We read all those?

Wilkins has submitted to some silly book meme, and anything John does I have to do better.

The ones in bold I’ve read, we’re supposed to italicize the ones we’ve partially read. I haven’t italicized any, because if it’s a book I pick up and despise and put back down again, I want to forget I even tried.

  • Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
  • Anna Karenina
  • Crime and Punishment
  • Catch-22
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude
  • Wuthering Heights
  • The Silmarillion
  • Life of Pi : a novel
  • The Name of the Rose
  • Don Quixote
  • Moby Dick
  • Ulysses
  • Madame Bovary
  • The Odyssey
  • Pride and Prejudice
  • Jane Eyre
  • The Tale of Two Cities
  • The Brothers Karamazov
  • Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies
  • War and Peace
  • Vanity Fair
  • The Time Traveler’s Wife
  • The Iliad
  • Emma
  • The Blind Assassin
  • The Kite Runner
  • Mrs. Dalloway
  • Great Expectations
  • American Gods
  • A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
  • Atlas Shrugged
  • Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books
  • Memoirs of a Geisha
  • Middlesex
  • Quicksilver
  • Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
  • The Canterbury tales
  • The Historian : a novel
  • A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
  • Love in the Time of Cholera
  • Brave New World
  • The Fountainhead
  • Foucault’s Pendulum
  • Middlemarch
  • Frankenstein
  • The Count of Monte Cristo
  • Dracula
  • A Clockwork Orange
  • Anansi Boys
  • The Once and Future King
  • The Grapes of Wrath
  • The Poisonwood Bible : a novel
  • 1984
  • Angels & Demons
  • The Inferno
  • The Satanic Verses
  • Sense and Sensibility
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray
  • Mansfield Park
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  • To the Lighthouse
  • Tess of the D’Urbervilles
  • Oliver Twist
  • Gulliver’s Travels
  • Les Misérables
  • The Corrections
  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
  • Dune
  • The Prince
  • The Sound and the Fury
  • Angela’s Ashes : a memoir
  • The God of Small Things
  • A People’s History of the United States : 1492-present
  • Cryptonomicon
  • Neverwhere
  • A Confederacy of Dunces
  • A Short History of Nearly Everything
  • Dubliners
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being
  • Beloved
  • Slaughterhouse-five
  • The Scarlet Letter
  • Eats, Shoots & Leaves
  • The Mists of Avalon
  • Oryx and Crake : a novel
  • Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed
  • Cloud Atlas
  • The Confusion
  • Lolita
  • Persuasion
  • Northanger Abbey
  • The Catcher in the Rye
  • On the Road
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  • Freakonomics : a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything
  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an inquiry into values
  • The Aeneid
  • Watership Down
  • Gravity’s Rainbow
  • The Hobbit
  • In Cold Blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences
  • White Teeth
  • Treasure Island
  • David Copperfield
  • The Three Musketeers


    1. autumn says

      Well, you’ve easily got me beat in the quantity of listed items, even if I think that I’ve hit the best of the “quality” (subjective to an objective degree) ones. Seeing as how you are a bit older, I like to think that I’ll get to a lot of my unread titles in the coming years. Coincidentally, I am at this moment (or one following it shortly) finishing The Satanic Verses. Just saw it at the ol’ library and thought “might as well”.
      Also glad to see that Dunces gets some list love.

    2. Don Smith, FCD says

      I’ve only read about 1/4 of those.

      Do I get extra points for reading the Aeneid in Latin and the Illiad in Latin translation?
      (A feat I could not accomplish today)

    3. Scott says

      Well PZ you have me beat by only a few books, but I think that you have had an unfair head start by a few years.

    4. Bart says

      Nice list. Totaly self serving post (arn’t they all?)
      I love the smell of books.
      I love to give books as gifts.
      I never loan books, I just give them.
      My greatest pride, and I have many (since I don’t consider it a sin) is that I have never had even one minute of my life since I was in 3rd grade, that I didn’t have a book mark in at least one book.

    5. Elizabeth Ross says

      Great list. Classics, fiction, non-fiction, new books, some unexpected choices too. A few too many books by the same authors (even I as a big Austen fan could live without Northanger Abbey.)

      But since being snarky is super fun:
      Votes for the WORST books on this list.

      I Vote for Tess of the D’Urbervilles and The Scarlet Letter.

      They made me want to dig up Hardy and Hawthorn just to make sure they were dead so they could never inflict more soggy prose on poor unsuspecting students. Has anyone ever read these books just for fun?

      If you don’t know what I’m talking about either you managed to escape them in High School or your brain has taken pity on you and blocked them out, and oh how I envy you.

      P.S. If you like keeping up with books you’ve read or plan to read, I highly recommend LibraryThing.com.

    6. Graculus says

      (A feat I could not accomplish today)

      I’m pretty sure I’d have to hit the Cassell’s *a lot* to repeat that trick.

    7. windy says

      But since being snarky is super fun:
      Votes for the WORST books on this list.

      There is a freaking Dan Brown book on the list. No contest!

    8. Caryn says

      The Time Traveler’s Wife is my favorite book. I told all my friends to read it when I finished it. And the ones who read it went and told all their friends to read it when they were done. It’s the most original and most romantic story I’ve read. No kidding; I think it should be up there with Romeo & Juliet. (And I’m not a ‘romance’ girl!)

      I also recommend The Fountainhead, if you ever find yourself in the mood for a 1,000 page book.

      And yes,The Scarlet Letter was horrible.

    9. Christian Burnham says

      Of the books you haven’t read, I suggest ‘the Corrections’. It’s quite a fun read, even though J. Franzen started to take himself way too seriously after it became a success.

    10. AlanWCan says

      Although I agree with Elizabeth about the Scarlet Letter, didn’t you notice Oryx and Crake in the list? PZ’s got me beat by a large lead on this list, but do I get extra points for Finnegan’s Wake (which isn’t on there, despite all the other JJ)?

    11. says

      I’m horribly biased against Oryx and Crake for a couple of reasons: I am irritated by Atwood’s denial that she writes science fiction; I am also irritated at what I understand to be a reflex bioconservativism in the book (being the little transhumanist-y type that I am). But I suppose I need to read it and judge for myself.

    12. David says

      Come now. Tess of the D’Urbervilles is great. Although I like Jude the Obscure even better. And yes, I read them for fun.

      Read The Scarlet Letter in school years ago, liked it well enough. Wasn’t anything special, though.

      Now Ulysses I’m temped to call the worst book on that list. “Look at me, I can write fractured prose! I’m so special!”

      Though I haven’t read anything by Ayn Rand, and freely admit it might be worse.

    13. Michael says

      I wish I had had the time to read most of those. But hey, I’m 26 and I wasn’t allowed to read anything “damaging” till I moved out on my own at 18. So I’ve stuck to philosophy and nonfiction for the time being.

      You’d just be amazed at all the worthwhile philosophy written before I was born. (haha) It’s quite alot of catching up to do. I hope to get to fiction when I’m 30.

    14. iain says

      You got something against Jane Austen, PZ? Considering some of the (ahem) literature you have read, I’d have thought she’d be worth a try.

    15. bernarda says

      I posted this over at Wilkins’s site.

      It is nice to see a few foreign language books on the list, but I am surprised there doesn’t seem to be any Balzac.

      He and Dickens almost invented the modern novel.

      I would like to add a couple of other suggestions. Céline’s “Journey to the End of the Night” was a real eye-opener for me as to what a novel could be. A sort of Catch-22, but much darker.


      I haven’t checked, but it might be on the Gutenberg Project.

      Another one is the Chinese classic, “The Golden Plum Vase, or the Chin P’ing Mei”. It was written in the 17th century but reads like a modern novel and the themes are very contemporary.


      If you read French, there is a complete edition from the publisher Pleiade.

      Another classic that should not be missed is Stendahl’s “The Red and the Black”.

    16. travc says

      Don’t short-change fiction if you are interested in philosophy and books to change/corrupt the way you look at the world. Personally, I’m partial to good sci-fi (of course), and HG Wells and Orwell are generally great reads IMO. Neil Stephenson is one of my all time favorites. Everyone seemed ga-ga over Snowcrash when I was an undergrad, but I think Diamond Age and the Barogue Cycle are much more interesting and hit apon a lot of sociology/philosophy. Catch-22 is pretty great too.

    17. Stwriley says

      Here’s something I picked up in my years as an English professor’s son, which just about says it all for us bibliophiles. Sorry for the formatting, as I only have this in a text file and the original has been long lost.

      A poem by Dr. Jerry Sterns

      Books will be replaced by electronic libraries, talking videos, interactive computers, CD-Roms with 100s of volumes, gigabytes of memory dancing on pixillated screens at which we will bleerily stare into eternity, and so I Sing the Song of the Book:

      Nothing more voluptuous do I know than sitting with bright
      pictures upon my lap and turning glossy pages of giraffes and
      Gauguins penguins and pyramids
      I love wide atlases, deliniating the rise and fall of empires, the
      trade routes from Kashkar to Samarkand
      I love heavy dictionaries, their tiny pictures, complicated columns,
      minute definitions of incarnitive, and laniary, hagboat and
      I love the texture of pages, the high gloss slickness of magazines
      as slippery as oiled eels
      the soft nubble of old books, delicate India paper so thin that my
      hands tremble trying to turn the fluttering dry leaves and the
      yellow coarse cheap paper of mystery novels so gripping that I
      don’t care if the plane circles Atlanta forever, because it is a full
      moon and I am stalking in the Arizona desert a malevolent shaped
      I love the feel of ink on paper, the shiny varnishes, the silky
      lacquers, the satiny mattes
      I love the press of letters in thick paper, the roughness sizzles my
      fingers with centuries of craft embedded in pulped old rags
      My hands caress the leather of old bindings crumbling like
      ancient gentlemen
      I sing these pleasures of white paper and black ink of the small
      jab of the hard cover corner at the edge of my diaphram, of the
      look of type, of the flip of a page, of the sinful abandon of the
      turned down corner, the reckless possessiveness of my marginal
      The cover picture as much a part of the book as the contents
      itself–like Holden Caufield in his red cap turned backwards
      staring away from us at what we all thought we should become
      I also love those great fat bibles evangelists wave like otter pelts,
      the long greying sets of unreadable authors, the tall books of
      boyhood enthusiastically crayoned, the embossed covers of
      adolescents, the tiny poetry anthologies you could slip in your
      And the yellowing cookbooks of recipes for glace blanche dupont
      and Argentine mocha toast, their stains and spots souvenirs of
      long evenings full of love and arguments and the talk like as not of
      books, books, books…

    18. John Vreeland says

      It looks like a high school reading list, except it’s missing a lot. Some of these books are a complete waste of time. If you haven’t read Shakespeare then you are only semi-literate, never mind reading Dante and Goethe. At least Chaucer’s on the list, but what about Cervantes, Milton, Johnson, Wordsworth, Austen, Dickinson, Eliot, Tolstoy, Ibsen, Dickins–even you hate him–Freud, Proust, Joyce, Kafka, Becket, etc?

      ncidentally, I am currently reading the Hollander translation of Inferno. It’s the best I’ve ever seen.

    19. Dawn says

      Actually, there is a lot of Austen on the list, if you check it. (Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Sense and Sensibility)

      PZ – I was amused that you haven’t read Dante, though. I actually like it (although I will admit Paradise is rather boring…too many lectures). My favorite translation is by Dorothy Sayers. Her footnotes and commentary are great. But I’m willing to check others, so, John (#20), I’ll take a look at the Hollander translation. (BTW…John…take a good look at the list; Don Quixote is on it, as are many of the other authors you were looking for)

      I’ll admit I haven’t read a lot of the books on the list…my “read” numbers are only 29, and my “attempted” numbers are about the same. But a lot of the books are on my winter planned reading list. I want to try some of the books I tried before and didn’t like.

      Thanks for posting the list. Now I have to go over to Wilkin’s site and see what John has read!

    20. sailor says

      I think you deserve a medal for getting through The name of the Rose. I thought it unreadable. Of the ones you have not read the The Poisonwood Bible is a great, very cutting and funny novel about Africa and missionary religion. You would like it.

    21. Arnaud says

      I must agree with you about Margaret “I am not writing SF” Atwood. I think it goes a bit beyond irritating though: SF is very self referential and Oryx and Crake would have actually benefited from Atwood being more informed about the very literature she was so keen to disparage. I used to think that when Atwood said “I am not writing SF”, she meant “I am not writing Space Operas”. Nowadays I think it’s more of an attempt not to drive away her usual readers. And that’s why she can get away with Oryx and Crake which SF fans would have dismissed as boring and pretentious.

    22. Ric says

      PZ, and everyone else, you must read A People’s History of the United States immediately! It is well worth the time it will take.

    23. says

      Great. Now I have another blog to bitch about the west’s ideas of the “Great Books Canon”, which is curiously devoid of minority writers. Most of these reading lists are heavy on classical (Greek) works in translation, English and White American writers. Every now and then the list will throw in a Toni Morrison and claim it’s “diverse”

      Instead of seeing how well you conform to a narrow, unimaginative, and exclusionary reading list, let’s hear what you’ve read lately that gives you a new point of view, is outside your box, or is genuinely good and NOT merely on some pop reading list.

    24. False Prophet says

      Wow, I’ve barely read half the books on this list! I must be a bad readers’ advisory librarian. :-)

      I’ll also give a strong recommendation for The Time Traveler’s Wife: a love story that feels warm and genuine where the science fiction premise enhances the romance (and I’m not usually a romance guy). Even non-sf fans love it.

      Life of Pi I felt was somewhat overrated. Very strong beginning, and pretty good ending, but the middle part (the actual raft and tiger section) was rather dull.

      I read my first Jane Austen (Pride and Prejudice) and found myself liking it. Maybe I’ll give her other works a try when I have a chance.

      Who said there wasn’t any Joyce on that list? There’s Ulysses right there! Reading that book is on my list of “things to do before I die”.

    25. windy says

      Great. Now I have another blog to bitch about the west’s ideas of the “Great Books Canon”, which is curiously devoid of minority writers.

      Um, wasn’t this the list of “books most frequently left unread” not “greatest books”? (The presence of a Dan Brown book might have suggested it’s not the latter…) It wouldn’t be very positive if minority authors tended to end up on this list.

    26. Dunc says

      Votes for the WORST books on this list.

      Well, I was going to say The Catcher in the Rye, but then I spotted On The Road underneath it. How the heck anyone ever thought that pile of drivel was a great book is beyond me… You might as well just write “and then they” over and over, about a million times. (Bonus points to anyone who remembers the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers cartoon I’m referencing ;))

    27. says

      I’ve read most of the books written in the twentieth century and some of the classical stuff, but from an abandoned read of Pride & Prejudice, Madame Bovary and other 19th Century literature, I’ve made a decision to stick to Victorian Philosophers & to never again read Victorian fiction – it’s just so unbearably BORING.

    28. Kurt says

      I’ve read 33 of them, and have none of them on my shelves waiting to be read. I’ve purchased a number of the ones on the list, but most of them are actually lent out as recommended reads to others (like the Gaiman books.)

      Might be time to hit some of the older “classics” now since I’m living 5 blocks from a large library and this list pointed out a few holes in my ‘serious’ reading since I mainly read SF and history. When PZ posted the thread for “walk ratings” my current location rated very highly partially for that reason.

      Only had two books rated with italics… _Moby Dick_ (required read of sections in school) and _Angels and Demons_ (which was so horrible I put it down and went and found a magazine stand while I was stuck in an airport.) The recommendation of the latter by a friend has me now seriously questioning his taste in literature. I generally would struggle through some books when I was younger even when my interest got pretty low, thus the reason I could bold _Atlas Shrugged_.

      I’ll actually make a mixed recommendation for _Angela’s Ashes_. It’s an interesting autobiography and heart-rending in places to the point it makes you depressed about people and the culture/society they live in. It’s also one of the few books about real people at that level where I desired characters to *die* so that the situation could be changed.

      – Kurt

    29. Deepsix says

      PZ, I think it’s clear from your list- you hate Russian novelists.

      они также написаны на английском языке.

    30. Mike P says

      People bagging on The Name of the Rose?? I loved that book! And yeah, the criticisms of On The Road are pretty standard by now, but I loved that book too. And Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, too. So sue me.

    31. windy says

      I think it would be more interesting to hear what other embarrassingly unread books you people have on your shelves? I usually don’t leave books unread for long, but I did find a few:

      Miguel Ángel Asturias: Mulata, english transl. (I’m saving it for a rainy day, or at least keep telling myself that… but I have a feeling it will be good? I hope?)

      Artur Lundqvist: Snapphanens liv och död (a Swedish historical adventure)

      Konrad Lorenz: On Aggression (bought this for historical fun along with The Naked Ape, and don’t know if I’ll get around to it)

      textbooks I’ve begun but not finished:

      Teach Yourself Russian

      Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Practice

    32. Deepsix says

      Windy: “Teach Yourself Russian”.

      If you’re still interesting in learning Russina, try The New Penguin “Russian Course” by Nicholas J. Brown. I’ve found this to be the most complete and thorough Russian study guide. It has no audio CD, so you’ll need some type of audio guidance to get your pronunciation correct.
      Check out http://listen2russian.com/ for some great audio examples.
      Good luck.

    33. says

      Don’t forget, this is a list of “books which will wow people with your erudition”, rather than “books which you actually like”. Thus, as I said over at Russell Blackford’s place, I’m mildly surprised to see three novels by Neil Gaiman on the list. Maybe my scale of pretension is just horribly miscalibrated, but among all the readers I know, anybody who owns his books has finished them. I find it hard to imagine starting American Gods, Neverwhere or Anansi Boys and not finishing it — certainly not because of difficult prose.

      Ditto for Slaughterhouse-Five. It’s just too short!

    34. Kseniya says

      Братья Карамазовы is pretty dense in English, too. ;-)

      Hmmm, I’ve read 29 of the 106 (?) books listed.

      I read World of Nothing when I was 13. I still haven’t met anyone my age who’s even heard of it. I walked right past the public library on my way home from school every day, and I’d often stop in and just browse the shelves (studiously avoiding the sections intended for kids) and look for nothing in particular. Sometimes I’d luck out and find just that. :-)

    35. jenni says

      I’m sorry to see you’ve neglected the Russian authors. The Brothers Karamazov may well be the best piece of fiction I have ever read.
      Turgenev and Gogol should have been on that list, as well.

    36. Kseniya says

      You can get the first half of Pimsleur’s Russian I at B&N for about $30, with a coupon for a discount on the complete set, which normally costs about $200. It’s 16 (or 18) half-hour lessons, which unfortunately stop just as it starts to get interesting but is nonetheless very useful in learning some basic grammer, vocab, and (more to the point) pronunciation. It’s very handy for studying while driving, but internet freebies might be a better value for at-home study. ;-)

    37. H. Humbert says

      PZ, in my experience, most scientists tend to dismiss the importance of reading great works of fiction, and instead would rather spend their time reading only biographies, history, scientific works, etc. But it definitely comes across that you buck the trend and are so well read.

      One book which should be on that list: Cormack McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. Truly a modern masterpiece. I always wanted to hear what a brilliant mind would have to say about that novel. (I expect a full book report within a month.)

    38. Mondo says

      “what? you haven’t read any Ayn Rand? for shame!!!”

      Please tell me this is sarcasm.

    39. says

      I’ve read Anthem (bleh, just not very well written) and one of her slim books on objectivism. Didn’t care for them at all. I started Atlas Shrugged and threw it forcefully across the room after the first chapter. I coulda torn a tendon!

      About the Russians: sorry, I have nothing against them, it’s just a gap. I took lots of American and English literature courses in college, and have read a fair amount by German authors, but the Russians just never came up…and when they did, it was all contemporary stuff, like Solzhenitsyn. I’ll get around to them someday, I hope.

      No Freakonomics. I’ve gotten the impression (which may be entirely wrong) that it belongs on the shelf with the evo psych stuff — glib confusion of correlation with causation and the elevation of scattered anecdotes to deep insight.

    40. OptimusShr says

      Votes for the WORST books on this list.

      Of the ones on there I’ve read: Picture of Dorian Gray.

    41. Onkel Bob says

      I rarely read fiction any longer, reserving my time for such classics as _Remote Sensing of the Environment_ and _UML Distilled_.
      Nevertheless, I noticed that two of Gary Jennings’ best novels are missing. First up is _The Journeyer_ a fictional autobiography of Marco Polo. The next one is _Aztec_, the story of an Aztec commoner that lives during the transition period before and after the Spanish invasion. Both will bring delight to the atheist in you.
      (_Raptor_ is OK as is _Sow the Seeds of Hemp_ and _Spangle_, but the first two are the best.)

    42. CJColucci says

      As I understand it, the list isn’t so much of books that are great or good, but of books that signify whether you’re a part of your culture. In that respect, I think having seen the movie version of at least some of the books (Frankenstein, Dracula, a few others) is a better test than whether you’ve read the books themselves.

    43. bernarda says

      I read two Cormack McCarthy novels because reviewers were saying good things about them. I only read the second because I thought that he could not write such trash twice. Unfortunately I was wrong and wasted a bit of time.

    44. Wildcardjack says

      I have a handy list about 700 titles long. But then again, I’m a book dealer.

      I could post it, but then I’d just be making a Creationist out of myself.

    45. Richard Harris, FCD says

      You’ve gotta read Life of Pi – it’s loadsa fun – for a non-biologist, anyway.

    46. brightmoon says

      ive read about 45 of those

      Gulliver’s Travels is a fascinating satire on human behavior

      and Don Quixote is a favorite and is LOL hilarious …not bad for a book over 300 years old

    47. Spaulding says

      Freakonomics is a quick, engaging read, and it covers interesting material. I’d recommend it.

      Stay away from Life of Pi – it’s a waste of time.

    48. Phaedrus says

      I have to second sailor – Poisonwood Bible was really good. I’ve liked most of Kingsolver’s stuff, but Poisonwood Bible and Prodigal Summer were the best (some racy stuff in Prodigal Summer).

      I think Jared Diamond’s stuff is indespensible for anyone hoping to guide our way forward (read – politicians, economists, etc.).

      Read Freakonomics half through and I think your intuition is about right.

    49. Timothy says

      Hey PZ, I dunno about that. I thought the parts I read of Freakonomics were pretty neat. A correlation between access to abortion and lower crime rates sure as hell seems sensible to me.

      Lucky guy not having read any Ayn Rand though. Geez, what a crappy writer. Even if the ideas weren’t complete crap it’d suck!

    50. Hipparchia says

      Twenty-six, shame on me. Well, English is my second language, and I’m still young-ish, so I can catch up.

      Why is Life of Pi popping up in every list of must-read books? I did not hurl the book across the room only because I was reading it on the computer screen. It was a CRT monitor, which would have made throwing difficult. Also, the monitor belonged to my employer.

      Life of Pi- the book that will make you believe in god? Blech.

    51. Geoff says

      Loved Life of Pi but Martel draws a strange equivalence between believers and atheists. Worth reading especially as a cryptic criticism of creationism. Name of the Rose is probably the best atheist book on that list.

      Why in dog’s name is there a Dan Brown book on that list?

    52. Vince says

      A minor thought. Diversity is important in a person’s reading just as diversity is important in an ecosystem.

    53. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest says

      Ths pg wsnt wrkng rlr trd ccsng t bt t tmd t 4-5 tms nw cn ccss t. Why Ds ths hppn? Am th nly n hvng ths ss?