Sunday, July 12, 2009

QWT's Great Books Reading List

I don't in any way pretend to have an authoritative list of great books here. Ironically, most so-called "great" books lists contains plenty of works that suck or are truly boring (The Old Testament? Paradise Lost? Anything by Goethe?, etc.).

This list of books below contains titles I consider "great" in a literary and cultural sense, but they are also, believe it or not, really good books to read.

Any writer who wants to be taken seriously should have read many--if not most--of the titles below.

The Canterbury Tales
And you thought South Park was original? Some of these stories are shockingly crude and laugh-out-loud hilarious.
Don Quixote
Often referred to as the first novel ever written. There are features to this story (such as when Don Quixote and Sancho Panza travel to meet author Miguel de Cervantes) that anticipate literature's post-modern era.
The Riverside Shakespeare
An excellent annotated guide to every one of Shakespeares works. One of the very few books I kept from college.
Gulliver's Travels
This story, with its rich satire of human nature, is still fresh nearly 300 years after Jonathan Swift wrote it.
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: Volumes 1-3 and Volumes 4-6
Possibly the most famous work of history in the entire English language.
David Copperfield
No book by Dickens better displays his gift for creating memorable characters.
A Tale of Two Cities
Written nearly ten years after David Copperfield, this is Dickens' most affecting political story.
Sense and Sensibility
Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austin has one of the best turns of phrase of any writer, ever. And these are two of the best novels of the 19th century.
The Return of the Native
Schools should assign this engrossing book by Thomas Hardy instead of the tiring Jude the Obscure.
Anton Chekhov's Short Stories
Chekhov is perhaps literature's most gifted observer of human folly.
The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
Holmes was the first superhero of Western literature. The fact that he was a bit of a cocaine addict and often treated Watson like dirt only adds more layers to this intriguing character.
The Waves
My favorite of Virginia Woolf's books--experimental, and in my view far better than the dreaded book everyone gets assigned in college: To The Lighthouse.
Animal Farm
In just over 100 pages, this book somehow captures the entirety, and the deep irony, of political history.
A Farewell To Arms
A dramatization of Hemingway's experiences serving as an ambulance driver in Italy during World War I. Exhibit "A" of why all authors should endeavor to live interesting lives.
For Whom the Bell Tolls
Seen by some as Hemingway selling out, seen by others as the best war novel of the 20th Century.
The Old Man and The Sea
Some readers find this a difficult book, but in my opinion it is Hemingway's finest.
Light in August
Faulkner's most readable book, and probably the only one you should bother reading.
The Grapes of Wrath
A deeply moving novel, but it's the ending that everyone debates. Is it powerful or is it just plain bad? Read it so you'll have your own view.
Death Comes for the Archbishop
My Antonia
Willa Cather's greatest gift is her ability to convey deep emotion through simple characters and spare writing.
Murder on the Orient Express
The greatest mystery writer of the 20th Century, featuring the greatest detective of the 20th Century.
What books would you add to this list? Remember, they have to be "great books"--but they also have to be good books.