50 Essential Reads by Contemporary Authors?

Well kids, another literary list comes along to reveal just how out of touch and un-hip I am. Via Bookslut comes this list of 50 Essential Reads by Contemporary Authors. So how many of these “essential” works have I read? A grand total of 2 out of 50! Caveats: I might have read Slaughterhouse-Five in high school but I can’t say for sure. I think I might have read one of the Updike Rabbitt books but I don’t think I read the restI have Coetzee’s Disgrace on the TBR pile. But even if you add all that up it only brings me to 5 or %10. I figure in a few years I will have read a few more but by then they will have a new list! List and those I have read (in bold) below.

1. A Hundred Years of Solitude Gabriel Garcia Marquez
2. A Prayer for Owen Meany John Irving
3. A Suitable Boy Vikram Seth
4. American Pastoral Philip Roth
5. Atonement Ian McEwan
6. Being Dead Jim Crace
7. Birdsong Sebastian Faulks
8. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin Louis de Bernieres
9. Cloudstreet Tim Winton
10. Disgrace JM Coetzee
11. Enduring Love Ian McEwan
12. Faith Singer Rosie Scott
13. Fingersmith Sarah Waters
14. Fred and Edie Jill Dawson
15. Fugitive Pieces Anne Michaels
16. Girl with a Pearl Earring Tracy Chevalier
17. Grace Notes Bernard MacLaverty
18. High Fidelity Nick Hornby
19. His Dark Materials Trilogy Philip Pullman
20. Hotel World Ali Smith
21. Middlesex Jeffrey Eugenides
22. Midnight’s Children Salman Rushdie
23. Misery Stephen King
24. Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow Peter Hoeg
25. Money Martin Amis
26. Music and Silence Rose Tremain
27. Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit Jeanette Winterson
28. Riders Jilly Cooper
29. Slaughterhouse-five Kurt Vonnegut
30. The Blind Assassin Margaret Atwood
31. The Corrections Jonathan Franzen
32. The Golden Notebook Doris Lessing
33. The Handmaid’s Tale Margaret Atwood
34. The House of Spirits Isabelle Allende
35. The Name of the Rose Umberto Eco
36. The Passion Jeanette Winterson
37. The Poisonwood Bible Barbara Kingsolver
38. The Rabbit Books John Updike
39. The Regeneration Trilogy Pat Barker
40. The Secret History Donna Tartt
41. The Shipping News E Annie Proulx
42. The Tin Drum Gunter Grass
43. The Wind Up Bird Chronicle Haruki Murakami
44. The Women’s Room Marilyn French
45. Tracey Beaker Jacqueline Wilson
46. Trainspotting Irvine Welsh
47. Unless Carol Shields
48. What a Carve-Up Jonathan Coe
49. What I Loved Siri Hustvedt
50. White Teeth Zadie Smith

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).


  1. I don’t fare much better (4), but that’s not so much because I’m poorly read, but because this list is actually very narrow in its scope. In fact, harmless as they might be, I find these “essential reads” lists to be slightly anal. After all, who says they’re essential? The answer is, someone who can’t cope with the amazing variety of taste and creativity that is the modern world. Incidentally, no one has read “White Teeth” by Zadie Smith. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, there is no such book, there is no such person.

  2. I’ve read 5! I beat both youse guys! But I’m not about to spin off into a discourse on what is anal and the speculative nature of what is an essential read. We would no doubt end up in fisticuffs and I would win then as well. I would pretend you’re both Philip Roth.

  3. Jen, you would win because you know I’d never hit a lady. Now, as to whether I’d shoot her in the back of the head as she’s triumphantly leaving the room…

  4. Huh….only read one (Slaughterhouse Five). Well shoot. Even more things to put on the wish list then….[sigh]

  5. 16.

    Do I get a cookie?

    Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow indeed. I seem to remember my copy was Smilla’s Sense of Snow.

    And now, in my official capacity as a contrarian, I have to go find and read White Teeth. I hope you’re happy.

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