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
  • Bhagavad Gita (200 BC), trans. Juan Mascaró
  • Ovid, Metamorphoses (8 AD), trans. A. D. Melville
  • The Odyssey (800-890), trans. Robert Fagles
  • Beowulf (975-1025), trans. Seamus Heaney
  • The Letters of Abelard and Heloise (1133), trans. Betty Radice
  • Dante Alighieri, Divine Comedy vol 1: Inferno (1320), trans. Robin Kirkpatrick
  • 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)
  • Fanny Burney, Evelina, or the History of a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World (1788)
  • Choderlos de Laclos, Les Liaisons dangereuses (1782), trans. Douglas Parmée
  • 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, A Christmas Carol (1843)
  • 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)
  • Henry David Thoreau, Walden (1854)
  • Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary (1857), trans. Margaret Mouldon
  • Anthony Trollope, Barchester Towers (1857)
  • Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White (1859)
  • Charles Dickens, Great Expectations (1861)
  • Feodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment (1867), trans. Jessie Coulson
  • 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)
  • Robert Louis Stevenson, Strange Case of Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde (1886)
  • Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)
  • Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1892)
  • Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure (1895)
  • Henry James, The Turn of the Screw (1898)
  • Kate Chopin, The Awakening (1899)
  • 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)
  • 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
  • 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
  • D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928, published 1960)
  • Evelyn Waugh, Decline and Fall (1928)
  • Alfred Döblin, Berlin Alexanderplatz (1929)
  • William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury (1929)
  • Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms (1929)
  • Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front (1929), trans. Brian Murdoch
  • 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)
  • 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)
  • Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca (1938)
  • Graham Greene, Brighton Rock (1938)
  • Robin Hyde, The Godwits Fly (1938)
  • John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath (1939)
  • Carson McCullers, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1940)
  • Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940)
  • Virginia Woolf, Between the Acts (1941)
  • Albert Camus, The Stranger (1942), trans. Sandra Smith
  • Jean Genet, Our Lady of the Flowers (1943), trans. Bernard Frechtman
  • Nancy Mitford, The Pursuit of Love (1945)
  • Elizabeth Bowen, The Heat of the Day (1948)
  • Gore Vidal, The City and the Pillar (1948)
  • Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky (1949)
  • Neville Shute, A Town Like Alice (1950)
  • Anthony Powell, A Dance to the Music of Time vol 1: A Question of Upbringing (1951)
  • Graham Greene, The End of the Affair (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 (first published as The Price of Salt) (1952)
  • Saul Bellow, The Adventures of Augie March (1953)
  • Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 (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)
  • James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room (1956)
  • Jack Kerouac, On the Road (1957)
  • Janet Frame, Owls Do Cry (1957)
  • Patrick White, Voss (1957)
  • Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged (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)
  • Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart (1958)
  • Marguerite Duras, Moderato Cantabile (1958)
  • Günter Grass, The Tin Drum (1959), trans. Ralph Manheim
  • 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)
  • Janet Frame, Faces in the Water (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)
  • Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire (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)
  • Saul Bellow, Herzog (1964)
  • 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)
  • William Styron, The Confessions of Nat Turner (1967)
  • Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, A Grain of Wheat (1967)
  • Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967), trans. Gregory Rabassa
  • Charles Portis, True Grit (1968)
  • Anthony Powell, A Dance to the Music of Time vol 9: The Military Philosophers (1968)
  • Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)
  • Philip Roth, Portnoy’s Complaint (1969)
  • Margaret Atwood, The Edible Woman (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)
  • 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)
  • V. S. Naipaul, A Bend in the River (1979)
  • William Styron, Sophie’s Choice (1979)
  • 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
  • Susan Hill, The Woman in Black (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
  • Patricia Grace, Potiki (1986)
  • Witi Ihimaera, The Matriarch (1986)
  • Anaïs Nin, Henry and June (1986)
  • Tsitsi Dangarembga, Nervous Conditions (1988)
  • Janet Frame, An Angel at My Table (1989)
  • John Irving, A Prayer for Owen Meany (1989)
  • Alan Duff, Once Were Warriors (1990)
  • Hanif Kureishi, The Buddha of Suburbia (1990)
  • Ben Okri, The Famished Road (1991)
  • 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)
  • Richard Ford, Independence Day (1995)
  • Rohinton Mistry, A Fine Balance (1995)
  • Alan Warner, Morvern Callar (1995)
  • Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club (1996)
  • David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest (1996)
  • Sarah Waters, Tipping the Velvet (1998)
  • J. M. Coetzee, Disgrace (1999)
  • Peter Carey, True History of the Kelly Gang (2000)
  • Michael Chabon, The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (2000)
  • Zadie Smith, White Teeth (2000)
  • W. G. Sebald, Austerlitz (2001), trans. Anthea Bell
  • Michel Faber, The Crimson Petal and the White (2002)
  • Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore (2002), trans. Philip Gabriel
  • 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)
  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun (2006)
  • Sarah Waters, The Night Watch (2006)
  • Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle (2009), trans. Don Bartlett
  • Jennifer Egan, A Visit from The Goon Squad (2011)
  • Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend (2012), trans. Ann Goldstein
  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah (2013)
  • Marlon James, A Brief History of Seven Killings (2014)
  • Rachel Cusk, Outline (2014)
  • Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad (2016)
  • Bernardine Evaristo, Girl, Woman, Other (2019)

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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