Books to Read Before I Die: The Fiction Edition

Last year, I put out a call on Facebook for recommendations of books for the “ultimate reading list,” both great literature and non-fiction texts, and people responded in a big way. I started a list and pretty quickly became overwhelmed, and I put the project aside. This past December, Facebook’s nostalgic/annoying “On This Day” feature reminded me of this failed mission. So, I began again.

I set a limit of 100 books, and then realized that would only cover fiction—the non-fiction list will have to be another post. I’m hardly the first to attempt such a list, but I noticed that many of the “Top 100 Novels Everyone Should Read” lists are largely focused on Western literature. I thought to myself, what are the great works in other cultures? What are the classics of Arabic literature that I’d want to read? Then a friend sent a list of books kids read in high school in different countries around the world, and so a “world literature” category bloomed. I also wanted to highlight great Canadian literature, because we have great writers who deserve attention. Thus, this is a list in three parts: the Anglo-American novels; great Canadian fiction; and novels from around the world, with their authors’ nationalities noted. I consulted many lists, reviews and blog posts, and a few links are included at the end for your interest.

I chose to include only one book per author, though some writers have many books that deserve to be read. The books are listed in no particular order. My taxonomy’s not perfect, and of course the list is not exhaustive, but I’ve done the best I can. Stars indicate ones I’ve already read—always good to include items on a to-do list that you can check off immediately, right?

Thanks to all who contributed with their suggestions and recommendations. If you haven’t already guessed, reading is one of my life’s great pleasures, and while reading itself may be a solitary act, I take great joy in sharing the love for the written word with others.IMG_0705 copy

Books to Read Before I Die: The Fiction Edition

American and British Literature

  1. Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck (1939)*
  2. Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand (1957)
  3. To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf (1927)
  4. The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner (1929)
  5. On the Road, Jack Kerouac (1957)
  6. Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut (1969)
  7. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams (1979)
  8. For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway (1940)
  9. Ulysses, James Joyce (1920)
  10. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)*
  11. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee (1960)*
  12. Catcher in the Rye, D. Salinger (1951)*
  13. Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad (1899)*
  14. Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell (1949)*
  15. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith (1943)*
  16. The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath (1963)*
  17. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley (1932)*
  18. Lord of the Flies, William Golding (1954)*
  19. Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift (1726)
  20. Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy (1892)
  21. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens (1850)*
  22. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen (1813)*
  23. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte (1847)*
  24. The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing (1962)
  25. Catch-22, Joseph Heller (1961)
  26. Middlemarch, George Eliot (1874)
  27. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley (1818)*
  28. Moby Dick, Herman Melville (1851)
  29. Portrait of a Lady, Henry James (1881)
  30. Beloved, Toni Morrison (1987)
  31. Go Tell it on the Mountain, James Baldwin (1953)
  32. The Rainbow, H. Lawrence (1915)
  33. The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton (1920)
  34. The Call of the Wild, Jack London (1903)*
  35. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov (1955)

Canadian Literature

  1. The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, Mordecai Richler (1959)
  2. Three Day Road, Joseph Boyden (2006)
  3. Two Solitudes, Hugh MacLennan (1945)*
  4. In the Skin of a Lion, Michael Ondaatje (1987)
  5. Green Grass, Running Water, Thomas King (1993)
  6. The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood (1985)*
  7. Life of Pi, Yann Martel (1991)*
  8. A Complicated Kindness, Miriam Toews (2004)*
  9. Book of Negroes, Lawrence Hill (2007)*
  10. Runaway, Alice Munro (2004)
  11. Obasan, Joy Kagawa (1981)*
  12. Do Not Say We Have Nothing, Madeline Thien (2016)
  13. Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, Stephen Leacock (1921)
  14. Le Survenant (The Outlander), Germaine Guevremont (1945)
  15. The Stone Angel, Margaret Laurence (1964)
  16. Lullabies for Little Criminals, Heather O’Neill (2006)
  17. Beautiful Losers, Leonard Cohen (1966)
  18. The Lions of Al-Rassan, Guy Gavriel Kay (1995)
  19. The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, Wayne Johnston (1998)
  20. Volkswagen Blues, Jacques Poulin (1984)
  21. The Cellist of Sarajevo, Steven Galloway (2008)*
  22. Half-Blood Blues, Esi Edugyan (2011)*
  23. A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry (1995)*

World Literature

  1. Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe – Nigerian (1958)
  2. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera (1984)* – Czech
  3. The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka (1915) – Czech/German
  4. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy (1869) – Russian
  5. In Search of Lost Time (maybe just Vol. 1, Swann’s Way), Marcel Proust (1913) – French
  6. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1967) – Colombian
  7. The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy (1997)* – Indian
  8. Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie (1981) – Indian
  9. The Glass Bead Game, Hermann Hesse (1943) – German/Swiss
  10. Seasons of Migration to the North, Tayeb Salih (1966) – Sudanese
  11. Cities of Salt, Abdelrahman Munif (1984) – Saudi
  12. Miramar, Naguib Mahfouz (1967) – Egyptian
  13. Pere Goriot, Honore de Balzac (1835) – French
  14. The Stranger, Albert Camus (1942) – French
  15. Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami (1987) – Japanese
  16. Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1866) –Russian
  17. Doctor Zhivago, Boris Pasternak (1957) – Russian
  18. My Name is Red, Orhan Pamuk (1998) – Turkish
  19. Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert (1856) – French
  20. Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes (1605) – Spanish
  21. The Dream of the Red Chamber, Cao Xueqin (1791) – Chinese
  22. Burger’s Daughter, Nadine Gordimer (1979) – South African
  23. Une si longue lettre (So Long a Letter), Mariama Ba (1979) – Senegalese
  24. Terra Sonambula, Mia Couto (1992) – Mozambican
  25. Nervous Conditions, Tsitsi Dangarembga (1988) – Zimbabwean
  26. A Grain of Wheat, Ngugi wa Thiong’o (1967) – Kenyan
  27. Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimanada Ngozie Adichie (2006)* – Nigerian
  28. Le Petit Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery (1943) – French
  29. Carpentaria, Alexis Wright (2006) – Australian
  30. Ficciones (Collected Fictions), Jorge Luis Borges (1944) – Argentinian
  31. Three Sisters, Bi Feiyu (2008) (Chinese)
  32. Please Look After Mother, Kyung-sook Shin (2008) – South Korean
  33. The Savage Detectives, Roberto Bolano (1998) – Chilean/Mexican
  34. The Motorcycle Diaries, Ernesto Che Guevara (1993) – Argentinian
  35. The Bridge on the Drina, Ivo Andric (1945) – Yugoslavian
  36. Out Stealing Horses, Per Petterson (2003) – Norwegian
  37. The Rainbow Troops, Andrea Hirata (2005) – Indonesian
  38. Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not), Jose Rizal (1887) – Filipino
  39. A Bend in the River, VS Naipaul (1979) – Trinidadian
  40. The Leopard, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (1958) – Italian
  41. All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque (1929) – German
  42. Sophie’s World, Jostein Gaarder (1991) – Norwegian



“All Nobel Prizes in Literature”

“25 Classic Canadian Novels”

“5 Arabic Books to Read (in English) Before You Die”

“100 Novels Everyone Should Read” (The Telegraph)

“100 Best Novels” (Modern Library)

“Africa’s 100 Best Books of the 20th Century” (Columbia University)

“The 100 Greatest British Novels” (BBC)

“Required Reading: The books that students read in 28 countries around the world”

“10 Award-Winning Books by Asian Authors You Should Read”

“10 Best Latin American Books of All Time”

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