Lists and Notable Articles

28 Books You Should Read If You Want To

By posted at 6:00 am on February 18, 2014 41


Earlier this month Amazon released a list of 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime. It joins Esquire’s 80 Books Every Man Should Read, The Telegraph’s 100 Novels Everyone Should Read, Huffington Post’s more manageable 30 Books You Should Read Before You’re 30, and The Guardian’s ambitious and inflexible 1000 Novels Everyone Must Read.

These lists serve a purpose if you’re Jay Gatsby furnishing a library or if you’ve, say, just arrived from Mars and have no knowledge of Earth books. What they miss is that one of the greatest rewards of a reading life is discovery. In my 10 years working at bookstores, no one ever came in and asked me what they should read before their death — they would ask me what my favorite book was, or if there were any great new books no one was talking about, or they would just want me to leave them alone so they could explore on their own.

I discovered one of my favorite books because the author called our store and charmed the living daylights out of me. I found another in a box of old books that my Russian literature professor left outside his office to give away. So while I do think that you should read the canon if it interests you, I think it’s more important that you read the books that find their own way into your hands.

With that in mind, here is my list of books you should read (if you want to):

You should read the book that you hear two booksellers arguing about at the registers while you’re browsing in a bookstore.

You should read the book that you see someone on the train reading and trying to hide that they’re laughing.

You should read the book that you see someone on the train reading and trying to hide that they’re crying.

You should read the book that you find left behind in the airplane seat pocket, on a park bench, on the bus, at a restaurant, or in a hotel room.

You should read the book that you see someone reading for hours in a coffee shop — there when you got there and still there when you left — that made you envious because you were working instead of absorbed in a book.

You should read the book you find in your grandparents’ house that’s inscribed “To Ray, all my love, Christmas 1949.”

You should read the book that you didn’t read when it was assigned in your high school English class. You’d probably like it better now anyway.

You should read the book whose author happened to mention on Charlie Rose that their favorite band is your favorite band.

You should read the book that your favorite band references in their lyrics.

You should read the book that your history professor mentions and then says, “which, by the way, is a great book,” offhandedly.

You should read the book that you loved in high school. Read it again.

You should read the book that you find on the library’s free cart whose cover makes you laugh.

You should read the book whose main character has your first name.

You should read the book whose author gets into funny Twitter exchanges with Colson Whitehead.

You should read the book about your hometown’s history that was published by someone who grew up there.

You should read the book your parents give you for your high school graduation.

You should read the book you’ve started a few times and keep meaning to finish once and for all.

You should read books with characters you don’t like.

You should read books about countries you’re about to visit.

You should read books about historical events you don’t know anything about.

You should read books about things you already know a little about.

You should read books you can’t stop hearing about and books you’ve never heard of.

You should read books mentioned in other books.

You should read prize-winners, bestsellers, beach reads, book club picks, and classics, when you want to.

You should just keep reading.

Image via Abee5/Flickr

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41 Responses to “28 Books You Should Read If You Want To”

  1. DAS
    at 8:52 am on February 18, 2014

    Thanks for the first really good list of read in quite some time.

  2. Dianna Narciso
    at 9:21 am on February 18, 2014

    This was fabulous! Thank you.

  3. Jacques F.
    at 9:27 am on February 18, 2014

    Nicely done.

  4. sharon
    at 9:55 am on February 18, 2014

    LOVE this – except I’ve never found a book whose main character shares my first name!

  5. T. Beshear
    at 11:11 am on February 18, 2014

    Marcia Muller writes a series of mystery novels about a private investigator named Sharon McCone. They’re pretty good, too.

  6. Judy Krueger
    at 12:25 pm on February 18, 2014

    Stylish and intimate at the same time. You captured the adventure of how we each discover the books we love in our individual ways.

  7. Lakis Fourouklas
    at 1:51 pm on February 18, 2014

    “You should read books mentioned in other books.”

    I did that. I’ve started reading classic Russian literature after Hemingway recommended it in his books. Once I got there I never went back to Hemingway, and that I do not regret.

  8. umbrarchist
    at 1:51 pm on February 18, 2014

    Maybe it should be books to think about rather than books to read.

    Of course you can’t think much about a book if you haven’t read it.

    But I have read many books that I decided weren’t worth thinking about and therefore were not worth reading. The trouble is I didn’t know until after I had read them.

    Lord of the Rings was not worth reading. The Door into Summer by Robert Heinlein is worth thinking about.

  9. Martine Frampton
    at 3:49 pm on February 18, 2014

    The only book i have come across where the main character shares my name is Rape, A love story by Joyce Carol Oates. It was actually quite a disconcerting experience,maybe not shared by people with common names who see their name in books all the time.

  10. Martine Frampton
    at 3:53 pm on February 18, 2014

    p.s. Interestingly Esquire does not think men should bother reading any books by women.

  11. Jillian
    at 5:25 pm on February 18, 2014

    Martine, Flannery O’Connor was a woman (but now I kind of suspect Esquire doesn’t know that).

  12. Flora
    at 10:27 pm on February 18, 2014

    I cherish the book with my first name, Flora, and you’ve just reminded me to read it again.

  13. dave jeb
    at 12:11 am on February 19, 2014

    Diving into a book from the library I came across the previous reader’s return ticket for several books. Feeling the karma I checked out two and that’s how I found Geek Love and The Dinner. Good reads I had not heard of before. You never know how inspiration hits

  14. Anjana
    at 5:30 am on February 19, 2014

    I’m so happy to read your view on lists which is exactly how I feel. The parameters you’ve given are fabulous ! :)

  15. Divya
    at 11:51 am on February 19, 2014

    Good list!!! And also the first list that doesn’t make you feel that if you haven’t read a certain book then you have not read anything. Of course to add to it the books you dhould read that you haven’t heard about before but two of your friends just keep arguing about it. :-D

  16. Patricia Scott
    at 12:40 pm on February 19, 2014

    I do read ALL the time……when we go on a trip I buy paperbacks, I read them and then leave them wherever I am. Love them.

  17. Rob
    at 1:50 pm on February 19, 2014

    Best List Ever. Thank you.

    (Discovered Scott Turow as I was sitting across from a woman on a train who was reading the last few pp. of Presumed Innocent faster and faster the closer we got to the terminal and then whispered, “Ooh . . . shit!!”)

  18. Bron
    at 11:38 pm on February 19, 2014

    Definitely read the one where the main character has your own name, in fact I was named after Bronwyn in How Green Was My Valley

  19. Leslie
    at 11:38 am on February 20, 2014

    Yes! Some of my favorite books are the ones I’ve stumbled upon. I love stopping into a small bookshop and asking for a recommendation. Also, when I go to someone’s house for the first time, I always check out their shelves.

  20. Gigs
    at 3:05 pm on February 20, 2014

    I found one of my favorite books because it had been reserved at the library for someone with the same name. I picked up the four books I reserved and when I got home, I saw this other book, “St. Dale” by Sharyn McCrumb. It had just come out and I’m sure the other “Gigs” was anxious to have it, but I read the jacket and thought, “Well, that sounds right up my alley!” I read it in two days and returned it to the library with a note to the other “Gigs” both apologizing for picking up her book and thanking her for her excellent taste.

  21. Denise Drespling
    at 9:10 am on February 21, 2014

    Finally! A list where I’ve actually read most of the books :)

  22. Lonny Cain
    at 9:15 am on February 21, 2014

    Yes, yes. It’s all about discovery. Not only the story within the pages but what might fall out. I wrote a column this week about such discoveries — and found new treasures. I told readers I have a 1936 edition of “The Complete Works of O. Henry” that I bought from a pile of books on a picnic table. I later found a four-leaf clover within the pages. After writing this column, I flipped through the thin, fragile pages again last night. I was surprised to discover a total of 28 clovers, pressed and saved. All had four leaves except a few with two. Amazing, yes?

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  25. Jessica
    at 8:58 pm on February 21, 2014

    What a marvelous list! Reading should be about freedom and this list encapsulates just that.

  26. John
    at 4:30 am on February 22, 2014

    You should read books of short stories created by Deborah Eisenberg. The woman is a screaming genius.

  27. Renée
    at 3:28 pm on February 22, 2014

    I once bought a leather-bound, gold-embossed Dickens from the late 1800s for $10, just for its look and feel. It was Dombey & Son, which I’d never heard of. A couple of years later, I thought it would be so cool to hold it in my hands and read it. Whoa! Amazing! Dickens! The happiest of accidents!

  28. Rachel
    at 9:15 am on February 25, 2014

    Flora: Is it Cold Comfort Farm? Love that book.

  29. Shelley
    at 11:11 am on February 25, 2014

    Speaking of what books we do and do not hear about: thanks for posting VIDA’s new findings about “Dudesville” magazines that mostly hire male reviewers and mostly publish male books.

    Makes me mad.

  30. A
    at 2:46 pm on March 9, 2014

    Great list, notice that most of them can not be Kindle, Ereader books. Long live paper.

  31. Sue
    at 5:41 pm on March 9, 2014

    Just read ! When I was bored as a child, I would read the ingredients on the ketchup bottle! My mum used to tell me, “Don’t Read ! You’ll get Ideas!'” Just read ! :) It is a gift !

  32. Emma Phillips
    at 7:57 pm on March 10, 2014

    Love this list.

    Would you mind if I turned your words into a poster to put up in my school library? This year’s Book Week Theme in Australia is “Connect to Reading” and (most of) your list would be perfect to support that theme in a school with girls from 3 to 17 years of age. What doesn’t suit the girls should speak volumes to the staff.

    Obviously, I’ll cite the source (currently trying to really reinforce the whole “plagarism is not okay” message with best practise examples) but I understand if your answer is no.

    Either way – fantastic list!

  33. Joanne
    at 12:37 pm on March 17, 2014

    Some of my favorite books that I suggest are ones that get discarded from the local library and get put in the book sale. Just because no one has borrowed them doesn’t mean they aren’t good books, or if they’re falling apart they’ve been read many times and show promise of being loved.

  34. Robin
    at 12:26 am on April 11, 2014

    I read Watership Downs because Stephen King mention it in The Stand. Still one of my favs!! (Both actually are).

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  38. Virginia Llorca
    at 1:29 am on September 8, 2014

    The Gutenberg project has just about everything turned into digital. Ot however one would phrase that process. I think that is where I got that Chretian deTroyes Arthurian thing.

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  40. naVed
    at 2:38 pm on October 22, 2014

    ok! this is a very unique kind of book list i have ever seen !

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