The History of Literature Podcast

52 Recommend This! The Best 101 Books for College-Bound Readers

What works of literature are essential? When we start reading literature, where do we begin? The College Board, an organization that prepares standardized tests for millions of American young people, has published list of 101 recommended books for college-bound readers. High schools and colleges across the country take their lead from this list, and students are encouraged to use it as a guide to a summer of literature. But is the list any good? Can it be improved? The President of the Literature Supporters Club joins Jacke for a discussion of the list’s most worthy selections…and its most egregious omissions.

You can find the list by searching “College Board 101 Great Books for College Bound Readers.”

Show Notes: 

You can find more literary discussion at and more episodes of the series at

Contact the host at or by leaving a voicemail at 1-361-4WILSON (1-361-494-5766).

Music Credits:

Handel – Entrance to the Queen of Sheba” by Advent Chamber Orchestra (From the Free Music Archive / CC by SA).

“Bass Walker” by Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0


4 thoughts on “52 Recommend This! The Best 101 Books for College-Bound Readers”

  1. Generally, I agree with your comments on this list and what should be added, and I like a lot of your recommendations. Calling the list “stale” is a great way to describe it. One thing that you have missed though is how crazy US-centric this list is! I know it’s made for university bound students in the States, but even so– they need to hear other voices. And more female voices! So many dead white men from just one country. This list would be irrelevant to English speaking students in Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia or New Zealand.

    1. Yes! I agree one thousand percent. I think I may have had more of a rant about this on the cutting room floor. And even though the list is, as you say, primarily for university-bound students in the States, we have a LOT of students from abroad who travel here to study. They might be the most “vulnerable” to the list, since they are trying to catch up with what their American peers have been reading, and the list comes with the College Board’s pedigree, so it SEEMS like a good source for that… And yet, the list has only a tangential relationship to what people actually read or need to read. And (as you also point out), adding a greater diversity of voices would be hugely beneficial for everyone involved. There’s no need to be stuck on James Agee (for example) when we have decades of recent, relevant, excellent works from people who are not dead white American males! Anyway, my blood is boiling again so I should probably stop there… Thanks for the comment! Great to hear from you!

  2. Going through your podcast at a leisurely pace, just a couple years out of synch. What’s a couple years compared to a few thousand years of literature? I do like listening to you banter and disagreements with your friend. But I think there is one thing that both of you got wrong on this one. The problem with poor Don Quixote is the translation not the work. I studied Spanish Literature, and even I had a hard time with it when I read Quixote the first time (though even then I loved it). Years later, I read an updated translation in French. The translator wanted to find a way to modernize the language without destroying the historical context. Also she was inspired by Orson Welle’s attempt to put the story onto film (his most brilliant failure, you can find it on DVD somewhere).
    The result was transformative. The brilliance, the comedy, the absurdity of the story, the stories within the story, and the stories within those, all shine through.
    But also: Quixote and Sancho !!! The two characters who have probably affected modern culture even more the anyone else. Try to find a character from Shakespeare who pops up in about half of modern film comedies today. The original odd couple. They bicker and fight, but they love each other. They are opposites in size, class, behaviour, but their friendship brings them together. Trading Places, Thelma and Luis, Rainman, the list goes on. What buddy film ever made does not borrow from these two quintessential buffoons. It is also the first and greatest road movie of all time.
    I’m sure there must be a better and more modern translation into English as well. Borges did say that love Quixote better in English than in Spanish.

    1. I found the translation. Aline Schulman. If you read French at all, read this translation. It is incredible.

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