Books that define you as well-read

From quite well-read to literary genius in 10 books.

We don’t think there is one definitive list of books that upon completion earns you the ultimate title of being ‘well-read’. If you’re proudly seeking this elusive status, it can feel like an endless goal. 

Our definition is: if you’re a well-read person, you’ll be a reader across a broad spectrum of literature both old and new, with knowledge of multiple genres from classics through to science fiction. Here’s our list of books that should hopefully satisfy, or at least (temporarily satisfy), your desire to mark yourself as the ultimate book nerd.

Quite well-read

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

by Arthur Conan Doyle

Book cover for The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

This is perhaps the greatest collection of detective stories ever written, featuring one of the world’s most famous fictional detectives. While there have been movies, TV adaptations and plays, nothing compares to the original stories and these are a definite must-read. Sherlock Holmes is renowned for his inimitable and extraordinary deductive powers, which are recounted to us by his faithful friend and colleague, the loveable Dr Watson. You can’t even start on your journey to being classified as well-read without having this wildly popular classic crime on your bookshelf.

Young Mungo

by Douglas Stuart

Book cover for Young Mungo

From the Booker Prize-winning author of Shuggie Bain, Young Mungo is both a vivid portrayal of working-class life and the deeply moving story of the dangerous first love of two young men: Mungo and James. You’ll find this story about the meaning of masculinity and the experiences faced by so many queer people an insightful and heart-wrenching read. It has become an urgent addition to the canon of unsung stories, meaning that you’ll have to read it if you want to earn another point towards your well-read status.

Yours Cheerfully

by AJ Pearce

Book cover for Yours Cheerfully

Yours Cheerfully is the charming and hilarious sequel to the bestselling novel Dear Mrs Bird. It’s 1941. Emmy is determined to do all she can to help on the Home Front, helping to recruit female supporters to the war effort. But when she and best friend Bunty meet a young woman who shows them the tough reality for women war workers, Emmy must tackle a life-changing dilemma: carry out her duty or stand by her friends. It’s an uplifting testament to the importance of women supporting women during a critical moment in history, and a great read for anyone with a World War Two historical fiction gap in their record.

Station Eleven

by Emily St. John Mandel

Book cover for Station Eleven

Now a HBO Max original TV series, Station Eleven is an atmospheric novel set in the eerie days of civilization's collapse, stripping away the world as we know it. In a similar vein to various post-apocalyptic stories, you’ll find the story’s characters having to decide for themselves what it means to be ‘human’ and trying to find a place in the unknown. But what makes this book worthy of our list, is that it's less plot-driven by actions but instead, a beautiful commentary on the preservation of art and human culture at the end of the world.

Incredibly well-read

A Little Life

by Hanya Yanagihara

Book cover for A Little Life

We’ll admit, this one is a challenge but if you’ve read all of its 752 pages, you’ve successfully reached the next level. A Little Life is an immensely powerful and heartbreaking novel of love and the limits of human endurance. We follow four friends, whose relationships deepen and darken over the decades, tinged by addiction, success and pride. But our main character is Jude, scarred by unspeakable trauma that will define his life forever. If you haven’t yet been hypnotised by Hanya Yanagihara’s vivid writing, you can’t call yourself a cultivated reader.

White Noise

by Don DeLillo

Book cover for White Noise

White Noise, now a major Netflix film starring Adam Driver, should be waiting impatiently on your sky-high to-be-read stack. This is the story of Jack’s absurd life, a life that is going well enough until a chemical spill from a train carriage releases an ‘Airborne Toxic Event’ and he is forced to confront his biggest fear – his own mortality. You’ll be thoroughly entertained by the chaos that ensues and by DeLillo’s social satire around our rampant consumerism and media saturation. A funny book on a serious subject from one of the most important living American novelists, White Noise has more than earned its way onto our list.

Of Women and Salt

by Gabriela Garcia

Book cover for Of Women and Salt

From nineteenth-century cigar factories to present-day detention centres, from Cuba to the United States to Mexico, Of Women and Salt follows Latina women of fierce pride, bound by the stories passed between generations. This is your eye-opening story of America’s most tangled, honest roots and an opportunity to read about lives that may differ from your own. You’ve got to give this beautiful debut novel a read, getting up close and personal with new voices is what will really help you become well-read.

Ultimate literary genius


by Mieko Kawakami

Book cover for Heaven

It wouldn’t be a well-read list without including some gorgeous translated fiction. From international literary sensation Mieko Kawakami, Heaven is a profound novel about a fourteen-year-old boy subjected to relentless bullying. Instead of resisting, he chooses to suffer in silence, his only consolation coming from a friendship with his female classmate, Kojima, who experiences similar treatment at the hands of her bullies. Kawakami’s profound novel exists as another dazzling testament to her uncontainable talent and is totally unmissable in your literary pursuits.


by George Eliot

Book cover for Middlemarch

Often described as the best English-language novel of all time, Middlemarch is an essential addition to this list. Amongst its many pages you’ll find a portrait of Victorian provincial life; an era well known for its rigid social conventions, religious ideologies and opinionated society. Our heroine, Dorothea Brooke, is a young woman struggling to hold onto her ideals whilst confined in an unhappy marriage. Full of observation and subtle satire, this classic endlessly appeals to us as modern readers and you won’t want the embarrassment of not having read this masterpiece.


by Rian Hughes

Book cover for XX

Well done if you’ve got this far – looks like your well-read status is attainable after all. When AI expert Jack Fenwick tries to decode a mysterious signal, he uncovers a complex alien network from an interstellar civilization. Wrapping stories within stories, as well as featuring NASA transcripts, newspaper articles, artwork and Wikipedia pages, you could call this novel the Moby-Dick of sci-fi. But if you manage to decipher the narrative, you’ll enjoy a story of what might happen in the wake of the biggest scientific discovery in human history. It’s a visually striking novel unlike anything you’ve ever read, which is why you’ve got to try it.