Stacks of books, on the floor and on shelves, with a path through the center

The English department communications team got together and brainstormed a list of books we feel are essential reads. What we quickly realized is this list could easily be 500 books long, so we agreed to stop at 30 and include a few links to other interesting reading lists.

Some of these texts are recent and some are classics. Most are well known but a few others you might not have heard of, yet. They are various genres and represent multiple perspectives, but not nearly all.

Join us in the book nerd’s lament: “why are there so many books and so little time?!”

  1. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, became an instant best-seller and inspired the modern environmental movement.
  2. Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan, widely credited with sparking the beginning of second-wave feminism in the United States.
  3. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf, a feminist text which argues for both a literal and figurative space for women writers within a literary tradition dominated by men.
  4. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, a diary kept by Anne Frank while she was in hiding for two years with her family during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.
  5. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, critically acclaimed New York Times Bestseller coming-of-age novel.
  6. How The Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Álvarez, a critically acclaimed novel in which the story is told in reverse chronological order through a series of fifteen chapters, with no linear, unifying storyline.
  7. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, a Pulitzer Prize winner and has been banned from schools and libraries multiple times.
  8. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, an early example of science fiction it has had a considerable influence in literature and popular culture and spawned a complete genre of horror stories, films and plays.
  9. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle; won the Newbery Medal, Sequoyah Book Award, and Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, and was runner-up for the Hans Christian Andersen Award.
  10. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, has been translated into nearly a dozen languages. The novel, though dark, is often read in high school English classes.
  11. Harry Potter (Series) by J.K. Rowlings, of both popular and critical acclaim. The books have been translated into 80 languages, won multiple awards, and sold more than 500 million copies worldwide, becoming the best-selling book series in history.
  12. Beloved by Toni Morrison, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988 and was a finalist for the 1987 National Book Award. It was adapted during 1998 into a movie of the same name starring Oprah Winfrey. A New York Times survey of writers and literary critics ranked it the best work of American fiction from 1981 to 2006.
  13. A Color Purple by Alice Walker, won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Fiction. It was later adapted into a film and musical of the same name.
  14. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, the first in a seven-volume series, was nominated for a National Book Award in 1970 and remained on The New York Times paperback bestseller list for two years. It has been used in educational settings from high schools to universities, and the book has been celebrated for creating new literary avenues for the American memoir. However, the book’s graphic depiction of childhood rape, racism, and sexuality has caused it to be challenged or banned in some schools and libraries.
  15. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, has come to be regarded as a seminal work in both African-American literature and women’s literature. TIME included the novel in its 2005 list of the 100 best English-language novels published since 1923.
  16. Kindred by Octavia Butler, frequently chosen as a text for community-wide reading programs and book organizations, as well as being a common choice for high school and college courses.
  17. The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston, won the National Book Critics Circle Award and was named one of TIME magazine’s top nonfiction books of the 1970s.
  18. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, has sold over a million copies and been translated into 12 languages, and is considered a key text for writers.
  19. Liar’s Club by Mary Karr, took the world by storm and raised the art of the memoir to an entirely new level, as well as bringing about a dramatic revival of the form.
  20. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume, has been frequently challenged since the 1980s due to its frank discussions of sexual and religious topics, and yet in 2010, the book was placed on Time‘s list of the top 100 fiction books written in English since 1923.
  21. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, won the 1985 Governor General’s Award and the first Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1987; it was also nominated for the 1986 Nebula Award, the 1986 Booker Prize, and the 1987 Prometheus Award. The book has been adapted into a 1990 film, a 2000 opera, a television series, and other media.
  22. Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Clarissa Pinkola Estés, spent 145 weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list over a three-year span, a record at the time. Estés won a Las Primeras Award from the Mexican American Women’s Foundation for being the First Latina on the New York Times Best Seller list. The book also appeared on other best seller lists, including USA Today, Publishers Weekly, and Library Journal.
  23. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin, became immensely popular and established Le Guin’s status as a major author of science fiction. It has been reprinted 30 times and was voted the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel by fans and writers.
  24. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel, a graphic novel with both a popular and critical success, spent two weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list and has been adapted into a successful musical.
  25. Anything by Roxane Gay. Really, seriously, pick any of her books and you’ll be reading something amazing.
  26. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, a graphic novel Newsweek ranked #5 on its list of the ten best non-fiction books of the decade, was adapted into an animated film.
  27. Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko, more than thirty-five years since its original publication, it remains one of the most profound and moving works of Native American literature.
  28. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, received the 2007 Orange Prize for Fiction, well received by critics and included in the New York Times′s “100 Most Notable Books of the Year.”
  29. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, a critically acclaimed coming-of-age novel as well as a New York Times Best Seller translated into various languages and taught in schools across the United States and Canada. It was also adapted into a play.
  30. Tell Me How It Ends by Valeria Luiselli, probably the most recently published book on our list but a lot of people are talking about it. Read more about it here: Valeria Luiselli’s ‘Tell Me How it Ends’ is a Must-Read on the Central American Child Migrant Crisis and here ‘Tell Me How It Ends’ Offers A Moving, Humane Portrait Of Child Migrants.

What would you add to the list? What did we forget? What should we know about? What do we have to read?

And if you need more, here’s a few more reading lists with some other great books worth reading:


All of this talk of books has us thinking about one of our favorite comic strips from the amazing cartoonist Sarah Andersen.

Comic strip from Sarah Andersen
From Sarah Andersen

Happy Reading!