Which classics to read?

Having had a few new people start following my blog recently, I went back and read my introductory post to see how it stands up today. I noticed at the bottom that I said I was using Great Books and Classics to form my list of TBR Classics http://www.grtbooks.com/

That hasn’t been true for some years now, so if only to aid my own shonky memory, I am going to go on the record to describe how I select which classics I read. What I think of as a classic I have covered several times before.

i) Reputation. If I have heard of a classic, that means it has to be reasonably well known and worth a glance. In truth, after over two decades as cataloguer for a university library which includes classics and literature in its course offerings, I have heard of a lot of titles that the average person on the street wouldn’t recognise, so although I haven’t read them or know much about them, I know one when I see one.

ii) Intrigue. If a title intrigues me  for any reason, I’ll probably give it a go. This may include something unusual about the author, the subject, the history of the book, or even a cover. Or anything.

iii) Other people’s lists. Here is the nitty gritty. I do build my own personal list based on perusing the following:

  1. Wikipedia entries on literature

There are entries for literature and poetry for many individual years, as well as broader pages on periods or centuries. e.g. Ancient literature, 10th century in literature, list of years in literature. I work through these lists, noting which ones I recognise or sound like fun. I’m very aware I only have a finite number of years ahead so I don’t even try to fool myself I can do more than skim the surface of these lists, and I know it takes me a year to read 50-60 titles alongside my other reading.

2. The Penguin Classics Book

Regular readers will know I steer towards Penguin or OWC as my go-to publishers of choice. This recent publication from Penguin is a smorgasbord of delights and the covers and brief descriptions are often enough to find a title added to my list.

3. Other lists

The following lists supplement the above (and are often just another place to tick off a title and get a smug sense of accomplishment), and are pretty much the random titles already on my bookshelf relevant to the mission

  • 1001 Books to read before you Die (Murdoch Books/White Lion , 2018)

Not religious about this one, as there are too many obscure 20th century titles that fail my recognition test, but I have been making sure I don’t miss anything interesting by referring to their choices (easy so far as there are so little before the 20th century. Their definition of book generally equals novel, hence no plays or poetry, so you apparently you can go to your grave sublime in your ignorance about Shakespeare or Wordsworth)

  • 1001 Children’s Books you must read before you Grow Up (Harper Collins, 2009)
  • A History of English Literature by Peter Quennell (Ferndale Editions, 1981)
  • Norton Anthology of English Literature, 7th ed. (Norton, 2000) and Norton Anthology of American Literature, 6th ed. (Norton, 2013)

and my find last year when I was looking for a list of the best classical music

There are other lists which I don’t use but others would love







  1. I’m trying to resist the Penguin book since I know it would be fatal – the OWC catalogue is bad enough! Agree about 1001 books – it’s so skewed to modern novels and I’m not convinced a lot of them will achieve bookish immortality…

    Liked by 1 person

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