I came across something fun on Goodreads the other day. They’ve put together a list of “the most popular books published over the past 100 years, as determined by Goodreads members’ digital shelves”. What a great use of the data they’ve collected from us obsessive book loggers!
It’s actually pretty fascinating: There are plenty of old-school masterpieces, of course, and a good supply of those books most likely to be found in required school curricula. But you’ll also find gonzo journalism, children’s classics, international literature, Arabic poetry, existentialist dread, and even graphic novels.Goodreads (100 Years of Popular Books on Goodreads)
Just for fun, I thought I’d go through the list and add a little commentary for you. (Okay, and I also wanted to tally up how many of them I’d already read – sue me!)
1922: Ulysses by James Joyce
1923: The Prophet by Khalil Gibran
1924: We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
1925: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
1926: The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
A soldier gets his dick blown off, and remains such a misogynist that he never figures out how to go down on the lady he loves. The Sun Also Rises? More like The Lady Also Deserves To Finish. Read my full review of The Sun Also Rises here.
1927: To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
1928: The Well Of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall
1929: Passing by Nella Larsen
1930: As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
1931: The Joy Of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer
1932: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
1933: In Praise Of Shadows by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki
1934: Murder On The Orient Express by Agatha Christie
1935: Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers
1936: Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner
1937: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Their Eyes Were Watching God is rich and wonderful and devastating – and Tea Cake is my ride-or-die classic book boyfriend. Read my full review of Their Eyes Were Watching God here.
1938: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Did you know that Rebecca has never been out of print? Never, not once, in the nearly-hundred years it’s been a good read? It’s gothic, it’s spooky, it’s fun, and it’s more than deserving. Read my full review of Rebecca here.
1939: The Grapes Of Wrath by John Steinbeck
1940: Native Son by Richard Wright
1941: The Library Of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges
1942: The Stranger by Albert Camus
1943: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
The Little Prince works precisely because doesn’t get bogged down in making things “realistic” for the grown-ups. “Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves,” de Saint-Exupéry writes on page 6, “and it is exhausting for children always and forever to be giving explanations.” Bring tissues. Read my full review of The Little Prince here.
1944: Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges
1945: The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams
1946: The Member Of The Wedding by Carson McCullers
1947: No Exit by Jean Paul-Sartre
1948: I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith
1949: 1984 by George Orwell
1950: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
1951: Foundation by Isaac Asimov
1952: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
1953: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Did you know that books don’t actually burn at 451 degrees Fahrenheit? Ray Bradbury asked an expert for help naming his novel, but they misunderstood the question. Paper auto-ignites at that temperature, but burns much, much lower. That fun fact is honestly more interesting to me than Fahrenheit 451 was. Read my full review of Fahrenheit 451 here.
1954: The Fellowship Of The Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
1955: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
1956: Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
1957: Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
1958: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
1959: The Haunting Of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
1960: To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Yes, I know, it’s problematic. White saviours are bad, and Atticus Finch is the whitest-saviouriest of them all. But To Kill A Mockingbird is still such a good read! And Harper Lee’s only (true) novel! Read my full review of To Kill A Mockingbird here.
1961: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Catch-22 is funny… for the first hundred pages or so. Beyond that, you’re just reading the same joke over and over again. It’s good to know where the idiom came from, though! Read my full review of Catch-22 here.
1962: Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
1963: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
It’s infuriating how good The Bell Jar is. Like, seriously, I wanted to throw it down on the floor and just give up. So good. And the Faber editions are so pretty! Read my full review of The Bell Jar here.
1964: Charlie And The Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
1965: Dune by Frank Herbert
1966: Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard
1967: One Hundred Years Of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
One Hundred Years Of Solitude has a cracker of an opening line – the famous one about Colonel Buendía facing the firing squad. Beyond that, I didn’t love-love-love it, but I didn’t hate-hate-hate it, either. Read my full review of One Hundred Years Of Solitude here.
1968: Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion
1969: I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
I think critic Opal Moor put it well: “Though easily read, [I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings] is no ‘easy read’.” It’s confronting, it’s brilliant, and it’s an enduring classic for a reason. Read my full review of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings here.
1970: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Morrison has said that she wrote The Bluest Eye because she was “interested in talking about black girlhood”. It seems sadly inevitable that a book on that subject would end up a foundational text about the impact of Euro-centric beauty standards and internalised loathing. Read my full review of The Bluest Eye here.
1971: Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
1972: Ways Of Seeing by John Berger
1973: The Princess Bride by William Goldman
1974: Carrie by Stephen King
I’ve got this one on a to-read shelf, that I might get to… some day… probably…
1975: Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
1976: The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston
1977: Song Of Solomon by Toni Morrison
1978: The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
1979: Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
1980: The Name Of The Rose by Umberto Eco
1981: Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
1982: The Color Purple by Alice Walker
The Color Purple is still – to this day – being challenged, banned, and removed from high school reading lists. Common reasons for scrapping it from reading lists include the explicit sexual content, language, violence, and lesbianism (the horror! eye roll). Read my full review of The Color Purple here.
1983: The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis
1984: The House On Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
1985: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Even though it might feel like “The Handmaid’s Tale is coming true!” with everything going on at the moment, the truth is that Atwood didn’t use a single thing that hasn’t already happened, or isn’t already happening, to create the dystopian world of Gilead. Just a heads up! Read my full review of The Handmaid’s Tale here.
1986: Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
1987: Watchmen by Alan Moore
1988: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
1989: The Pillars Of The Earth by Ken Follett
1990: Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
1991: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Time travel to 18th century Scotland, marriage of convenience with a Scot in a kilt… but make it horny! It’s not a great work of literature, but Outlander does exactly what it says on the tin. Read my full review of Outlander here.
1992: The Secret History by Donna Tartt
1993: The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
1994: The Wind Up Bird Chronicles by Haruki Murakami
1995: The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
1996: A Game Of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
A Game Of Thrones might never have made it onto a list like this, if not for the HBO adaptation that had the whole world glued to their screens for eight seasons. But here we are! Read my full review of A Game Of Thrones here.
1997: Guns, Germs And Steel by Jared Diamond
1998: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
1999: Girl With A Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
2000: House Of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielwski
2001: The Shadow Of The Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
2002: Coraline by Neil Gaiman
2003: The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
2004: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
2005: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
2006: The Road by Cormac McCarthy
2007: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Look, if you’re in the mid- to upper-end of the Young Adult bracket and you’re just starting to understand the significance of WWII, The Book Thief is a brilliant, life-changing read. For the rest of us… well, it’s a good reminder that literacy is important. Read my full review of The Book Thief here.
2008: The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
2009: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
2010: The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
To call The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks a “biography” is reductive. It’s so much more than the dates and facts of a life. It’s a study of bioethics, a masterclass in accessible science writing, and a testament to the human consequences of scientific discovery. And it’s compelling as heck! Read my full review of The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks here.
2011: The Song Of Achilles by Madeline Miller
2012: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
If you haven’t read Gone Girl yet, monks could use the rock you’ve been living under as an off-the-grid retreat. You need to hop to it, if for no other reason than it’s miraculous it hasn’t been spoiled for you yet. Read my full review of Gone Girl here.
2013: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
2014: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
It wasn’t quite the blockbuster success that Little Fires Everywhere was, but Everything I Never Told You is still a masterful, gripping domestic drama, fully deserving of its place on any list of good reads. Read my full review of Everything I Never Told You here.
2015: Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
2016: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
2017: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
2018: Educated by Tara Westover
When it comes to writing memoirs, you’ve either got to have talent for storytelling or a life so fascinating that talent (or lack thereof) doesn’t matter. Luckily, Tara Westover has both. Even in the hands of a real bore, Educated would be a fascinating read. Read my full review of Educated here.
2019: Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
Red, White & Royal Blue, unbelievably, lives up to the hype. Of course, it’s targeted at younger readers, but I can vouch for the fact that it resonates for young-at-heart readers, too. I’d especially recommend it for fans of The West Wing and anyone who needs a bit of starry-eyed optimism. Read my full review of Red, White & Royal Blue here.
2020: The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
Through this multi-generational family saga, Brit Bennett plays out the domino effect of reductive labels. The Vanishing Half is a must-read for your book club; there’s a lot to unpack here. Read my full review of The Vanishing Half here.
2021: Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Alright, I’ve read 33 of these so far, and reviewed most of them, too! Not bad! How about you? Drop your total in the comments! And thank you Goodreads for putting together this list – nice to see you using your powers for good.