Does This List Make You Feel Stupid?

Newsweek recently published this list of Top 100 Books of All Time, using some number-crunching method based on other book lists. Browsing through it, I was dismayed to find I’ve read only 13! (It’s even more disconcerting considering I was in Advanced Placement English.)

This does not include the ones I’ve only seen a movie version of, or those I didn’t manage to finish. C’mon, Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy went on forehhhhhver. I attacked that massive tome (900+ pages) twice, in high school and college, like Jason on his quest for golden fleece, determined to break through walls of dense prose and get past monster run-on sentences. Alas, I had to admit defeat both times due to induced narcolepsy.

So the books I can claim to have read (and their ranking on the list) are:

2) 1984—George Orwell

15) The Catcher in the Rye—J.D. Salinger

18) The Great Gatsby—F. Scott Fitzgerald

21) The Grapes of Wrath—John Steinbeck

36) Winnie-the-Pooh—A.A. Milne (one of the best books ever written)

49) Hamlet—William Shakespeare

54) The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn—Mark Twain

58) One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest—Ken Kesey (even more amazing than the film, if that’s possible)

61) Animal Farm—George Orwell

62) Lord of the Flies—William Golding (freaked me out but blew me away)

66) The Big Sleep—Raymond Chandler

83) The Maltese Falcon—Dashiell Hammett (required reading for noir fans)

99) The Color Purple—Alice Walker (cried like a baby through most of it)

I know this list is far from definitive because there’s nothing on there from the 21st century and only two from the last 25 years. Loads are from at least 50 years ago, many are from several centuries back and a few are from the time Before Christ. I’m surprised stories told via cavemen drawings didn’t make the cut.

But it’s fun to play along. So, which ones have you read? What books do you think should’ve been on there? And if you’ve truly managed to finish War and Peace (#1 on list), please send in a photo and/or book report so I can see you’re not an urban legend.



  • Reply
    July 5, 2009 at 9:56 pm

    I do feel kind of stupid, but I have read 34 of the ones listed. I actually abhor lists like this because they are so random. Who says Quotations From Chairman Mao ought to be on this list as opposed to The Indispensable Calvin and Hobbes? That’s downright blasphemy!!

    • Reply
      July 6, 2009 at 9:33 am

      Anything from the Calvin and Hobbes collection is AMAZING! I’ll take what Bill Watterson had to say over Chairman Mao’s quotations any day. Watterson’s work was deeply profound and moving. He was able to say more within 4 frames and a few speech balloons than some can in hundreds of pages.

  • Reply
    Shelley P
    July 6, 2009 at 1:02 am

    It reminded me of the many ‘classics’ I’ve never read…

    • Reply
      July 6, 2009 at 9:38 am

      Are you a Cliffs Notes fan, Shelley P? 😉

      • Reply
        Shelley P
        July 6, 2009 at 5:11 pm

        LOL! No, actually I had to google to find out what CliffsNotes are. If I’m going to read the book, I’m going to read the book. All eleven of the books on the list that I had read, I read while at school. In entirety. 😉 It doesn’t make me feel stupid, but reminds me that I could read a book a week for the rest of my life and there would still be countless amazing ones I’d never get to. So I’d better get a wriggle on.

        Now I have two reading lists to work through: Newsweek’s Top 100 for classics, and PCN’s for contemporary!

        • Reply
          July 7, 2009 at 8:46 am

          Shelley P, I hate to admit it but I relied on Cliffs Notes a couple times in school. The required reading was so excruciatingly dry that I just couldn’t finish it but had to write book reports. This happened with Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie (I really had a block when it came to him) and James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans. Interestingly enough, when the latter was made into a movie, I loved it. Maybe if I’d imagined Hawkeye to be as hot as Daniel Day-Lewis, I would’ve been able to finish the book!

          I’m extremely flattered you keep a PCN reading list of contemporary titles.

          • Reply
            Shelley P
            July 8, 2009 at 4:50 am

            Neither of those was on my high school curriculum or maybe I’d have learned about CliffsNotes a long time ago! But I’m happy to add an extra honorary seven books to my total like Poncho, having also read the entire Narnia series and The Hobbit. 😉

  • Reply
    July 6, 2009 at 11:57 am

    OK… Let’s see how many of those I’ve read:

    8) But 1/2 of it… just The Odyssey – Homer

    17) One Hundred Years in Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Any native spanish-speaker who hasn’t read that should consider himself a little stupid. It’s the LatinAmerican Bible.

    27) On the Origin of Species – Charles Darwin. I’m a scientist, you know?

    35) The Lord of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien… and The Hobbit, and the Silmarillion, and The Lost Tales… I’m quite a geek, LOL.

    37) The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe – C.S. Lewis… and all of the Narnia books

    56) Frankenstein – Mary W. Shelley – I read it for homework, actually…

    84) His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman

    Just 6 1/2… but it doesn’t make me feel stupid.

    If you ask me, I would add El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha by Cervantes, Le Petit Prince by Saint-Exupery, Rayuela by Cortazar, The Jungle Book by Kipling, El laberinto de la soledad by Paz, and even The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevski, La Regenta by “Clarin” (it’s the spaniard Madame Bovary), El periquillo sarniento by Fernandez de Lizardi, or Los bandidos de Rio Frio by Payno…

    But I do get it… Newsweek is a magazin read by english speakers, and most of those books I mentioned (all of which I’ve read) are classic books but not in english-speaking countries (except, perhaps, The Jungle Book).

    I don’t feel stupid at all, just because I’ve read a whole lot of other material. What I do feel is a challenge: can I read all of them? (The Bible is perhaps the exception… I’ve read a whole lot of it, but I think I will never finish it).

    • Reply
      July 6, 2009 at 11:59 am

      Ok… sorry. A few errata…

      The face 8) should be #8, haha. And I meant “magazine“.

    • Reply
      July 7, 2009 at 8:29 am

      Poncho, you bring up a good point. Though this list contains a few titles translated from other languages, it probably qualifies as a “top books” list only in English-speaking countries. I read these books in school but schoolchildren in, oh, Yemen are likely subjected to different curriculum.

      I agree that Le Petit Prince should be on the list but haven’t read the others you mentioned. What about Marquez’s El Amor en los Tiempos del Colera? I’m impressed you’ve read The Brothers Karamazov. Russian Lit is definitely not one of my strengths.

      By the way, I think your number is much higher than 6.5. You read all those Lord of the Rings books (how are you supposed to stop at just one?) so that increases your number by 3 right there. His Dark Materials should count as 3 entries so that’s another 2 for you. And there are 7 Narnia books so if you’ve read them all, you can add 6 more to your total. That comes out to 17.5! It’s higher than my number and you’re from a non-native-English-speaking country!

      • Reply
        July 7, 2009 at 10:09 am

        In my defense, the only Russian book that I recall having read The Brothers Karamazov and it was hard (it definitely helped that I read it in spanish!). About Marquez’s El amor en los tiempos del colera, ‘though it’s a great book, One Hundred Years of Solitude‘s very own Macondo is by far a much better book, IMHO.

        And the other books I wrote have a bigger place in my heart. Rayuela is just amazing… two books in one (I recommend you to read it, even if you find it in english, because it’s huge, and you HAVE to read it twice). Ohhhh…. and you’ve got to read Mario Vargas Llosa’s Pantaleon y las visitadoras (Captain Pantoja and the Special Service), one of his classics, and just funny as hell.

  • Reply
    July 6, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    OMG! I’ve only read 5 of them! Unless you count His Dark Materials as 3 books (which they are, BTW).

    I feel not as well read as I thought I was. I’m off to the library as I write this. (LOL!)

    • Reply
      July 7, 2009 at 8:48 am

      I count His Dark Materials as 3 books, too (see my response to Poncho).

      I think I’ll be behind you in the checkout line at the library!

  • Reply
    July 20, 2009 at 3:30 am

    Oh man…I do feel stupid…I’ve only read twelve of the books on this list! Urgh…

    Funny how they always overlook my favorite Steinbeck novel, EAST OF EDEN, in favor of THE GRAPES OF WRATH. Don’t know why the do that, and then give SHAKESPEARE three slots? Um, hello, my boy Steinbeck deserves at least two spots on the countdown!

    Glad to see BRIDESHEAD REVISITED on there though, that is another of my all-time favorite books! So, yay for Evelyn Waugh! 🙂

    • Reply
      July 20, 2009 at 6:48 am

      I think Steinbeck’s The Pearl has been criminally underrated as well. That book was only a slim volume but socked me in the solar plexus emotionally. Talk about maximum impact from minimum words.

  • Reply
    March 21, 2010 at 7:17 pm

    Well, I’ve read over half of them and still feel stupid! Recalling some that I bluffed my way through and others that I cannot believe that I still have not read! Anyone who says they have read Ulysses is lying. :=)

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