Hereinafter are named the books that you absolutely must read before you shuffle off this mortal coil:
The Bible - yes, you have to read it. But don't read it in the way that any other human tells you to read it - read it for yourself, a little at a time. And don't read it like a book, read it as though it were an adventure story, a mystery, passionate love poetry, a mystery, a psychology lession, a textbook, an instruction manual, a tale of disaster, a series of letters, an intrigue, a savage bloods-n-guts saga, erotica, tips for the day, sweet rhymes, history, romance . . . because it is all those things and so much more.
And no, you do not have to read any of the other so-called religious literature (unless you want to, I will never stop you from reading a book); for example, you do not have to read the Koran, I Ching, Baghavad Gita, none of those. You do not have to be fair to all religions. Sorry, fellas, but the only God to follow is the one who tells you to a) get over yourselves and worship something beyond YOU, and b) LOVE everybody else the way you love yourself.
But, back to books, next!
The Little Prince - Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Canterbury Tales - Geoffery Chaucer
You do NOT have to read Gilgamesh or Beowulf, no matter what your college professors may tell you. They're good reads, yes, definitely, and great epics, but they're not a MUST.
The Odyssey - Homer, is a must. The Iliad is not. Neither is Virgil's Aeneid, no matter what your Latin professor might say.
Frankenstein (or, a Modern Prometheus) - Mary Woolstonecraft Shelley. But, you do not have to read Moby Dick. Moby Dick is boring. Frankenstein tells it all, and much better and more succinctly.
You do not have to read anything by Charles Dickens except for A Christmas Carol. And don't try to sidestep by watching any of the ubiquitous movies. Certainly many of them follow the plot, and I know Scrooge and Tiny Tim and the three ghosts are all engrained in our culture, but you still must read it. You'll like it, I promise you.
The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien, and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. You'll thank me for it.
The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis. But, you do not HAVE to read the rest. Although they are excellent, they are not as essential as the first.
The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis. Nothing describes Satan's works and deeds and thoughts better than this ironic epistolary novel.
Candide, by Voltaire. I was like you, I fought against this book many a year, until I finally picked it up, and couldn't put it down. Although, get an edition with footnotes, that will explain all the inside jokes (they were contemporary, and about one every paragraph - but don't fret, dear reader, the savage satire can be felt down through the ages). And if you balk at this, remember I'm not making you read Moby Dick or most of Dickens.
Oh yeah, and not Wuthering Heights, nor anything by the Brontes, and don't even get me started on Jane Austen. For that matter, on the poetry side, Dickenson is also off the list. But we're talking about books, so let's continue!
The Cider-House Rules - John Irving
It - Stephen King
Ulysses - James Joyce . . . oh, stop your groaning! There wouldn't BE modern literature without this treasure, just thank me I don't make you read Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man or that putrid Finnegans Wake. But check out Dubliners, you'll find a few gems in there.
And whenever I mention Ulysses some feminist will inevitably pipe up with To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, but you can pipe down, because that novel stinks! Finnegans Wake is more comprehensible!
Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
[This list is not yet completed - the author has retired for a nightcap and a back rub]