Great Books

People occasionally ask me what they should read when they start reading literature again as an adult. Below are 35 volumes, most (though not quite all) of which are on many so-called “Great Books” listings (defined roughly as inexhaustible classics worthy of much enjoyment and study) which have been of great impact and pleasure in my life. On works not written originally in modern English, I have usually suggested my favorite translation in parentheses if I have one. These are in alphabetical order by author, as I could not possibly rank some of these above the others.

  1. Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy (trans. John Ciardi)
  2. Anonymous, Beowulf (trans. Seamus Heaney)
  3. Anonymous, Gilgamesh (trans. Herbert Mason)
  4. Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote (trans. Edith Grossman)
  5. Geoffrey Chaucer, Canterbury Tales (trans. David Wright)
  6. Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
  7. Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
  8. Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist
  9. Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov (trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky)
  10. Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles
  11. Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo (trans. Robin Buss)
  12. Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter
  13. Victor Hugo, Les Miserables (trans. Julie Rose)
  14. Henry James, The Turn of the Screw
  15. Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird
  16. Gaston Leroux, The Phantom of the Opera (trans. Lowell Bair)
  17. C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
  18. C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
  19. John Milton, Paradise Lost
  20. Moliere, Tartuffe (trans. Richard Wilbur)
  21. Sir Thomas Mallory, Le Morte d’Arthur
  22. Flannery O’Connor, Wise Blood
  23. William Shakespeare, Hamlet
  24. William Shakespeare, Macbeth
  25. William Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew
  26. Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
  27. Edmund Spencer, The Faerie Queene
  28. Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  29. Bram Stoker, Dracula
  30. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
  31. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
  32. Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  33. Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
  34. H.G. Wells, The Time Machine
  35. Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
(Illustration courtesy of freestockphotos.biz)