see myself being drawn in enough to tackle them all. However, I would like to read at least one. So, I’ll put one of those on my list.

I’ll try to put brief bracketed notes here and there to say why some are on the list, but they might only make sense to me.. I definitely welcome suggestions! Though, since it’s my “pre-death TBR”, I might not add all suggestions. I don’t want this to turn into your typical list of works from the Western classics canon though. I’ve put a few contemporary works in there and I am always interested in books from around the world.

This is kind of like an ‘ultimate TBR’. So, while my Goodreads TBR is a list of books I’d really like to get around to at some point, this is a list of books I feel more emphatically like I should to make time for to help me feel like I’m expanding my mind. Oddly, not all the books on this list are on my TBR…for reasons. Is that dumb? Yes. Yes it is, but I don’t care. SO HERE WE GO!

  1. Persuasion by Jane Austen (obligatory Jane Austen novel)
  2. Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (Steinbeck Great Depression soap opera? Yes.)
  3. East of Eden by John Steinbeck (see above)
  4. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (original source material for so much else)
  5. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  6. A Study in Scarlet (Sherlock Holmes #1) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (original source)
  7. Children of Men by PD James
  8. Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder (unfinished business)
  9. The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wrecker [BWB review]
  10. The Outsiders by SE Hinton
  11. The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston
  12. Daphnis and Chloe by Longus
  13. The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham (try a Wyndham)
  14. Born Weird by Andrew Kaufman
  15. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  16. The Lonley Londoners by Sam Selvon (Caribbean classic)
  17. Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov (try a Nabokov)
  18. A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid (Caribbean classic)
  19. A Beginner’s Guide to Reality by Jim Baggott (unfinished business)
  20. The Double by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (try a Dostoyevsky)
  21. In The Miso Soup by Ryu Murakami (try a Ryu Murakami) [GR review]
  22. The Box Man by Kōbō Abe
  23. The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi (try an Oyeyemi)
  24. Gender Trouble by Judith Butler (feminist classic)
  25. Happiness Like Water by Chinelo Okparanta
  26. Houseboy by Ferdinand Oyono
  27. Willow Weep for Me by Meri Nana-Ama Danquah
  28. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
  29. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kessey
  30. The Stranger by Albert Camus
  31. How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn
  32. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (Caribbean classic)
  33. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  34. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Remarque
  35. Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin
  36. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
  37. The Odyssey by Homer (original source)
  38. Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand
  39. We Need New Names by Noviolet Bulawayo
  40. The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels [GR review]

This list is still under construction.

Do you have anything to add?

Which books would definitely be on your list?

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14 Responses to 100 Books to Read in My Lifetime

  1. Gracie says:

    I like this idea! And I agree that most of those “read before you die” lists are kind of weird. I’d rather focus on reading what I want to read, not what someone else thinks I should read. Life’s too short! Also I second Sophie’s World. It was a book that I was assigned to read for a class in high school that I ended up switching out of, and ever since then I have thought I should read it, but still haven’t gotten around to it.

    • Nicole says:

      Yeah, I like pulling ideas from the lists but there really are soooo many on there that I don’t think necessarily deserve to be prescribed so adamantly to ‘everybody’… And also there are not enough on there written by diverse authors from different cultures with different perspectives.
      I actually started Sophie’s World when I was in high school because my mum had recommended it to me and I was really loving it. For some reason or other I never finished it, but I fully intend to read it straight through some time sooner rather than later!

  2. moosha23 says:

    Have fun with this! And to be honest I don’t think it’s a stupid idea at all – I like to do that with my reading a lot – spell out what I want to read in the very vague future from other sources. It’s how I constructed my big reading list (it spans pages) and without it I wouldn’t have bought Fahrenheit 451 (the first book on my wishlist) and probably would not have discovered Bradbury’s awesomeness. So go for it! It’s still another way to find a great read right?

    • Nicole says:

      Thank you! I think part of my hesitation to even bother was also wondering if it was redundant since I already have a TBR, but then I realised that, even though I don’t tend to add much to my TBR (trying to keep it to something that seems ‘manageable’ and ‘realistic’…hrmmm…) there are definitely a lot of books on there that I wouldn’t feel terrible if I never got around to them. I wanted this to be more goal and less pool of suggestion, yknow?
      (And also I have a list-making problem that cannot be satisfied.)
      The other part of the hesitation was, I think, a conflict in me that thinks it is a good idea to get an outside entity to give you suggestions because you’d maybe never think of some of those… But ultimately I think those things should be framed more as suggestions and not (as they tend to be framed) some sort of obligatory list of books to read in order to call yourself a good/knowledgeable human being or whatever hahah

  3. Sam says:

    I’m glad ‘The Outsiders’ made your list, it’s my all time favorite! Happy reading!

    • Nicole says:

      I’m (literally!) a decade overdue for that one! I recall it being the subject of a high school book report and deciding “PFFT! That cover looks like balls. I’m not reading that.” I recall it being holographic with moody teens like they came straight out of an episode of Animorphs…which, when I think about it now, shouldn’t have been a deterrent to me since I liked the Animorphs TV show…hmmm. But when I gave it a proper look, I realised what a dummy I’d been and that it seems like it’s probably well-suited to my tastes…from what I can tell. I’m trying to get to it in the near-ish future.

  4. HOLLY says:

    This is such a cool idea! I would recommend Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert for your list. I don’t know if you’ve already read it or if you’d be interested in doing so, but it’s a wonderful memoir that really makes you think about what it means to be successful, happy, and all that jazz. I love the diversity in your list, by the way!

    My list would probably include Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin, and On Writing by Stephen King. I know, they’re really random, but those are the first three things that came to mind!

    • Nicole says:

      Oh I’ve heard that book is really really great, unfortunately I’ve watched the film (which I hear was a massive let down to fans of the book) and I generally have a lot of difficulty reading books after I’ve watched their films. If I come across the audiobook, I might pick it up though (or wait until I forget the film some more) since t’s easier for me to listen in those instances.
      Thanks! I have tried to make it diverse because I’ve noticed that these lists tend to be very, very homogenous which is yet another reason to start trying to build my own.

      Haha, never shy away from a random selection! :’)
      Jane Eyre should probably be on my list too since Wide Sargasso Sea is on there…Hmmm…!

  5. barefootmegz says:

    It’s so funny that you posted this, because I’ve been mulling about it for a while. I hate those lists of “before you die” – whether travel or reading or whatever – they’re all rather generic. I completely agree with a list like this, that is tailor-made for you. It kind of reminds me of the PopSugar 2015 reading challenge in that it identifies a kind of book and not the book itself.

    May I add a suggestion for your consideration: Something about modern day refugees/displaced people. My suggestions would be either A Man of Good Hope by Jonny Steinberg (non-fiction) or The Milk of Birds (YA, fiction). I wrote about them both on my blog recently. They’re both pretty awesome. Half the Sky by Kristof and WuDunn is also really good.

    • Nicole says:

      YES! Precisely; generic is the word!
      I don’t know about that PopSugar reading challenge but it very much sounds like it would suit me. I’m quickly finding out that I work much better when goals are more of the “look for something from this shelf” variety than the “read this specific book” variety which is a little bit how I’m trying to construct my list (other than the occasional “yeah I’d feel bad if I never got around to that specific book because *insert reasons*”).
      Your shelf suggestion is really great! I’ll have to look into your suggestions; thanks so much!!

  6. kay says:

    Totally agree with you and my never read books are teenager/ YA as people call them I just cant stand them.
    My all time faves are classic’s but even their sometimes hard going.

    • Nicole says:

      I definitely have a natural preference for classics (and literary fiction) too!
      I can’t speak much in favour or against YA because I just don’t read very much of it so my knowledge of it is fairly lacking… But on the other end of the scale heading into much younger fiction, I do enjoy picture books and middle grade books because there is such a charm in the simple language which, more and more in contemporary, works tries to break down often rather weighty concepts, into digestible portions for young readers, and that is both psychologically fascinating as well as just quick and fun. But I probably wouldn’t put many of those on a “Read Before I Die” list where I’d feel a pang of regret if I didn’t get to it before I hit the deathbed…

  7. I think this is a brilliant idea! It’s definitely true that those lists usually have things you’re just not interested in, and aiming to complete one of those knowing you’ll either hate some of the books or that you’re only going to hit 95/100 is beyond frustrating.

    I don’t think I have anything that you MUST add, but I’ll keep thinking! I’d suggest maybe The Humans by Matt Haig, which is just a good fun read, but it’s heart-warming and funny and will make you appreciate being alive. Good luck with your list and great idea!

    • Nicole says:

      Thanks! I do think those lists are a good way to find books, though.. So at least there’s that. And I get that the idea is to bring certain themes and ideas to everyone’s attention, but I feel like it’s hard to prescribe ‘one size fits alls’. For example, I feel like a lot of John Steinbeck’s work has similar recurring themes about human nature and the irrelevance (or insufficiency perhaps?) of labels like “good” and “bad”. However, I was much more receptive to Of Mice and Men than I was to The Pearl. I’m all up for exploring ‘mind broadening’ books that present you with different perspectives, but I think I probably know myself better than a strange and I might benefit more by looking for a book that I come too of my own free will rather than one dictated to me.
      And thanks for the rec! It sounds interesting and quite possibly right up my alley.

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