Best Books?

A recent (and not-so-recent) meme on Facebook has been the “100 Best Books” chain letter. (This sort of thing is of course not new.) The version that I saw left much to be desired; it both omitted whole genres (and political philosphies) and included some books twice (by listing a collection that included them and then listing the book separately). I also thought that many of the books in the list, both that I have read and that I haven’t, don’t even come close to “truly essential to a well-rounded education.” (This particular list didn’t make any such claim, but the last list of the alleged best or most important books of all time that I can recall in the news was even more biased than this list, and this list included both Pulman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, which might qualify for the title of (to quote Lewis, I think) “brilliant but depraved” if it weren’t so mediocre; The Great Gatsby, which in my opinion is a clear instance of the “idiot plot,” i.e. a book in which the characters have to act like idiots to advance the plot, which Scott Meredith called a recipe for an instant rejection slip in Writing to Sell; and The Da Vinci Code.)

But this prompted the thought: What are the books that I think should go on such a list? (A “books everyone should read” list, not “books essential to a well-rounded education” or “best books” or “most enjoyable books”—I’ll put in books that I consider valuable for intellectual or moral development despite their difficulty, and I’ll put in a few that are nearly pure “fluff” but, unlike most of the content of the sort of lists I object to, are at worst morally neutral.) I’m not going to limit myself to books I have read, since there are books that I know I absolutely should read but have not yet read, and I will try not to limit myself to books that match my genre or philosophical/political preferences, but the list will certainly be tilted that way. I will cite multi-volume works and series as single works, but will not (as the list I saw on Facebook did) say “the complete works of X.” One conspicuous omission from this list is the Bible; besides being a collection of 66 individual “books,” this list is intended to be of literary works, while the Bible can hardly be evaluated as literature.

[I continued this list in several more posts, then in the fall of 2010 I began to write individual reviews of the books that I think belong on this list, explaining why the books belong on the list. As I write them, I’ll link to them below.]

The books that first come to mind, in no particular order:

Well, that’s a good start … comments? I’ll post additions later, I hope. (And this will become a permanent page on my website once I get back to working on that.)

[I did indeed post additions; you can continue with Part Two of the list.]*


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