Friday, November 26, 2010

The Infamous List

You've all seen this… the BBC claims people have only read 6 on average. I’ve read a fair few more, in part because maybe 8 years ago I copied off a librarian list of top recommended reads. My plan is not just to tell you what I’ve read, but to advise you one whether YOU ought to or not.

I've read the ones in bold. I've read partial stuff in italicized stuff.

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen I know she is a classic and all, but this isn’t my type of thing… it’s a pastoral romance and well done for what it is. What it ISN’T is exciting. To me anyway.

2 The Lord of the Rings- JRR Tolkien The rare case of the movie is better than the book. This is a pretty great story, weighed down by overly descriptive prose.

3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte Worse than pastoral romance is pining for an arsehole. This isn’t my thing EITHER.

4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling BEST. BOOKS. EVER.

5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee This is a really good one, and not too dense. I’d recommend it, but I think everyone has to read it in high school.

6 The Bible Worth looking into. Some of it is interesting. Some of it is even important. Mostly though, I think it is important to know where some portion of our culture is basing its beliefs. I think it would ALSO be good to read the Q’uran.

7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte This is my preferred Bronte. Like Jane Eyre, we have a piner, but Heathcliff is the original bad boy. At least he is worth pining for.

8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell I graduated high school in 1984, so I think we all read this. This is one of those ‘you should read’ but more so you’ll sort of get the references than because it is so well done. It is sociologically important, but as a literary work I rank it about with Farenheit 452 (translation—mediocre).

9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman I enjoyed these, though Lyra’s accent is weird, so reading out loud (I read them to my kids) posed some challenges.

10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens Dickens has the odd distinction of having bothed loved and hated books in my book. This one falls solidly in the middle. It’s okay.

11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott I loved this one, though I was fairly young when I read it.

12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy

13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller—this is on my ‘intend to read’ list.

14 Complete Works of Shakespeare I prefer Shakespeare seen to read, but some of the stories are great.

15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier This is that same plot as Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights and I stand by only Wuthering Heights pulling it off.

16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien I liked this one… the style isn’t so different from LotR, but it is a little more playful or something.

17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk

18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger—Also on my intend to read list.

19 The Time Traveler’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger

20 Middlemarch - George Eliot

21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell (movie yes… suspect, knowing me, it is the kind of story I like watching better than reading because of the central role of romance.)

22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald I found this dull. I don’t know if it is my age (I was 15) or my aversion and annoyance with pretty people or some combo.

23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens--I own this, but it is far down on my list.

24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy This is my favorite book of all time. It is an epic, and it is denser than dense, especially as everyone has about 4 names, but I LOVE it.

25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams—I am ashamed I haven’t read this.

26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh

27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky I couldn’t find ANYTHING in the MC about which to be sympathetic and there wasn’t adequate redemption or understanding to make it work. I HAVE read a Dostoyevsky I liked—The Brothers Karamazov is great. Read that instead.

28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck—I’ve read two Steinbeck’s, and I THINK this is the second (Cannery Row is the other) and I think everyone should read one or two, but I’ve heard East of Eden is the best.

29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll I call this a partial, as I’ve read a version, but it isn’t the full, original.

30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame Same story as Alice.

31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy I started this a long time ago, but it is a beautiful antique book, so I can’t read it where I normally read (bath or walking), so since I started writing, I haven’t really picked it up again.

32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens This is the Dickens I enjoyed most. It might be that it was the first I read as an adult. The ones I read as a teen were much harder. It’s a great story though.

33 Chronicles of Narnia - C.S. Lewis See how I did that? Daughter and I read the first 5, then she was done and I wasn’t compelled to finish… so we read most but not all.

34 Emma -Jane Austen

35 Persuasion - Jane Austen This was me giving Austen another chance and confirming she just isn’t really my thing.

36 The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe - CS Lewis It’s a good book for reading to your elementary student. I’m not sure it merits picking up alone.

37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini This is a beautifully told horrible story... meaning painful and hard to hear, but told in a way you need to read it anyway.

38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres

39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden I liked this as a cultural immersion and a book, but am not quite sure it is literature... maybe it is... it's worth reading... I'm not sure what's a little off.

40 Winnie the Pooh - A.A. Milne

41 Animal Farm - George Orwell

42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown I confess to liking this, but I read it before I wrote regularly. And I LOVE conspiracy theory, especially when it shines the light on religion.

43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez Read Marquez review below.

44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving—In intend to read this.

45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins

46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery—It's possible... probable... I started this, but I was too old for the content by that time (seems I was 15 going on 25)

47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy

48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood This book is NOT enjoyable, but it IS important. I'm glad I read it.

49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding Same here. I read this to both kids the summer before middle school because I wanted them to see in no uncertain terms what bullying and following could lead to.

50 Atonement - Ian McEwan all I remember of this is that I was mostly bored and then really dissatisfied with the ending. I have NO OTHER recollection of the experience.

51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel This was cute until it was just too far out there. Boat with a tiger, fine. Man eating island? I think not.

52 Dune - Frank Herbert

53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons

54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen

55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth started this and liked it but it's LONG (1500 pages) and it was a libarary book—I need to try again when I don't have a ton of conflicts.

56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon

57 A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens This was my first Dickens and very difficult to read, but it is a good plot, and the best open and close of any book EVER.

58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley

59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon

60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez I prefer this Marquez, and the two are so similar (so reading both annoyed me)--I like his stuff—just... mood, language, plot... yeah... basically the same book.

61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck

62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov I adore this book because the narrator is so grotesque, yet somehow Nabokov pulls us into his head so we see BOTH that he's fairly insane (clinically disturbed) AND that he has no perception of that AT ALL. He thinks his urges are the girls' fault—always, and totally doesn't get it. It's not that he's stupid, and on some level he gets it isn't normal... I have no CLUE how an author pulls a reader into this kind of delusion (a straight mother of a teen, no less) but the writing is so sublime that he manages. Writing an unsympathetic but compelling hero is acknowledged in writing circles as a great skill—this is the strongest case of this I've ever seen.

63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt

64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold Another... you should read it, even though it isn't much fun, book.

65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas This is EXQUISITE plotting.

66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac

67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy

68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding

69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie

70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville I was surprised I liked this—it is a little testosterone heavy, but it is better than I expected.

71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens This poor book was forced on me as a freshman in high school and I just wasn't up for the language. I hated it, but I don't think I would, had I encountered it as an adult. And Uriah Heep still gives me the willies (and not the good kind)

72 Dracula - Bram Stoker I read this on a kick of old horror. It 'reads old'--it has some flawa in common with some of HP Lovecraft's stories... it has some of the same brilliant chills though, too. I think the turn of the century just wasn't a time famous for narrative style, but the tale is good. I think it's a must for anyone who likes horror—know your roots, and for anyone who thinks they like vampire stories...

73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett—I should have read this. I know that. I may, yet.

74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson

75 Ulysses - James Joyce

76 The Inferno - Dante

77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome

78 Germinal - Emile Zola

79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray

80 Possession - AS Byatt

81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens

82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell

83 The Color Purple - Alice WalkerThis was required reading for an American Lit class I had in college, and I think that is true. If you are American, this is required reading. It is told in the form of a diary of a poor black woman, grammar, spelling errors and all (nobody knows she can even read) and it is a profound, heartbreaking, but triumphant story.

84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro

85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert—part of me thinks I read this, but if I remember NOTHING, that doesn't bode well.

86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry

87 Charlotte’s Web - E.B. White GREAT kid's story. Everyone should read this as an early chapter book to their kids.

88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom

89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton

91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad

92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery

93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks

94 Watership Down - Richard Adams I loved this as a kid, but tried to read it to the son and he bailed... apparently it was good compared to what I was reading, but doesn't stand up to the modern options.

95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole

96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute

97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas

98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare—I think I read this, but get it confused with MacBeth... I KNOW I read MacBeth (my high school Shakespeare teacher had a life goal of playing one of the witches in MacBeth)... and I know I read 'As you Like it' in that class... plus two more... (other years I read Romeo and Juliet and Julius Caesar, but there were 4 in this one semester class)--was Hamlet one? Seems it must have been...

99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl

100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo This is a close second to War and Peace for best book ever. In fact I think the plot is more clever. War and Peace just has a broader canvas of engaging characters. I love the 'justice' message in the French books of this era (Count of Monte Cristo having a similar, though Dumas is the equivalent of 'commercial'--publishing serially for the masses, where Hugo was 'a real writer' *cough *

So there you have it... the list... I've read 38 completely, plus three I think I have but can't quite remember, plus six in part... I've been telling people 42... there was an earlier iteration and I remember that was my score, but I am not remembering what was THERE, that isn't HERE. (I know Where the Red Fern Grows was)

I happen to think this list needs updating. My facebook friends agree, which makes it fact...

If I were to add to it, given modern books of import, I might add the following:

The Giver (Lois Lowry)

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

The Drifters by James Michener (I actually prefer this to Kerouac's 'On the Road' as a Vietnam era tale... not that I've read On the Road, but I HAVE read Kerouac, and he never really gets a point across. Michener does)

The Shining by Stephen King—like it or not, King has a place in literary history and I think this is a nice, well-done, representative one.

Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I'd take off the couple duplicates (no need for Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe when the set is there. Same with Hamlet). I think Marques is the same from book to book, so I'd only include one. I'd probably include fewer from Austen... in fact honestly... I think there are several authors I'd include with a note of not CARING which... 'two books from Austen' seems a perfectly reasonable marker, no matter what they are.

I'm not sure what else... given time, I'm sure there would be many more.

What would you add to books everyone should read? What SPECIFICALLY would you remove?

Reader Recommended Adds

The Outsiders
Uncle Tom's Cabin
A River Runs Through It,
The Bell Jar,
The Road,
Atlas Shrugged
the Twilight Series
Huckleberry Finn (okay me, but in comments...)
The Chocolate War


The Words Crafter said...

I'm seeing this list pop up everywhere. Now that I've seen it again, I'm gonna have to do it, too. I love your commentary, btw! And, until I read your post, I never thought of updating it, which I think is a fabulous idea.

Have a great weekend!

Old Kitty said...

I counted 56 that I read. :-)

I'd add The Outsiders by SE Hinton and a few Kafka books too! :-)

I'd not remove any - it's good to read as much and as widely as possible for me! Take care

Jennee said...

I've only read 17 of these books and I have to agree...Jane Austen just isn't my kinda of girl. I keep forcing myself to try and like her because a lot of people do, but I'm just bored.

Megan Bostic said...

I've read 21 for sure, a couple others were sketchy. Not really sure what I'd add to the list. I think The Shining is a spot on addition though. Maybe Uncle Tom's Cabin, A River Runs Through It, The Bell Jar, The Road, Atlas Shrugged, and *cough* the Twilight Series.

Hart Johnson said...

Words Crafter--glad you're going to do it!

Jenny-56!? Holy cow! That's impressive! And The Outsiders is spot on for the kind of stuff to add!

Jennee-Yeah, I tried to force myself with Jane for a long time--so many smart people I adore lover her... but I don't.

Megan-Great suggestions--yeah Missing Ayn Rand is a huge oversite! (in fact that may have been on the earlier list)--your list too, reminded me Huckleberry Finn should be here (the Uncle Tom's Cabin led to Tom Sawyer led to Huck)

Ted Cross said...

Wow, I tend to avoid classics because having them assigned in school showed me that I tended to enjoy them far less than my beloved fantasy books. But, I've read 28 of these. Not bad for an anti-literary reader!

Cold As Heaven said...

Impressive list.

I agree with you regarding the Bible, same with the Koran. There are some important similarities and differences. Both the Koran and The Old Testament are kind of aggressive and revengeful. Not so with the New Testament. Jesus makes the difference.

Catch 22 is hilarious; worth reading.

I once made an attempt on Ulysses, but gave it up.

Didn't like Lord of the Rings; boring.

There's one thing Lord of the Rings and the Bible have in common: Don't believe it >:D

Cold As Heaven

Erin said...

I can't believe you haven't read Winny the Pooh and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

I also love how most of these books have been banned at some point in time,

ViolaNut said...

Bell Jar was on the last iteration... I'm going to have to sit down and compare the two, 'cause I could swear Dante's Inferno was on one but not the other...

Anyway, I'm not sure if I ever realized how far apart our tastes in so-called literary fiction really are... as Garcia Marquez and Austen are at the absolute tippity-top of my list (I even have a Jane Austen action figure {ignoring the irony, 'kay?}). ;-)

Holly Ruggiero said...

What is this a list of? What someone considers the best literature? Bah. Yeah, I agree the list needs to be updated. There are some really great boos on that list and then some I just scratch my head and wonder "How did that make the list?"

The Golden Eagle said...

I've seen this everywhere--I'll have to do it myself! I like what you added about the books, and to the list.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more about "The Road" being added, same with a few others there. I actually can't figure out why on Earth The DaVinci Code is on that list as well as Harry Potter (I say this having read both). I get that they're popular and fun, but they don't really fit in with the caliber of writing noted in many of the other works on the list.

For recent stuff being added you mentioned "The Giver" and "Speak" (totally agree - again), but think "The Chocolate War" should be on there as well. Thanks for sharing, Hart!

Hart Johnson said...

Ted- some are classics. I think others are cultural moments. but 28 isn't bad at all for having avoided classics...

CaH--Doesn't surprise me at all you agree about the religious works. it is one of the things that always surprises me... what feels right in my heart is the 'norm' in northern Europe.--can hardly judge if you haven't read yourself.

Erin=both I knew as films but never had as books. I would have loved to go the other way, but that isn't how it happened (I have read a fair amount of OTHER Roald Dahl--The big Friendly Giant is a favorite). Good point on the banning. I think important books are often banned.

Leanne-I am sure you're right on Bell Jar and Inferno. Interesting the diversion on classic authors, as I thought we had similar views on modern romance. it's possibly a matter of timing. I encountered the modern then the classic (so the latter was tainted) you encountered the classic then the modern (so more easily separated)

Holly--It is a BBC list... no CLUE what their criteria is.

GE, be sure and share when you make your list!

Kimberly, I think DiVinci made it out of recent biggness... Harry Potter though... read them again. and again. They deserve their spot. They are far more amazing the third and fourth time through because you finally GRASP their amazingness. Added the Chocolate War.

Missed Periods said...

Jazz by Toni Morrison should be on the list.

Hart Johnson said...

MP-I haven't read Jazz, but I would totally concur that SOMETHING by Toni Morrison should be there!

Lisa said...

That's quite a list. I'm relieved that I've read more than 6 of those titles because I don't feel very well read in general.

Your recommendations were great!

Donna Hole said...

I have read very few of these; so few I refuse to count them. I'd embarrass myself.

I'd always thought of myself a well read though. Maybe I should save this so I know what I should be reading.



Not Hannah said...

Totally doing this on my blog right now. Right. Now. With commentary and addendums. Consider yourself stolen from (and vastly admired.)

(Also, I'm going to third or fourth THE ROAD, and exchange ATLAS SHRUGGED for ANTHEM and THE STAND and/or THE DARK TOWER series for THE SHINING. That is all.)

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

I'm counting 47, but I was an English major, so that explains it. :)

I'm surprised that a couple of these books even MADE the list, honestly. But everything's subjective...

LTM said...

yeah, I've got to get to this list... I *own* several of these books/haven't read. So I think that counts for something. V. much enjoyed your reviews... I finished the Hobbit whereas didn't finish the others, and I think your reason might be right... I also don't care for Austen (***gasp***) but I do like Dickens. If Twilight's on the new list, please include Interview to be balanced. :D

Jemi Fraser said...

I thought I was the only one who didn't enjoy Jayne Eyre and Pride & Prejudice. So not my thing. I really did like Fahrenheit & 1984 at the time though (in high school when they opened the whole dystopian world thing for me). I think I read Anne of GG about 10 times as a kid - loved it!!

Donea Lee said...

Wow - little embarrassed about how many I haven't read. Not a lot that typically appeals to me, I guess. Except, of course - Harry Potter! I also agree with you on LoTR - there's a fantastic story underneath all those words! The movies are great. Many of those are on my TBR list...I'll get to them eventually. I have Jane Austen's collected works, but have yet to read through many of them. Same with Shakespeare. Anne of GG - I have all of those,too... dang! I better get to reading!

Ketutar said...

I have read 41 of them.

Jane Austen isn't mystery/thriller/suspense :-D

I suppose LOTR movie is easier to swallow than the book, but it's not the same story. I - as a member of a Tolkien society - damn the manuscript writers to the darkest Tolkien hell with their carrot stealing hobbits, orchs born from eggs, action heroine Arwen and ring desiring Faramir.
The Hobbit is written for children, LOTR is not. He has taken most of the dribble out, and left just the great story. ;-)

I have read 1984 and Brave New World, but they are so similar I cannot remember which was which. I have read them though.

I liked the Golden Compass, but the other two were weird and I was really, utterly displeased with the last book. Lyra, whom we learned to know - and love - in the first book, would NEVER have done that.

Gone with the wind is not a romance novel, in my opinion. You should read it, just to find that out, I think...

I hate The Great Gatsby as well. Incomprehensible, boring and totally blasé. Not even the author cares whether you read it or not.

I think "To Unknown God" is Steinbeck's best, but I would, now, being a Pagan. :-D

Read the original, unabridged Alice and Willows. They are written to kids, so it's a quick read, but so worth it. :-)
The same with Pooh, Secret Garden and Anne. For an adult, The Blue Castle might work better. Lucy wrote the same story over and over again, and Anne is the lightest of them, but I enjoy her books.

I suppose everyone should at least know the story of the Little Prince even though I hate, hate, hate the book. Glory of egoism...

And everyone should have read at least something by Roald Dahl. I recommend Danny (Champion of the world?). For some reason I haven't read Charlie... I love Roald Dahl and have most of his books - even those for adults... love his erotic short stories - but I haven't read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory...

I read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe as a independent novel and I loved it, when I was like 10 or something, so, yes, it merits picking up alone.
IMHO you win with not having read the last book. It is VERY different from the rest. I regret having read it, but still I read it every time I read the others. And yes, I still read them about once a year, all 7 books of them, enjoy the experience, and I'm over 40 now.

I hate Da Vinci Code. I hate Outlander. I hate Pi. Brrrr.
Wouldn't recommend any of them to anyone.
Read Katherine Neville's "Eight" and "Fire", if you want to read a GOOD book of conspiracy theories with a dash of religion as spice :-)

I like John Irving. But I like the humor... I suppose that's why I like Jane Austen and Dickens too.

Dune is weird, but I liked it. I would recommend "2001: A Space Odyssey" by Arthur C. Clarke. The book is lightyears better than the movie, which is... WTF?

I just finished the Shadow of the Wind and it is amazing! But that's just me :-) It has both romance and mystery, so you might like it ;-)
But I would not have it on The List. Too new.

Alexandre Dumas writes wonderful plots :-D Have you read the original version of Monte Cristo in which they recommend hashish?

I just couldn't get through Dracula. I have started reading it several times, but... *sigh*

Ketutar said...

Now, what do I want to add/remove?
Depends on what list this is.

"This book is NOT enjoyable, but it IS important. I'm glad I read it."

If this is a list of the books that "you should at least know the story, and the original story, so that you won't go telling people things like "The Little Mermaid marries the prince and lives happily ever after" because the movie said so, then here's some ideas of mine...

I would remove Da Vinci Code and Pi, without even reconsidering. I cannot think ANYONE reading either in some 20-30 years, nor that either would inspire great literature or be mentioned in novels in the future, which you have to give to Jane Austen, Brontës and other such books. So, I would take out all the books that are not even 20 years old.

This is one of the reasons to why everyone should have read the Bible (at least the Old Testament - I disagree with "Cold As Heaven". There are no great stories in the New Testament, but the Old one is full of good, inspiring stories, even though some of it is "aggressive and revengeful". I doubt people who think that of the whole Old Testament has actually READ it.

Quran - I have started to read it and it's... rather bland compared to the Tanakh. But should be read, anyway, just for the general knowledge, just like all the other Holy Books of human kind... which is quite a list.

And not because it would be "great spiritual truths" or "believed in", but because there are some really great stories there. ;-)

Some sort of fairy tale collection is a must on a "should read" list. I would say Brothers Grimm (unabridged and every one of them, not just the 10 popular ones), H.C.Andersen, Oscar Wilde and a couple of Andrew Lang's collections, especially The Blue Fairy Book.

Also, on the "must read" list should be some version of Arthur's Legends. Whether it is Le Morte D'Arthur or The Once and Future King doesn't much matter.

Don Quixote. Everyone should know the story.
Faust for the same reason.
Iliad and Odyssey
Kalevala, Roland's Song, Nibelungenlied, Edda, Aeneid... the list just keep getting longer and longer :-D

Something from the lists of winners of the biggest literature prizes, like Nobel, Neustadt, Booker...

I would also add to the list something from all the fiction genres. Everyone should have read a fantasy novel (LOTR of course, as the grand father of epic fantasy), scifi (not Dune, though), romance (Barbara Cartland as good as any, but I'd read Eleanor Hibbert), Western, Horror (King or Koontz), Crime, War, Mystery (Agatha Christie) and so on and so forth, which ever definition one has.

Rigel said...

Well, I read FAR more nonfiction than fiction so there's not much I can add. Plus, when I do read fiction, it's because I'm in need of fluff. Craving brain cheese for a mental respite doesn't lend itself to weighty literature.


A Little Princess by Frances Hodgeson Burnett - One of my favorite books since elementary school, I still take it out and reread favorite parts sometimes (e.g. when piled under blankets on the couch, miserable from the flu, and craving "comfort reading").

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck - This is one of my favorite books of all time. I truly love it. Epic sweep of plot through time, intriguing characters (although, not all have the depth that perhaps they should), historical and cultural teaching, and lots more yummy stuff. I recommend this book with all my heart.

Any collection of poetry by Gwendolyn Brooks (but make sure it includes the poem The Preacher Ruminates Behind the Sermon -- my favorite poem EVER)

I'd recommend most anything by Isaac Bashevis Singer, but, if pushed, I'll admit I tend to prefer his collections of short stories over his novels. One of my intellectual regrets in life is that I read him in the English translation instead of the original Yiddish. As magnificent as his writing is in English translation (he had a heavy hand in a lot of the translating, too, so hopefully, it's fairly true to source), I know it's lost some of the original quirk and poignancy of the Yiddish.

If we were allowed to throw in memoirs, I'd add:
Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott
The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
Brainiac by Ken Jennings

Next in my "important books I should read" pile is Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. I acknowledge that my geek armor is tarnished because I have not yet read this book, and I humbly accept the shaming.