June 26, 2013

Are You Well-Read?

Thanks to Sarah for blogging about the Well-Read List from Book Riot! I knew I'd have to peruse the list myself. (Who doesn't love a list of books?)

Jeff, from Book Riot, recently wondered what it means to be well-read.

"Isn’t it strange that we have the term “well-read” but absolutely no one can come close to defining it? And isn't it also strange that other art forms don’t have equivalent terms for a vague sense of someone’s total experience of that form (well-seen for movies? well-heard for music? Absurd).

Thinking about this recently sucked me into a little thought-experiment: say someone had never read any literature and wanted to be well-read. What should they read? And how many books would it take them to get close?"

Below is the list that Jeff came up with. I've struck out the books I've read:

  1. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  2. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
  3. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
  4. All Quiet on the Western Front by Eric Maria Remarque
  5. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Klay  by Michael Chabon
  6. American Pastoral by Philip Roth
  7. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  8. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  9. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
  10. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  11. Beloved by Toni Morrison
  12. Beowulf
  13. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  14. Brave New World by Alduos Huxley
  15. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
  16. The Call of the Wild  by Jack London
  17. Candide by Voltaire
  18. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
  19. Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
  20. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  21. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  22. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
  23. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
  24. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
  25. The Complete Stories of Edgar Allan Poe
  26. The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor 
  27. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
  28. Crime & Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  29. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
  30. Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
  31. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
  32. Dream of Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin
  33. Dune by Frank Herbert
  34. Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
  35. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  36. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
  37. Faust by Goethe
  38. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  39. Game of Thrones by George RR Martin
  40. The Golden Bowl by Henry James
  41. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
  42. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  43. The Gospels
  44. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  45. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  46. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  47. Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  48. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  49. Harry Potter & The Sorceror’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
  50. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  51. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
  52. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  53. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
  54. House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday
  55. Howl by Allen Ginsberg
  56. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  57. if on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino
  58. The Iliad by Homer
  59. The Inferno by Dante
  60. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
  61. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  62. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
  63. The Life of Pi by Yann Martel
  64. The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
  65. The Little Prince by Antoine  de Saint-Exepury
  66. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  67. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  68. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  69. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
  70. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
  71. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
  72. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
  73. The Odyssey by Homer
  74. Oedipus, King by Sophocles
  75. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  76. A Passage to India by E.M. Forster
  77. The Pentateuch
  78. Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
  79. Rabbit, Run by John Updike
  80. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  81. Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare
  82. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  83. Slaughterhouse-5 by Kurt Vonnegut
  84. The Sound and The Fury by William Faulkner
  85. The Stand by Stephen King
  86. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
  87. Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust
  88. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  89. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
  90. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
  91. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  92. Ulysses by James Joyce
  93. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
  94. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
  95. Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee
  96. Watchmen by Alan Moore
  97. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
  98. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
  99. 1984 by George Orwell
  100. 50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James
There are a few that I can't remember if I've read or not. I'm fairly certain that I read Hamlet and Romeo & Juliet in high school. I have vague memories of reading Their Eyes Were Watching God and a few others but if I couldn't remember for sure I left them alone. 

There are also a few that I have no interest in reading. (50 Shades of Grey? No.) 

Then there are the books that I'm ashamed to say that I haven't read. 1984, Catch-22, etc.

Well-read. What does that mean? That's what really interested me about this piece. I'm guessing that each reader would have their own definition for that term.

What do you think of this list?
What do you consider well-read? 
I'm very curious.

Be sure to check out Sarah's post on this topic. There's a great conversation going on over there!


  1. interesting to see how many of the books are also on the American Library Association's banned books list

    1. I didn't even think of that! Great observation :)

  2. I would definitely say you are well read! I think its subjective. There are people who are well-read in a certain genre (only YA for instance).

    In my opinion, if you read books across genres then you are well-read. If you know some of the classics, modern classics, literary fiction, YA etc then you are well-read, regardless of how many books. Also I think that once you read one book of an author you know their style, so if you read only one Dickens, one Dumas you can claim that you know their work, even if it's just one book.

    I think I'm "well-read" - maybe I haven't read many of the books above, but I know some of the authors and what they write about and I read all genres, except romance and vampire novels :)

    1. Just wanted to chime in and say I love your definition, Melinda!

      I do wonder about Book Riot's choice to include authors' complete collections on this list, aka all of Emily Dickinson's poems -- I think it's a bit odd for anyone to say that you need to have read every single poem by a famous poet before you can be considered well-read.

    2. Rayna I totally agree. Say you've read a dozen or so Dickenson poems and found she just wasn't your style, does that mean you can't then count her as having read her work? That's just silly.

    3. Thanks Melinda! I love your thoughts on reading one of an author's books. I don't think you need to read a giant collection of each author either. I mean, unless you want to of course ;)

  3. Ahhh! I'm doing a post like this on Friday! Any list is going to be arbitrary, and it's hard to say you're not well read if you haven't read THAT Virgina Woolf title, but you've read another, you know? Anyway, it's a fun game to mark off the books you've read. I always like coming up with tallies! :)

    1. Katie yes this too! Maybe the list should be more vague... like "any novel by Alexandre Dumas" or "one or two Jane Austen novels".

      I am getting so tempted to make my own list...

    2. I can't wait to read your post, this is endlessly fascinating to me.

      Sarah, YES! Do make your own list. :)

  4. I love that you did a post about this! :-) We've read a lot of the same ones.

    I talked to my honeyman about this discussion going on and he was kind of shocked (and a bit appalled I think) that something like 50 Shades of Grey was on a "well-read" list. He's not a big reader, but he also thinks it should be geared more towards classics and non-fiction stuff. And it has me wondering a little bit how other people take the term well-read or not... like if I was discussing this with someone who only reads Twilight and other YA and I said that I don't consider them well-read, would they be offended? Is this a word that could turn into an offensive or literary snob type of thing? Hmmmmm...

    1. I don't know what in the hell that book is doing on this list, lol. To be well-read are we supposed to read every crazy bestseller that comes down the road? No. I don't think so.

      Now that's a great point. This might bring out the hate but I don't think reading YA exclusively could lead you to being well-read. Not even close, to be frank. I'm all for reading whatever you want, BUT I am a little bit snobby about it as well. I think reading a wide variety is the way to go. If you're aiming to be well-read that is.

  5. I might have to do one of these myself and check off the one's I've read, too! I like Melinda's definition: across genres, passing knowledge, you're well-read. I think, even if someone doesn't read much out of their comfort zone or across genres, it's good be reading SOMEthing! My dad is a great reader: INHALES books on classic rock and sports. He reads every single day, takes books on this stuff everywhere he goes. But you wouldn't catch him with "Wuthering Heights" or "Life of Pi"!

    1. I'd love it if you did a post like this too Kristin. It's so interesting to me.

      I agree, it's good to be reading ANYTHING. There are too many people who don't read at all. Doesn't that make you sad? It does me.

    2. Yeah, it absolutely does! My cousin told me that she only reads about 12 books a year (she's busy, works FT, has a new baby, etc.) and I told her that's actually a lot better than the national average, which is something ridiculously low like 3 books a year or something?? I'd have to dig for the exact statistic. If a busy person like her can get in one book per month I'd say that's pretty awesome.

    3. I think that's great too! The national average makes me so sad. I weep for the future!

  6. I don't know if I want to know if I'm well read. lol I fall into the trap that I read X number of books IN PART in grad school or as an undergrad. In short, I am bad at finishing any book with a deadline attached to it.

    1. According to my personal definition I think you're a very well-read person Andi. ;) You read a lot, you aren't stuck to one genre, and you KNOW STUFF!

  7. That's quite a list. I've read over half of the books on there, but I'm not sure I would characterize them as must-reads in order to be well-read. Then again, what does that really even mean, right? I mean when I was in college the canon was filled with nothing but dead white guys and I hated it - where the women and Latinos? Suffice it to say, I now read what I want and consider myself to be well read. So, I suppose that list isn't too bad - then again, my book snobbery rears its ugly head when I see GONE GIRL and FIFTY SHADES on the list. LOL!

    1. I have to keep reminding myself that this is only one list, compiled by one person. It's not too shabby, even if I disagree with a number of the titles ;) Oh yes, when I saw 50 shades on here I rolled my eyes so hard that it hurt, lol.

  8. Well, I've only read nine books on the list. I guess I'm not well-read, though I never thought I was, lol. I read what I like. (I'm surprised 50 Shades is on the list. That's one I have nooo interest in reading.)

    1. Maybe not according to this ONE list Diana ;) Reading what you like is the most important thing. There are times when I read something because I think I SHOULD. I'm not always pleased with the results!

  9. It's interesting that Jeff points out other art forms don't really have an equivalent to "well-read." Really, with so many genres and sub-genres and time periods and parts of the world, how CAN we? It's a lifelong pursuit, for sure. There will always be something incredible and worthy of being on a list like this, that we have yet to read.

    1. It IS a lifelong pursuit because books aren't going to stop being published tomorrow, right? (God forbid)

  10. Well...I feel a strong need to live up to this term, I suppose!! :)

    I've read 47 on the list, I feel good about that! I agree though, I will never be reading 50 Shades, even in the interest of being well-read. Haha.

    As some previous commenters have said, my definition of "well-read" is that you have a width breadth of genres under your belt. Classics, modern fiction, romance, nonfiction, historical fiction, YA...I use the "well-read" moniker on my blog because I've never really pinned myself as a one-genre person. That's not to say there are certain genres I gravitate away from (...50 Shades?) but I am willing to give them all a try at least once, for the sake of the experience. I think it would be hard to call yourself "well-read" if you only read YA paranormal, kwim? No offense to my YA paranormal bloggers out there, just being honest.

    1. Ha, I suppose you do!

      I think we've come to some sort of consensus here. Reading a lot, in a lot of different genres is being well-read. Until I come up with my own new definition (tomorrow probably) that's what I'm going with.

  11. I've read only 41 of those books. It really depends on the list. I would do worse if the list had more romance, and I'd do much better on a list with more female authors. I agree with the others who think that being "well-read" means reading a wide range of books.

    1. 41 is a good number if you ask me ;) Of course we could each come up with our own list (and maybe should!) and be able to cross 100 of them off, lol.

  12. I borrowed your post idea! This is a topic that fascinates me. I have a deeply rooted hatred of The Da Vinci Code, so I cringed to see it on the list, but otherwise if I knew a person who had read all of those books, I would consider them well read. I would also consider someone well read who had read Jane Eyre instead of Wuthering Heights, We instead of 1984, A Room with a View instead of A Passage to India. It's all subjective.

    Although I think you could really either The Canterbury Tales or The Inferno and still be considered well read, to have read both is to be very much so.

    1. really = read

    2. Ah yes, love the idea of replacing a few books like that. If you read one Woolf or one Eyre I think you're golden.

      I'll definitely be visiting your post! :D

  13. Not counting high school reads, I've read 15 on this list. One I tried and DNF'd, a few are on my TBR list, and a couple are on my DRE list (I just made that up, it stands for Don't Read Ever... and it doesn't actually exist but if it did a couple of those books would definitely be on it).

    Anyway, no, I don't consider myself well-read, but I also don't need an arbitrary list to tell me that. And if I do strive to become more well-read, my personal guidelines are going to be much more flexible than this. I DO like that the list includes a fair amount of contemporary/popular fiction... I think anyone who strives to be well-read should read more than just the classics. But the individual titles don't mean as much as the overall variety.

    Maybe the article would have gone over better if the author made it more clear that this was an EXAMPLE of a well-read reading list, not necessarily something set in stone to aim for. (Because, giving him the benefit of the doubt, I like to think that was his intention.)

    1. DRE list! That is brilliant! I have a few books on that list as well!

      This whole comment is fantastic, thank you.

      Everyone reads for a different purpose. I didn't set out to become well-read. I happen to really like variety. Nonfiction, classics, literary fiction and on and on. I think I've done well at becoming well-read without meaning to, lol.

      I'm fairly certain that was his intention as well. Maybe his intention was to make us lose our minds when we saw 50 Shades on the list? Ha!

  14. Great discussion topic. I've read about 1/4 of the books on the list, but don't consider myself not to be well-read just because I've not read more of them. To be honest, there are a fair number of books listed that I simply have no interest in reading (50 Shades of Grey being one of them). While my reading focus recently has been in the historical fiction genre (I think I'm extremely well-read in that genre!), over the years I've read a lot across a wide variety of genres so I consider myself fairly well-read.

    I think we should all do up a post where we list the books we've read that we think make us well-read :-) My list will be quite different from the one above.

    1. I think there are a bunch of books on that list that are completely unnecessary to be honest ;)

      My list would be quite different as well Melissa! I'd be so interested in seeing everyone's list!

  15. I consider myself well read, but I have only read 37 on this list, and most of them I was forced to read by someone else. I guess i should qualify what I mean by well read - I am well read in the books I like ie/ contemporary literary fiction. I don't like 'classics' and I don't go in for literary trends.
    Great post!

    1. Bah, this list is just one guy's opinion. I like a list and I like crossing things off of one but I'm sure we could all come up with our own!

      I'm curious about the fact that you don't like classics. I do, but not all of them. Some deserve the classic label. Others? Not so much. At least in my opinion, lol.

  16. One could spend a lot of time arguing with the choices on this and many other lists. I find such arguments unnecessary as I just love reading (and noting what i have read and not read) on such lists regardless of my agreement with them or not.

    My personal favorite list is Bloom's Western cannon.

    1. Yes, we could argue about this sort of list forever and ever! I'd like to come up with my own well-read list. I can be certain to have read all 100 of them that way ;)

  17. I think, relative to most people, that all book blogers are well-read. Especially in respect to the particular genres they like reading, you know? I've read 48 from that list which is a good solid number and makes me happy, although my list would have looked different.

    1. Heck yes. If you're looking for well-read folks bloggers are the winners ;) My list would be very different as well Brooke. I'm thinking about creating my own!

  18. What a great post! And some really interesting comments. I haven't read that many on the list, less than 20 but I have read others by the mentioned authors. I agree with what most others have said that being well-read doesn't necessarily mean having read all the books on some list such as this but having read books from a wide variety of genres including classics, non-fiction and some of the more modern books.

    I have always considered myself well-read when comparing myself to other people I know, just based on the number and variety of books I have read as well as the frequency of which I read - BUT now I've discovered the world of book blogging I'm not so sure :(

    1. Great topic right? It's been fun to see everyone's opinion on this. I've always considered myself fairly well-read as well. When I first started blogging I was a bit intimidated at first. There are so many prolific readers out there! Now, I know that we all have our own favorites and our own style of reading and that's cool. Thank goodness that we don't all like the same things. How boring would that be?

  19. I find lists like these to be very curious because they are SO subjective. My dad and I talk at length about what makes one well-read and I'm not sure that the answer is reading through most of the canon--things you would be assigned as part of an intro to literature course in any given time period. So because of that I appreciate the nod to 50 Shades (even though it is terrible TERRIBLE) because it represents variety that is often lacking from these. Also, so many books that are at least 20 years old. Regardless (sorry--I'm hormonally crabby today), I do love making and reading lists. I've looked at the 1001 Must Read books a zillion times but think it has some of the same "rounding" issues.

    1. These lists are incredibly subjective. I don't know that there could ever be a definitive list. No one would EVER agree for one thing. For another, new books keep coming out that insist on being read ;)

      You're right about the variety on this one. Even though there are a few that I wouldn't touch with a 10 foot pole, it's cool that there are different genres on this particular list. Most lists of this sort are full of dead white guys.

  20. I saw Jeff's post on BookRiot and was impressed that he was able to draw up a list of 100 books that he considers are necessary to be well-read. I know I could never be able to do that because of all the books I haven't read yet. I don't know what it means to be well-read. I know of people who don't read books like I do but are so much more knowledgeable than I am because they watch good stuff on TV or read the news or socialize very well. So does being well-read mean you read quality lit? Whatever is quality lit? Depending on who I talk to, it could be Pride and Prejudice or Ulysses or 50 Shades of Gray.

    1. I'd really love to come up with my own list but I bet it would be incredibly difficult!

      Quality lit. Whew, everyone would definitely have their own opinion on that, lol.

  21. Popped in from SITS! I agree with most of them, but 50 shades of Gray?

    1. Ha ha, right??? I don't think that belongs on this list either ;)

      Thanks so much for visiting!

  22. Thanks for the replies ladies (Jennifer, Rayna and Sarah). For some reason I cannot reply :(

  23. If I saw this posted on Book Riot for the first time, I would have completely ignored it simply because 50 Shades is on it and really, what the heck? But, since YOU posted it, I gave it a second look and I noticed that a lot of the books are also on the 1001 Books to Read list, so it's kind of a moot point.

    1. I haven't looked at the comments on the Book Riot post but I'm wondering if he picked that because it's so well known? As in, you should be able to converse about it because it made such a splash in the book world? I don't know. I can talk about it, but only to say NO THANKS ;)

  24. This is an interesting question! This list seems to suggest that being well read means having read the classics, some modern books possibly on their way to being classics (Murakami for example), as well as a bit of what's popular (50 Shades). I think being well read can mean a lot of things to different people, but personally I go for variety and then doing lots of reading in the categories I figure out that I like :)

    1. That's what I gather from the list as well, a bit of this and that :) I'm the same, I need variety! There are a few genres that I really really enjoy but I can't read the same stuff ALL of the time. That would be boring. And it certainly wouldn't help me to become well-read!

  25. I read 50 Shades of Grey and it should NOT be on the well reads list! But it is all subjective anyway. I mean if someone reads 100 books a year, does it really matter what books they are? I'd think reading on the regular makes you well read.

    1. Unless of course you only read 50 Shades type of books, ha ha. ;) I'm joking of course but yes, reading regularly is awesome!

  26. I was following the debate on the original post pretty closely (I'm a BookRiot fangirl) and found it really frustrating that people were so up in arms about 50 Shades of Grey being on the list. Though many of us might not like the fact that Twilight and 50 Shades are popular, they are...and they tend to come up in bookish conversations, regardless of what we think. I haven't read 50 Shades, but I know there's been times I've been happy I've read the Twilight series so I can explain to people why I think it's not great, at least.

    I've read 33 from the list and (as predicted, my head is hanging in shame) my classics are severely lacking.

    *whispers* Get on Kavalier & Clay quick, fast and in a hurry.

    1. I was thinking the reason those were on the list is because they ARE popular and they WILL come up in conversation. Having a broad knowledge of books (even the not so great books) are part of being well-read, in my opinion. So no, I won't be reading 50 Shades but I can understand why it's on the list.

      Hey, are you part of the Classics Club? Hmm? It's a good way to inspire yourself to get to those books that you've always meant to get to :)

  27. I get so bored by these lists. It's not that they aren't good lists, or don't have exceptional books on them - and at least this one has some variety - but they're so full of "dead white guys" that I start to tune out after a while. This one is better than the 1000 books to read before you die which must be like 2% female and 1% non-European or American (I'm making those numbers up obviously, but you know what I mean). It's a good way to divide people isn't it, because there's so much superiority going in this kind of thing: people who read these kinds of books vs. people who read popular fiction, and who is the smarter for it.

    I have a fairly bland and vague idea of what "well read" means: variety. Reading books from other countries, different cultures, different eras, male and female, and being open to it all. I don't think that having covered all the "dead white guys" and worked your way through the usual suspects makes you at all well-read, so it's good to see some popular fiction like Fifty Shades of Grey and Harry Potter on this list. It's a start. :)

    1. I know what you mean about the lack of females on the usual lists. I agree, I don't think that reading every single dead white guy makes you well-read ;)

      I don't find your definition of well-read to be bland or vague. It makes perfect sense to me :) Variety is the key! In my opinion anyway!