Lifelong Reading Assignments: Yay or Nay?

Inspired by Manda at I Solemnly Swear, I began searching for lists of “books you should read before you die” — only to discover that there are lists all over the place, and all of these lists have different quantities of books in them. 50, 100, 101, 1001. While looking through these various lists, I began asking myself questions.

  • Which list do I choose?
  • Which list is the REAL list?
  • And, more importantly, why should I read these books in my lifetime?

Some of these lists are more descriptive than others. Some of them are easier to look at than others. And some of them have much more interesting (in my opinion) books on them than others. It’s the books that don’t seem interesting to me that have me wondering why I should force myself to read them.


As I like to challenge myself, and apparently I can’t get enough of making lists (and then crossing things off those lists!), I’ve come up with my own version of this project. I’ve decided to collect the most popular (as far as I can tell) books from these lists, along with a few that aren’t on them but that I personally want to read before I die. I only included my personal choices if they are not especially books that I would set out to read for funzies, you know what I’m saying? Of course you do.

The 50 Books I’ve Decided to Read Before I Die

I’m going to start with the ones I’ve already read. And yes, of course they count, even though I read them before I made this list.

  1. The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
  2. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  3. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
  4. Beowulf by Anonymous
  5. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  6. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
  7. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  8. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  9. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  10. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
  11. Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone by JK Rowling
  12. Lolita by Vladmir Nabokov
  13. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
  14. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks
  15. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
  16. Grendel by John Gardner
  17. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
  18. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
  19. The Bible
  20. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
  21. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by CS Lewis
  22. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  23. Charlotte’s Web by EB White
  24. Of Mice and Men by Jon Steinbeck

Woohoo! Look at that; I’ve already read almost half of my list! At this point I suspect you might be narrowing your eyes and calling me a cheater, but whatever man. I found every single one of those books on various Read Before You Die lists, and only like 2 of those appeared on only ONE list. SO.

On to the rest of my list. This includes several that were already on my to-read list, which is awesome, along with many that I had probably never planned to read. I did try to include only those that I feel I could actually get into and finish, though, so that has to count for something! AND, if you add them up you will see that I’ve actually included five bonus books, for a total of 55.

  1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tosltoy
  2. The Art of War by Sun Tzu
  3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  4. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  5. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  6. 1984 by George Orwell
  7. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  8. Siddartha by Hermann Hesse
  9. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
  10. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  11. Animal Farm by George Orwell
  12. The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
  13. Life of Pi by Yann Martel
  14. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  15. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  16. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
  17. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
  18. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
  19. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
  20. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  21. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  22. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick
  23. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  24. House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski
  25. A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin
  26. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
  27. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  28. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
  29. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  30. The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
  31. Watership Down by Richard Adams

Let’s see how many (if any) of these I can cross off my list by the end of 2013. Not that I’m planning to die soon or anything, just. I like to get things done as soon as possible. No waiting until the last minute for me! Ooh, ooh, even better: let’s see how many of these I can convince my book club to read! Aha! I am clever or something. Oh, and if you’re interested, I will be keeping track of this list over on this page.

19 thoughts on “Lifelong Reading Assignments: Yay or Nay?

  1. Ooh quite the challenge! Good luck! At least you’re half way through already. (But don’t worry, I wasn’t accusing you of cheating. Those books make sense on the list.) And you know, you should have plenty of time to get through the other ones, even if you don’t get them done in a year!

    • Hahaha, there is no way I’ll get them done in a year. This is kind of like… if I don’t know what to read next, I can pick something from this list. Or if I don’t have anything specific when it’s my turn to choose for my book club, I can grab something from this list. No way am I going to force myself to read these all in a row!

      • I was going to say – you have much more discipline than I do! Still, it’s a good list. There’s only a handful on there that I’ve actually read.

  2. This list is beautiful! You are lucky that you have a headstart already too. One book that I really recommend is Game of Thrones by George RR Martin. It is practically my favorite. Good luck with this challenge. You have a lot to endure this year. Hehe. I can never imagine having a “Challenge” page ever. I get too intimidated. Lol.

    • Yes, Game of Thrones has been on my to-read list for probably 10 years! Someday I’ll get around to it. :D

      Mostly I like doing the challenges because they help keep me focused. There are so many books I want to read, and having some goals to shoot for helps me decide WHICH books to read, you know? Plus, this one kinda doesn’t have a time limit, really.

  3. Oh man, I was totally on a kick there for a while that I was going to read all 1001 books. There are some AWFUL books on that list though! Not sure who compiles it but they have odd taste. You’ve picked a great 50 though! House of Leaves was a trip, and not necessarily a good one in my opinion, but I look forward to seeing what you think. :) Good luck!

    • Haha, man I don’t think I could ever challenge myself to read 1001!!! But yeah, see, I just… chose 50 that I thought I would actually want to read. You know, to make it easier for myself to actually finish. We’ll see though.:D

  4. You’ve got some great reads ahead of you. I particularly enjoyed The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightime and The Book Thief. Game of Thrones is worth a read too.

  5. Good luck! I don’t think I could do this – I would just keep putting it off and putting it off and never get those books read. I have this mental block or something, where if I feel like I *have* to read a book it takes me FOREVER and I don’t enjoy it. BUT reading the same book because I want to, I would love it. But hey, good for you for getting some of the “good for you” books out of the way :)

    • LOL, you’ve voiced some of my concerns loud and clear. But again, that’s why I chose books that I’m actually interested in and think I could finish. Some have already been on my to-read list for a while, so I’ve wanted to read them anyway. We’ll see. :)

  6. I absolutely love lists! I have one too, which I found and decided to read. I keep track of it on my first blog ( It always feels so good to cross another one off the list. I’ve also been working on that list for almost 4 years and that’s as far as I am. Granted, some of those books are mammoths.

    Note though, when it comes to a book we both struggle on (Ulyssess..ugh) We aren’t going to force ourselves through something we’re clearly not enjoying. I gave it a chance, but it wasn’t my kind of book.

    I have another list of what are supposed to be the best 100 YA books that I’m keeping track of in my google docs. Like I said, I’m obsessed with lists! I’m not really in a great rush to read either list as fast as possible though. Just going to read them when I can.

    You have a good list there! I’ve only read 23 of them so far!

    • Ohhh, hey, I’d love to see that list of the best YA books. I wonder how many of them I’ve read. :D

      I agree about Ulysses. I haven’t attempted to read it, but I’d read some other Joyce and had enough (especially since Ulysses is supposed to be his most torturous). Good luck with the rest of your list. Many of those look way too daunting for me, lol.

      But yes, I love lists, too. Which is why I’m doing all these yearly challenges. They’re smaller, more confined, and more fun because they’re all things I get to choose, which means I can pick things I like! Yay! :)

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  8. I love this idea! I think it’s more reasonable to create your own “books to read before i die” list because otherwise, you might end up trying to read books that aren’t for you. Thanks for sharing :)

    • Yeah, that’s how I felt, too. It’s really hard for me to read a book that I’m not interested in, so I figured: why force myself? :) Thanks for visiting, Cindy!

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