Here's a sample list of books that one homeschool teen literature group read. It's not a recommended book list; just an historical record.
There are many lists recommending books for teens. The problem is, you really need to know a person to recommend them a book, and the list authors don't know you. All the list authors have their own ideas of what's valuable, important, and acceptable for teens. Your opinions will certainly differ, and you will not agree with all of their choices. Still, they all wrote in good faith. I find the lists useful and learn a lot from them. Have a look at them and see what may work for you and your group.
Grace Llewellyn, a strong proponent of unschooling, published a list for unschooled teens in 1998.
This list, from 500 Great Books for Teens by Anita Silvey is by itself, just another list. It includes more darkness, violence, dysfunction and despair than I prefer, but also, gems. Silvey's age ratings reflect her own experience with what real teens actually read, not what you or I might consider appropriate. Silvey marks Judy Blume's Forever, with its graphic, even clinical descriptions of teen sex, as "12-to-18." Judging by the fact that this is one of the most banned books in the USA, many people disagree. Does Silvey really recommend this book to a 12-year-old? Not necessarily, but since she has seen many 12-year-olds reading the book (with great interest, and often, giggling), she records and reports this, for you to interpret and do with as you may.
The greater value of Silvey's book comes not from her list itself, but from her clear, enjoyable mini-essays about each of her 500 recommendations (here are two samples). I use these mini-essays to identify good candidates for my Lit Group, without having to read all 500 books. The combination of Ms. Silvey's book, plus one or more of the lists of classics, could be all you need.
Similarly, this list of approximately 1,200 titles from A Core Collection for Young Adults is by itself, just another list. But the book, similar to Silvey's, is also very good. Book listings each have a nice, 1-paragraph description (so, the descriptions are generally shorter than Silvey's), and grade recommendations, and sometimes, other references. It lists 60% fiction titles, 30% nonfiction 30%, and about 10% "graphic fiction." Some books come with keywords, and when the authors say "mature," they mean it!
This is an excellent book. It differs in feel from the Silvey book, lists more books and describes them in less detail, though still quite well. Either book will serve you well in picking literature for teens.
This Honor List - The Best of the Best, 1980-2007, from the book Literature for Today's Young Adults by Nilsen and Donelson, who are authorities on and proponents of the "Young Adult Literature" genre. They certainly support edgy literature as a way to get teens' attention and engage them. Another resource is the list of titles referred to in their book. It's a good list to hunt through, finding and learning things.
The College Board created this list of "101 Great Books For College-Bound Students".
The Great Books Foundation, publisher of a 54-volume set, put together this Young People's Guide, a 4-part list of books for progressive reading and study by young people, ages 13 through 16. Each of the 4 parts is somewhat more difficult than the one preceding it. "It is not, however, absolutely necessary to have completed the readings in one part before attempting those in the next."
Many of the books in this list are novels, plays and biographies, chosen for their immediate appeal and readability. To these have been added works dealing with basic mathematics and science. Every work listed comes with a volume number, so if you have access to the Great Books Foundation's collection, you can go directly to it.
I find this list, drawn from the American Library Association's book Outstanding Books for the College Bound/Choices for a Generation, valuable. The book, though somewhat dated, is perhaps the most serious of all the recommendation books. The authors used different criteria than the ALA uses in naming their annual "Best of the Year" selections (see below); they tried to identify books that were really outstanding, and had withstood some sort of time test. I refer to the list from time to time, just to make sure I'm not leaving holes in my own son's education, or in my Lit Group's.
The book was published in 1996, so this list, though good, is dated. For a more modern version, see this compilation of the ALA's most recent Outstanding lists. If you compare the two lists, you may find that the ALA has, since 1996, adopted a distinctly "modernist" or "current affairs" perspective. None of the books named in the 1996 list (which was based on 50 years of Outstanding Books lists) are now considered outstanding by the ALA. You may agree or disagree with the ALA's change in perspective, but I find the older list still valuable. Use your own judgment, make your own choices.
Last and least, here are the recent
(2000-2010) annual American Library Association lists of the "Best
Books for Young Adults." Of the jillions of books published in a year,
the ALA selects about 90 "best" ones. A good effort and welcome if you
need to stay on top of the most current offerings, but the lists
contain quite a few books that just haven't withstood the test of time,
or maybe should never have appeared on the list in the first place. You
may find The ALA annual lists prior to 2000 in the ALA's books Best Books for Young Adults. Both the 2000 edition by Betty Carter, and the 2007 edition by Holly Koelling, provide the earlier lists, plus they describe the ALA's decision-making process.
I used to discount the ALA's annual lists because of their length, the presence of too many duds, and because the one-sentence book descriptions are too short. But despite these flaws, the ALA annual lists do name valuable works. Do be aware that the ALA lists include "edgy" material which may offend; for example, the F-word is used in the ALA's 2010 list.
Great Books, Best Books, Lifetime Reading Lists
Homeschooled teens generally have sufficient reading ability to read anything in the adult section of the library. But, is a particular teen ready emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically to read some particular book? Will they like it? Will it help them develop? Hinder them? Corrupt or disturb them, even, leaving them to say "I really wish I hadn't read that?"
Impossible to say without knowing you and/or your family. Here are recommendations of books for adults. Use them as you will:
- Approaches to the Asian Classics
- Adler & Van Doren's List
- Blue Pyramid's 777 Best Books of All Time
- Blue Pyramid's 1159 Best Books of All Time
- The Well-Stocked Bookcase (Book-of-the-Month Club)
- Boston Public Library - 100 Most Influential Books of the Century
- Burgess - 99 Novels: The Best in English Since 1939
- Columbia Reading Lists from the 1930s, 1960s, and 1990s
- CounterPunch's Favorite 100 Nonfiction Books in Translation, Published in English Since 1900
- CounterPunch's Top 100 (and a few more) Non-fiction Works of the 20th Century
- de Bary et alia - A Guide to the Oriental Classics
- Professor Eliot's 5 Foot Shelf - The Harvard Classics
- Fadiman's List (3rd edition)
- Fadiman's List (4th edition)
- Great Books of the Western World (1st edition, 1952)
- 1Selected reading guides to the Great Books: the "Reading Through" lists; the "Reading In" lists (1952) provides reading suggestions organized by topic, reader's age, and reading level. Volume numbers are included, so if you have access to the the Great Books of the Western World 54-volume set (published and distributed by Encyclopedia Britannica), you can go straight to the right volume.
- Great Books of the Western World (2nd edition, 1990)
- Good Reading: A Guide for Serious Readers
- Guide to Oriental Classics
- Harold Bloom's Western Canon
- Harvard Book Store staff's favorite 100 books
- Hungry Mind Review's 100 Best 20th-Century American Books of Fiction and Nonfiction
- Los Angeles Times' 100 Books for the Modern Person
- Sir John Lubbock's Choice of Books
- The 100 most meaningful books of all time
- The Modern Library "100 Best" Lists
- Masterworks of Asian Literature
- The National Review's 100 Best Non-Fiction Books Of The Century
- The Nobel Prize for Literature
- Norwegian Book Clubs Top 100 Best/Most Central English works
- The New York Public Library - Books of the Century
- Pre-1960 Classics by Age
- Radcliffe - 100 Top Novels of the 20th Century
- Rexroth - "Classics Revisited"
- Rexroth - "Classics Revisited" articles (hugely entertaining and readable!)
- Seymour-Smith - 100 Most Influential Books Ever Written
- Silvey - 888 Great Books for Teens
- Jane Smiley's List of 101 Novels
- St. John's Annapolis Undergraduate Reading List 2008-2009
- St. John's College Academic Program Reading List
- St. John's College - Graduate Institute in Eastern Classics Reading List
- St. John's Santa Fe Reading List 2008-09
- Thomas Aquinas College - The Curriculum
- Time Magazine - 100 best English-Language Novels from 1923 to the present
- The Times Literary Supplement Hundred Most Influential Books Since the War
- Utne Reader - The Loose Canon
- Philip Ward - A Lifetime's Reading: The World's 500 Greatest Books
- "The Well-Trained Mind"'s list of Great Books
Too many lists? Want them in merged form? Here's a master list of 3,200 recommended books, comprising some (but not all) of the above lists. Have fun and try not to drown in it.
Over the years, as people homeschool, we read a lot of books. Some people keep track of what they've read. Here are some "personal" lists of books that homeschoolers have come up with. Maybe you can learn from them.
- The Bedtime Story that Grew Up into a World History Seminar - A list of history books used by one homeschool family.
- Sample junior-year reading list - A list of about 60 books read by a homeschooled teen in the 2004/2005 "learning year," submitted as part of a transcript/application packet that got her into a good university.
There are other ways to figure out what to read. Here are some possible entry points to this realm:
- In the year 2000, the Writer's Digest magazine put together this list of the top 100 authors of the 20th century. Like all lists this one's arguable and probably, no one individual would, on their own, come up with exactly this same list. In particular, people can (and do) get into holy wars regarding the top 3, and whether Faulkner, Hemingway, or Steinbeck should appear at the very top of the list. As with any list, use it how you may - treat it as your servant, not your master.