26 Great Books You’ve Been Too Busy to Read.

Via on Dec 30, 2011

Technology is awesome.

Between television, and texting and Twitter, we don’t even have to talk to each other anymore–let alone read a book. Don’t get me wrong, I love technology, and I do think it’s possible to use it mindfully.

Television seems to get better and worse every year. Friends are always telling me about great shows to which I reply “Yeah…I remember reading about that somewhere.” And I always  intend to check them out (but instead forget, get busy, and then usually watch three years down the road on Netflix.) Movies can be a great way to unwind, and definitely fuel my creativity. But when life is busy, curling up with a great book is the perfect anti-busy, especially in the wintertime. Go for a long snowy hike on a Sunday morning with the kids, curl up by the fire with a great book in the afternoon while they play. Perfect unplugged winter day.

Last year for my birthday my parents bought me a Nook. I love the idea of the Nook. Eco-friendly, less paper waste, instant gratification, books are cheaper, very portable, nice in the bathtub….and I do use it. Sometimes. But there’s something about a real book. The feel of the pages, the cracking of the spine when you open it for the first time, the smell of it–especially one from a used bookstore. I just can’t give that up.

If you’re making more time for books, here’s a list to get you started. Ten was too few…52 was too much. Here are 26 that I love, a new one every other week:

1. Leaves of Grass – Walt Whitman. Sure you’ve read it. Or have you? Maybe you remember some of it from high school or college. When was the last time you sat down and read a book of poetry cover to cover? “This is what you shall do…

2. Walden ~ Henry David Thoreau. I’ve read it at least once a year since I was 12. Usually in the fall, but it’s good whenever you’ve forgotten to live deliberately and suck the marrow out of life. If you’re up my way, I’ll show you a great spot to go skinny dipping at Walden pond.

3. Nine Stories ~ J.D. Salinger. There might come a week where you want something shorter to read. Good things come in small packages. (Great things in this case.)

4. Wuthering Heights ~Emily Bronte. Edward and Bella have nothing on Catherine and Heathcliff. Gorgeous and magical.

5. The Hobbit ~ J.R.R. Tolkein. Read it when I was eight, a few more times since. If you’ve never read it, engage your childish wonder and read it before the movie comes out.

6. Cathedral ~ Raymond Carver. Love Carver, poetry and prose. When he hit rock bottom with his drinking and clawed his way up towards sobriety, this was what he wrote next.

7. The Sun Also Rises ~ Ernest Hemingway. My favorite Hemingway. Actually, the only Hemingway I liked.

8. Stand Still Like the Hummingbird ~ Henry Miller. Stories and essays and autobiography and…well, if you are an artist you need to read it. If you are a writer, read it. If you are a human being (or even if you’re not) you should give it a read.

9. The Little Prince ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Some people read the Bible a little every day. I read The Little Prince. It’s only a children’s book in the sense that all of us still have the child we were inside us, and we’ve forgotten to listen to him or her. This is your Berlitz guide to understanding what you’ve forgotten.

10. Still Life with Woodpecker ~ Tom Robbins. It’s the anti-romantic comedy. The subtitle is “a sort-of love story.” I sort-of completely loved it.

11. A Room With A View ~ E.M. Forster. The opposite of Still Life, in the best possible way. Flawless. (Thanks to Merchant-Ivory, the movie is as good as the book. Watch it…after you finish the book.)

12. Blonde ~ Joyce Carol Oates. Marilyn Monroe is-it-fiction-is-it-a-biography goodness. Sad and lovely, like Marilyn.

13. The Children’s Book ~ A. S. Byatt. It’s a tough start, but keep at it. You won’t regret it.

14. Don Quioxte ~ Miguel De Cervantes. To dream the impossible dream…we all need to remember this. Don’t be intimidated, just dive into it and let yourself be delighted and inspired.

15. Fahrenheit 451 ~ Ray Bradbury. Get re-acquainted with your inner adolescent sci-fi nerd. (I know he or she is still in there.)

16. The Abstinence Teacher ~ Tom Perrotta. Tom Perrotta has a way with small town life: funny, frightening, and real.

17. The Jungle ~ Upton Sinclair. Everybody’s heard of somebody who read it and stopped eating meat. How about you? And follow it up with…

18. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle ~ Barbara Kingsolver. It’s not one of her novels, but definitely one of my favorites. It’s like being part of a great conversation with your favorite hippie aunt.

19. Cat’s Eye ~ Margaret Atwood. Great read for everyone who didn’t peak in high school. Which is to say, everyone.

20. The Great Gatsby ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald. You’ve probably read it before. Or were supposed to read it. Read it again. Follow it up with…

21. Complete Stories by Dorothy Parker. Just because.

22. On the Road ~ Jack Kerouac. Yeah, you have a copy. It’s a hipster materialist must-have. When was the last time you actually read it? Dig in. Get inspired.

23. Out of Africa ~ Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen.) Allow yourself to be transported. I’ve wanted to sit at the foot of the Ngong hills since the first time I read it. I’ll get there. (This is another case where the film makers actually captured the book, mainly due to Meryl Streep and Robert Redford.)

24. Lucky ~ Alice Sebold. What doesn’t kill us make us so much stronger.

25. Her Fearful Symmetry ~ Audrey Niffenegger. Ever wonder what it would be like to be a twin? A twin born to a twin? And live with romantic ghosts in London?

26. Great Expectations ~ Charles Dickens. One of the best-known, least-read books that you need to own.

What did I miss? Hate any of them? Love them? It was hard to stop at 26, but instead of me making a list of 260, add your favorites to the comments!

About Kate Bartolotta

Kate Bartolotta is the strongest girl in the world. She is the love child of a pirate and a roller derby queen. She hails from the second star to the right. Her love of words is boundless, but she knows that many of life’s best moments are completely untranslatable. When she is not writing, you may find her practicing yoga, devouring a book, playing with her children, planting dandelions, or dancing barefoot with her heart on her sleeve. She is madly in love with life and does not know how this story ends; she’s making it up as she goes. Kate is the owner and editor-in-chief of Be You Media Group. She also writes for The Huffington Post, elephant journal, The Good Men Project, The Green Divas, Yoganonymous, The Body Project, Project Eve, Thought Catalog and Soulseeds. She facilitates writing workshops and retreats throughout North America. Heart Medicine, Kate's book on writing, is now available on Amazon.com You can follow Kate on Facebook and Twitter

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141 Responses to “26 Great Books You’ve Been Too Busy to Read.”

  1. Andrea Balt Andréa Balt says:

    Read more than half and want to read the rest on the list. Especially loved Walden (Thoreau and I are still together, after all these years, even after knowing that he cheats on me with you and other girls), Salinger's 9, Leaves of Grass (what's not to love about Walt Whitman?), and Ray Bradbury, please… do that with me! :) But I think it's a shame I haven't read Kerouac yet… I shouldn't say it out loud. Raymond Carver (Love at first sight).

    To your list I'd probably add another 50 – but time won't let me. Don’t get me started on cosmetics and books, LOL. So here's five more and how I interacted with the authors:

    1. I love you for writing this… and other stories – by Andrea B. dedicated to Kate B.

    2. Runaway – Alice Munro (breathtaking). It’s the last book I read on paper. Wanna be her.

    3. Dubliners – Oscar Wilde – always comes to mind when I think classics. (could have been best buddies)

    [Not Joyce’s Ulysses, by God, don’t read Ulysses. And worse even, don’t try to pretend you liked or understood it.]

    4. Henderson, the rain king (also Herzog) – Saul Bellow (my father)

    5. The Metamorphosis – Kafka (my late husband)

    6. The stranger (L’étranger) – Camus (only lovers)

    7. Siddhartha – Herman Hesse (tried but he was gay)

    8. Crime & Punishment – Dostoyevsky (we had a tumultuous romance back in the day)

    9. 100 years of solitude – Gabriel García Marquez (married; not my type)

    10. Ana Karenina – Tolstoy (hot but in a grandpa kind of way)

    And…And…And…

    • I actually wrote a literary criticism of Ulysses in college that won some stupid award (I say stupid award because it was complete bullshiite and no one really understands Joyce…he was a misogynistic drunk…) Camus, Kafka, Bellow, Wilde, Hesse, Dostoyevsky, García Marquez, Tolstoy – yes yes yes!!! I have read some Alice Munro, but I don't think Runaway…now I know what I need to put in my Nook! I will have to send you some Kerouac…you need it;)

    • Dominic says:

      Joyce wrote Dubliners…

    • Susan says:

      To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

    • Nils Montan says:

      Yes, it's important that Anna Karenina be on the list. Many authors consider it to be the greatest novel ever written, by the world's greatest novelist, Leo Tolstoy. It's important to read because the many movies made from Ana have emphasized the "love story" of Anna and Vronsky to the detriment of the love story of Leon and Kitty and the observations made by this great writer as he contrasts the difference between selfish love and selfless love. Not to be missed.

  2. To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee, Night – Elie Wiesel, Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy, Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck, The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho. I'm sure I'll continue to think of many many more!

  3. Filmmaven says:

    I’m so glad to say I’ve read many on the list – Great Expectations is my all time favorite book, I read it every few years and from my new age and stage of life I see something new and amazing!!

    Great list, Thank you!

  4. Claudette says:

    ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ by Zora Neale Hurston. A beautiful book…so many beautiful books to read, so many, We are blessed!

  5. Kate, this is great! I now have added at least 10 books to my Amazon wish list. I've held off on the Nook b/c it would be dangerous for me and I still love the idea of holding a book in my hands!

    Things I would add to the list just off the cuffL

    Anything by Sue Grafton. Kinsey Millhone is a kick-ass woman!

    A Handmaiden's Tale- Margaret Atwood, but really ANYTHING by her is AMAZING.

    Middlesex-Jeffrey Eugenides

    Thanks again!

    • Love Jeffrey Eugenides….actually almost included Middlesex, and then remembered Virgin Suicides…and then moved on altogether! I agree — Margaret Atwood is amazing!

      The Nook is nice in theory, and I do use it sometimes, but usually when I want to read I want to be unplugged.

    • Shelbydh says:

      A Handmaid's Tale was my Atwood choice, too!! Blows all her other books out of the water. :)

    • Jill Barth Jill Barth says:

      And, OH, Eugenides's new one: The Marriage Plot. Characters. Characters. Characters.

  6. bextah says:

    Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre – I have turned a few non readers into readers with this one

    maybe it is the Australian in me, but I would have to suggest Dirt Music and The Riders by Tim Winton as two of the most awesome books I ever read.

    I know these are a lot newer than other books in this list, but still totally worth reading

  7. Elise says:

    Just read The Elegence of the Hedgehog and WOW what a book…It's published by Europa Editions which takes books written by European authors (mostly French and German) and translates them. It was a really remarkable story. Also, The Kite Runner is something that will sit with me forever…I will never forget that book.

  8. Thanks for the inspiration Kate! I've found the best way to fit in "reading" time lately is to download audiobooks to listen to while commuting etc… I like that a lot of these selections are classics, which makes the odds of finding audio versions a bit greater… Thanks!

    • If you are downloading them to iPod of phone…there's a great free app called "all audiobooks" that has a massive amount of free books to download. Personally, I get really distracted & have a hard time with audiobooks, but my daughter loves it!

  9. Valerie says:

    The Life of Pi, by Yann Martel. I know it is only a few years old, but it, like Moby Dick, can be read on more than one level.

  10. Ashley says:

    To be honest, Wuthering Heights is one of my least favorite books of all time. The first half was okay but then the second books is rather repetitive. To be honest though, I have only read 6 of those you list here.

    If we are going with what appears to be mostly classics, I would add The Scarlet Letter – that was my favorite book from AP English back in high school.

    • Thanks Ashley! I tried to do a mix of classics, recent reads I enjoyed, and then some older stuff I love that is less classic/popular. The Scarlett Letter was a good one!

  11. kathleen says:

    Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

    A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

    Old Filth by Jane Gardam followed by The Man in the Wooden Hat by Jane Gardam

    Snowdrops by A.D. Miller

    loved your suggestions by the way

  12. Mary D says:

    I would add some very good 20/21st century writers: Ivan Doig, Peter Matthiessen; Umberto Eco and Jim Harrison.

  13. Loved Loved Loved Cat’s Eye. Love all of Atwood, but that one is really good!

  14. karlsaliter says:

    Excellent List. I would add 1Q84 by Murakami. A genuine dance. I think he even outdid the Wind Up Bird Chronicle, which, I suspect, he's been trying to eclipse since he wrote it.

  15. Kim Roberts says:

    Middlemarch! George Eliot. Must read.

  16. Jean LeBlanc says:

    My favourite Atwood is The Blind Assassin. I’d also recommend A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce. Perfect if you’re a writer, and more accessible than his later works, though still difficult. I’d also recommend Diary of a Madman, the Overcoat, and the Nose, all by Gogol, and anything by Steinbeck. He provides interesting perspective on today’s economy.

    LOVE Walden! Most important book of my life. On the Road is number two. Crime and Punishment three.

  17. Zoe says:

    Don't think they've been mentioned above; Chris Cleave's Little Bee: A Novel, and Barry's The Secret Scriptures. On my way to Audible with your suggestions.

  18. Rebecca says:

    Great book suggestions, and I would add anything written by H.H. Munro (also known as Saki) and Colette.

  19. oh – how did it take me so many days to find this post, my sweet fellow nerds!? Yes to SO many of the above, except I don't think anyone mentioned my #1 favorite – Marcel Proust! I amazingly managed to wiggle in an extended reference to him & an ending M.P. quote in one of my Yoga pieces (weirdly easy…) http://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/08/saying-tha… . I'll take any excuse I can get.

    Also, despite being a huge classics nerd, I'm utterly addicted to a few contemporary authors – Jhumpa Lahiri, Muriel Barbery, Alain de Boton, Geoff Dyer(But Beautiful is my fave), Junot Diaz…Actually there's a photo of a teeny corner of my overflowing bookshelves in this piece I wrote…lots of familiar ones there.. .http://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/10/looking-for-god-on-the-6-train/

    Ok – this is fun. Who's next?

  20. Oooh thanks for some new suggestions Susanna! Junot Diaz…Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao, yes? On my to read list!

  21. susan says:

    Agree with Valerie's suggestion to add Life of Pi (brilliant) and was going to add another: Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts for power beyond words, sink-into-it reading and an unforgettable story with lovable characters. I do not understand how Fearful Symmetry gets on the same list as The Sun Also Rises… but okay, it's your list. Cheers

    • Thanks Susan! I will check out Shantaram. As far as the wide variety, it wasn't meant to be a list of classics per se, just ones I like…some classics, some older less known stuff, and some newer stuff I've enjoyed.

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  23. Amy says:

    Thank you for recommending Her Fearful Symmetry. I adored this oooooook!

  24. Kate Manfredi says:

    You should start listing your reads on shelfari.com and then allow the public to friend you and get your recommendations from there. It's impossible to list all the wonderful books intelligent readers love in one article but on shelfari you can keep track of them and other's can use your (endless) list as a reference.

    • Kate – I think I may try to do more posts on this…possibly by topic in some way. I did have a goodreads account for awhile, but it's hard to find time to go back & think of books I've read before & rate etc…easier w/ new reads. Thanks!

  25. Fere says:

    Hi Kate, I love your bio and also the list. I have another suggestion if anyone interested, since Life of Pi and Vernon God Little are on the list. I came accross White Tiger by Aravind Adhiga a few years back, and I think it's a great read.

  26. Cristina says:

    "tried but he was gay" ?

  27. tuesday2 says:

    #24, LUCKY.

    Read it and started crying on page 4. What a powerful book. Lovely Bones was another favorite by the same author.

  28. kate says:

    Anything written by Anne Lamott.

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  34. Anna Sheinman SOFLY_Anna says:

    Hi Kate,

    I am so glad to find this post! I am certainly adding some of the titles to my "wish list" in the local library. And all the comments, so exited:-)

    If anyone interested here is my top 10 list:

    1. Tom Robbins – all of it!
    2. Christopher Moore (read & loved all of it:-)
    3. Ray Bradbury
    4. Kerouac
    5. Gurdjieff (meeting with remarkable men my fav)
    6. Hunter S. Thompson (Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs)
    7. The Essential Crazy Wisdom
    8. Aldous Huxley (The brave new world and the doors of perception)
    9. Nine Kinds of Naked by Tony Vigorito
    10. The Illusion of Conscious Will by Daniel M. Wegner

    Happy Reading,
    Anna.

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  41. Katie says:

    The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho is a suggestion worth repeating.
    When God Was a Rabbit was a quirky, fun read by Sarah Winman, as is The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

  42. Julie Martin says:

    I am not inclined to spend my time reading what amounts to a big fat lie – fiction. If it's made up, I don't want to waste my time reading it. It's a shame because I see that most people do enjoy doing that, and when I read articles like this one I feel that I am missing out. But, even so, I just can't get into it. I do enjoy reading though, and do it often, if it's non fiction. But the point I wanted to make here is that this article exudes enthusiasm, and I feel inspired by it. Not to read fiction, but to spend more time doing the things that I do enjoy. Lovely article.

  43. Shannon Aldrich says:

    I LOVED Anna Karenina which I just finished. I also recommend A Moveable Feast — Hemingway, And one of my all time faves…. is Candide by Voltaire. I am wanting to read Atlas Shrugged next but I had The Lost World By Conan Doyle. And I started it. Yea I like this thought and the suggestions. Thanks! I also read a bunch of Anthony Trollope the Barsetshire Novels. They were dry but fun.

  44. Shay Dewey shaydewey says:

    I have read all but 8, got to get my library card out. We have similar tastes My favorite books in no order.

    1. The Brothers Karamozov, Dostoevsky
    2. Breakfast of Champions Vonnegut
    3.Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller
    4.Leni, Biography of Leni Riefenstahl
    5. The Crying Lot of 49, Pynchon

    • Elena says:

      Lovely to see you mention Leni! I was trying to explain who she was to my housemate after we saw a midnight showing of Inglourious Basterds recently, and gave up.

  45. Iila says:

    Alice in Wonderland by Louis Carroll and Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda.

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  47. Heather says:

    The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, brilliant!

  48. John Wiswell says:

    I'm surprised you listed Don Quixote as inspiration to "dream the impossible dream." Both novels are absolutely savage to Quixote for being deluded and stupid. It's satire that's mostly at his expense, and even his friends wind up abusing his weakness. I honestly felt bad for the character having to belong to that author, because he himself is a charming idea. I kind of like that culture has forgotten Cervantes's intentions and instead romanticized the addled knight as a role model.

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