|From Information is Beautiful. Click here for the background spreadsheet.|
There's a Telegraph list from 2009, a list from TIME in 2005, BBC's Big Read list from 2003, World Library 2002, Modern Library's list is from another century: 1998.
The newest thing is this cloud-sourced list through Information is Beautiful.
It is beautiful, isn't it?
One thing I like about the cloud approach is that it seems to best balance the disproportionate influence of Victorian England upon our understand of "novel." There are still too many Victorians (at a glance, I count no fewer than 3 Dickens, 2 George Elliots, 4 Austens [she only published 6 novels!] , the two Bronte sisters, and then titles like Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Tristram Shandy, Frankenstein and Vanity Fair); I mean, I will concede that it is possible that roughly twenty percent of the greatest books ever written were written within the second half of the 19th century, and all written by authors who lived within a 200 mile radius... I just don't think it's likely.
Of those 15+ books on this list, I might recommend an interested reader try three books, one by any three different authors from that era. Does anyone other than a Victorian specialist really need to read Middlemarch and Persuasion and Wuthering Heights?
I have a love hate relationship with the words "book," "novel," "work," "literature," and "story." They are not synonyms.
If I were to assemble a list of books everyone should read (this post started out as such a list, but I got distracted), I would try to take into account books in the most literal sense. My interaction with most literature is in book form. I've read more of Shakespeare's plays than I've seen performed. I adore graphic novels, books that use a text with picture format to tell their tale. I would argue in favor of viewing series as inseparable installments within the same book, much as the first novels were serialized by chapter. I would also like to include books of poetry.
The main thing missing from the cloud above is an explanation, so that's what I'll try to include, as often as my energy will allow. Why would I recommend this book to you?