This week’s question over at the Blue Bookcase is “What one work of literature must you read before you die?” Kind of a grim question, I think, but I’ll take it as “what work of literature do I still need to read at some point in my life?” That led me to look at some “best literature” lists and really think about what books I should read that I haven’t. I’m pretty well-read when it comes to classics — with a lit degree, four years working in a bookstore, and no kids, I pretty much read the books I want to read. But there are definitely a few holes.
The book that came immediately to mind is War and Peace by Tolstoy. I’ve never been so good with the Russians — Crime and Punishment and Brothers Karamazov were books I struggled with and largely Cliffs-noted in school. But this seems like one of those BIG WORKS that you ought to read to consider yourself well-read. What I want to know is, is it a book people LOVE, or one they just ought to read? Should I read Anna Karenina instead?
The second might be Les Miserables by Hugo. I know the story and have seen the musical, but never read the book. Truth is, I’m not so much better on the French writers than I am on the Russian writers. I tried reading The Count of Monte Cristo this year but just didn’t stick with it. I also always meant to read The Red and the Black by Stendahl.
Third is Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. I never read it in school, so it just passed me by. The story is so infused into our culture I almost FEEL I’ve read it, but I haven’t. Clearly a work of great importance.
My last few: Gulliver’s Travels by Swift (another one where the story has worked its way into popular culture); Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, and Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (a favorite of a friend of mine, and one I’ve always meant to read).
So now I have books to add to my TBR list. Have you read any of these and would you recommend them? What’s on your list?
Last year I knocked a few books off my “must read” list — Middlemarch, Sherlock Holmes, Fahrenheit 451, The Woman in White, and Slaughterhouse Five. I would highly recommend all of these, in case you’re putting together your own “must read before I die” lists.