20 Classic And Important Books That Will Make You Feel Well-Read, Even If They're The Only Ones You Read

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Everyone wants to feel intelligent. We watch Jeopardy!, test ourselves with New York Times crosswords, and check our RSS feeds each day for the news we need to know. Sometimes, we even start to feel pretty smart. But then it happens: Your friend references a book in classic “Amirite?” style, and you have no idea how to respond. Smiling and nodding is the obvious, safe choice, but that doesn’t prevent the paranoia. Your facade has cracked. In truth, it’s likely that no one noticed, and of the few who did, even fewer care that you aren’t familiar with the book. But you still feel the burn of not knowing what is, evidently, a prominent work of literature.

The truth is that even the nerdiest book nerds haven’t read everything in the literary canon. If you’re feeling particularly inferior to your bookish friends, though, reading the titles on this list will help. Although they are not, by any means, the most influential works in the canon — (and while I strongly encourage you to read Shakespeare, Milton, and Beowulf) — the 20 books included here are some of the most-talked-about today. Read them, and you probably won’t miss a bookish reference for a long, long time.

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