The 'Must Read' Pile of Books You Haven't Actually Read

A Survey of Book Shambles Listeners

Book Shambles co-host Robin Ince is a well known bibliophile. The problem with this is it means his house is in danger of collapsing under the weight of books. So he set about trying to part with 1,000 books he’s never going to get round to reading. Which got us thinking.

Robin and I spent a day trying to do such a thing. Despite ending with an almighty stack on the back deck, they fell about 400 short. You can watch a video of the pain staking process below. (Note: Patreon supporters of the Cosmic Shambles Network can watch a much extended version of this. You can support the site on Patreon here or below).

Some of the books will be going to Oxfam. Some to prison libraries. And many will be given away to Book Shambles listeners and CSN readers. We tweeted out a picture of Robin in the pile of books and told people to tweet us with what books have been sitting in their own ‘must read’ piles for ages. What books do they really mean to read but never get round to for whatever reason? At the end of it we’d pick a couple of our favourite answers and send them a box of books from Robin’s 1,000 so they had more books to put on the ‘must read’ pile. We got an amazing response and so one of CSN’s other producers Melinda decided to put all the responses in a spreadsheet because that’s the sort of thing we do with our weekends here.

And so we present to you the top books that Book Shambles listeners really do plan on getting round to reading at some point.

The Top 10

  1. Ulysses by James Joyce
    (A clear winner. The only book to receive more than three nominations. Both Robin and co-host Josie Long vow to read it themselves each year. Never happens).
  2. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
    (Often quoted as the most purchased, and then unread, book of all time. Not because it’s not good mind you).
  3. Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
    (A surprise to see this so high because I just assumed everyone had to read it in high school).
  4. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne
    (No surprise to see this so high as it’s very long and rather intimidating. But it is one of my favourite books of all time so I’d highly recommend persisting with it).
  5. The Man Who Loved Only Numbers by Paul Hoffman
    (Often recommended on Book Shambles so that might explain why it features in the Top 5).
  6. The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
    (This feels like the fiction version of A Brief History of Time in that everyone bought it with the best of intentions to read it at some point.).
  7. Godel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter
    (Pulitzer Prize winning, mentioned a few times on the Book Shambles podcast too).
  8. Dune by Frank Herbet
    (I’ll be honest, couldn’t get into it myself).
  9. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
    (I’m going to go out on a limb and say a lot of people watched the TV series then bought the book with best laid plans).
  10. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
    (This was also my nomination if you’re interested).

So those were the books, in order, that received multiple nominations. The next batch include titles that only received single mentions, but the authors had multiple titles appear in the list.

  • Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel (plus a number of other people saying ‘Anything by Hilary Mantel’).
  • Six Easy Pieces by Richard Feyman (plus a number of people saying ‘Anything by Richard Feynman’).
  • Swann’s Way by Proust (plus others saying ‘Anything by Proust’).
  • The Odyssey by Homer
  • The Illiad by Homer
  • Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco
  • Baudolino by Umberto Eco
  • The Reality Dysfunction by Peter F. Hamilton
  • Pandora’s Star by Peter F. Hamilton
  • The White Guard by Mikhail Bulgakov
  • The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
  • The Girl Who Saved The King Of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson
  • The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
  • Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West
  • The Day of the Locust by Nathaniel West

And now the following is a long list of highlights of books (in an alphabetical situation) which received a solitary nomination but may provide you with an excellent reading list. A number of things actually appear in Robin’s pile.

  • 1985 by Anthony Burgess
  • 2023 by The KLF
  • 2666 by Robert Bolano
  • American Gods by Neil Gaiman
  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  • Arguably by Christopher Hitchens
  • As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee
  • Astrology by Aleister Crowley
  • Bash the Rich by Ian Bone
  • Birdsong by Sebastian Faukes
  • Black Hole by Charles Burns
  • Bleak House by Charles Dickens
  • Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
  • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  • Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
  • Cosmos by Carl Sagan
  • Cryptonomicron by Neal Stephenson
  • Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol
  • Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K Dick
  • Don Quixote by Cervantes
  • Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
  • Harry Potter and The Cursed Child by JK Rowling
  • I’m a Joke and So Are You by Robin Ince
  • Journey’s End by RC Sheriff
  • Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine
  • Life: A User’s Manual by Georges Perec
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  • Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Margrave of the Marshes by John Peel
  • Maus by Art Speigelman
  • Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
  • Memoirs of Vidocq by Eugène François Vidocq
  • No Logo by Naomi Klein
  • Origin of the Species by Charles Darwin
  • Original Rude Boy by Neville Staples
  • Possession by AS Byatt
  • Quantum Mechanics: The Theoretical Minimum by Leonard Suskind
  • Riverworld by Philip Jose Farmer
  • Sanctuary by William Faulkner
  • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
  • Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut
  • Suite Francaise by Irène Némirovsky
  • The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
  • The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • The Central Questions of Philosophy by AJ Ayer
  • The Duke by David Dickinson
  • The Gameful World by Steffen P Waltz and Sebastian Deterding
  • The Imp of the Mind: Exploring the Silent Epidemic of Obsessive Bad Thoughts by Lee Baer
  • The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean
  • The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
  • The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett
  • The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver
  • The Strangest Man by Graham Farmelo
  • The Thief’s Journal by Jean Genet
  • The Time Travellers Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
  • The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith
  • Underworld by Don DeLillo
  • Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

And a final ‘Anything Emil Cioran’.

So there you have it. Congratulations to our winners, you have been tweeted at. Let us know in the comments, or on Twitter, how many you’ve already read or how much larger your ‘must read’ pile just grew.

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Trent Burton is the award winning founder of, and a director of, Trunkman Productions. Despite starting his university life studying evolutionary biology, he eventually moved on to a career telling people about science rather than doing it himself. He is lead producer for The Cosmic Shambles Network as well as producing live events, television productions and online content for a large number of top science communicators and comedians.

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