Another interactive post…


Who must you have read to consider yourself ‘well-read‘?

A discussion ensued from my last post where I purported that I only finished The Enchantress of Florence to enhance my literary ‘roundedness.’ This question has been asked and answered many times, probably most notably and completely in Harold Bloom’s The Western Canon.

What I’m going for here is much less scholarly, much more real life. Even so, I realize that there are some intrinsic problems with posing the question. Do I limit the lists to a certain number – say five or ten? By doing so, am I not undermining the intent? Surely you can not consider yourself well-read by only having read that few? Perhaps to allow more, I should distinguish between classic, contemporary or modern fiction. Should I ask for American, British or World authors? Or ask for a specific number of each?

Sigh. It is too complicated.

So, without being too complicated, who are the ten authors – regardless of time period or location- you must have read to consider yourself ‘well-read’?

P.S. I’m reserving my list for later – but this post does include a hint of one. 😉

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18 Replies to “Another interactive post…

  1. By "you", I assume you mean "me personally" and by "author", I am assuming you are leaving out poets. That said, and pulling this totally out of my butt, here's my list, in no particular order, but because they are ones I love:

    1) Shakespere
    2) J.D. Salinger
    3) Ralph Waldo Emerson
    4) Oscar Wilde
    5) Virginia Woolf
    6) Mark Twain
    7) F. Scott Fitzgerald
    8) Jane Austen
    9) Leo Tolstoy
    10)The Bronte Sisters (counting them as one!)

  2. All very good choices, Bunny!

    I also had a great comment posted on an alternate site…I'm waiting for permission by the author to repost here…

  3. Funny you ask this question, because I always thought of myself as "well-read", but then I started my book blog! LOL. I've been very lucky to have publishers introduce me to some amazing authors that I had not heard of before — Richard Russo, Margaret Atwood, Lorrie Moore, etc.

    Some would insist that you could not be well-read unless you had a certain number of classics on your list (Steinbeck, Bronte, Austen, Dickens, Fitzgerald, etc.). Others would say that you're not well read until you've gone through Shakespeare's works. Another group still wouldn't consider someone well read until they have a decent collection spanning generations, genres, authors, and formats (everything from Harper Lee to George Orwell, Anne Frank to Jeannette Walls, Victor Hugo to Ayn Rand, Oscar Wilde to Arthur Miller, Louisa May Alcott to Rick Riordan, etc.).

    I guess my point is, being well-read is too subjective for a concrete answer. Unfortunately, there are too many books and too little time. If you have no desire to read a book like Anna Karenina, who says you should?

  4. ^To some degree, Alison, I believe that is the point Elisabeth is trying to illustrate: "well-read" means different things to different people.

    I didn't even touch the many, many contemporary authors–Anna Quinlan, Amy Tan, Anne Tyler, to name a few that I see right this minute sitting on my office bookshelf. But I suppose I believe "well-read" literature should be classic in feel, or at least have withstood some test of time.

    As far as Anna Karenina–and War & Peace–I purposefully took a Tolstoy class in college knowing I would have to read both, and enjoyed them both. So, sometimes "forcing" myself to read a book to feel well-read has resulted in my reading some of my favorite books.

  5. 1. Shakespeare – as Bloom wrote, he is the center of the Canon.
    2. Sophocles
    3. Dickens
    4. Goethe / Hugo / Molière
    5. Bronte's / Austin / Eliot
    6. Tolstoy / Chekov
    7. Poe / Twain
    8. Steinbeck / Hemmingway / Fitzgerald
    9. Faulkner / O'Connor / Capote / Welty
    10. Bradbury / Orwell

    That's right. I cheated, but it is my blog. I decided to put some in 'categories' instead of having to pick just ten. Bunny, I think you're right about Wilde, so he's my #11.

    I didn't include any contemporary authors – but AS Byatt would be one of the first.

    What do y'all think about a similar exercise with poets?

  6. I am disappointed that I am coming to this a bit late in the game. I am excited to read everyone's top ten, and I am going to spend tomorrow thinking about mine & adding them to the mix. Doing the same with would be very interesting, though my list might be a bit Intro to Poetry 101….

  7. Forgive my lack of proofreading in my first post. Since this is a blog about good books, and therefore attention to writing, I felt compelled to note my error. 🙂

  8. After reading E's post, I need to go the library! I'm woefully under-read (is that a word?!?) in the Russian and Greek departments.

  9. @Tiff – This is a guilt-free zone… all content is informational in nature and only serves as encouragement if reader so desires!

  10. That's a hard one. I do agree that everyone's idea of "well-read" is different. But I also struggle with the idea that we should be able to consider ourselves well-read. It seems elitist, but I am the first to stand up and say I want to be well-read. What a dillema! 🙂

    While I don't know every author and/or book would be on my list, I think I would definitely recomend The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote of La Mancha by Cervantes.

  11. Quoting Rebecca: "It seems elitist, but I am the first to stand up and say I want to be well-read. What a dillema!"

    So very true! There was a day when I wouldn't have minded being called elitist, but now, it is more of what I want for myself rather than how I want others to perceive me. And, it is that there are others who are 'more' well-read than me, and I want to be like them (Tiff!).

  12. This has been a real challenge. I had to chastise myself for (almost) putting some personal favorites on the list that, if I am being honest, I must admit that not having read them does not make someone a Philistine. Case in point: Willa Cather. I love her, yet if someone told me they had never read her, it wouldn't be the end of the (reading) world to me.

    So, I thought long & hard and realized I can't improve much on the lists submitted, but I would like to add Dostoyevsky, Henry James, and Nabokov.

    I didn't even think about contemporary authors, mostly because I think it might be too soon to tell if any of them make the cut.

  13. @Stacie – Henry James – completely forgot that one! Nabokov almost made mine. Your note on contemporary authors is why I didn't include them either. Only time will tell….

  14. I think Stacie has a great point. There is a big difference in making a list of your personal favorites and then making a list of authors that should be read to be considered well educated. As E and I have found out, sometimes the two are quite different i.e. The Enchantress of Florence. Perhaps the title of the list should be transformed into "authors that have spoken to humanity"? Those are the writers that are lasting and truly affect you as a human being. Then again,perhaps being moved by a book causes one to be well-read? Thoughts??

  15. I do think being moved by books does encourage one to be well-read. If books mean nothing to you, why read? But being well-read is something more than that…I like the way books stretch me and challenge me. I like the fact that even though I didn't like it, I can say I've read a Rushdie book. Because he's a name that people know (and read) I can say I've read him, didn't like it & give a couple of reasons why I won't read him again.

    Now, the ten list of your FAVORITE authors, that's quite another list…maybe for November…

  16. Being challenged & stretched by books is a very good thing. In thinking about it, I suppose you can't be well-read if you aren't willing to read things that, at first blush, might not appeal to you. For instance, I had avoided Catcher in the Rye for years because it just didn't appeal to me. Then, a friend (who, incidentally, is now my husband) told me I should read it because I would end up loving it. And, he was right. So, by finally relenting & reading something I *thought* I would not like, I actually found one of my favorite books. Had I not read it, a) I would not be a well-read person 🙂 and b) I would have missed out on a book that once meant a lot to me.

    A problem for me lately is that my reading choices have been pretty "safe." I feel pressed for reading time, so I find myself reading books I'm confident I will like for whatever reason. Maybe they are similar to another book I read. Maybe they are by an author I tend to like. For my own fortitude, I should include more books in the TBR pile that are not such sure bets. Or ones that are dissimilar to the other books I read. I hate to think about it, but I am definitely a reading demographic, and I should operate outside of that every once in a while. And next, on Stacie' Book Confessions…. 😉

  17. I think all of us have times when we pick a 'safe' book, but I've found that the books I love the most are not the ones that are 'safe.' For example this year… 'Testimony' was a safe choice. And while I liked it, I didn't LOVE it. 'The Space Between Us' is not a book I would have picked up on my own, because generally speaking, I don't like "Eastern" books (never like Amy Tan). However, it is probably going to be one of my favorite reads of this year. Same for 'Infidel' – I don't typically read biographies, but I set myself a goal this year to read more non-fiction and more classics (which I haven't done) to stretch me. And, I'm the better for it.

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