Books You Must Read Before You Die
Each work of literature listed here is a primary work key to understanding and appreciating the written word. These works have been handpicked by a team of international critics and literary luminaries, including Derek Attridge (world expert on James Joyce), Cedric Watts (renowned authority on Joseph Conrad and Graham Greene), Laura Marcus (noted Virginia Woolf expert), and David Mariott (poet and expert on African-American literature), among some twenty others.
We also added our picks to the list. You can contribute or help maintain it by suggesting in the comments section. The original lists are in “1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die” edited by Peter Boxall with an introduction by Jennifer Byrne. But we tried to sort it out and picked some of them to create our list with a new ranking.
The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter (Anonymous)
A bamboo cutter and his wife live in poverty and without children until the day he finds a little girl in the forest. They raise her as their own daughter and name her Lady Kaguya. However, she belongs to the moon people where she must return.
The Princess of Clèves by Madame de Lafayette
The Princess of Cleves is brought to the court to find a good husband who of course means someone with wealth and power, so she ends up marrying the prince. Soon after her marriage she meets the more handsome and charming Duke of Nemours and the unfortunate love story begins. Does she have to admit her passion for the Duke to her husband, or keep the unspoken, unrequited love as a secret?
Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper
This captivating story follows the struggle for North America in 1757 between the French and the British together with their divided Indian tribes (led by Hawk-Eye on the British side and Magua on the French side) helping both sides.
The Unfortunate Traveller by Thomas Nashe
Jack Wilson is on an adventure all over Europe as a page in the army. Soon after the war ends, Jack leaves England and travels to France and Italy among other European countries in episodes filled with humor and twisted plots. The tales of Jack Wilton, The Unfortunate Traveller, is an uplifting story about an adventurer who moves across Europe in the sixteenth century-jumping from danger to danger in thrilling episodes. He goes about swindling people, and alcohol among another witty tomfoolery.
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
Robinson Crusoe of York is a free-spirited young Englishman, who despite his father’s plea to study law, decides he is better off at sea than in a noble profession. His adventures take him through near death experiences and bring him lots of riches.
Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis
Alexis Zorba is a man who lives without inhibitions or shame. The real adventure in this epic story begins when Zorba meets a young English man who is going to claim his small inheritance in Crete.
A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift
A satirical essay set in eighteenth century Ireland depicts the extreme poverty experienced during that period.
The Man of Feeling by Henry Mackenzie
Harley has grown up under the care of guardians in a weathy family. He travels to London where he meets a beggar, and his real life begins.
The Heretic by Miguel Delibes
In Wittenberg, Martin Luther nails a list of 95 theses to a church door. In Valladolid, Spain, Ciprian Salcedo is born to the Salcedo family as the only son.
The Ghost Road by Pat Barker
Prior has been affected by the war and he has no regard for his safety anymore as he keeps getting into risky situations. He goes through psychiatric help and a spiritual journey to re-discover himself which seems elusive despite his engagement to Sarah.
Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell
When Johannes Lovgren is murdered, and his wife left for dead, Ystad detective Inspector Kurt Wallander is put on the case. The only clue is Maria Lovgren’s final word at the hospital, “foreign”.
Masnavi of Mawlana Jalaluddin Rumi
It is a compendium of Sufi stories, mystical and ethical teachings. Stories are told to illustrate a point, and each moral is presented in detail. It is considered as the greatest work of the Sufism.
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
It is a collection of short stories based on the writer’s own experience serving in the 3rd Platoon as a soldier in the Vietnam War. We are introduced to the squad leader Lt. Jimmy Cross and the rest is about the adventure they go through as a platoon. The story is narrated by Tim O’Brien, who is the protagonist of the novel.
In Parenthesis by David Jones
Ball’s involvement in World War I together with his battalion is told in an epic poem. The poems that are separated into seven parts follow Ball through different scenarios.
The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead
Sam is a self-made man with no status or money despite him being sharp. Henry, his wife, is a gorgeous woman from a well off family, and they are looking after seven kids with Louisa the oldest receiving the brunt of the couple’s long-standing misunderstandings.
The Last September by Elizabeth Bowen
Lois Farquar struggles with making important life decisions as she get involved with a British soldier Gerald Lesworth during the war between the Irish and the British.
Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse
Harry Haller conflicts and wonders about his place in life. One day he meets a man advertising a magic theater from whom he gets a small book. But this is no ordinary book. It addresses Harry by name and talks about his possible future.
Alberta and Jacob by Cora Sandel
Alberta and her brother Jacob live in a small town in Norway’s northern part that offers no excitement for her. She feels miserable in the tense atmosphere that eventually drives a wedge between her and her family as well as the town’s people.
Death Sentence by Maurice Blanchot
The narrator talks of his encounter with two women. One of them he finds motionless in a dark room after a bombing while the other one is terminally ill.
Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys
Sasha Jensen is an English woman who has just returned to Paris where she hasn’t been for quite a long time. The city has not favored her at all; here she had her baby die, and she also went through a bad marriage.
Untouchable by Mulk Raj Anand
Bakha belongs to the lowest caste. His is a Bhangi (toilet cleaner) and practically has to beg for food. Despite his extreme living conditions, he has big dreams that include dressing in “Fushun” clothes and playing hockey.
The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett
Nick Charles is a retired detective, and he is in New York for Christmas with his younger wife, Nora. While waiting for Nora outside a store, Nick is approached by Dorothy, a young woman whose father employed Nick 8 years ago. The quiet Christmas is over!
Don’t Move by Margaret Mazzantini
Timoteo is a qualified surgeon, but he has to sit and wait when he is called about his daughter’s accident and her life hangs in the balance. He starts confessing silently about the affair he had 15 years ago when Angela was born.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Kathy has been a nurse for eleven years. After a patient learns that she was at Hailsham School, he asks her to recount her memories, and she tells of her relationship with Ruth and Tommy who were both her school mates.
The End of the Story by Lydia Davis
The unnamed protagonist narrates about her memories of love encounters in the past and what she thinks she understands about herself.