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29 Books That Will Enrich Your Inner Literati

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Answer by Cristina Hartmann on Quora.

Correction appended, March 31

For anyone who wants to attain the vaunted title of “being well-read,” it’s more about breadth than depth. (As for feeling well-read, read the postscript.)

To “feel” well-read in literature, it’s all about the categories, not the books themselves. Read a few books in a few different genres, time periods, points of views. I’ve thrown in a few controversial books, just so you know what all of the fuss is about.

Here’s how you can feel like a regular literati!:

Western Classics (Ancient & Modern): to give you a good foundation for the who’s who of Western literature.

  • The Odyssey (Homer): epic of a dude who just can’t get home without a little help from the gods. (Extra credit if you read the Iliad, too!)
  • A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens): the quintessential story of the French Revolution, love, and longing.
  • Pride & Prejudice (Jane Austen): the story that started the “hate at first sight turning into love” trope.
  • Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy): Very long. Very melodramatic. Very Russian. Very classic!
  • Dystopia: the stuff of our worst fears and nightmares.

  • Nineteen-Eighty-Four (George Orwell): the book that introduced “doublethink” into our lexicon.
  • Brave New World (Aldous Huxley): another classic dystopia. Gammas, Deltas, oh my!
  • The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood): a feminist spin on the genre.
  • Science Fiction & Fantasy: we can’t overlook the geeky cousin of the classics, can we?

  • The Lord of the Rings series (J.R.R. Tolkien): this guy made the epic (also called high) fantasy genre. Be warned, it’s a bit of a dry read.
  • The Foundation series (Issac Asimov): some of the pioneering stories in science fiction, natch!
  • Neuromancer (William Gibson): here’s something a bit more modern. Plus, you just can’t beat “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel” as a snappy first line.
  • Great American Novels: these zeitgeist works practically defined a time period of U.S. history.

  • The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald): you can’t think of the Jazz Age without thinking of “old sport.”
  • Bonfire of Vanities (Tom Wolfe): the terrible movie nonwithstanding, this book captured the self-indulgence of the 80s NYC crowd.
  • The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck): I dare you to get into a conversation about the Great Depression without thinking of this book. I dare you.
  • Literary Heavy Hitters: books that make people go “Whoa, dude!” when you say that you’ve read them.

  • Ulysses (James Joyce): stream-of-consciousness writing plus an unhealthy sexual obsession with an orphan with a limp equal literary greatness. True story.
  • Infinite Jest (David Foster Wallace): fractals, man! Fractals!
  • Gravity’s Rainbow (Thomas Pynchon): lots of stuff happens that a lot of people pretend to understand.
  • LIST: The 100 Best Young Adult Books of All Time

    The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie. A coming-of-age novel (illustrated by Ellen Forney) illuminates family and heritage through young Arnold Spirit, torn between his life on a reservation and his largely white high school. The specifics are sharply drawn, but this novel, with its themes of self-discovery, speaks to young readers everywhere. Buy now: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time IndianLittle, Brown
    Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling. What more can be said about this iconic franchise? How about this: seven years after the final volume was published, readers young and old still go crazy at the slightest rumor of a new Potter story. Buy now: Harry Potter (series)Bloomsbury Publishing
    The Book Thief, by Marcus Zusak. For many young readers, this novel provides their first in-depth contemplation of the Holocaust. Although terror surrounds Liesel, a young German girl, so too does evidence of friendship, love and charity—redeeming lights in the darkness. Buy now: The Book ThiefAlfred A. Knopf
    A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle. This surrealist adventure has provided generations of children with their first-ever mind-blowing experiences, as Meg travels across the fifth dimension in search of her father. But the sci-fi also has a message: Meg learns self-sufficiency and bravery in the process. Buy now: A Wrinkle in TimeFarrar, Straus and Giroux
    Charlotte's Web, by E.B. White. Readers are still drawn to the simplicity and beauty of arachnid Charlotte’s devotion to her pig pal Wilbur. Though family farms may be less common than they were in 1952, E.B. White’s novel remains timeless for its enduring meditation on the power of friendship and of good writing. Buy now: Charlotte's WebHarper & Brothers
    Holes, by Louis Sachar. A story of a family curse, fancy sneakers and poisonous lizards moves forward and backward through time, telling of how Stanley Yelnats IV ended up in a juvenile prison camp. It’s an introduction to complex narrative, suffused with fun, warmth and a truly memorable villain. Buy now: HolesFarrar, Straus and Giroux
    Matilda, by Roald Dahl. With apologies to the lovable Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, this may be Roald Dahl’s most compelling read for young people. Poor Matilda feels thwarted and ignored by her family—a sense that many preteens share. They don’t share her magical powers, but that’s the enduring appeal of this escapist frolic. Buy now: Matilda Jonathan Cape
    The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton. Published when the author was just 18, this coming-of- age novel offers proof that even the youngest writer can provide valuable insight. Her striking look at Ponyboy and gang life in the 1960s has resonated for decades with readers of all kinds, whether they identify more with the Greasers or the Socs. Buy now: The OutsidersViking Press, Dell Publishing
    The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster. In a witty, sharp fairy tale that illuminates language and mathematics through a picaresque story of adventure in the Kingdom of Wisdom, Jules Feiffer’s whimsical drawings do as much as Juster’s plain-language interpolations of complex ideas to carry readers through Digitopolis and the Mountains of Ignorance. Buy now: The Phantom TollboothRandom House
    The Giver, by Lois Lowry. This tale of self-discovery in a dystopian society has a memorable central character, Jonas, and an indelible message— that pain and trauma have an important place in individual lives and in society, and to forget them is to lose what makes us human. Buy now: The GiverHoughton Mifflin
    Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume. Twelve-year-old Margaret, whose mother is Christian and father Jewish, explores her religious heritage while overcoming the general social and personal challenges of a preteen girl. Buy now: Are You There God? It's Me, MargaretYearling
    To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. Scout Finch grows up in the racially charged Depression-era South where her father, the lawyer Atticus Finch, is defending a black man accused of raping a young white woman. Buy now: To Kill a MockingbirdHarperCollins
    Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred Taylor. A black family in the depression era American south grapples with racism. Buy now: Roll of Thunder, Hear My CryDial Press
    Anne of Green Gables (series), by L.M. Montgomery. Young spirited Anne moves in with foster parents and adapts to her new home in Green Gables. Buy now: Anne of Green Gables (series)L.C. Page & Co.
    The Chronicles of Narnia (series), by C.S. Lewis. Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy, four siblings evacuated from London during World War II, enter the magical world of Narnia where they are charged with saving the realm from the evil White Witch. Buy now: The Chronicles of Narnia (series)Geoffrey Bles
    Monster, by Walter Dean Myers. A fictional account of an African American teenager on trial for felony murder in New York, written in a mix of first-person journal entries and a third-person screenplay. Buy now: MonsterHarperCollins
    The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman. Young Lyra Belacqua leads a battle in the arctic to save children who were kidnapped and severed from their animal soul mates in this fantastical world that spawned a trilogy and a 2007 feature film. Buy now: The Golden CompassScholastic Point
    The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank. Frank's innocuous and relatable musings while hiding under Nazi occupation capture the tragedy of the Nazi regime. Buy now: The Diary of a Young GirlBantam
    From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E.L. Konigsburg. Claudia Kincaid, a precocious sixth-grader, and her 9-year-old brother Jamie run away from home in the suburbs of New York City and head for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where they explore the exhibits and research the mystery of a newly acquired marble angel whose sculptor is unknown. Buy now: From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. FrankweilerAtheneum Books
    Looking for Alaska, by John Green. Miles Halter attends boarding school in Alabama for his junior year, where he navigates the alcohol-infused social scene of high school and falls in love with an enigmatic girl named Alaska. Buy now: Looking for AlaskaSpeak
    The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon. A young boy with autism investigates the murder of a neighbor’s dog and in so doing explores the travails and contradictions of everyday life from an outsider’s perspective. Buy now: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-TimeDoubleday
    Little House on the Prairie (series), by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The books that spawned a literary and television franchise were based on Wilder’s own experience growing up in the Midwest in the late 19th century. Buy now: Little House on the Prairie (series)Harper and Brothers
    The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, by Kate DiCamillo. A doll rabbit’s misfortune-plagued journey from one owner to another teaches him to care for and love others. Buy now: The Miraculous Journey of Edward TulaneCandlewick
    Wonder, by R.J. Palacio. August Pullman, who has a rare cranial deformity, decides to stop being homeschooled and attend Beecher Prep for middle school, but he is forced to overcome bullying and name-calling from some of his peers. Buy now: WonderKnopf Books
    The Sword in the Stone (The Once and Future King series), by T.H. White. White gives the untold story of the legendary King Arthur’s childhood and his training under the wizard Merlyn in this 1938 classic. Buy now: The Sword in the Stone (The Once and Future King series)Collins
    The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger. The eternal cynic Holden Caulfield, expelled from his boarding school and wandering New York City, grapples with his own disillusionment in this timeless rendering of teenage angst. Buy now: The Catcher in the RyeLittle, Brown
    Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott. The four March sisters grow up in an impoverished New England household during the Civil War. Buy now: Little WomenRoberts Brothers
    The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain. Huck Finn and the escaped slave Jim travel down the Mississippi in this literary classic. Buy now: The Adventures of Huckleberry FinnChatto & Windus
    The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. Bilbo Baggins sets off on an adventure through Tolkien’s ingenious world in the prelude to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Buy now: The HobbitGeorge Allen & Unwin
    The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by Frank L. Baum. Dorothy is swept from her Kansas home to the Land of Oz in Baum’s 1900 novel that was successfully adapted for Broadway and film. Buy now: The Wonderful Wizard of OzGeorge M. Hill Company
    Lord of the Flies, by William Golding. The behavior of a group of boys marooned on an island devolves into primitive terror in this boundary-pushing classic. Buy now: Lord of the FliesFaber and Faber
    Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl. Charlie Bucket explores the wonders of Willy Wonka’s famous chocolate factory. Buy now: Charlie and the Chocolate FactoryPenguin Books
    Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll. Alice wanders through a fantasy world of talking rabbits, royal playing cards and smoking caterpillars. Buy now: Alice's Adventures in WonderlandMacmillan
    Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson. Jesse becomes close friends with a new girl and fellow runner at school, but a heartbreaking tragedy in their secret invented world in the forest leaves him and the reader suffering. Buy now: Bridge to Terabithia Crowell
    The Call of the Wild, by Jack London. Buck, a domesticated dog in California, is stolen and forced to become a sled dog in Alaska, where he ultimately must decide whether to remain with humans or enter the wilderness. Buy now: The Call of the WildMacmillan
    A Separate Peace, by John Knowles. Competition between two friends at an elite prep school reaches a climax when one of them impulsively shakes a tree branch the other is standing on and knocks him off, changing both of their lives forever. Buy now: A Separate PeaceSecker & Warburg
    Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh. Eleven-year-old Harriet records her observations about friends and classmates in a notebook as training in the hopes of one day becoming a spy. But when her friends come across the notebook, Harriet must confront their anger over her sometimes too honest notes. Buy now: Harriet the SpyHarper & Row
    The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier. A New England Catholic school student tries to "disturb the universe” by challenging the school hierarchy and is forced to face his subsequent isolation. Buy now: The Chocolate WarPantheon Books
    Jacob Have I Loved, by Katherine Paterson. Sara Louise “Wheeze” Bradshaw struggles to escape the shadow of her sister Caroline. Buy now: Jacob Have I LovedCrowell
    A Series of Unfortunate Events (series), by Lemony Snicket. Three orphan siblings attempt to escape and outwit an evil relative who is trying to steal their parents’ fortune. Buy now: A Series of Unfortunate Events (series)HarperCollins
    Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen. After his single-engine plane crashes in the Canadian wilderness, 13-year-old Brian Robeson must survive with the hatchet gifted to him by his mother. Buy now: HatchetSimon and Schuster
    The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien. Hobbits, elves, wizards and men battle for control of the ring that will rule all of Middle Earth in this classic that all lovers of fantasy must read. Buy now: The Lord of the RingsGeorge Allen & Unwin
    Feed, by M.T. Anderson. A dystopian critique of consumerism and reliance on technology. Buy now: Feed Candlewick Press
    The Alchemyst, by Michael Scott. The most famous alchemist in the world, Nicholas Flamel, supposedly died in 1418—but his tomb is empty. Could he have discovered the elixir of life? Buy now: The AlchemystRandom House
    The Princess Bride, by William Goldman. Before the beloved movie, there was Goldman's book-within-a-book recounting the misadventures of a pair of starcrossed lovers, a righteous outlaw, and the scoundrels who get in their way. Buy now: The Princess BrideHarcourt Brace Jovanovich
    Beezus & Ramona, by Beverly Cleary. Beezus and her younger, animated sister Ramona navigate a bumpy relationship. Buy now: Beezus & Ramona William Morrow
    Tarzan of the Apes, by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Tarzan, an orphan, is adopted by apes in this classic adventure novel that led to more than 20 sequels. Buy now: Tarzan of the ApesA. C. McClurg
    Johnny Tremain, by Esther Forbes. Young Johnny Tremain is caught up in the fervor of the American Revolution. Buy now: Johnny Tremain Houghton Mifflin
    The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin. In his will, the millionaire Sam Westing challenges 16 heirs to solve the mystery of who murdered him. Buy now: The Westing GameE. P. Dutton
    Best Children's Books: The Wind in the Willows
    The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame. Four friends—a mole, toad, badger, and rat—seek out adventure in this elegantly written British classic. Buy now: The Wind in the WillowsSterling Children's Books
    Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson. Melinda, an incoming freshman, is raped by an upperclassman at a high school party, but she struggles to communicate the trauma to others. In her pain and growing isolation at school and at home, she turns to her art for expression. Buy now: SpeakFarrar Straus Giroux
    Mary Poppins, by P.L. Travers. Mary Poppins, nanny to the Banks children, reveals a magical world to the unsuspecting children in her care. Buy now: Mary PoppinsHarperCollins
    The Fault in Our StarsBy John Green. Hazel, a 16-year-old cancer patient whose prognosis is dim, has her life transformed when she falls in love with a young man she meets at a support group.
    The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green. Hazel, a 16-year-old cancer patient whose prognosis is dim, has her life transformed when she falls in love with a young man she meets at a support group. Buy now: The Fault in Our Stars Dutton Books
    A Northern Light, by Jennifer Donnelly. Against the backdrop of the real life 1906 murder of Grace Brown in upstate New York, fictional Mattie Gokey struggles to decide between staying in her impoverished farming community or escaping to college in New York City. Buy now: A Northern Light
    The Yearling, by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. A young boy’s attachment to his pet deer becomes a problem for his impoverished family living in the Florida backwoods in the late 19th century with hardly enough to feed themselves. Buy now: The YearlingCharles Scribner's Sons
    The Hunger Games (series), by Suzanne Collins. In a dystopian society where a group of children is annually required to battle to the death in a televised spectacle, Katniss Everdeen volunteers to fight in her sister's place. Buy now: The Hunger Games (series)Scholastic
    For Freedom, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. A teenage aspiring opera singer in occupied France becomes a spy for the resistance. Buy now: For FreedomLaurel Leaf
    The Wall, by Peter Sis. An illustrated memoir of the author’s youth depicting what it was like to grow up in communist Czechoslovakia. Buy now: The WallFarrar, Straus and Giroux
    A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness. A monster helps a boy cope with his mother's terminal cancer. Buy now: A Monster CallsCandlewick
    Percy Jackson & the Olympians (series), by Rick Riordan. Percy, a demigod son of Poseidon, must go across the U.S. in search of Zeus's stolen lightning bolt, adventuring with humans and gods along the way. Buy now: Percy Jackson & the Olympians (series)Puffin
    The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury. A collection of Ray Bradbury’s short stories, some as hair-raising as others are imaginative. Buy now: The Illustrated ManDoubleday and Company
    A Wreath for Emmett Till, by Marilyn Nelson. A narrative poem explaining and memorializing the death of Emmett Louis Till, the 14-year-old African American boy who was lynched for supposedly whistling at a white woman in Mississippi. Buy now: A Wreath for Emmett TillHoughton Mifflin
    Every Day, by David Levithan. A teenager called A wakes up every morning in a new 16-year-old’s body, a fact he adjusts to until he falls in love with Rhiannon and grapples with trying to stay with her. Buy now: Every DayEmber
    Where Things Come Back, by John Corey Whaley. Whaley weaves together the stories of a depressed 17-year-old birdwatcher in Arkansas and a young missionary in Africa who has lost his faith. Buy now: Where Things Come Back Atheneum Books for Young Readers
    Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry. Annemarie Johansen risks her life to help Jewish families escape from Nazi-occupied Copenhagen. Buy now: Number the StarsHMH Books
    Blankets, by Craig Thompson. An autobiographical graphic novel that chronicles Thompson’s childhood in an Evangelical Christian family. Buy now: BlanketsTop Shelf Productions
    Private Peaceful, by Michael Morpurgo. A soldier recounts his life from the trenches of WWI, eventually shifting into the present tense and encountering the realities of battle. Buy now: Private PeacefulHarperCollins
    The Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Elizabeth George Speare. The ever spirited and goodhearted Kit Tyler is sent to colonial Connecticut in 1687, where her manners—and her friendship with an old woman known as the Witch of Blackbird Pond—make her suspicious to the townspeople. Buy now: The Witch of Blackbird PondHMH
    Dangerous Angels, by Francesca Lia Block. A seven-book series about Weetzie Bat and her magical adventures in Los Angeles with friends and family. Buy now: Dangerous AngelsHarperTeen
    Frindle, by Andrew Clements. Fifth-grade prankster Nicholas Allen invents a new word for a pen to defy language teacher Mrs. Granger. But the word, “frindle,” quickly gains traction and spreads beyond Allen’s control. Buy now: FrindleAladdin Paperbacks
    Boxers and Saints, by Gene Luen Yang. Two companion graphic novels that follow the divergent political and religious paths of Little Bao and Vibiana during the divisive time of the Boxer Rebellion. Buy now: Boxers and Saints First Second Books
    The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman. Bod, who was adopted by ghosts and has become a part of the community of supernatural beings living in a graveyard, faces adventures and obstacles in the graveyard and natural world alike. Buy now: The Graveyard BookHarperCollins
    City of the Beasts, by Isabel Allende. Alex and Nadia are pulled into an adventure together in the mystical Amazon. Buy now: City of the BeastsRayo
    American Born Chinese, by Gene Luen Yang. A graphic novel that jumps back and forth between a Chinese folk tale and the stories of a young Asian American and his white alter-ego growing up in a San Francisco suburb. Buy now: American Born ChineseFirst Second Books
    The Lost Conspiracy, by Frances Hardinge. In a fantastical and harsh world of jungles and colonists, Hathin—who has grown up in her sister’s shadow—must endeavor to save them both. Buy now: The Lost ConspiracyHarperCollins
    Dogsbody, by Diana Wynne Jones. Sirius, the guardian luminary of the Dog Star, is sentenced to a lifetime as a dog and must overcome worldly obstacles to find the supernatural Zoi tool. Buy now: DogsbodyMacmillan
    The Pigman, by Paul Zindel. John and Lorraine’s prank call unexpectedly leads to an enduring friendship with widower Angelo Pignati, whose care for the children transforms their lives. Buy now: The PigmanHarper Trophy
    Alabama Moon, by Watt Key. Ten-year-old Moon leaves his sheltered home after his father dies and must adapt to the outside world. Buy now: Alabama MoonSquare Fish; Farrar, Straus and Giroux
    Esperanza Rising, by Pam Munoz Ryan. Mexican farm workers adapt to life in Depression-era America and post-Revolutionary Mexico. Buy now: Esperanza RisingScholastic
    The Knife of Never Letting Go, by Patrick Ness. In a dystopian world where everyone can hear each other’s thoughts as “Noise,” Todd comes across an area that is entirely silent and is forced to flee with his newfound knowledge. Buy now: The Knife of Never Letting GoCandlewick
    Boy Proof, by Cecil Castellucci. A geeky girl in Los Angeles who proudly considers herself “boy proof” falls for a boy at school. Buy now: Boy ProofCandlewick
    Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers. A young man from Harlem can't afford to attend college and instead joins the Army just as the Vietnam War is escalating. Buy now: Fallen AngelsScholastic
    A High Wind in Jamaica, by Richard Hughes. A dark 1929 novel about children who are kidnapped by pirates and develop complicated, nuanced relationships with their captors and each other. Buy now: A High Wind in Jamaica New York Review Books
    The Tiger Rising, by Kate DiCamillo. Rob, sickly and devastated by the death of his mother, moves to a motel with his father for a new start. But after he comes across a caged tiger in the woods outside the motel, the unexpected find helps him overcome his sadness and open up to a new friend. Buy now: The Tiger RisingCandlewick
    When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead. Life in 1970s New York City takes a turn for the bizarre for young Miranda Sinclair. Buy now: When You Reach MeYearling
    Saffy's Angel, by Hilary McKay. The eccentric Casson children set off on separate adventures that are filled with hilarity and human emotion. Buy now: Saffy's AngelHodder
    The Grey King, by Susan Cooper. Will Stanton, sent to Wales by his mother to recover from an illness, finds himself a protagonist in Welsh legend and must awaken other immortals to join him in a fight between good and evil. Buy now: The Grey KingAtheneum
    Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, by Robert C. O'Brien. The extraordinary rats of NIMH come to the rescue of Mrs. Frisby and her endangered mouse family. Buy now: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMHAtheneum
    The Thief Lord, by Cornelia Funke. Brothers Prosper and Boniface escape home and flee to Venice, where they join up with a gang of street children while on the run from a detective hired by their cruel guardian aunt and uncle. Buy now: The Thief LordScholastic
    The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart. Four intellectually gifted children are sent to investigate the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened, a mysterious organization suspected of sending out cryptic, mind-controlling signals over television waves. Buy now: The Mysterious Benedict SocietyLittle, Brown
    The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick. A boy who lives in a Parisian train station investigates a hidden message from his late father in a story that was the basis for the Martin Scorsese 2011 film Hugo. Buy now: The Invention of Hugo CabretScholastic
    Sabriel, by Garth Nix. Sabriel travels into the depth of the mystical Old Kingdom to save her father, where she confronts a dark world of spirits and the undead. Buy now: SabrielHarperCollins
    Tiger Lily, by Jodi Lynn Anderson. In a prequel of sorts to Peter Pan, Anderson uses Tinkerbell to tell the story of Peter’s relationship with Tiger Lily before he falls for Wendy Darling. Buy now: Tiger LilyHarperTeen
    Secret (series), by Pseudonymous Bosch. Three children must protect a mysterious secret in this layered series written by the equally mysterious Pseudonymous Bosch. Buy now: Secret (series)Little, Brown
    A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K. Le Guin. The first novel in the Earthsea series, the book follows the adventures of Ged in his youth before he became Earthesea’s greatest sorcerer. Buy now: A Wizard of EarthseaParnassus Press
    Tales of Mystery and Imagination, by Edgar Allan Poe. A classic compilation of some of Poe’s wildest stories. Buy now: Tales of Mystery and ImaginationCalla Editions
    Whale Talk, by Chris Crutcher. A high school senior with a diverse background (black, Japanese and white) challenges the establishment by forming a swim team compiled of school misfits. Buy now: Whale TalkHarperCollins
    The Chronicles of Prydain (series), by Lloyd Alexander. Taran the Assistant Pig Keeper sets off to become a hero and joins a battle between good and evil in this exemplar of fantasy fiction for children. Buy now: The Chronicles of Prydain (series)Square Fish
    Danny the Champion of the World, by Roald Dahl. Danny and his father attempt to foil a wealthy landowner's pheasant hunt by poaching all the birds from his property. Mischief and mayhem ensue. Buy now: Danny the Champion of the WorldPuffin
    Twilight (series), by Stephenie Meyer. Bella Swan discovers her crush comes with more complications than the average teen romance—her beau, Edward Cullen, is a vampire. Buy now: Twilight (series)Little, Brown

    Popular Fiction: those guilty indulgences that everyone has read (but won’t necessarily admit to it). Warning: this is U.S.-centric, feel free to indulge in your country’s guilty pleasures.

  • A Song of Ice and Fire series (George R. R. Martin): hey, there’s a popular HBO miniseries about it!
  • The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins): better than Twilight.
  • Fifty Shades of Grey (E.L. James): be torn between hilarity and despair in this BDSM spin-off of a Twilight fan fiction. Who knows, maybe this’ll spice up the bedroom.
  • Immigrant Experience (U.S./U.K.): ah, the magical experience of being thrust into a new culture.

  • Interpreter of Maladies (Jhumpa Lahiri): say hello to our recent Indian arrivals! (For our tea-drinking cousins across the pond, try Monica Ali’sBrick Lane.)
  • Joy Luck Club (Amy Tan): the book that inspired a movie and furor in the Asian American community about stereotypes and Tan’s possible self-loathing. (For a less controversial read, try Ha Jin’s Waiting–and yes, there’s a lot of longing and waiting there.)
  • How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents (Julia Alvarez): how four sisters start to forget their Spanish and their native homeland of the Dominican Republic.
  • Non-Western Classics (Ancient): if Westerners get theirs, so should the rest of the world.

  • Ramayana (India): this is THE Hindu epic. Full stop.
  • Romance of the Three Kingdoms (China): a bit of Chinese history, highly romanticized and dramatized. Kind of like “A World Turns.”
  • Non-Western Classics (Modern): the stuff that you should read to feel worldly and well-read. (More applicable if you’re from the U.S. or Western Europe.)

  • One Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez): this novel single-handedly legitimatized Latin American literature in modern times. Too bad you don’t know who he’s talking about half of the time.
  • To Live (Yu Hua): getting banned in China just adds to its street cred.
  • Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe): the sad tale of colonialism in Africa. Definitely merits a frowny-face.
  • Satire: throw in a little giggle into your reading list.

  • Cat’s Cradle (Kurt Vonnegut): some say Slaughterhouse-Five is his best, I say this one. Also: Bokononism!
  • Catch-22 (Joseph Heller): come and see what the catch-22 is. I promise you, it’s gorgeously ironic.
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams): you kill two birds with two stones here: sci-fi and satire. Whee!
  • This is where I reach the end of my endurance. I haven’t even gotten into the non-fiction stuff, but alas … I must eat.

    With this list, you’ll feel like you can dominate the Trivial Pursuit literature section! Life is good.

    Postscript: since this question is more about sentiment than reality … I hate to break it to you, but if you’re truly a well-read person, you will never feel well-read. They’re always on the lookout for their next book—that category that they’re missing—to add to their impressive list. It’s a Sisyphean goal, really.

    If you feel well-read, you’re probably not.

    This question originally appeared on Quora: What books should one read to feel well-read?

    More from Quora:

  • What’s the difference between good writing and great writing?
  • Why is reading so important?
  • What novels have the best opening lines or opening paragraphs?
  • Read next: 15 Life-Changing Books You Can Read in a Day

    Listen to the most important stories of the day.

    Correction: The original version of this story misstated the title of the book Things Fall Apart.


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