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

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.

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.

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.


by Hernan Diaz

Book cover for Trust

Winner of the 2023 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Trust is a sweeping puzzle of a novel about power, greed, love and a search for the truth that begins in 1920s New York. A Wall Street tycoon takes a young woman as his wife. Together, they rise to the top in an age of excess and speculation. Now a novelist is threatening to reveal the secrets behind their marriage. Composed of four competing versions of this deceptive tale, Trust will bring you on a quest for truth while confronting the lies that often live buried in the human heart.

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.

Ultimate literary genius

Western Lane

by Chetna Maroo

Book cover for Western Lane

Well done if you’ve got this far – looks like your well-read status is attainable after all. Described as a 'deeply evocative debut' by the judges of the Booker Prize, Chetna Maroo's Western Lane is a beautiful coming-of-age novel about grief, sisterhood and a teenage girl's struggle to transcend herself. Eleven-year-old Gopi has been playing squash since she was old enough to hold a racket. When her mother dies, her father enlists her in a quietly brutal training regimen, and the game becomes her world. Slowly, she grows apart from her sisters. But on the court, she is not alone. She is with her pa. She is with Ged, a thirteen-year-old boy with his own formidable talent. She is in awe.

The Trees

by Percival Everett

Book cover for The Trees

Shortlisted for the Booker Prize, Percival Everett's The Trees is a powerful satire of revenge and racial justice in America. When the rural town of Money, Mississippi is beset by a series of brutal murders, a pair of detectives from the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation arrive, only to be met with resistance from the local sheriff, his deputy, the coroner, and a mob of racist white townsfolk. This, they expect. Less predictable, however, is the second corpse which appears at each crime scene: that of a man resembling Emmett Till, the young Black boy lynched in the same town sixty-five years earlier. What begins as a murder investigation soon becomes a journey into the soul of America’s violent past.


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.