How to be well read (with pictures)

Table of contents:

How to be well read (with pictures)
How to be well read (with pictures)

If you want to be cultured, then, in the words of William Faulkner, you will have to "Read, read, read. Read it all …" You can start from scratch, or simply follow an eclectic list of books that you would like to read. The important thing is that you choose books that are dynamic, challenging, and that broaden your horizons. If you want to be very cultured, here are some tips and recommendations to get you started.


Part 1 of 3: Read the classics

Be Well Read Step 1
Be Well Read Step 1

Step 1. Read the classics from before 1600

Reading the classics is the first thing you have to do to be cultured. If you want to build a solid foundation for understanding the books you read, then you must read some of the earliest works, poems, and stories that were written. Remember that the novel was not really popular until the 18th century, so you won't find any on this list. Without having read the poetry of Homer or the works of Sophocles, you cannot call yourself cult. Here's a list to get you started:

  • The Epic of Gilgamesh (Author unknown) (18th - 17th century BC)
  • The Iliad and Homer's Odyssey (850 - 750 BC, 18th century BC)
  • Euripides' Medea (431 BC)
  • Sophocles' Oedipus Rex (430 BC)
  • Aeneid of Virgil (29–19 BC)
  • The Thousand and One Nights (Unknown author) (700–1500)
  • Beowulf (Unknown author) (975–1025)
  • Genji novel by Murasaki Shikibu (11th century)
  • Dante's Divine Comedy (1265–1321)
  • The Decameron of Boccacio (1349–53)
  • Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (14th century)
Be Well Read Step 2
Be Well Read Step 2

Step 2. Read the classics from 1600 to 1913

Although a great deal of material is covered in these meager 300 years, reading the books from the period when the novel emerged up to the start of World War I will give you a sense of progress that the novel and other works have made through the ages. Victorian and that of Romanticism, as well as an understanding of the realism that was the standard for novels that was later turned upside down with the advent of Modernism and the disillusionment that came with the First World War. Here's a list you can start with:

  • Don Quixote de Cervantes 1605 (first part), 1615 (second part)
  • Othello, King Lear, and Hamlet, by William Shakespeare (1609, 1608, 1603)
  • Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift (1726)
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)
  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Faust (1832)
  • Father Goriot by Honoré de Balzac (1835)
  • Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol (1842)
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (1847)
  • Herman Melville's Moby-Dick (1851)
  • Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (1856)
  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (1861)
  • War and Peace and Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1869, 1877)
  • The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (1899)
  • Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1866, 1880)
  • George Eliot's Middlemarch (1871)
Be Well Read Step 3
Be Well Read Step 3

Step 3. Read the classics from 1914 to 1995

This period encompasses the arrival of Modernism, a type of experimental fiction, as well as a rebellion against traditional narratives. Reading the classics of this period will help you better understand the dramatic transformation of literature in the 20th century. Here's a list to get you started:

  • In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust (1913–27)
  • Ulysses by James Joyce (1922)
  • The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann (1924)
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
  • The Franz Kafka Trial (1925)
  • Mrs. Dalloway and Virginia Woolf's Lighthouse (1925, 1927)
  • The Sound and the Fury of William Faulkner (1929)
  • The Stranger by Albert Camus (1942)
  • The Ayn Rand Spring (1943)
  • George Orwell's 1984 (1949)
  • The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger (1951)
  • Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man (1952)
  • Party and The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (1926, 1952)
  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955)
  • Pedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo (1955)
  • Everything Falls Apart from Chinua Achebe (1958)
  • Run, Rabbit by John Updike (1960)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)
  • Doris Lessing's Golden Notebook (1962)
  • Sylvia Plath's Bell Jar (1963)
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez (1967)
  • Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut (1969)
Be Well Read Step 4
Be Well Read Step 4

Step 4. Read more contemporary classics from 1980 to present

Although these books haven't stood the test of time, these contemporary novels are still so popular that it feels like everyone has already read them. In fact, reading these books can make you feel like the most cultured person because people are more likely to talk about them. Here are some books you can start with:

  • Sons of Midnight by Salman Rushdie (1981)
  • Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale (1984)
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987)
  • Chronicle of the bird that winds the world by Haruki Murakami (1997)
  • Philip Roth's American Pastoral (1997)
  • The God of Small Things "by Arundhati Roy (1997)
  • Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee (1999)
  • Zadie Smith's White Teeth (2000)
  • Ian McEwan Atonement (2001)
  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon (2001)
  • Everything is illuminated by Johnathan Safran Foer (2002)
  • Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides
  • Kites in the Sky by Kahled Hosseini (2003)
  • The Known World of Edward P. Jones (2003)
  • Gilead de Marilynne Robinson (2004)
  • The Short Wonderful Life of Óscar Wao by Junot Diaz (2007)
  • 2666 by Roberto Bolaño (2008)
  • Swamplandia! by Karen Russell (2011)
  • The tales and stories of Alice Munro

Part 2 of 3: Get Cultured by Reading Different Genres

Be Well Read Step 5
Be Well Read Step 5

Step 1. Read short stories

Stories or short stories are an amazing genre on their own, and if you really want to be cultured, then you have to read the short stories of the classical masters, as well as some contemporary short stories. With short stories, it is more important to read the works of a particular author than a collection, so here is a list of short story writers as well as more contemporary authors that you should read:

  • Classical Short Story Masters (1600-1950): Edgar Allan Poe, Anton Chekhov, Ernest Hemingway, Jorge Luis Borges, Franz Kafka, Isaac Babel, John Updike, Katherine Mansfield, Eudora Welty, and Ray Bradbury.
  • Contemporary Short Story Masters: (1950-Present): Flannery O'Connor, Raymond Carver, Donald Barthelme, Tim 'O Brien, George Saunders, Jhumpa Lahiri, Junot Diaz, Z. Z. Packer, Joyce Carol Oates, and Denis Johnson.
  • Classic story collections:

    • In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway (1925)
    • A Good Man is Not Easy to Find by Flannery O'Connor (1953)
    • What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver (1981)
    • Son of Jesus by Denis Johnson (1992)
    • Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Emotions (1999)
1392630 6
1392630 6

Step 2. Read works

If you want to be cultured, then you also have to read classic plays. Although Shakespeare is the playwright you should know best, he has already been listed previously. However, there are other contemporary and not so contemporary works that you should also read if you want to call yourself cult. Check these out:

  • Any Shakespearean play, including Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and Much Ado About Nothing (1606, 1597, 1599)
  • Hedda Gabler and Henrik Ibsen's Dollhouse (1890, 1879)
  • The Importance of Being Ernest by Oscar Wilde (1895)
  • Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmund Rostand (1897)
  • The Cherry Garden and Uncle Vanya by Chekhov (1904, 1897)
  • George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion (1912)
  • Our Town of Thornton Wilder (1938)
  • Death of a Salesman and The Salem Witches by Arthur Miller (1949, 1953)
  • Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett (1949)
  • Reginald Rose's Twelve Warring Men (1954)
  • A Streetcar Named Desire, The Glass Zoo, The Cat on the Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams (1947, 1944, 1955)
  • Behind Closed Door by John-Paul Sartre (1944)
  • Jerome Lawrence's Inheritance of the Wind (1955)
  • Long Drive Into Night and The Iceman Arrives by Eugene O'Neill (1956, 1946)
  • A Mole in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry (1959)
  • Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee (1963)
  • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead by Tom Stoppard (1966)
  • Harold Pinter's Betrayal (1978)
1392630 7
1392630 7

Step 3. Read poetry

Although the people around you are unlikely to speak of poetry unless you are part of highly cultured circles, it is important to familiarize yourself with classical and contemporary poets so that you can be part of the conversation. Here are some books you can start with:

  • Sonnets by William Shakespeare (1609)
  • John Milton's Paradise Lost (1667)
  • Complete Works of John Keats (1815)
  • Walt Whitman's Blades of Grass (1855)
  • Langston Hughes Poems Collection by Langston Hughes
  • Robert Frost's Poetry by Robert Frost
  • The Emily Dickinson Poetry Collection by Emily Dickinson
  • The Wasteland and Other Poems by T. S. Eliot (1922)
  • Twenty Love Poems and a Desperate Song by Pablo Neruda (1924)
  • E. E. Cummings: Complete Poetry, 1904-1962 by E. E. Cummings
  • Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg (1956)
  • Sylvia Plath's Ariel (1965)
  • Complete Poetry, 1927-1979 by Elizabeth Bishop
  • Open Field: Selected Poems, 1966-1996 by Seamus Heaney
Be Well Read Step 8
Be Well Read Step 8

Step 4. Read nonfiction

If you really want to be cultured, then you can't just read things that people made up. You will have to read a bit of non-fiction so that you know what is happening in the world of politics, popular science, and everything that is happening in the world. Here are the different types of nonfiction that you should become familiar with:

  • History
  • Politics
  • Journals
  • Memories
  • Biographies
  • News
  • The Bible
Be Well Read Step 9
Be Well Read Step 9

Step 5. Read popular fiction and non-fiction books

If you really want to know what everyone is talking about, then you can't just read Virgilio. You'll have to know what's going on in the modern world too, and read those beach or airplane books that Oprah's book club has been talking about. How do you know what to read? Check what people read on airplanes, beaches, etc., and also check the New York Times bestseller list to see which books are on the list. These are some of the books that have been published in the last twenty years that almost everyone has read today:

  • The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling
  • Fifty Shades of Gray by E. L. James
  • Any Nicholas Sparks novel
  • Any John Grisham novel
  • The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins
  • The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
  • The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
  • Erica Jong's Fear of Flying
  • Joan Didion's Year of Magical Thinking
  • An Amazing and Great Heartwarming Story by Dave Eggers
  • Steven Levitt's Freakonomics
  • Eat, Drink, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
  • Out of series and The key point of Malcom Gladwell
  • The Twilight Series by Stephanie Meyer
  • The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho
  • Steig Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series

Part 3 of 3: Make Reading More Fun

Be Well Read Step 10
Be Well Read Step 10

Step 1. Set goals

You may wonder how setting goals is going to make reading more fun? Well, because you will feel good about yourself if you achieve something, that's why. Start small: say, you want to read one book per month. Then make a goal of reading a book every two weeks. When you get addicted to reading, you can read one book a week, even two. Make a book list, stick to it, and you'll be reading a lot more in no time.

Setting goals will also prevent you from wasting your time on less productive matters. Let's say you want to finish Ulysses for the weekend but there's a Bad Girl Club marathon on TV. Goodbye bad girls, hello culture

Be Well Read Step 11
Be Well Read Step 11

Step 2. Review the top 100 book lists

The Modern Library, Amazon, Time magazine, and the New York Times have great lists of books that can make you feel more accomplished for reading. You will feel very cultured and good about yourself if you read a list and cross out the books you have already read. Check these for more references:

  • The Modern Library's Top 100 Modern Books List
  • The list of the best books of all time according to Time magazine.
  • The Guardian's list of the best 100 books of all time.
  • Read books by Nobel Prize winning authors. Check out the list of authors here:
  • The 100 books of the 20th century according to Le Monde
Be Well Read Step 12
Be Well Read Step 12

Step 3. Listen to audio books

Open an account at or listen to books you have rented from your local library. Listening to audio books is a good way to be cultured when you are too tired to read. You can also listen to audio books in the car, perfect for long trips, or on your iPod while you walk. In no time, you'll be looking forward to that long commute to work instead of dreading it!

Before you buy or rent the book, see if you can listen to a sample to make sure you like the voice of the person who is reading. If the person's voice sounds annoying to you, the book will feel slow and boring

Be Well Read Step 13
Be Well Read Step 13

Step 4. Buy a Kindle

Although a Kindle can cost around $ 100, you will save a lot of money when you buy books at the bargain price they offer. You can buy many classic novels, such as the works of Henry James, for less than a dollar, and you can buy contemporary novels for 10 to 25% off what you would pay at the store, depending on the book. Buying a Kindle will also allow you to download a book the moment you want to read it, instead of waiting for you to buy it at the bookstore.

When you have a Kindle, you can also download a chapter of the book before you buy it, so you can still flip through the books a bit

Be Well Read Step 14
Be Well Read Step 14

Step 5. Reward yourself with fun books

Although being cultured is important, having fun while reading is also important. What is your vice? Tricky detective, romance, or mystery novels? No matter what you like to read, don't put them down for reading Charles Dickens. Instead, reward yourself: For every classic novel or literary novel you read, you can read a mystery novel, a romance novel, or a book in the genre you love.

Be Well Read Step 15
Be Well Read Step 15

Step 6. Start or join a book club

Being part of a book club will not only help you make new educated friends, but it will also open you up to a wider variety of books and give you strict deadlines to finish reading them, as well as a little time to think about what to do next. the book means to you. Book clubs will prevent you from moving from one book to the next without stopping to think about what it means.

In most book clubs, you have the opportunity to choose a book for the group to read, so you can share one of your favorite authors with other people

Be Well Read Step 16
Be Well Read Step 16

Step 7. Create a Goodreads account

Doing so will allow you to make a list of all the books you've read or want to read, review the books you've read, and interact with other book lovers. It's free and will allow you to connect with more readers. Most importantly, it will get you more excited about reading, so start an account today!

Be Well Read Step 17
Be Well Read Step 17

Step 8. Become a top Amazon reviewer

Create an Amazon account if you don't already have one, and start reviewing all the books you've read. Once you've reviewed many books and written thoughtful and engaging reviews, you'll be closer to achieving top reader status. If you become one of them, you will get certain benefits such as discounts, and the opportunity to read books before their official release date.

Even if you don't become a top reader, taking the time to review the books you've read will help you think about what you read

Be Well Read Step 18
Be Well Read Step 18

Step 9. Get together with other educated people

The simple act of hanging out with people who love to read, be they your co-workers or members of your book club, will give you an idea of which other books to read, and you will know which books are popular. There is no point in being cultured if you can't use your knowledge to have interesting discussions with other people.

Be Well Read Step 19
Be Well Read Step 19

Step 10. Listen to podcasts

You can download free podcasts, like the New Yorker Fiction, or KCRW's weekly podcasts, to hear writers read their favorite stories or to hear authors discuss their new books. You can also get news from podcasts and hear everything from Chekhov's stories to classic American history speeches like the Gettysburg Address. Check out these podcasts to make yourself more cultured without reading a single word:

  • The New Yorker fiction podcast
  • KCRW's “Bookworms” podcast
  • Selected Stories from International Public Radio (PRI)
  • Literature Podcast from
  • The podcast LD Libros de esRadio


  • Read whatever.
  • Don't be afraid to show what you've read to the world. Books are a good conversation piece, and that will allow you to demonstrate your newfound knowledge.
  • If you hate reading and there is nothing you can do to change it, but you still want to be cultured, your best option is to use Wikipedia, Google, and book summaries. You can read book summaries without reading the entire book.
  • Don't be afraid to read children's books.
  • If you want to have fun while reading, read books of your level (books that you can really understand), but at the same time if you want to improve your skills you can always try to read a more complicated book.
  • Reading to appear smart is not the best idea, people should read for fun.
  • Reading also increases your vocabulary.

Popular by topic