100 Books You Should Read Now: An English Professor's List

Written in English, these novels are great reads and important works of art.

Posted Aug 27, 2016

"We are all refugees from our childhoods. And so we turn, among other things, to stories. To write a story, to read a story, is to be a refugee from the state of refugees,"  Mohsin Hamid writes in his novel How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia. "Writers and readers seek a solution to the problem that time passes, that those who have gone are gone, and those who will go, which is to say every one of us, will go. For there was a moment when anything was possible. And there will be a moment when nothing is possible. But in between, we can create."

Next week will mark my 29th year of teaching literature at UCONN in Storrs, CT. Over the nearly three decades in the classroom, teaching both undergraduates and graduate students, I've developed a long list of novels I consider essential. Friends, especially Facebook friends, often ask for suggestions about what to read next. 

OK, you asked for it.

I decided to take a deep breath and put my reading lists together, limiting my choices by the following factors:

1. I admire this work so much that I've taught it in a course, have notes on it, and believe that it's a terrific accomplishment as a work of literature. 

2. These works have all (to my knowledge) been written in English and not translated from other languages (otherwise, Madame Bovary would be on there, as well as dozens of others). 

3. These books are not in any particular order, except in my own spiderweb mind, so if you can see the patterns, I'd love to know what you think (can you find the Waldo of my imagination in the sets of five?). The patterns exist, but they are subtle and eccentric.

So here's your reading list, folks. Let me know what books you love, and let me know, too, what you think I should have included.

How To Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

Middlemarch by George Eliot

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning by Alan Sillitoe

Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter

The Life and Loves of a She-Devil by Fay Weldon

Underworld by Don De Lillo

The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen

The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford

Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison

Frost in May by Antonia White

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

Tom Jones by Henry Fielding

Pamela by Samuel Richardson

Man and Superman by George Bernard Shaw

Dubliners by James Joyce

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

Orlando by Virginia Woolf

The Odd Women by George Gissing

The Garden Party and Other Stories by Katherine Mansfield

The Collected Stories of Flannery O’Connor

The Collected Stories of Dorothy Parker

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos

Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis

Three Men In a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome

The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

Fanny Hill by John Cleland

BU-tterfield 8 by John O’Hara

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Wolf Hall by Hillary Mantel

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez

The Country Girls Trilogy by Edna O’Brien

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

1984 by George Orwell

Catch 22 by Joseph Heller

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain

The Shipping News by Annie Proulx

Asylum by Patrick McGrath

The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston

The Female Quixote by Charlotte Lennox

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café by Fanny Flagg

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

City Boy by Herman Wouk

Red Shift by Alan Garner

Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell

The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh

The House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III

My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki

Election by Tom Perrotta

The Three Sisters by May Sinclair

McTeague by Frank Norris

Peyton Place by Grace Metalious

Carrie by Stephen King

Porterhouse Blue by Tom Sharpe

The Waterfall by Margaret Drabble

The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

The Godfather by Mario Puzo

The Odd Woman by Gail Godwin

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

Final Payments by Mary Gordon

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

Property by Valerie Martin

Possession by A.S. Byatt

The Quiet American by Graham Greene

The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe

Blue Angel by Francine Prose

Small World by David Lodge

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

The Shape of Things to Come by H.G. Wells

Howard’s End by E.M. Forster

Straight Man by Richard Russo

The Ice Storm by Rick Moody

Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence

The Group by Mary McCarthy