The Reading List

How does one put together a list of Must-Read Novels? The idea of a literary canon invariably assumes some recourse to a higher authority – in other words, what other people have said are the great works of literature. As our culture is still dominated by white men, most lists of Great Works tend to be heavily white, Western and male – many of them dead, or still alive but so deified that they might as well be. Fortunately, I’ve had the benefit of some wonderful teachers in feminist and post-colonial literature (chief among them the great Jocelyn Harris, Professor Emerita at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand). With their lessons in mind, I’ve tried to make sure that my list looks further afield than all those ranks of men.

That said, I do enjoy a good Dead White Male – I’m also white and male, so that’s perhaps not surprising – and my list is always going to be subject to my bias. For better or for worse, I’m able to appreciate a DWM who’s a marvellous wordsmith even when his sexual politics are repugnant to me or now unacceptable in the age of #metoo. That’s not to say that I think politics or perspective are unimportant, or that art should live in a moral vacuum, which it can’t, frankly. It’s understandable why writers like Joseph Conrad, Graham Greene and Philip Roth continue to infuriate feminists, people of colour and their compatriots, and it’s also totally legitimate to call these writers out on their misogyny or racism. I’m just not going to stop reading them, or occasionally applauding when I come across beautiful writing.

To make the project manageable, and to give myself a fighting chance of one day perhaps finishing, I decided to set a few ground rules. The list would be predominantly novels, with a few exceptions for epic poetry (Beowulf, the Odyssey, Eugene Onegin), memoirs (Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth, Janet Frame’s An Angel at My Table) and seminal non-fiction works (Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch). I wouldn’t include any books that I’d already read, which usefully cut out many of the works that regularly feature in Best Book Lists (Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, The Lord of the Rings, To Kill a Mockingbird, Nineteen Eighty-Four, etc). I allowed myself a few free passes on highly-praised books that looked too difficult or too damned long to bother with (Finnegan’s Wake, anything by Thomas Pynchon), and I’ve largely avoided science fiction as it’s a genre I don’t enjoy. As a native of New Zealand, I also threw in a few works that are World Famous at Home without necessarily being that well-known internationally.

The lists that I worked from (with some judicious pruning, as explained above) were:

After some tweaking and editing, I came up with a final list of just under 200 titles. It’s a terrifyingly long list – if I stick to reading one book a week, I might just be able to get through it in about three-and-a-half years – but realistically, it’s more of a route-map to steer my future reading than any kind of bucket list.

So here they are, presented in date order by the year of their publication. For books published in series – Proust’s In Search of Lost Time and Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time – I’ve listed each volume separately, as I expect to read them separately and non-consecutively. Read it and weep, people.

  • Plato, Symposium (385 BC), trans. Robert Waterfield
  • Ovid, Metamorphoses (8 AD), trans. A. D. Melville
  • The Odyssey (800-890), trans. Robert Fagles
  • Beowulf (975-1025), trans. Seamus Heaney
  • Marco Polo, The Travels (c. 1300)
  • Dante Alighieri, Divine Comedy vol 1: Inferno (1320), trans. Robin Kirkpatrick
  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, trans. Simon Armitage
  • Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe (1719)
  • Daniel Defoe, Moll Flanders (1722)
  • Samuel Richardson, Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded (1740)
  • John Cleland, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (aka Fanny Hill) (1747)
  • Samuel Richardson, Clarissa, or, the History of a Young Lady (1748)
  • Lawrence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1767)
  • Choderlos de Laclos, Les Liaisons dangereuses (1782), trans. Douglas Parmée
  • The Marquis de Sade, Justine, or the Misfortunes of Virtue (1791)
  • Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility (1811)
  • Jane Austen, Mansfield Park (1814)
  • Jane Austen, Emma (1815)
  • Aleksandr Pushkin, Eugene Onegin (1833), trans. Vladimir Nabokov
  • Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist (1839)
  • Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol (1843)
  • Honoré de Balzac, Cousin Bette (1846)
  • Anne Brontë, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848)
  • Alexandre Dumas fils, La Dame aux Camélias (1848)
  • William Thackeray, Vanity Fair (1848)
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter (1850)
  • Charles Dickens, David Copperfield (1851)
  • Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851)
  • Charlotte Brontë, Villette (1853)
  • Charles Dickens, Bleak House (1853)
  • Charles Dickens, Hard Times (1854)
  • Henry David Thoreau, Walden (1854)
  • Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary (1857), trans. Margaret Mouldon
  • Thomas Hughes, Tom Brown’s Schooldays (1857)
  • Anthony Trollope, Barchester Towers (1857)
  • Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White (1859)
  • Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)
  • Charles Dickens, Great Expectations (1861)
  • Feodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground (1864)
  • Feodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment (1867), trans. Jessie Coulson
  • Gustave Flaubert, Sentimental Education (1869)
  • Louisa May Alcott, Little Women (1869)
  • Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace (1869), trans. Louise & Aylmer Maude
  • Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, Venus in Furs (1870), trans. Joachim Neugroschel
  • George Eliot, Middlemarch (1872)
  • Henry James, Washington Square (1880)
  • Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884)
  • Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (1877), trans. Louise & Aylmer Maude
  • Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady (1881)
  • Guy de Maupassant, A Life (1883)
  • Guy de Maupassant, Bel-Ami (1885)
  • Robert Louis Stevenson, Strange Case of Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde (1886)
  • Herman Melville, Billy Budd (1891)
  • Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)
  • Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1892)
  • Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage (1895)
  • Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure (1895)
  • Bram Stoker, Dracula (1897)
  • Henry James, The Turn of the Screw (1898)
  • André Gide, The Immoralist (1902), trans. David Watson
  • Henry James, The Wings of the Dove (1902)
  • Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth (1905)
  • E. M. Forster, The Longest Journey (1907)
  • Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden (1911)
  • Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome (1911)
  • Thomas Mann, Death in Venice (1912), trans. David Luke
  • Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time vol 1: The Way by Swann’s (1913), trans. Lydia Davis
  • Ford Madox Ford, The Good Soldier (1915)
  • D. H. Lawrence, The Rainbow (1915)
  • James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916)
  • Lytton Strachey, Eminent Victorians (1918)
  • Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time vol 2: In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower (1919), trans. James Grieve
  • Colette, Chéri (1920)
  • D. H. Lawrence, Women in Love (1920)
  • Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence (1920)
  • Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time vol 3: The Guermantes Way (1921), trans. Mark Treharne
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and Damned (1922)
  • Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha (1922), trans. Hilda Rosner
  • James Joyce, Ulysses (1922)
  • Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time vol 4: Sodom and Gomorrah (1922), trans. John Sturrock
  • Elizabeth von Arnim, The Enchanted April (1922)
  • P. G. Wodehouse, Right Ho, Jeeves (1922)
  • Virginia Woolf, Jacob’s Room (1922)
  • Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time vol 5: The Prisoner (1923), trans. Carol Clark
  • E.M. Forster, A Passage to India (1924)
  • Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain (1924), trans. H. T. Lowe-Porter
  • Franz Kafka, The Trial (1925), trans. Idris Parry
  • W. Somerset Maugham, The Painted Veil (1925)
  • Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time vol 6: The Fugitive (1925), trans. Ian Collier
  • Ernest Hemingway, Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises (1926)
  • Arthur Schnitzler, Dream Story (1926), trans. J. M. Q. Davies
  • Hermann Hesse, Steppenwolf (1927), trans. David Horrocks
  • Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time vol 7: Finding Time Again (1927), trans. Ian Patterson
  • Radclyffe Hall, The Well of Loneliness (1928)
  • D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928, published 1960)
  • Evelyn Waugh, Decline and Fall (1928)
  • Virginia Woolf, Orlando (1928)
  • Alfred Döblin, Berlin Alexanderplatz (1929)
  • William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury (1929)
  • Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms (1929)
  • Nella Larsen, Passing (1929)
  • Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front (1929), trans. Brian Murdoch
  • Stephen Spender, The Temple (1929)
  • William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying (1930)
  • E. F. Benson, Mapp and Lucia (1931)
  • Virginia Woolf, The Waves (1931)
  • Lewis Grassic Gibbon, Sunset Song (1932)
  • Vera Brittain, Testament of Youth (1933)
  • Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933)
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender Is the Night (1934)
  • Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer (1934)
  • Evelyn Waugh, A Handful of Dust (1934)
  • Djuna Barnes, Nightwood (1936)
  • Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind (1936)
  • Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937)
  • Elizabeth Bowen, The Death of the Heart (1938)
  • Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca (1938)
  • Graham Greene, Brighton Rock (1938)
  • Robin Hyde, The Godwits Fly (1938)
  • Daphne du Maurier, Jamaica Inn (1939)
  • John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath (1939)
  • Carson McCullers, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1940)
  • Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940)
  • Carson McCullers, Reflections in a Golden Eye (1941)
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Last Tycoon (1941)
  • Virginia Woolf, Between the Acts (1941)
  • Albert Camus, The Outsider (1942), trans. Sandra Smith
  • Jean Genet, Our Lady of the Flowers (1943), trans. Bernard Frechtman
  • Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead (1943)
  • Nancy Mitford, The Pursuit of Love (1945)
  • Elizabeth Bowen, The Heat of the Day (1948)
  • Truman Capote, Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948)
  • Gore Vidal, The City and the Pillar (1948)
  • Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky (1949)
  • Neville Shute, A Town Like Alice (1950)
  • Truman Capote, The Grass Harp (1951)
  • Daphne du Maurier, My Cousin Rachel (1951)
  • Graham Greene, The End of the Affair (1951)
  • Anthony Powell, A Dance to the Music of Time vol 1: A Question of Upbringing (1951)
  • Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)
  • Barbara Pym, Excellent Women (1952)
  • Anthony Powell, A Dance to the Music of Time vol 2: A Buyer’s Market (1952)
  • Patricia Highsmith, Carol (aka The Price of Salt) (1952)
  • Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 (1953)
  • Mark Renault, The Charioteer (1953)
  • Françoise Sagan, Bonjour Tristesse (1954), trans. Heather Lloyd
  • Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim (1954)
  • Anthony Powell, A Dance to the Music of Time vol 3: The Acceptance World (1955)
  • Graham Greene, The Quiet American (1955)
  • Patricia Highsmith, The Talented Mr Ripley (1955)
  • James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room (1956)
  • Jack Kerouac, On the Road (1957)
  • Janet Frame, Owls Do Cry (1957)
  • Boris Pasternak, Dr Zhivago (1957), trans. Richard Peavar & Larissa Volokhonsky
  • Anthony Powell, A Dance to the Music of Time vol 4: At Lady Molly’s (1957)
  • Marguerite Duras, Moderato Cantabile (1958)
  • William Burroughs, The Naked Lunch (1959)
  • John Updike, Rabbit, Run (1960)
  • Anthony Powell, A Dance to the Music of Time vol 5: Casanova’s Chinese Restaurant (1960)
  • Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (1961)
  • J. D. Salinger, Franny & Zooey (1961)
  • Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961)
  • Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange (1962)
  • Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook (1962)
  • J. G. Ballard, The Drowned World (1962)
  • James Baldwin, Another Country (1962)
  • Anthony Powell, A Dance to the Music of Time vol 6: The Kindly Ones (1962)
  • Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique (1963)
  • John Rechy, City of Night (1963)
  • Christopher Isherwood, A Single Man (1964)
  • Hubert Selby, Last Exit to Brooklyn (1964)
  • Anthony Powell, A Dance to the Music of Time vol 7: The Valley of Bones (1964)
  • John Fowles, The Magus (1965)
  • Jerzy Kosiński, The Painted Bird (1965)
  • Anthony Powell, A Dance to the Music of Time vol 8: The Soldier’s Art (1966)
  • Jacqueline Susann, Valley of the Dolls (1966)
  • William Styron, The Confessions of Nat Turner (1967)
  • Thomas Savage, The Power of the Dog (1967)
  • Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967), trans. Gregory Rabassa
  • Isabel Colegate, Orlando King (1968)
  • Anthony Powell, A Dance to the Music of Time vol 9: The Military Philosophers (1968)
  • Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)
  • Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)
  • Philip Roth, Portnoy’s Complaint (1969)
  • Germaine Greer, The Female Eunuch (1970)
  • Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye (1970)
  • Anthony Powell, A Dance to the Music of Time vol 10: Books Do Furnish a Room (1971)
  • Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities (1972)
  • Margaret Atwood, Surfacing (1972)
  • Anthony Powell, A Dance to the Music of Time vol 11: Temporary Kings (1973)
  • Patrick White, The Eye of the Storm (1973)
  • James Baldwin, If Beale Street Could Talk (1974)
  • John le Carré, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1974)
  • Anthony Powell, A Dance to the Music of Time vol 12: Hearing Secret Harmonies (1975)
  • J. G. Ballard, High-Rise (1975)
  • Beryl Bainbridge, Sweet William (1975)
  • Marilyn French, The Women’s Room (1977)
  • Christopher Isherwood, Christopher and His Kind (1976)
  • Bruce Chatwin, In Patagonia (1977)
  • Barbara Pym, Quartet in Autumn (1977)
  • Toni Morrison, The Song of Solomon (1977)
  • Maurice Gee, Plumb (1978)
  • John Irving, The World According to Garp (1978)
  • Larry Kramer, Faggots (1978)
  • Iris Murdoch, The Sea, The Sea (1978)
  • William Styron, Sophie’s Choice (1979)
  • J. L. Carr, A Month in the Country (1980)
  • Isabel Colegate, The Shooting Party (1980)
  • Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose (1980), trans. William Weaver
  • John Kennedy O’Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces (1980)
  • Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping (1980)
  • Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children (1981)
  • Isabelle Allende, The House of the Spirits (1982), trans. Magda Bogin
  • Alice Walker, The Color Purple (1982)
  • Susan Hill, The Woman in Black (1983)
  • Elfriede Jelinek, The Piano Teacher (1983)
  • Martin Amis, Money: A Suicide Note (1984)
  • J. G. Ballard, Empire of the Sun (1984)
  • Marguerite Duras, The Lover (1984), trans. Barbara Bray
  • William Gibson, Neuromancer (1984)
  • Keri Hulme, The Bone People (1984)
  • Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984), trans. Michael Henry Heim
  • Mary Wesley, The Camomile Lawn (1984)
  • Don deLillo, White Noise (1985)
  • Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera (1985), trans. Edith Grossman
  • Truman Capote, Answered Prayers (1986)
  • Patricia Grace, Potiki (1986)
  • Witi Ihimaera, The Matriarch (1986)
  • Anaïs Nin, Henry and June (1986)
  • Bruce Chatwin, The Songlines (1987)
  • Carrie Fisher, Postcards From the Edge (1987)
  • Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses (1988)
  • Janet Frame, An Angel at My Table (1989)
  • A S Byatt, Possession (1990)
  • Alan Duff, Once Were Warriors (1990)
  • Hanif Kureishi, The Buddha of Suburbia (1990)
  • Reinaldo Arenas, Before Night Falls (1992), trans. Dolores M. Koch
  • Toni Morrison, Jazz (1992)
  • Sebastian Faulks, Birdsong (1993)
  • Vikram Seth, A Suitable Boy (1993)
  • Witi Ihimaera, Bulibasha: King of the Gypsies (1994)
  • Rohinton Mistry, A Fine Balance (1995)
  • Alan Warner, Morvern Callar (1995)
  • Candace Bushnell, Sex and the City (1996)
  • Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club (1996)
  • David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest (1996)
  • Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1997), trans. Jay Rubin
  • Sarah Waters, Tipping the Velvet (1998)
  • J. M. Coetzee, Disgrace (1999)
  • Peter Carey, True History of the Kelly Gang (2000)
  • Zadie Smith, White Teeth (2000)
  • Michel Faber, The Crimson Petal and the White (2002)
  • Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (2004)
  • Andrea Levy, Small Island (2004)
  • David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas (2004)
  • Philip Roth, The Plot Against America (2004)
  • John Banville, The Sea (2005)
  • Kate Grenville, The Secret River (2005)
  • Sarah Waters, The Night Watch (2006)
  • Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle (2009), trans. Don Bartlett
  • Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend (2012), trans. Ann Goldstein
  • Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad (2016)
  • Bernardine Evaristo, Girl, Woman, Other (2019)

 

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3 comments

  1. Gawd, I’ve read only 4 of these – mostly from later years – and started and failed to finish another couple. Perhaps your blog will inspire me to have a go at some of them.

    Like

  2. I can’t resist a list! This is a good one. I started my Rose City Reader book blog 11 years ago to keep track of all the book lists I am working on – prize winners and Must Reads. It’s hard to keep up!

    Recently, I did what you did and made a list of “classics” I haven’t gotten to yet that I want to make an effort to read. My list is here: https://www.rosecityreader.com/p/the-classics-club-egyptologists.html You might be interested in sharing your list with the Classics Club, a group of bloggers working on similar lists. You can find the details and the link in my post.

    Of yours, I’ve read 103. My favorite = Dance to the Music of Time. My least favorite = The Magus. Several of the 67 I haven’t read are on my TBR shelves.

    Good luck and happy reading!

    Like

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