The “Well-Read List” from BookRiot

You know what’s perfect for a Monday morning? A list post. Cause those are fun and don’t involve me trying to be particularly engaging or witty. So win-win for everyone, really.

So I actually saw this over at The Story Girl, and I’m following Lorren’s example and doing a post about BookRiot’s recent list of 100 books that might mean you’re “well-read”. I really like that they attempted to tackle this question – how would you define well-read? Here is what Jeff at BookRiot had to say:

This hypothetical forces any given answerer to do two things: provide their personal definition of well-read and then give a list of books that might satisfy that definition. The first hurdle to clear is cultural position: who is this person? As I can only provide a reasonable list of books from my own cultural position, I have to assume that this person is like me, at least in a very basic way: an alive American who can read English.

“Well-read” for this person then has a number of connotations: a familiarity with the monuments of Western literature, an at least passing interest in the high-points of world literature, a willingness to experience a breadth of genres, a special interest in the work of one’s immediate culture, a desire to share in the same reading experiences of many other readers, and an emphasis on the writing of the current day.

The following 100 books (of fiction, poetry, and drama) is an attempt to satisfy those competing requirements.

It’s a good definition, although not one that I personally subscribe to. For me, the term “well-read” should be about having a broad range of genres in your reading habits, from classics to manga to humor to YA to romance to non-fiction and so on. The more variety the better. I also think that if there is going to be an emphasis or focus, it should be less on “the writing of the current day” and more on classics and non-fiction. I have to say that I’m a little disappointed in the lack of non-fiction on this list. BUT I’m going to go through the list of 100 books he suggested nonetheless and see how many I’ve read.

The ones I’ve read will be striked through, and the ones I plan to read will have a little * by them.

  1. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain*
  2. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
  3. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton*
  4. All Quiet on the Western Front by Eric Maria Remarque
  5. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Klay  by Michael Chabon
  6. American Pastoral by Philip Roth
  7. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy*
  8. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  9. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
  10. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  11. Beloved by Toni Morrison*
  12. Beowulf
  13. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  14. Brave New World by Alduos Huxley*
  15. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz*
  16. The Call of the Wild  by Jack London
  17. Candide by Voltaire
  18. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer*
  19. Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
  20. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller*
  21. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  22. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
  23. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
  24. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
  25. The Complete Stories of Edgar Allan Poe
  26. The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor 
  27. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen*
  28. Crime & Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky*
  29. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
  30. Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
  31. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes*
  32. Dream of Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin
  33. Dune by Frank Herbert*
  34. Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
  35. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  36. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
  37. Faust by Goethe
  38. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley*
  39. Game of Thrones by George RR Martin
  40. The Golden Bowl by Henry James
  41. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
  42. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  43. The Gospels
  44. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  45. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens*
  46. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  47. Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  48. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  49. Harry Potter & The Sorceror’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
  50. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad*
  51. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
  52. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  53. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien*
  54. House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday
  55. Howl by Allen Ginsberg
  56. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  57. if on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino*
  58. The Iliad by Homer*
  59. The Inferno by Dante
  60. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace*
  61. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison*
  62. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
  63. The Life of Pi by Yann Martel
  64. The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
  65. The Little Prince by Antoine  de Saint-Exepury*
  66. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  67. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez*
  68. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  69. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
  70. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
  71. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
  72. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
  73. The Odyssey by Homer*
  74. Oedipus, King by Sophocles
  75. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  76. A Passage to India by E.M. Forster*
  77. The Pentateuch
  78. Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
  79. Rabbit, Run by John Updike
  80. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  81. Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare*
  82. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  83. Slaughterhouse-5 by Kurt Vonnegut
  84. The Sound and The Fury by William Faulkner*
  85. The Stand by Stephen King
  86. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
  87. Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust
  88. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  89. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
  90. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
  91. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  92. Ulysses by James Joyce
  93. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
  94. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
  95. Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee
  96. Watchmen by Alan Moore
  97. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
  98. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
  99. 1984 by George Orwell
  100. 50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James


25 out of 100. Ouch. Buuuut I have no interest in reading a bunch of these, so it doesn’t actually hurt me that much. And there were a few I’ve never heard of. *Shrugs*

So what do you guys think of trying to define what it means to be “well-read”? How do you do according to this list? Any that I didn’t mark that I should give a chance?





  1. First, I love book lists and this made my Monday morning happy.

    How to define well-read? I bet every reader would have their own definition. There’s just plain “reading a lot” but if you read a lot of crap that doesn’t really work, lol.

    I’d say it’s a good mixture of classics, nonfiction, and current works. I’d also say that it’s having at least a passing knowledge of most of the classics.

    Great question and I’m curious about what your other readers will have to say!


    1. I agree about having passing knowledge of the classics. Many of the ones listed I may not have read, but I know what the book is about, its general storyline and its importance/issues addressed, kwim?


    2. I’m curious too! Especially in reference to this list… like I wouldn’t consider reading 50 Shades of Grey or that John Green book as qualifiers for being well-read. MAYBE 50 Shades just so that you can actually talk about it while it’s all the rage, but that John Green book probably won’t go down in history as a classic and there are much more deserving YA books to go on that list, I think. I don’t know… this “well-read” thing has me trying to be careful to not let my repressed book snob tendancies to burst out. I think reading a broad range of stuff is important, but I think maybe the classics and non-fic have a little more weight to them, you know?


      1. “I think reading a broad range of stuff is important, but I think maybe the classics and non-fic have a little more weight to them, you know?” Yes to that!

        I’ve been thinking about this all morning. I’m going to have to do my own post 🙂

        I’ve looked up definitions for well-read. Most of them say something along the lines of being knowledgeable through reading. So does that mean that fantasy/sci-fi doesn’t count? Is it only FACTUAL knowledge that counts? I don’t know!


      2. See and I generally think of reading stuff that expands your knowledge in some way as stuff that would be “well-read” reading material, but other genres have that value too. A sci-fi book is what got me into reading about physics and science more, and fantasy things expand your imagination and whatnot. Even a good romance novel can teach you something about relationships or something.

        I think that even if it’s something you’re not necessarily “learning” from, at the very least reading a wide variety of genres expands your experience and hence adds to the well-read title. Reading Julia Quinn novels may not be exercising my brain much, but I can have discussions about romance and historical fiction with other people because I’ve read her, so it helps at least in social situations?

        SO MANY things to consider!


  2. I agree with Jen—a good mix. But yeah I wouldn’t necessarily call this list the End-All-Be-All. There are plenty on here I have no interest in whatsoever and I think I’m pretty well read! Glancing over it, I think I’ve read around 30–35 of these.


  3. We were almost post twinsies as I had planned to do the exact same thing but got distracted by…who knows, probably TV, yesterday night and never put it together.

    Also I still think 25 is a pretty good showing for this list.


    1. You should still do itttt!!

      I think 25 isn’t too bad… considering some of the kind of random choices on that list. But it does make me want to read more and more classics, cause that would’ve boosted my number a bit.


  4. 30 for me. It’s a pretty different list from most others I’ve looked at. I agree with you that classics should bear a bit more significance when it comes to defining “well-read”. I feel like I can’t even comment this list very well because a lot of those titles are unknown for me, so I have no idea why the list-makers have added them (in case of most famous classics even if you have not read them, you can probably understand why they are there). And then there are some books I personally feel like they might do more harm than good (the last one for example). So in a way I feel being well-read is making good book choices and staying away from things you know definitely aren’t for you, not necessarily about reading it all.


    1. A lot of the ones that I didn’t recognize I think are ones that the author of the list put on there as modern literary reads… but modern lit reads go in and out of fashion so fast that they’re not well known to most readers, which is why classics are probably a better pick. (I have a sneaking suspicion that the list creator maaayyyy have gotten bit by the pretentious bug a little bit with some of those picks.)


  5. 25 is a good amount. As long as my counting was correct I’ve read 19 off this list and quite a few more are on my Classics Club list so should be reading them soon. One book you might want to consider reading is All Quiet on the Western a tragically poignant tale of WWI.


  6. This whole conversation is excellent. I’m going to post about this tomorrow and link to your post Sarah 🙂


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