Reading Listopia | Books of Lists and Lists of Books

Books of lists, lists of books, collections of music, art, movies, and more (so much more) offer multiple pleasures for browsers, list makers, and the endlessly curious.

Aren’t lists comforting? To-do lists put everything in their place instead of swimming around in one’s head. They are a personal reference of work to do, books to read, or groceries to buy. On a wider scale are to-do lists for life, whether a personal bucket list or recommendations of must-dos compiled by experts, fans, or just someone else. That latter category is the focus of the books below, recent and upcoming titles that provide library patrons with ideas for vacations, dining, reading, and viewing as well as—perhaps more fun—dinner-table-argument prompts (“they left out what?!”). Also here are books that gather every kind of list that happily don’t limit themselves to travel, reading, or any one pursuit but flit here and there, finding the most fabulous, wondrous, and enlightening experiences out there. Pens and pencils at the ready! Ready, set, list.


The Best American Essays 2022. Mariner. Nov. 2022. 336p. ed. by Robert Atwan & Alexander Chee. ISBN 9780358658870. $17.99.

The Best American Food Writing 2022. Mariner. Nov. 2022. 256p. ed. by Sohla El-Waylly & Silvia Killingsworth. ISBN 9780063254411. $17.99.

The Best American Mystery and Suspense 2022. Mariner. Nov. 2022. 336p. ed. by Jess Walter & Steph Cha. ISBN 9780063264489. $17.99.

The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2022. Mariner. Nov. 2022. 336p. ed. by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson & Jaime Green. ISBN 9780358615293. $17.99.

The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2022. Mariner. Nov. 2022. 432p. ed. by John Joseph Adams & Rebecca Roanhorse. ISBN 9780358690122. $17.99.

This long-running “Best American” series is both well-known and beloved, so patrons won’t need much introduction, but it’s worth familiarizing oneself each year with the editors of the latest volumes. These change each year and add distinctive and delightful flavors to the books they shepherd into production. Just reading the introductions is a reader’s advisory lesson in itself, as readers can learn about the year’s notable themes and see how the editors arrived at their selections. Book clubs can also glean readings for the year to come and perhaps get some extra book ideas as well. For example, since Rebecca Roanhorse is the guest editor of this anthology, book groups could enjoy a story she features in the collection and then read one of her novels as well.

Kakutani, Michiko. Ex Libris: 100+ Books To Read and Reread. Clarkson Potter. 2020. 304p. ISBN 9780525574972. $25.

Kakutani won the Pulitzer Prize in Criticism in 1998 for her work as a New York Times book reviewer from 1983 to 2017. She is known for her unstinting critiques, which earned her fear and derision in the publishing world, but also caused her rare positive reviews to stand out and be highly coveted, making her 100 recommendations a list to savor.

McCrum, Robert. The 100 Best Nonfiction Books of All Time. Galileo. 2019. 288p. ISBN 9781903385838. $24.95.

McCrum, Robert. The 100 Best Novels in English. Galileo. 2019. 256p. ISBN 9781903385425. $24.95.

McCrum, a former editor in chief at Faber & Faber, won an Emmy award in 1986 for his BBC series, The Story of English. He offers lists compiled from a weekly column he wrote for the Observer newspaper. As he notes in the introduction to The 100 Best Novels in English, the task of describing the world’s best writing is “as much an autobiographical as a literary process.” With McCrum’s lifetime of reading underpinning work with authors such as Kazuo Ishiguro and Hanif Kureishi, his lists can hardly go wrong.

Mustich, James. 1,000 Books To Read Before You Die: A Life-Changing List. Workman. 2018. 960p. ISBN 9781523504459. $35.

The understated title of this work—they’re not necessarily the best books, they’re just ones to read—followed by the lofty subtitle claiming that they’re “life-changing” will get library patrons to sit up and take notice. The hyperbole isn’t overblown; the list itself made another list, the Washington Post’s best 50 nonfiction books of 2018. Mustich has earned his stripes. In 1986, he started the successful mail-order book catalogue, The Common Reader. More recently, he became executive producer of the Barnes & Noble podcast, Poured Over. Comments on each of the books include literary details such as themes, but perhaps the best part of Mustich’s recommendations are the specifics of the book’s publication history and how it grew from and enriched its era. Older books in Workman’s “1,000” series include Tom Moon’s 1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die and Patricia Schultz’s 1,000 Places To See Before You Die.

1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. Universe. 2010. 960p. ed. by Peter Boxall. ISBN 9780789320391. $36.95.

LJ’s health book reviews should be a staple for readers so they live long enough to read Boxall’s project, which features fiction and nonfiction and includes lists within the list, such as “Offbeat Escapes.” Boxall even includes in-depth details, such as which edition and adaptations of the book are the best.

Taggart, Caroline. The Book Lover’s Bucket List: A Tour of Great British Literature. British Library. 2021. 224p. ISBN 9780712353243. $24.95.

The British Library might have a slightly stuffy-sounding air, but this booklist/travel combo leans toward the fun side of literary tourism. Armchair travelers, as well as those really on the road, are taken around spots in Britain and Northern Ireland that are associated with literary greatness, trying Sherlock Holmes’s favorite steak and ale pie, for example, and visiting Seamus Heaney’s beloved Lough Neagh. Taggart likes a good list, apparently; she’s also the author of 500 Beautiful Words You Should Know (Michael O’Mara). Just don’t accuse her of being a blatherskite, one of the more cutting words included.

Art, Movies, Music

Beckett, Wendy. Sister Wendy’s 100 Best-Loved Paintings. 2019. SPCK. 232p. 9780281083305. $52.99.

Beloved art historian Sister Wendy, an unexpected star of British TV, died in 2018, but her childlike enthusiasm and expert eye for art remain through her shows and in this title that includes her insightful, beautiful commentary on 100 works. “A work of art is great to the extent that to encounter it is to be changed,” she once said. Patrons will be afforded that chance with this sumptuous book. 

Auty, Dan & others. 100 Best-Selling Albums of the 80s. Thunder Bay. 2018. 224p. ISBN 9781684123643. $16.99.

Gen-X patrons were teens in the 1980s. While they may want to forget the hairstyles they had, they’ll want to revisit the music, making this list of hits from the time a likely favorite. The same authors have also released 100 Best-Selling Albums of the 90s. Grunge, anyone?

McMillan, Rachel. A Very Merry Holiday Movie Guide: Must-See, Made-for-TV Movie Viewing List, Inspired New Traditions, Festive Watch Party Ideas. Ten Peaks. 2020. 224p. ISBN 9780736981712. $24.99.

Just as the end-of-year best books lists are upon readers, so is holiday-movie time. For a guide to what to watch when one can’t eat another bite, see McMillan’s 15 themed lists.

The New York Times Book of Movies: The Essential 1,000 Films To See. Universe. 2019. 1296p. ed. by Wallace Schroeder. ISBN 9780789336576. $45.

Aiming to “encourage conversations and maybe even provoke debates, rather than create an indisputable canon,” this book actually includes 1,263 films with the reviews that the Old Gray Lady ran. Convenient appendixes list “Best Films of the Year, 1931–2018”; “Films by Category”; and “Foreign Films by Country of Origin.”

The 100 Best Celebrity Photos. People Magazine. 2017. 224p. ISBN 9781683300670. $26.99.

Readers won’t find Sister Wendy and Kim Kardashian mentioned in the same articles much, but in this book, they are. An “internet-breaking Kim Kardashian Instagram” is one of the photo features in this browsers’ delight. It also includes images from earlier years of celebrity adoration, such as a Marilyn Monroe pinup. Context from the photographers who got the iconic images adds to the pizzazz.

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. 9th ed. Sourcebooks. 2021. 960p. ed. by Steven Jay Schneider & Ian Haydn Smith. ISBN 9781438089119. $35.

Fans of international cinema will find this updated work a gold mine, as it covers films from all over the world, offering not only plots and themes but also production notes, movie posters, trivia, and more. Historians will enjoy the breadth of the volume, which ranges from silent films to contemporary works. This version is updated by Smith, who is also the author of other list books, including Cult Writers: 50 Nonconformist Novelists You Need To Know and Movie Star Chronicles: A Visual History of 320 of the World’s Greatest Movie Stars. Schneider is a noted horror film expert and author of 101 Horror Movies You Must See Before You Die.


Bright, Michael. 1001 Natural Wonders You Must See Before You Die. Chartwell. 2017. 960p. ISBN 9780785835837. $18.82.

On side trips from cities, or as destinations of their own, natural wonders can form the backbone of the most restorative vacations. In the foreword to this gorgeous work, Koichiro Matsuura, former Director General of UNESCO, creator of the World Heritage List, explains that “each of us can take action to mitigate the threats to our natural environment. We can be responsible tourists, leaving no trace of our visits.” He encourages readers to do this using the book as a guide to wonders on every continent; there is even a section on the polar regions.

Readers who enjoy exploring natural marvels can also be guided to Bob King’s Wonders of the Night Sky You Must See Before You Die: The Guide to Extraordinary Curiosities of Our Universe (Page Street).

Fodor’s Best Road Trips in the USA: 50 Epic Trips Across All 50 States. Fodor’s Travel. 2021. 544p. ISBN 9781640974579. $22.99.

As Sting comments in Malcolm Gladwell’s glorious audiobook Miracle and Wonder: Conversations with Paul Simon, “I always envy American songwriters the ability to mythologize the country. The idea of walking off to find America, that’s redolent of…Kerouac.” The road trip is a romantic part of U.S. heritage, and here’s a guide to 50 adventures that, of course, include excursions on Route 66, the Pacific Coast Highway, and lesser-known paths. Lists within the list include “10 Ultimate Destinations,” “Best Iconic Landmarks,” “Best National Parks,” and “Best Roadside Attractions.”

Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travel List, The Best Places on the Planet…Ranked. 2nd ed. Lonely Planet. 2020. 336p. ISBN 9781788689137. $24.99.

The temples of Angkor, Lake District National Park, and the Great Barrier Reef are just some of the destinations on this globe-encompassing, packed-with-wonders list. The entries were crowdsourced, with the longlist compiled from highlights in all Lonely Planet guides. Readers were then asked to vote on them to whittle the options from thousands to “just” 500. Two hundred of them are new to this edition.

Miller, Sarah. Where Architects Sleep: The Most Stylish Hotels in the World. Phaidon. 2020. 528p. ISBN 9780714879260. $29.95.

Even travelers to the best places on the planet need a place to put their heads down, and why should architects take all the fancy spots? Join them at 1,200 of the world’s most stylish hotels in more than 100 countries. From the same publisher are the titles Where Chefs Eat, Where Bartenders Drink, and Where To Eat Pizza, but these have older publication dates, and with the pandemic hitting restaurants and bars particularly hard, they are best approached in tandem with web searches.

Santella, Chris. Fifty Places To Surf Before You Die: Surfing Experts Share the World’s Greatest Destinations. Abrams. 2019. 224p. ISBN 9781419734564. $27.50.

If surfing is a reader’s thing, or they want to learn while they’re at one of the destinations listed in the other bucket-list travel guides discussed here, why not go for the best? Many of them are spots not traditionally thought of as surfing destinations, except by insiders: the Amazon, the Gulf of Alaska, and Ireland’s Bundoran beach. Santella has authored 17 other books in this series, addressing other pursuits to do in 50 places before you, ahem, can’t, including Fifty Places To Practice Yoga Before You Die and similar titles on rock climbing, running, fly-fishing, biking, and birding.

White, Annette. Bucket List Adventures: 10 Incredible Journeys To Experience Before You Die. Skyhorse. 2017. 352p. ISBN 9781510710047. $19.99.

White, author of the Instagram account @bucketlistjourney and blog, decided to live the dream, leaving her Michelin-starred California restaurant to take in the world. We can’t all pack in the day job, but we can enjoy White’s accounts of her travels and aim for some of her purpose-filled suggestions, such as “Volunteer at an Elephant Rescue in Thailand” and “Spend the Night in Jordan’s Wadi Rum Desert.” The author helpfully addresses planning, packing, overcoming fears and money issues, and more.

World’s Greatest Cities: A Journey Through the Most Dynamic and Fascinating Cities in the World. Chartwell. 2020. 256p. ISBN 9780785837947. $26.99.

This adult title is great for older children who are preparing for trips. Reminiscent of David Macaulay’s books that look inside buildings and their construction, such as City: A Story of Roman Planning and Construction, this title describes buildings and other structures in some of the world’s most amazing cities, including Paris, Istanbul, Seoul, Mexico City, and San Francisco.

Yogerst, Joe. 100 Cities, 5,000 Ideas: Where To Go, When To Go, What To See, What To Do. National Geographic. Nov. 2022. 400p. ISBN 9781426221675. $29.99.

Yogerst’s bio makes him sound like he’s ready for anything and has tried everything, reporting for National Geographic and other outlets from far-flung destinations. He has a lot to offer travelers. For example, want to know what to do on a trip to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia? After reading Yogerst’s recommendations, readers will likely plan visits to the city’s Ethnographic Museum, and dream of meals of injera, wat, and tib. In the same vein, Yogerst authored 50 States, 5,000 Ideas: Where To Go, When To Go, What To See, What To Do.


Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Eats. Lonely Planet Food. 2018. 320p. ISBN 9781787014220. $29.99.

This sumptuous work lists unmissable food experiences that are waiting for readers worldwide, such as Tokyo sushi counters and eating bibimbap in Korea, shakshuka in Israel, and grilled fish in the Seychelles. Readers should pace themselves.

Roskrow, Dominic. World’s Best Whiskies: 750 Unmissable Drams from Tain to Tokyo. 2nd ed. Chartwell. 2019. 288p. ISBN 9780785837510. $24.99.

In the spirit of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, Roskrow, a former editor of Whisky Magazine, presents traditional Scottish brands, bourbons from the southern United States, and even whiskies from unexpected locations such as Japan, India, and France. Once readers eat all these foods, they’re going to need a drink.

Sheraton, Mimi. 1,000 Foods To Eat Before You Die: A Food Lover’s Life List. Workman. 2015. 1,008p. ISBN 9780761141686. $24.95.

A former restaurant critic for the New York Times, Sheraton presents a belt-bursting menu of items Readers. Must. Try. While the restaurants listed might sadly be no longer, Sheraton also provides recipes for creating the must-eats at home, as well as suggestions for where to get the sometimes-esoteric ingredients needed.

If There’s Any Time Left…

Eco, Umberto. The Infinity of Lists: An Illustrated Essay. Rizzoli. 2009. 408p. tr. from Italian by Alastair McEwen. ISBN 9780847832965. $19.95.

At the time of writing this book, Eco was a resident scholar at the Louvre, studying “the vertigo of lists.” This book expands on his belief that an enthusiasm for accumulation and a passion for cataloging what people gather is central to life today.

Kipfer, Barbara Ann. 5,203 Things To Do Instead of Looking at Your Phone. Workman. 2020. 396p. ISBN 9781523509850. $10.99.

Kipfer encourages readers to slow down and, above all, put the phone down. Accompanied by Scot Ritchie’s fun black-and-white cartoons, her list is one long menu of items, in no particular order, encouraging a whimsical dip into the work to find instructions for the day, such as “see the beauty in the water coming from the tap,” “study Greek to improve your knowledge of English,” and “do the worst task first.”

Pearson, Will & others. mental_floss: The Book: The Greatest Lists in the History of Listory. Morrow. 2011. 320p. ISBN 9780062069306. $17.99.

This is a list of lists, including “Lists to Read before Naming Your Child, Company, or Alter Ego,” “Five Ways Museums Detect Forgeries,” and “The World’s Eight Messiest Food Festivals.” Readers have been warned!

Sander, Gin. The Big Bucket List Book: 133 Experiences of a Lifetime. Sourcebooks. 2016. 256p. ISBN 9781492609803. $14.99.

Sander’s suggestions offer something for a wide range of bucket listers. Those who are ready for a big commitment can attend Oxford or open their own bookstore, for example, while quicker gratification is available through activities such as writing a handwritten letter and digging up a fossil. There’s a handy guide to the expense of each item—from $ to $$$$—listed in the table of contents.

Usher, Shaun. Lists of Note: An Eclectic Collection Deserving of a Wider Audience. Chronicle. 2015. 327p. ISBN 9781452144573. $40.

Another list of lists, this time ones by famous people or ones notable for historical reasons. Readers can draw bucket-list entries from, for example, Woody Guthrie’s 1943 New Year’s resolutions (“Wash teeth if any…. Drink very scant if any…. Dream good”) and read a shopping list by a monk who was hitting the Silk Road in the 10th century (“one full perfume purse…one purse of camel-skin…three ropes”), and it’s fascinating to get a glimpse of past needs and wants. Color reproductions of the lists are shown, and each document is transcribed as well.

Henrietta Verma, formerly LJ’s Reviews Editor, is a librarian and the author of How To Get Your Book into Libraries and Reviews Are In, and cofounder and coauthor of First Clue, a free weekly newsletter that reviews mysteries and thrillers as far in advance of publication as possible.

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