Required Reading List for the Human Race:
Great Literature, Fascinating Books,
Awesome Short Stories, and Fine Poetry

Selected by Zimmerman Skyrat,

Many years ago I started keeping a “favorites” list of great books, short stories, and poetry that I thought were exceptional and was presumptous enough to think everyone else should read. I would occasionally give a xerox copy to someone I thought might be interested. This list kept getting longer and longer each year, and now, decades later, here it is xeroxed for the world on the Internet. (And I continue to revise it several times a year.)

The relatively short fiction section is mostly personal favorites, as any list like this would probably be. The much longer non-fiction section is full of really great, intellectually stimulating books on serious topics that will expand and educate your mind; or, they are great adventure stories, biographies, history, etc., well-written and interesting, that stay with you long after you finish them. This list is not in any particular order, but titles are grouped very roughly by type or subject matter. Some of the short stories and poetry are archived for reading right here in the Library of—click on the active links to read them.

There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry—
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll—
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears the Human soul.
     —Emily Dickinson

What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.          —Carl Sagan

People say that life is the thing, but I prefer reading.
   —Logan Pearsall Smith

Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.
   —Groucho Marx

When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.

There is no friend as loyal as a book.
   —Ernest Hemingway

A room without books is as a body without a soul.

It wasn't until I started reading and found books they wouldn't let us read in school that I discovered you could be insane and happy and have a good life without being like everybody else.
   —John Waters

If you don't like to read, you haven't found the right book.
   —J.K. Rowling

A good book contains more real wealth than a good bank.
   —Roy L. Smith

Books are the bees which carry the quickening pollen from one to another mind.
   —James Russell Lowell

A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.
   —Franz Kafka

Books are the ever burning lamp of accumulated wisdom.
   —Thomas Carlyle

A book is like a garden carried in the pocket.
   —Chinese proverb

Just the knowledge that a good book is awaiting one at the end of a long day makes that day happier.
   —Kathleen Norris

Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations.
   —Henry David Thoreau

Books are the legacies that a great genius leaves to mankind, which are delivered down from generation to generation, as presents to the posterity of those who are yet unborn.
   —Joseph Addison

We shouldn't teach great books; we should teach a love of reading.
   —B. F. Skinner

A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading it.
   —William Styron

For one who reads, there is no limit to the number of lives that may be lived.
   —Louis L’Amour

When you sell a man a book, you don't sell him 12 ounces of paper and ink and glue—you sell him a whole new life.
   —Christopher Morley

If you are going to get anywhere in life you have to read a lot of books.
   —Roald Dahl

All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened.
   —Ernest Hemingway

A book is a dream you hold in your hands.
   —Neil Gaiman

The test of literature is, I suppose, whether we ourselves live more intensely for the reading of it.
   —Elizabeth Drew

These are not books, lumps of lifeless paper, but minds alive on the shelves.
   —Gilbert Highet

Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.
   —Richard Steele

Some books are undeservedly forgotten; none are undeservedly remembered.
   —W. H. Auden

To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme.
   —Herman Melville

My books are water; those of the great geniuses are wine—everybody drinks water.
   —Mark Twain

I cannot live without books.
   —Thomas Jefferson

All the glory of the world would be buried in oblivion, unless God had provided mortals with the remedy of books.
   —Bishop Richard De Bury

We read in bed because reading is halfway between life and dreaming, our own consciousness in someone else's mind.
   —Anna Quindlen

Be as careful of the books you read, as of the company you keep; for your habits and character will be as much influenced by the former as the latter.
   —Paxton Hood

Many people, myself among them, feel better at the mere sight of a book.
   —Jane Smiley

Reading one book is like eating one potato chip.
   —Diane Duane

A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies; the man who never reads lives only one.
   —George R.R. Martin

The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go
   —Dr. Seuss

I must say that I find TV very educational. Whenever somebody turns it on, I go to the library and read a book.
   —John D. Barrow