10 Books All Super-Well-Read People Should Check Off Their TBR Lists
We all have those books, even those of us who consider ourselves of the most well-read of readers have 'em — they’re the books you purchased, placed neatly on your bookshelves, and honestly meant to read a thousand times, but haven't. (In fact, at dinner parties you’ll occasionally tell people you’ve already read them.) But somehow they just keep moving further and further down your to be read list.
Well, procrastinating readers, now is the time to carpe diem… or “carpe” your bookshelf, if you will. I know that Lorelai Gilmore made Swann’s Way look super-intimidating, and sure, Kiera Knightly has reenacted at least half of the scenes in many of those unread titles of yours — but are you really the kind of reader you want to be if you just take the easy way out? I think not! (That’s right, I just book-shamed you.)
Pull up an inviting armchair and make sure you have enough coffee to last you for days, because here are 10 books that even super-well-read people need to read and check off that TBR list once and for all. And if for some reason my choice of titles still leaves you unconvinced, just check out painter Jennie Ottinger’s SparkNotes-informed artistic impressions of all the books you’ll never read. It’s OK, we’ve all got a few.
Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust
If you thought Swann's Way was intimidating, hold on to your bookmarks because that title is actually only the first volume of a seven-volume novel known as Remembrance of Things Past . It's all told through the voice of an unnamed narrator (and seven volumes seems like a long time to go without a name, IMO) who recounts his coming-of-age experiences, the people he met, the art he enjoyed, and the love affairs he had. Just take it one volume at a time.
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
I have an unsubstantiated theory that everyone who's ever told me they've read Infinite Jest is lying. I mean, the book is 1079 pages long. According to How Long To Read it will take the average reader 15 hours and 17 minutes to finish the novel — so if you're planning to fly around the world anytime soon, by all means. Other than diving in for the sheer enjoyment of a plot filled with dystopic tennis playing, drug rehab, and stories about Canada, it might be even more worth the read to finally know which of your friends have been lying to you all this time.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
If you've been avoiding the genre of long-Russian-novel completely, Anna Karenina really is the book with which to take a first venture. Yes, it is long (approximately 248,880 words) and yes, almost all the Russian surnames are only distinguishable from one another by a single vowel and a few of the characters have the exact same name entirely, but if you can get past all that this novel is really quite lovely. Filled with passion and romance, adultery and heartbreak, and featuring a leading lady who doesn't let society tell her what to do, it is definitely worth the read.
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
How many times have you read Beloved ? Don't get me wrong, that novel is definite a must-read — but so is pretty much everything else Toni Morrison has ever written. So clear off some space next to Sethe and make room for not only The Bluest Eye , but also Sula , A Mercy , and Morrison's latest God Help the Child . I could really keep going, but I'll stop there.
The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
This criticism of 14th century English society and the Church of England is considered Chaucer's magnum opus. But while every English Lit major has probably read bits and pieces from the 24 story tome, there's just something super satisfying about reading The Canterbury Tales all at once, from beginning to end. (For one thing, you start to catch on to the language, and the reading goes much more smoothly after that.) Extra credit if you do actually read it in the original Middle English.
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe
Let's shift about as far away from Chaucer as classic English literature gets for a moment, and talk about The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test . The LSD-dropping Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters pretty much encountered every major figure of American beatnik and hippy culture during their Further bus wanderings; and as one of the first widely-recognized titles of the New Journalism movement, this book itself signifies a major shift in American reporting, writing, and reading. Plus, the story is just fascinating. If you're going to read one book in your life that exemplifies the cultural shifts of the American 1950s and 60s, this book would be it.
The Complete Novels of Jane Austen by Jane Austen
How many more times can you read Pride & Prejudice , really? (OK, countless. But that's not the point.) When it comes to Jane Austen, a quick survey of one or two of her best-known titles really just isn't enough. You've got to read them all. Northanger Abbey , Persuasion — there are no shortcuts here. And really, why would you want one? The woman was a literary master.
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
Set in a dystopian United States, Atlas Shrugged blends science fiction, mystery, and romance into Ayn Rand's most comprehensive discussion on her theory of Objectivism. This is the novel that should have been required reading in college, but just never seemed to make the list (unless I was just taking all the wrong classes.) The book focuses on artists and creators who refuse to be exploited by the Big Brother government, and subsequently go on strike. And no, the film cannot possibly do this one justice.
Ulysses by James Joyce
Ulysses , on the other hand, was the book that seemed to be continually required in school, and yet was avoided at all costs (at least, if you're anything like me.) I SparkNotes-ed this one through high school and college until one too many people told me it really was amazing, and a total must-read. The early controversy over the book — the obscenity trials and "Joyce Wars" — should peak your curiosity enough to get past any lingering hang-ups you might have about the approximately 265,000 words of stream-of-consciousness writing.
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
You were wondering when this title would hit the list, weren't you? According to an unscientific poll I conducted of myself and everybody I know, Moby Dick is the most-avoided novel of all the novels on the bottom of everyone's TBR list. Is it the number of pages? All the brusque, weather-worn men of the sea? An aversion to whales? Nobody really knows, but it's about time this lengthy sea shanty made it's way off the bookshelf. Apparently it'll only take the average reader 7 hours and 42 minutes to finish. That's basically a New York to Paris flight, if you include boarding time.