Catch-22, Joseph Heller
The Color Purple, Alice Walker
Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes
Go Tell It On the Mountain, James Baldwin
The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome, The History of the Medieval World: From the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusade, and The History of the Renaissance World: From the Rediscovery of Aristotle to the Conquest of Constantinople, Susan Wise Bauer
Native Son, Richard Wright
A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn
Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith
War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys
More Ursula LeGuin. All the Ursula LeGuin.
More Flannery O’Connor.
UPDATE: I drafted this post in 2019 and never published it for some reason. Reading this list now is wild. What was going on that brought these particular books to top of mind? Some of them make obvious sense, but some seem random and there are so many I could’ve listed! Whatevs, I’m leaving it as is. The rest of this post is solid.
Books I think should be on your bucket list:
Adam Bede, George Eliot
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
Beloved, Toni Morrison
Cane, Jean Toomer
Charlotte’s Web, EB White
Delta Wedding, Eudora Welty. Or any Welty, really; the short story “A Worn Path” is literally divine. Yes, I mean literally literally.
Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
Emma, Jane Austen. Everyone names Pride and Prejudice, but Emma is friggin hilarious!
The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck (sub East of Eden if you want all the biblical allegory without the politics)
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton (or The Age of Innocence)
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
UPDATE: Adding Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler, and A People’s History of Heaven, Mathangi Subramanian
Traditional bucket list books I think you can skip:
This is the part where I make people mad.
1984, George Orwell. At least if you’re interested in literature; if you’re looking for a polemic, help yourself.
The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger. Actually, this one is required reading for anyone younger than 18 because if you don’t read it as a teenager, how will you realize it’s bullshit when you aren’t a teenager anymore?
Daniel Deronda, George Eliot
The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank. Sorry, but it’s just . . . the diary of a young girl. Sure it’s interesting to see a first-hand account of what it was like to live in hiding, but there’s a lot of Holocaust literature that doesn’t require wading through a 13-year-old’s diary. Reading Anne Frank when I was 13 is what made me realize that not everything I ever thought was worth writing down.
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
How to Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee. Okay, I do think you should read this one. Just don’t give it more than its due. We have better Civil Rights literature, and framing black experience through a little white girl’s eyes is not the most useful approach. (I do love reading Go Set a Watchman and Mockingbird together, especially if you’re interested in the nuts and bolts of writing. Keeping in mind that Watchman was the first draft of Mockingbird, and not a sequel, it’s fascinating to see how the story developed.)
On the Road, Jack Kerouac. See Catcher in the Rye. If you’re desperate to read something from the Beat generation, try Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, or Kesey. William Burroughs shot his wife and got away with it, so fuck him.
Most Dickens. Treacly bullshit.
Ernest Hemingway. Period. (See what I did there?)
Actually, this list is nonsense. I think you should read all these books, even the ones I hate. How else will you know if you hate them, too?