I’ve Read 23 Out Of 35, But I Don’t Know About This Book List

Earlier this week Time magazine published 35 Books Everyone Should Read in Their Lifetime.  I’ve added the list to the bottom of this post.  The list, compiled from responses by Reddit users, attempts to answer the question:

“what is a book that everyone needs to read at least once in their life?” 

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dalmatian-sideeye

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WHAT IMMEDIATELY STRUCK ME about the list is that out of the 33 authors, only 3 are women: L.M. Montgomery [Anne of Green Gables];  Harper Lee [To Kill A Mockingbird];  and Margaret Atwood [The Handmaid’s Tale].

Considering that the first two books are about children for children, and that the last one is about a society in which women are slaves, this list doesn’t lend credence to the idea that in 2015 we are living in a post-feminist society.

You with me here?

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I THINK THAT WE can all agree, to use the article’s words, that: “Books have the profound capacity to stay with us for the rest of our lives.”

This is good + positive.

But by accepting this premise I think that it becomes even more important to turn a critical eye toward all the possible books that one can put on a list such as this.  If one is going to have these books with him or herself forever, one must be discerning.

N’est-ce pas?

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TO MAKE THE LIST more balanced, I’d suggest that we include &/or replace on it, at a minimum, the following books written by women:

  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  • House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
  • My Antonia by Willa Cather
  • The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
  • Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

There must be more.  Suggestions?

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Time’s List of 35 Books Everyone Should Read in Their Lifetime

{ bolded ones I’ve read – asterisked ones I’ve never heard of before }

  1. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig
  2. Watership Down by Richard Adams
  3. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch and Jeffrey Zaslow
  4. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
  5. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
  6. The Forever War* by Joe Haldeman
  7. Cosmos by Carl Sagan
  8. Bartleby The Scrivener: A Story of Wall-Street by Herman Melville
  9. Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman
  10. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
  11. Kafka on the Shore* by Haruki Murakami
  12. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  13. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  14. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  15. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
  16. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  17. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  18. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  19. The Stranger by Albert Camus
  20. Dune by Frank Herbert
  21. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  22. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
  23. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  24. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
  25. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  26. Animal Farm by George Orwell
  27. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
  28. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
  29. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?* by Philip K. Dick
  30. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  31. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  32. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  33. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  34. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
  35. 1984 by George Orwell

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Published by

Ally Bean

Observant. Creative. Humorous. Adaptable. Happy enough. Looking for the crumb of truth in the cookie of life.

45 thoughts on “I’ve Read 23 Out Of 35, But I Don’t Know About This Book List”

  1. I would add Sister by Rosamund Lupton, Dark Places and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (cleverly written books in my opinion) and I Am England by Patricia Wright (another cleverly crafted story, rather than high art). I’m a big fan of Karen McCann too, of enjoylivingabroad.com, who tells a very good travel tale. Having said that, looking at my bookshelves, I have to admit that most of my books are written by men for some reason. I’ve just finished The Art of Pilgrimage by Phil Cousineau and I’m currently reading Johnnie Walker’s autobiography, which is more like a travel book with some interesting ideas on spirituality thrown in. I could talk about books all day, maybe I should stop now 🙂

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    1. Polly, those are good suggestions. I’ve read Gone Girl, but never heard of Rosamund Lupton so someone new to read. *yay* I’m not against books written by men; I read tons of them and enjoy them thoroughly. But when there are so many excellent books written by women, I think that more of them need to be on a list like this one.

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  2. Reading lists are so subjective that I tend to shy away from them. If I read those lists, I usually end up angry. In addition to a dearth of women authors, this list is decidedly bland in color. I’d add a few for sure: Beloved by Toni Morrison, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy and Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston.

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    1. Michelle, you’re right. This list, all lists, are subjective. Excellent point about the lack of color. Your suggestions are wonderful. I read excerpts of Their Eyes Were Watching God in college, but the other ones I’ve not read. And need to. Thanks for the suggestions.

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    2. All book lists — especially one that purports to cover the lifelong reading needs of EVERYONE in only 35 titles! #nopressurethere — give more insights into the psyche of the person (or publication) writing the list than it does useful guidance, obvi. (For instance, I’m pretty confident about pegging the author of this list as a white, male USian who is very, very straight.) I hate-love ’em kinda the same way I hate-love all those Facebook quizzes that wanna give me the definitive answer to burning questions like “which Molly Ringwald character am I REALLY?” or “what decade would I feel most at home in?”

      Thanks, Michelle, for pointing out the omission so glaring I felt like I needed sunglasses on to read this list! Given how outstanding the three additions you suggest that I *have* read are, I’m adding the Arundhati Roy to my MUST READ list, stat. And thanks for your suggestions, Ally, that would def queer up the joint a tad!

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      1. Alice, I don’t know why this list got to me, but it did.

        It seemed so unbalanced and tedious when there are so many wonderful books out there, written by a wide range of authors, that really do need to be read. And to have a major news outlet like Time slap a pompous title on this list irritated me even more.

        On the up side, I’m getting some great ideas of books that I need to read. So having exposed the shabby theoretical underpinnings of this list, I feel like I’m at peace with it.

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        1. Ugh, yes. I hear ya! Time irritates me most of the…time. (I just so happened to have already used up all my *headdesk* energy for the day on this title from a recent! current! article on Time’s website:
          “Sandra Bland’s Not the First Black Woman to Experience Police Violence.” Srsly, Time? Did’ja *just* get that memo??)

          Been tryna think of something good to recommend for ya, But Michelle then said “Beloved” — and I realized that’s the list, all by itself.

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          1. Alice, nothing like stating the obvious then getting credit for exposing the real truth, eh? Good job Time!

            I’ve never read Beloved, but will add it to my list. I’m a slow reader so could take me forever to get to it, then read it, but’s it’s on the list. And that’s a start.

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  3. I highly recommend the Diana Gabaldon series. The books draw you in immediately and keep your attention all the way through! Claire is a twentieth century time traveler and Jamie is an eighteenth century Highlander. Lots of adventure and history.

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    1. Beth, I’ve seen those books on the shelves at the store. There’s a TV show about them now, isn’t there? I like history and adventure, so I’ll add them to the list. My list. A list compiled with an eye toward woman authors. 😉

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      1. Yes, I believe the show is on Stars, which we don’t subscribe to. I guarantee you will not be disappointed in this series!

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    1. Kate, I’ve read some Jodi Picoult books and liked them. She makes me think about my preconceived notions, which is a good thing. Plus, like you said, the plots are amazing.

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  4. I’ve only read eight of them. Lists like these always give me pause. Different books move different people. It’s hard to capture a one-size-fits-all list. And I’m with you–it could use a little more diversity.

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    1. Carrie, usually I glance over lists like this one and don’t think much about them. But this one gave me pause. It’s so unbalanced on many levels, yet presented as a necessary. Not quite right, I tell ‘ya.

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  5. I loathe these lists and like some of the other commentors I usually end up angry. So, we can assume that the sample of Reddit users was white and male.

    I have read some of those books, haven’t read others. Some I’ve always meant to read eventually. Others I have no interest in. I’ve read Dostoyevsky, but not those two, and I didn’t enjoy him. Camus is worthwhile but not for everyone.

    I’m much more interested in the suggestions this group has made. I’ll be adding some to my list. Who would I add? Well, Jane Eyre of course. Angela’s Ashes, I think. I don’t know! Because I really enjoyed The Time Traveler’s Wife do I think everyone should read it? Or how about The School of Essential Ingredients? That book deeply touched me but of the half a dozen people I gifted it to, most were “meh” about it.

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    1. Zazzy, I realize that any of these “must read” book lists are weird. But this one seemed so unbalanced to me that I had to call it out.

      I’ve never read any Dostyevsky and plan on keeping it that way. Camus I read pieces of when I was in college and enjoyed what he had to say.

      I’ve been interested in the books that the commenters have suggested. If nothing else, writing about this list has given me some new authors to read. And that’s good.

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      1. Margaret & Zazzy, will add Angela’s Ashes to my list. I have a copy of it somewhere. It’s not written by a woman, but I can overlook that issue if the story has merit! 😉

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  6. My problem with lists is that many of the books that have most touched me or impacted me will never make it onto anyone’s list. Reading is such a personal journey and the books we most enjoy relate to our own lives, and feelings or help us learn about the rest of the world. I am a very eclectic reader, mystery, literary, sci-fi, etc. Several genres that I often read are under represented on any lists.

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    1. Margeret, I agree. Reading is personal and these lists are, at best, a starting point. This particular list bothered me in that it was so lacking in women authors and, as was pointed out to me above, any sort of diversity whatsoever. I’m an eclectic reader, too, which as such makes me more aware of all the book possibilities out there & how this list is lacking.

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  7. I would disagree that To Kill a Mockingbird is for children, and strenuously, and after teaching it for over 25 years, I might even pick a little nit that it’s “about children”, per se. But that’s not really germane to your argument, I know.

    Lists like these are fun to discuss, and I’m always surprised to see chestnuts like Crime and Punishment (on this list) and Metamorphosis (usually on others) firmly entrenched on them. I always wonder, “Who really advocates for some of these? When is the last time anyone read them, honestly, and what huge Truth did they impart?”

    It’s tough to push hard for an equal representation for women-authored books, especially among The Classics, due to there being few women writers at the time (as everyone knows). Certainly now there are many, but have they authored Books Everyone Should Read? Do they form The Foundation Of (Cultural) Literacy?

    Even more fun to discuss! I like the idea of including Toni Morrison in this list. Her writing is graceful and profound, yet visceral.

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    1. nance, I was taught that To Kill A Mockingbird was a book with adult ideas presented in a simple enough way for children, like Scout, to understand. All my teachers along the way seemed to think this, so I did/do, too.

      As always, it’s all about the slant, isn’t it?

      Never read Crime and Punishment, but did read Metamorphosis. Still waiting for the Huge Truth of it to come to me.

      I agree about the Classics, written when they were, being naturally devoid of women authors. Not going to find much there that the general book-reading Reddit population knows about.

      But this list, which didn’t lean on the Classics [by a long shot], bothered me. Apparently the journalists at Time were comfortable presenting this list as a standard of Good Literacy without reporting on how white male authors dominated it.

      A fact that seems relevant to me.

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  8. I’m glad you mentioned, “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter”, because I adored that one. I also really liked “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”. Not a classic, but I love “The Mists of Avalon”. Should everyone read it? No. Should I read it again and again? Yes. For all the blatant racism and how painful that aspect is to read, I still love Scarlett O’Hara, and thus return to “Gone With the Wind”.

    With how so many American just recently seem to have discovered that racsim still exists, a good read would be “Invisible Man”. The author is a man, but I’m OK with that. 😉

    I absolutely adored “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”, and have given it as a gift.

    Back to women authors, I loved “The Bean Trees”, and “The Blood of Others”. And I’ll second the recommendations of “Beloved” and “Their Eyes Were Watching God”. Both amazing.

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    1. J, I thought about adding The Bean Trees because it’s one of my favorites. Don’t know why I didn’t.

      I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn when I was a teenager and The Mists of Avalon when I was in college. As an adult, re-reading them might be interesting.

      I’ve never read The Unbearable Lightness of Being, but have a copy of it around here. Again, don’t know why I haven’t read it.

      The other books you mention I know of, but have never read. I’ll take your suggestions for books to read over the ones on the Time list– especially over some of those books on that list that I’ve never heard of before. 0.o

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        1. J, thank you. Now this is a list that I can use. Leave it to Powell’s Books to be on point. I haven’t read most of the women authors on this list, but now I have somewhere to start. Again, thank you.

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    1. Letizia, Virginia Woolf is a wonderful addition to this list. I think that I could comfortably remove one of the Dostoyevsky novels and replace it with one of her works. 😉

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            1. Letizia, just thought of this…

              Have you ever read Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill? It’s a delightful memoir about a woman who talks about all the novels in her home– and then makes a list of her faves.

              I say we adopt her list as our own. 😉

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  9. I would add Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s “Frankenstein.” Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle In Time,” and Octavia E. Butler’s “Kindred.” Women science fiction authors are so overlooked.

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  10. You’re right – there should be more women on there (and it’s kind of a sad list without them). I’d add Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, The Giver by Lois Lowry, and maybe even the Hunger Games series.

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    1. Sheila, well said. It is a sad list– that gives us a glimpse into the psyche of Reddit book readers. Good suggestions. I’ve read Silent Spring and The Color Purple, but not the other ones. I’ve been so pleased with everyone’s ideas about what belongs on this list. Thanks for commenting.

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      1. The Poisonwood Bible and The Giver are great because they’re the kind of books that make you look at everything differently. I haven’t read some of the others that were mentioned but I’ll have to now!

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