I found this list somewhere of all the books you're supposed to read in order to be a good American according to the national endowment for the arts. I have no idea how they put it together. The estimate is that the average American adult has read six of these books. The ones I've read are starred, along with some thoughts on them.
1. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen* She is one of my favorite authors and this book acted as my grown-up security blanket for several years. I've probably read it fifty times.
2. The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien* I read this once. I like to make myself read books before I allow myself to see the movie version because once you've seen the movie you can't possibly imagine the characters looking any other way.
3. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte* read in school... not my favorite but who knows i might enjoy it if I read it again without having to find themes.
4. Harry Potter series - JK Rowling* obviously. I'm ashamed to say how many times I've read these.
5. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee* one of the few books I read during school that wasn't ruined by my teachers. It's that strong of a book.
6. The Bible* I made the effort to read through it once in an organized way. Leviticus and Numbers nearly killed me. Now I just flip it open and trust I will find some wisdom wherever I land.
7. Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte* I'm not a huge fan of the Brontes. They're depressing and overly complicated.
8. 1984 - George Orwell* read a long time ago... I remember watching the movie in high school and there was full frontal ungroomed nudity, which we all freaked out about.
9. His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10. Great Expectations - Charles Dickens one of the few I haven't been able to get into easily. it's on my list though.
11. Little Women - Louisa May Alcott* This is a sweet book. I enjoyed it as a kid and I still do.
12. Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy* hard to enjoy. I may have skipped some chapters in the middle
13. Catch 22 - Joseph Heller* speed read for my freshman anthropology seminar. remember little.
14. Complete Works of Shakespeare* Maybe not all of them, but a good chunk.
15. Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16. The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien*
17. Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18. Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger* do NOT understand why so many people say it's their favorite.
19. The Time Traveler’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20. Middlemarch - George Eliot
21. Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell* I read this like five times in two years when I was 12 and 13.
22. The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald* Where I first learned to be skeptical of the self-importance of New Yorkers.
23. Bleak House - Charles Dickens why don't they have any of the funny Dickens on here? Nickolas Nickleby was a hoot.
24. War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy* reading it again right now
25. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams* Funny but I'm not fanatic about it.
26. Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27. Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky* I read this during the summer, and suspect that it is really more of a winter read. A little heavy.
28. Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck on my bookshelf
29. Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll* got curiouser and curiouser.
30. The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31. Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy* Not as good as W&P
32. David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33. Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis* Read like ten times when I was a kid, and a few of them more recently
34. Emma - Jane Austen* Have probably read 10-15 times
35. Persuasion - Jane Austen* most under-rated of her works.
36. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis* Magical and still makes me feel like a little kid when I read it.
37. The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39. Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden* entertaining and a good story but not earth-shattering.
40. Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne* sweet. I also remember watching this on the Disney Channel when I was little ALL the TIME.
41. Animal Farm - George Orwell* we were made to read this during 8th grade without learning any of the history of the Russian Revolution... so basically it just became a book about talking mean animals.
42. The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown* Trash but I loved all 3 hours of it.
43. One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez* good book that I've been meaning to re-read for a while.
44. A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving
45. The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46. Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery* read this series when I was around 11... until Anne grows up and it wasn't any fun anymore.
47. Far From The Maddening Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48. The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood* Good book, if a bit pessimistic.
49. Lord of the Flies - William Golding* ruined by my 8th grad English teacher.
50. Atonement - Ian McEwan
51. Life of Pi - Yann Martel* I really didn't want to think that he'd eaten his mom, so I just figured the tiger was real. sorry if you haven't read it yet.
52. Dune - Frank Herbert
53. Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54. Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen* Has some zingers. I don't know who can match her in making fun of people's idiosyncrasies without seeming malignant or mean.
55. A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56. The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57. A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens* ruined by the french.
58. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley* yet another book discussing the fall of mankind.
59. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon* good but not awesome.
60. Love In The Time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez* He's such a great story teller and sneak in some social commentary without sounding preachy. it's fantastic.
61. Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62. Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov* He was one sick puppy.
63. The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64. The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold* the entertainment of an afternoon
65. Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas* Made me want to be a hero.
66. On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67. Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68. Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding* light summer read even though she totally ripped of Jane Austen it's still entertaining. More subtle than most updates of literary classics.
69. Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70. Moby Dick - Herman Melville on my bookshelf waiting for me to get the courage to read it.
71. Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens* funny and sweet. He's good at making cartoonish figures who you can somehow still identify with. And his names are fantastic.
72. Dracula - Bram Stoker* I prefer count chocula.
73. The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett* a lovely story.
74. Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson I've read other stuffy by him he's hilarious. I probably will read this one eventually.
75. Ulysses - James Joyce
76. The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath* really depressing... it made me tired.
77. Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78. Germinal - Emile Zola
79. Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray* A good story about flexible morals and where they get you.
80. Possession - AS Byatt
81. A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens* God bless us, every one.
82. Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83. The Color Purple - Alice Walker* Good if you're in the mood for that type of book
84. The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro Saw the movie...the fact that it was written by a Japanese person (who tend to appreciate subtlety in art a bit more than the average American) explains a lot.
85. Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert* I think I may have gotten tired of her whining and stopped halfway through.
86. A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87. Charlotte's Web - EB White* terrific pig!
88. The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom* trite and saccharine sweet. Mitch Albom is the author to read if you don't like thinking but want to pretend that you do. I hate him. He and Oprah are ruining America.
89. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle* Aaah the sleuth. Classic and fun, short stories, easy to read one at a time.
90. The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91. Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad* Not my type of book.
92. The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93. The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94. Watership Down - Richard Adams* Awful. It's Animal Farm without any outside cultural parallel, except longer. It's a 350 page book about RABBITS. And for some reason we consider this a modern day literature, essential reading for every public school student. I remember reading this book in 8th grade and having to try to figure out themes in the rabbit wars. There are no themes. The author has said so himself... he just wanted to write an really long book about rabbit migration and how hard it is to steal cabbages or something. Terrible.
95. A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96. A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97. The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas* Very entertaining.
98. Hamlet - William Shakespeare* He was one crazy dude. I think he may have been suffering from undiagnosed late-stage syph.
99. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl* I love Roald Dahl. When I was little I PRAYED that I would somehow be able to get to the room where everything was eatable. I was a fat kid... almost like a little female Agustus Gloop.
100. Les Miserables - Victor Hugo* I think I stopped partway through because it was a bit too heavy... and what's the fun of being all French if the characters aren't flamboyant?
I think I've read around 65 of the suggested 100. There are definite holes in this book list, and there are also books that I think were put on there to massage people's egos so they could say they'd read at least a few of the books on the list (should the Da Vinci code REALLY be on the same list as Shakespeare?)
Oh and PS if you were wondering which is my favorite, it's probably War and Peace because of Tolstoy's ability to make you feel like you intimately know 18 different characters. Each character is developed, well-fleshed out, and individual. And he actually makes you care about them all. And he makes them all believable figures without falling into the traps of stereotype or caricature. The only difficulty is in being able to separate in your mind Dolohov from Denisov, and realize that Petya, Pierre, Petruska, and Peter are referring to a single person. Except that there are two Peters in the book, so that makes it a teensy bit harder. But still awesome.
For reading this far, here's a picture of me and my sister laughing about literature at a party full of really intelligent people this past weekend. you should probably be jealous if you weren't there.