The New York Public Library Creates a List of 125 Books That They Love

The New York Public Library sure knows how to celebrate a quasquicentennial. In honor of its own 125th anniversary, it's rolling out a number of treats for patrons, visitors, and those who must admire it from afar.

In addition to the expected author talks and live events, Patience and Fortitude, the iconic stone lions who flank the main branch's front steps, are displaying some reading material of their own—Toni Morrison’s 1987 novel Beloved and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age classic The Great Gatsby, from 1925.

Donors who kick in $12.50 or more to help the library continue providing such public services as early literacy classes, free legal aid, and job training courses will be rewarded with a cheerful red sticker bearing the easy to love slogan "♥ reading."

The cover image of Ezra Jack Keats’ 1962 Caldecott Award-winning picture book The Snowy Day, which at 485,583 checkouts holds the title for most popular book in the circulating collection, graces special edition Library and MetroCards.

And a team of librarians drew up a list of 125 books from the last 125 years that inspire a lifelong love of reading.

The list is deliberately inclusive with regard to authors’ gender, race, and sexual orientation as well as literary genre. In addition to novels and non-fiction, you’ll find memoir, poetry, fantasy, graphic novels, science fiction, mystery, short stories, humor, and one children’s book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, which the judges decided “transcends age categories.” (A similar list geared toward younger readers will be released later this year.)

The list was drawn from a pool containing anything published after May 23rd, 1895, the day attorney John Bigelow’s plan to combine the resources of the Astor and Lenox libraries and the Tilden Trustin into The New York Public Library was officially incorporated.

The selection criteria can be viewed here.

Obviously, the list—and any perceived omissions—will generate passionate debate amongst book lovers, a prospect the library relishes, though it's enlisted one of its most ardent supporters, author Neil Gaiman, whose American Gods made the final cut, to remind any disgruntled readers of the spirit in which the picks were made:

The New York Public Library has put together a list of 125 books that they love—the librarians and the people in the library. That's the criteria. You may not love them, but they do. And that's exciting. The thing that gets people reading is love. The thing that makes people pick up books they might not otherwise try, is love. It's personal recommendations, the kind that are truly meant. So here are 125 books that they love. And somewhere on this list you will find books you've never read, but have always meant to, or have never even heard of. There are 125 chances here to change your own life, or to change someone else's, curated by the people from one of the finest libraries in the world. Read with joy. Read with love. Read!

To really get the most out of the list, tune in to the NYPL’s The Librarian Is In podcast, which will be devoting an episode to one of the featured titles each month.

The current episode kicks things off with co-hosts Frank Collerius and Rhonda Evans’ favorites from the list:

Maus by Art Spiegelman

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Readers, have a look at the complete list of the New York Public Library’s 125 Books for Adult Readers, and leave us a comment to let us know what titles you wish had been included. Or better yet, tell us which as-yet unread title you're planning to read in honor of the New York Public Library's 125th year:

George Orwell, 1984

Saul Bellow, The Adventures of Augie March

W.H. Auden, The Age of Anxiety

Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton

Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front

James Patterson, Along Came a Spider

Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

Neil Gaiman, American Gods

Mary Oliver, American Primitive

Agatha Christie, And Then There Were None

Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts

Sylvia Plath, Ariel

Ian McEwan, Atonement

Anne Carson, Autobiography of Red

Toni Morrison, Beloved

Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep

Tom Wolfe, The Bonfire of the Vanities

Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited

Colm Tóibín, Brooklyn

Joseph Heller, Catch-22

J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

Claudia Rankine, Citizen

Stacy Schiff, Cleopatra

David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

Langston Hughes, The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes

Terry Pratchett, The Color of Magic

Alice Walker, The Color Purple

Walter Mosley, Devil in a Blue Dress

Erik Larson, The Devil in the White City

Frank Herbert, Dune

Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient

Alyssa Cole, An Extraordinary Union

Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

J.R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

N.K. Jemisin, The Fifth Season

Alison Bechdel, Fun Home

George R. R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room

Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

Flannery O’Connor, A Good Man is Hard to Find

Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, Gotham

John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House

Carson McCullers, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

Dave Eggers, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles

V.S. Naipaul, A House for Mr. Biswas

Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth

Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping

Allen Ginsberg, Howl

Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Truman Capote, In Cold Blood

Beverly Jenkins, Indigo

Jhumpa Lahiri, Interpreter of Maladies

Jon Krakauer, Into Thin Air

Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

Gore Vidal, Julian

Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness

Mary Karr, The Liars’ Club

Kate Atkinson, Life After Life

Tracy K. Smith, Life on Mars

Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

Art Spiegelman, Maus

David Sedaris, Me Talk Pretty One Day

John Berendt, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children

Martin Amis: Money

Michael Lewis: Moneyball

Jonathan Lethem, Motherless Brooklyn

Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend

J.D. Robb, Naked in Death

Richard Wright, Native Son

Elizabeth Strout, Olive Kitteridge

Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Jeanette Winterson, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

Adam Johnson, The Orphan Master’s Son

Per Petterson, Out Stealing Horses

Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Sower

Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis

Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Philip Roth, Portnoy’s Complaint

Graham Greene, The Quiet American

Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca

Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day

Louise Erdrich, The Round House

Amor Towles, Rules of Civility

Alice Munro, Runaway

John Ashbery, Self-Portrarit in a Convex Mirror

Stephen King, The Shining

Annie Proulx, The Shipping News

Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

Nalini Singh, Slave to Sensation

Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem

Leslie Feinberg, Stone Butch Blues

John Cheever, The Stories of John Cheever

Albert Camus, The Stranger

Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

Patricia Highsmith, The Talented Mr. Ripley

George Saunders, Tenth of December

Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart

Cixin Liu, The Three-Body Problem

Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

Denis Johnson, Train Dreams

Henry James, The Turn of the Screw

Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad

Joseph Mitchell, Up in the Old Hotel

Jeffrey Eugenides, The Virgin Suicides

Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad

Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns

Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, Watchmen

Raymond Carver, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

Don DeLillo, White Noise

Zadie Smith, White Teeth

Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall

Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior

Via Lit Hub

Related Content:

The New York Public Library Announces the Top 10 Checked-Out Books of All Time

The New York Public Library Lets You Download 180,000 Images in High Resolution: Historic Photographs, Maps, Letters & More

New York Public Library Card Now Gives You Free Access to 33 NYC Museums

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join Ayun’s company Theater of the Apes in New York City this March for her book-based variety series, Necromancers of the Public Domain, and the world premiere of Greg Kotis’ new musical, I AM NOBODY. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Robin Williams’ Celebrity Struggles: A Discussion with Dave Itzkoff by Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast (ep. 31)

New York Times culture reporter Dave Itzkoff joins your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt to consider issues raised by Dave's 2018 biography Robin: How do we make sense of our strange relation to celebrities, and what are strategies that celebrities use to deal with their asymmetric relationship to the world? While Robin Williams tried, in gratitude, to share himself with his fans, and was very anxious about letting us all down when some of his later work didn't garner the widespread praise he was used to, someone like Joaquin Phoenix takes a much more seemingly detached attitude, keenly aware of the absurdity of the celebrity-audience relation.

We also talk to Dave about interview technique and the different attitudes that his subjects take toward him. Can an interview be something that has intrinsic value and not just parasitic on popular media?

For more about Robin, Dave participated in a recent podcast called Knowing: Robin Williams, which was created in part to support Dave's book (which some of us read for this episode; it's really good). HBO also recently released the documentary Come Inside My Mind that relates much of the same story.

For more on Joaquin Phoenix, read Dave's interview, this 2017 Times article by Bret Easton Ellis, or this Guardian article on I'm Still Here.

Read Dave's interviews at or follow him @ditzkoff.

This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

Why Every Nominated Film Will Win the 2020 Oscar: A Pretty Much Pop Podcast Debate (ep. 30)

The 2020 Academy Awards are nearly upon us! Realistically, most of you will find this episode well after the winners have already been announced, but seriously, that should not affect your enjoyment of this discussion. Your intrepid non-film-critic Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast hosts have each been randomly assigned three of the best picture nominees to argue for either for why it should with the Oscar, or if we really don't like it, why we think it will win anyway. The assignments were as follows:

  • Mark Linsenmayer: 1917, Little Women, Joker
  • Erica Spyres: Jojo Rabbit, Parasite, Once Upon a Hollywood*
  • Brian Hirt: Ford v Ferrari,  Marriage Story, The Irishman**

*Covered in our ep. 12.
**Covered in our
ep. 29.

As we hash out the relative merits of these films, we reflect on what it is to be an Oscar-winning type-of-film as opposed to one people might actually enjoy watching, patterns of what kinds of films win in which categories, and the effect of viewing conditions, prior knowledge, and preconceptions on our enjoyment.

In preparation, we all watched all nine films and looked at some of the positive and negative reviews about them. Here are a few more articles covering the Oscars more generally that we also used to make ourselves more susceptible to OSCAR FEVER.

The particular negative 1917 review Mark talks about was by Richard Brody. Here's an article about Joaquin Phoenix improvising his stunt work as Erica mentions. Speaking of Joker, have you heard the (sub)Text podcast presentation by Mark's Partially Examined Life co-host Wes Alwan on the psychoanalytic dimensions of that film?

This episode includes bonus discussion musing about past winners and 2020 acting categories that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

Radical Women: Stream the Getty’s Podcast That Features Six Major 20th-Century Artists, All Female

Only recently has “actor” become an acceptable gender-neutral term for performers of stage and screen.

Prior to that, we had “actor” and “actress,” and while there may have been some problematic assumptions concerning the type of woman who might be drawn to the profession, there was arguably linguistic parity between the two words.

Not so for artists.

In the not-so-distant past, female artists invariably found themselves referred to as “female artists.”

Not great, when male artists were referred to as (say it with me) “artists.”

The new season of the Getty’s podcast Recording Artists pays tribute to six significant post-war artists—two Abstract Expressionists, a portraitist, a performance artist and experimental musician, and a printmaker who progressed to assemblage and collage works with an overtly social message.

Hopefully you won’t need to reach for your smelling salts upon discovering that all six artists are female:

Alice Neel

Lee Krasner

Betye Saar

Helen Frankenthaler

Yoko Ono

and Eva Hesse

Host Helen Molesworth is also female, and up until recently, served as the much admired Chief Curator of LA's Museum of Contemporary Art. (According to artist Lorna Simpson’s take on Molesworth’s abrupt dismissal: "Women who have a point of view and stand by it are often punished. Just because you get rid of Helen Molesworth doesn’t mean you have solved ‘the problem.’")

Molesworth, who is joined by two art world guests per episode—some of them (gasp!) non-female—is the perfect choice to consider the impact of the Radical Women who give this season its subtitle.

We also hear from the artists themselves, in excepts from taped '60s and ’70s-era interviews with historians Cindy Nemser and Barbara Rose.

Their candid remarks give Molesworth and her guests a lot to consider, from the difficulties of maintaining a consistent artistic practice after one becomes a mother to racial discrimination. A lot of attention is paid to historical context, even when it’s warts and all.

The late Alice Neel, a white artist best remembered for her portraits of her black and brown East Harlem neighbors and friends, cracks wise about butch lesbians in Greenwich Village, prompting Molesworth to remark that she thinks she—or any artist of her acquaintance—could have “easily" swayed Neel to can the homophobic remarks.

It’s also possible that Neel, who died in 1984, would have kept step with the times and made the necessary correction unprompted, were she still with us today.

A couple of the subjects, Yoko Ono and Betye Saar, are alive …and actively creating art, though it’s their past work that seems to be the source of greatest fascination.

When New York City’s Museum of Modern Art reopened its doors following a major physical and philosophical reboot, visitors were treated to The Legends of Black Girl’s Window, an exhibition of the 94-year-old Saar’s work from the ‘60s and ‘70s. New Yorker critic Doreen St. Félix bemoaned the “absence of explicitly black-feminist works,” particularly The Liberation of Aunt Jemima, a mixed media assemblage, Molesworth discusses at length in the podcast episode dedicated to Saar.

MoMA also played host to a massive exhibition of Ono’s early work in 2015, prompting the New York Times critic Holland Cotter to pronounce her “imaginative, tough-minded and still underestimated.”

This is a far cry better than New York Times critic Hilton Kramer’s dismissal of Neel’s 1974 retrospective at the Whitney, when the artist was 74 years old:

… the Whitney, which can usually be counted on to do the wrong thing, devoted a solo exhibition to Alice Neel, whose paintings (we can be reasonably certain) would never have been accorded that honor had they been produced by a man. The politics of the situation required that a woman be given an exhibition, and Alice Neel’s painting was no doubt judged to be sufficiently bizarre, not to say inept, to qualify as something ‘far out.’”

Twenty six years later, his opinion of Neel’s talent had not mellowed, though he had the political sense to dial down the misogyny in his scathing Observer review of Neel’s third show at the Whitney...or did he? In citing curator Ann Temkin’s observation that Neel painted “with the eye of a caricaturist” he makes sure to note that Neel’s subject Annie Sprinkle, "the porn star who became a performance artist, is herself a caricature, no mockery was needed.”

One has to wonder if he would have described the artist’s nude self-portrait at the age of 80 as that of “a geriatric ruin” had the artist been a man.

Listen to all six episodes of Recording Artists: Radical Women and see examples of each subject’s work here.

And while neither Saar nor Ono added any current commentary to the podcast, we encourage you to check out the interviews below in which they discuss their recent work in addition to reflecting on their long artistic careers:

"‘It’s About Time!’ Betye Saar’s Long Climb to the Summit" (The New York Times, 2019)

"The Big Read – Yoko Ono: Imagine The Future" (NME, 2018)

via Hyperallergic

Related Content:

A Space of Their Own, a New Online Database, Will Feature Works by 600+ Overlooked Female Artists from the 15th-19th Centuries

Women Who Draw: Explore an Open Directory That Showcases the Work of 5,000+ Female Illustrators

A New Archive Transcribes and Puts Online the Diaries & Notebooks of Women Artists, Art Historians, Critics and Dealers

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, February 3 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain celebrates New York: The Nation’s Metropolis (1921). Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Scorsese’s The Irishman in the Context of his Oeuvre–Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #29 Featuring Colin Marshall

What distinguishes the highly lauded 2019 film The Irishman within director Martin Scorsese's body of work? Frequent Open Culture contributor Colin Marshall joins Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt to talk about what we do and don't connect with in Scorsese's work and how these films qualify as "art films" despite their watchability, not to mention the big budgets and stars.

We cover CGI age alteration, the connection to The Joker, his comments about the Marvel franchise vs. him being a franchise unto himself, his use of music, and making films as an old guy. We hit particularly on Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, Bringing out the Dead, The King of Comedy, Goodfellas, Gangs of New York,  The Departed, Casino, Silence, and Cape Fear. (There are no significant spoilers about any of these other films, just The Irishman.)

Beyond just watching or re-watching a lot of films, here are some articles we used to prep:

Colin recommends the books Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, Scorsese on Scorsese, and Gangster Priest: The Italian American Cinema of Martin Scorsese. Read Colin's Open Culture articles on Scorsese. Also, Colin reviews The Partially Examined Life in 2012.

Here's that clip from Singles about "the next Martin Scorseeze." Here's Peter Boyle in Taxi Driver giving "Wizard" advice. Watch Abed in Community consider whether Nicolas Cage is good or bad.

This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

Actor Margaret Colin (VEEP, Independence Day) Joins Pretty Much Pop #28 to Take On the Trope of the Alpha Female

What's the deal with images of powerful women in media? The trope of the tough-as-nails boss-lady who may or may not have a heart of gold has evolved a lot over the years, but it's difficult to portray such a character unobjectionably, probably due to those all-too-familiar double standards about wanting women in authority (or, say, running for office) to be assertive but not astringent.

Margaret was the female lead in major films including Independence Day and The Devil's Own, is a mainstay on Broadway, and has appeared on TV in many roles including the mother of the Gossip Girl and as an unscrupulous newscaster on the final seasons of VEEP. Her height and voice have made her a good fit for dominant-lady roles, and she leads Mark, Erica, and Brian through a quick, instructive tour through her work with male directors (e.g. in a pre-Murphy-Brown Dianne English sit-com), playing the lead in three Lifetime Network movies, on Broadway as Jackie, and opposite Harrison Ford, Al Pacino, Melanie Griffith, Michael Shannon, Wallace Shawn, and others.

Given the limitations of short-form storytelling in film, maybe some use of stereotypes is just necessary to get the gist of a character out quickly, but actors can load their performances with unseen backstory. We hear about the actor's role in establishing a character vs. the vision of the filmmakers or show-runners. Also, the relative conservatism of film vs. stage vs. TV in granting women creative control, the "feminine voice," why women always apparently have to trip in movies when chased, and more.

A few resources to get you thinking about this topic:

Someone's posted a tape of Carousel featuring Erica and Margaret.

This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #26 Discusses Alan Moore’s Watchmen Comic and the HBO Show with Cornell Psychology Professor David Pizarro

Perhaps the most lauded graphic novel has been sequelized for HBO, and amazingly, it turned out pretty darn well (with a 96% Rotten Tomatoes rating!).

Your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt are joined by the Cornell's David Pizarro, host of the popular Very Bad Wizards podcast. We consider Alan Moore’s 1986 graphic novel, the 2009 Zack Snyder film, and of course mostly the recently completed (we hope) show by Damon Lindelof, the creator of Lost and The Leftovers.

How does Moore’s idiosyncratic writing style translate to the screen? Did the show make best use of its nine hours? Are there other stories in this alternate history that should still be told, perhaps to reflect on other recurrent social ills or crises of whatever moment might be depicted? Was Lindelof really the guy to tell this story about race, and does making the show about racism (which is bad!) undermine Moore’s rejection of (morally) black-and-white heroes and villains?

Some of the articles we used to warm up for this discussion included:

You might want to also check out HBO’s Watchmen page, which includes extra essays and the official podcast with Damon Lindelof commenting on the episodes.

Follow Dave @peezHear him on The Partially Examined Life, undoubtedly the apex of his professional career.

This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

« Go BackMore in this category... »