WSIRN Ep 165: 1000 Books to read before you die

Readers, welcome to 2019! If you entered the new year dreaming of a fresh approach to your reading life, whether the goal is tackling the classics, beating your Goodreads challenge, or simply finding more joy in your reading life, today’s guest Jim Mustich is sharing decades of wisdom to help kick off your best reading year ever.

Jim and I got to meet in person at the Kentucky Book Festival, where we discussed the importance of reading and shared some of our favorite books with the audience. It was such a good time! Jim is the author of the new book 1000 Books to Read Before You Die, which is a wonderful addition to any book lover’s shelves, and one I’ve thoroughly enjoyed perusing.

Today Jim and I chat about his history as a reader and why reading 1000 books might not be as daunting as it first sounds. We’re also putting Jim in the hot seat today: I share three of my favorites, and then Jim recommends which of those 1000 books he thinks *I* should prioritize. It’s a fantastic start to the new year!

What Should I Read Next #165: 1000 Books to read before you die with Jim Mustich

Learn more about Jim Mustich’s book at, and follow him on Instagram and Twitter.


Books mentioned in this episode:
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If you’d like to support your local indie, check out And by all means, go grab one of these from your local library!

1000 Books to Read Before You Die: A Life-Changing List, by Jim Mustich (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
Make Way for Ducklings, by Robert McCloskey (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
Charlotte’s Web, by E. B. White (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
The Hunt for Red October, by Tom Clancy (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
The Surprise of Cremona: One Woman’s Adventures in Cremona, Parma, Mantua, Ravenna, Urbino and Arezzo, by Edith Templeton (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
Life in Code: A Personal History of Technology, by Ellen Ullman (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its Discontents, by Ellen Ullman (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
Memoirs of a Highland Lady, by Elizabeth Grant (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
The Armies of the Night: History as a Novel, the Novel as History, by Norman Mailer (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
Miami and the Siege of Chicago: An Informal History of the Republican and Democratic Conventions of 1968, by Norman Mailer (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• The Nero Wolfe series by Rex Stout (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
Angle of Repose, by Wallace Stegner (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
Crossing to Safety, by Wallace Stegner (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
Einstein’s Dreams, by Alan Lightman (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
The Death and Life of Great American Cities, by Jane Jacobs (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
The All of It, by Jeanette Haien (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built, by Stewart Brand (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
The Liar’s Club, by Mary Karr (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
The Sea, The Sea, by Iris Murdoch (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
This House of Sky, by Ivan Doig (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
Life: A User’s Manual, by Georges Perec (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
A Dresser of Sycamore Trees: The Finding of a Ministry, by Garret Keizer (AmazonBarnes and Noble)

Also mentioned:

• Powell’s City of Books in Oregon


What books would you include in a read-before-you-die list? Tell us in the comments!


Leave A Comment
  1. Jennifer Moss says:

    What a wonderful episode! I LOVED A Common Reader – I saved every issue of the catalogs and re-read them frequently. Sometimes I read them to look for my next read but often just because they were a great read themselves. I am going today to purchase 1000 Books to Read Before You Die. I am really looking forward to reading Mustich’s essays. What a surprise and delight to rediscover someone whose reading taste I love. 5 Stars!

  2. Jess says:

    Very difficult to find a copy of Edith Templeton’s old book – but I managed to track down an old 1955 copy that should be making its way to me soon!

    Just to clarify, in France, Georges Perec is pronounced with the hard c – like p-air-ek.

    I really enjoyed this episode, I loved Jim’s enthusiasm. I am totally grabbing a copy of his book. I love that it has more of his personal choices rather than just what we *ought* to read. Even if it’s not a book where you literally go through checking off his recs (that’d be less fun), I think it will be great to connect with another reader, to hear about a lifetime of reading. Awesome.

  3. Kitty Balay says:

    This has to be one of the best episodes so far! Jim’s point of view about reading is so inspiring and incredibly eloquent! Wow! Please have him on again!

  4. Abigail M. says:

    I listened to this podcast while running this evening (New Year’s Resolution!) and was completely charmed by the discussion, the author, and the books discussed. By the time I was done I could think of nothing but the book and went straight to the bookstore to purchase it, despite the fact that another New Year’s resolution is not to buy more books until I’ve made substantial progress on my To Be Read shelves. It is a beautiful book! Flipping through the book while in line I was delighted to see The Hot Rock, which I loved but would not have expected to see on such a list. I also noted A Visit From the Good Squad, which would rival the Neapolitan Novels (also on the list) as my most hated book, but at least I can check them off the list.

    Before listening to the podcast I was aware of the book but hadn’t really considered purchasing it, because I know I won’t get through most of the list and due to the aforementioned To Be Read shelves. (Shelves!) But after listening to the discussion I’m looking forward to reading the essays about the books on the list I have read, to being nudged about some books buried on my shelf, and to discovering books I have not yet heard of.

    I can’t wait to set up my spreadsheet and get in to the book.

    • I’m sorry to have encouraged you to break your New Year’s resolution, but I hope you enjoy the book! And thanks for noting the book’s beauty: the design and production team at Workman Publishing did a spectacular job.

  5. Debi Morton says:

    This was the third interview I’ve heard with Jim, and I’ve loved them all. So much so that I requested and received from my husband, 1,000 Books. My extended family just left early this morning, so I haven’t had time yet to spend time with it, but I’m very much looking forward to doing so.
    I absolutely loved Jim’s attitude toward reading, and the idea of picking up books “on a whim.” I’d actually been thinking about this a great deal recently. As I’ve been reading the comments from so many of the MMD Book Club members who are planning to do more than one reading challenge next year, are in two or three book clubs, want to read all of some author’s backlist, and so on, I just become exhausted. My thought has often been, “Wow! You guys make reading so much work!” For me reading as almost always been about deciding what I’m in the mood for next. I look at my To Be Read bookshelves, and at my unread kindle books, maybe decide to go to the library, and select the book the seems to be calling my name at the time. The only required reading I do is for IRL book clubs. In fact, I only read the MMD selections if they appeal to me. And for that reason, as I’ve been reading for about 63 years (I’m 68 years old), reading has ALWAYS been a joy for me, and I have NEVER experienced a reading slump.
    My suggestion to those of you who may find yourselves sighing a little when you pick up your book, or wishing you didn’t have to read the next book, is to remember what it felt like when you were first a reader and just loved that feeling of a book taking you away somewhere. If you haven’t experienced that on a regular basis in awhile, maybe you’re making your reading too much work. Maybe you need to read—on a whim!

    • Thanks for the kind words and the wise perspective. I like what you say about selecting “the book the seems to be calling my name at the time.” I know exactly what you mean! I hope you enjoy browsing through 1000 Books.

  6. Annika Helena says:

    Hello from the southern of snowy Finland! Thank you for an interesting and really engaging episode! This was actually the first podcast episode I have listened to as I only recently discovered Anne’s wonderful blog. I listened to the episode while taking a morning walk, and ended up walking longer than planned, in spite of a small blizzard, since I got so absorbed. I am looking forward to more episodes and of course to reading all the books that I added to my to-read-list ( naturally including 1000 books to read before you die)! A wonderful reading year 2019 to all fellow booklovers!

  7. Susan Martin says:

    Please tell us you have a podcast in the works, Mr Mustich! I could listen to you speak about books for hours. I bought the book! I can’t wait to dive in! Thanks Anne for another great episode of WSIRN!

      • Kirsten says:

        Oh this is exciting!!! I listened to the episode while walking on the beach, so soothing!
        And both of you brought so many more books to my TBR!
        Looking forward to another great book podcast!

      • Amber says:

        This is very exciting. I completely agree with Susan. Seriously, just requested at least 20 books from my library. I am clearing an entire shelf of my bookshelf to “read on a whim” titles.

  8. M Stickland says:

    This is one of my very favorite episodes and I’ve listened to all of them. As a lifelong/avid reader I do a lot of reading–this episode has me adding many of the books to my TBR. Also I agree with the previous post about a podcast on 1,000 book to read! I will also be purchasing the book.

  9. Caryn says:

    This is one of my favorite episodes too. I could listen to you and Jim talk for hours. I am so glad that Jim recommended Invisible Cities. I first read it 25 years ago in my early 20’s and it had a huge influence on my thinking. I have been quoting and recommending it ever since. As Jim said, there are passages that attach themselves to elements of your experiences. Each time I’ve read it, I come away with something new to chew on. It’s been a good 10 years, so I think a reread is due for the New Year. I have also added Einstein’s Dreams and A Dresser of Sycamore Trees: The Finding of a Ministry to my list as well 1000 Books to Read Before You Die.

    • Invisible Cities truly is special. I revisited it myself last year and none of the magic was diminished—and I kept finding new passages to ponder and savor. Thank you for listening, and enjoy Einstein’s Dreams and A Dresser of Sycamore Trees.

  10. SoCalLynn says:

    I was so excited to hear This House of Sky by Ivan Doig recommended. I absolutely love this book, and you will find so many echoes of his real life experiences in his English Creek trilogy. They are just fantastic, and I agree that they have a familiar feel to Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose. Please, please read Ivan Doig!

  11. Melissa says:

    Loyalist blog follower here, first time commenting – just to say this was your best episode yet! Such a delight to listen to you and Jim so elequently articulate all the book things we want to hear. Packing up the kids, braving the rain, and heading into the bookstore to pick up Jim’s book this morning. Einstein’s Dreams is now at the top of my TBR, and several new ones were added – hooray!

  12. Krista says:

    Loved this episode! It was really a joy to listen to this conversation and hear about so many books I’ve never heard of before.

  13. Christa says:

    This is one of my favorite episodes. My reading mind just expanded into new and exciting territory. I’m off to buy 1,000 books and start many new journeys of learning and wonder on a whim. Thank you Anne for your great podcast and exposing me to new authors and books I never knew I needed to read!

  14. I especially loved this episode because it made me feel closer to you, Anne. First off, I also read The Remains of the Day this year and I had been meaning to read it for a long time. Next, Angle of Repose is the one book I have read three times. Next, I am a landscape architect, so Jane Jacobs has obviously influenced a whole generation of my profession. And lastly, I have been meaning to read an Iris Murdoch book for decades, but didn’t know what title to head for. Your podcast is one of the reasons I was able to read more than 43 books in 2018, and I am going to up my challenge in 2019. Thank you so much and keep up the good work! Favorite reads this year: Lonesome Dove, Belle Canto and The Poisonwood Bible. One book that was a drudge: Lincoln in the Bardo! First I tried to read it and then I tried to listen to it. ugh!

  15. This was one of my favorite episodes so far! (And from the comments, I’m not alone.) Jim – You are my hero and what I aspire to in a reading and writing life. It sounds like you have more than enough content (with the essays that you cut) to start a “Could’ve made the Cut” blog featuring those other 1000+ books that you still WANT to recommend. Please do. You have a new fan base poised and ready! Ordering your book now!

  16. Cathleen says:

    Dear Anne, I look forward to your podcasts every Tuesday, and this week’s episode with James Mustich was one of my all-time favorites. I was especially taken by the ideas that choosing what to read next helps us explore the biggest questions about life, about what makes life meaningful, and helps us sustain that conversation with ourselves over time. On a gloomy January day, this podcast was a beam of light.
    P.S. I bought 1000 Books to Read Before You Die in December, and I have already used it to plan out my next few reads.
    Thanks to you both—Anne and James—for sharing your conversation with your readers.

  17. Amberly says:

    My day was absolutely MADE when I heard Rex Stout get a mention! My college roommate introduced me to the Nero Wolfe mysteries back in 2003, and I’ve been reading them faithfully (but slowly, since there’s a limited supply) ever since. The characters feel like old friends – Wolfe with all of his quirks, Archie with his quips, Inspector Cramer with his cigars … And yet it’s rare that anyone I meet has heard of them! I was just thrilled to know that someone else knows and loves them, too – thanks for shining a light on one of my all-time favorite series!

  18. Jennifer D. says:

    Anne, I listened to this episode on a long run and literally stopped in my tracks when you talked about Einstein’s Dreams! I found Einstein’s Dreams at random, during my junior year of high school, at a now-defunct independent bookstore, and it’s been one of my perennial favorite books ever since. It felt oddly like hearing myself talk for a couple minutes!

  19. Katie Newcomb says:

    Dear Anne and fellow listening readers,
    I saw this episode swing into my podcast app, and when I read the details of who would be on the show, to say I was intimidated is an UNDERSTATEMENT. I braced myself for the onslaught of a lecture about all the classics and literary fiction my lazy self hadn’t read. Instead, I listened to the most charming, least-pretentious author describe reading and books that was just flat out LOVELY. Mr. Mustich, the way you described books as food (for nourishment AND pleasure), and your book as a menu, it was just fantastic. Thank you for encouraging us to just read the next book. Excuse me while I go listen to this episode for the third time…

  20. Annie Haynes says:

    I was an enthusiastic Common Reader customer back in the day. I always looked forward to a new catalog and read it cover to cover! I am ordering 1000 Books… right now. Great episode, thanks Anne!

  21. Sophie says:

    This episode might be my favorite of WSIRN! Thank you so much for giving words to what reading has meant for me in the last few years. Reading gives me words to know myself better, I loved hearing Jim talk about what reading does for us!
    And looking forward to trying some of these titles out for myself. Already have the “1000 Books…” on request at the library, but I have a feeling it is a book that should be owned to go back to again and again.

  22. Jim and Anne, I don’t know why I thought there wouldn’t be an episode on Jan. 1. I didn’t even check. So when this episode came up after Tara’s episode. I couldn’t stop listening. I was up until midnight, loving your wisdom Jim. And since I’m older, it was nice to have an older expert as a guest.

    According to Anne’s reader personality quiz, I’m an explorer. I do exactly what you mentioned, I go from one book to the next that calls out to be read. I don’t know if I will ever read all of them, but when my in-laws were downsizing, they gave my husband and me a 54 volume set of Britannica Great Books that include some of the classics you mentioned in your book. They make our bookshelves beautiful and I find it comforting to see them every day.

    I enjoyed this episode so much that I was awake for quite some time thinking about how much reading has enhanced my life even though I got a late start as a reader. Thank you.

  23. Dave Kalach says:

    My favorite episode to date. Jim’s wide ranging knowledge of literature was impressive. I have since read a novel by Wallace Stegner and A Dresser of Sycamore Trees that we’re suggested on the episode and loved them both. I look forward to reading more books that were discussed by Anne and Jim.

  24. Lori says:

    Just listening to this episode. The fact that Anne says she can’t remember books she read in high school made me (maybe snarkily) happy. I have been convinced you remember everything about every book. I’m happy you are also a literary mortal in that way at least. Love love love this podcast…it’s like hearing someone describe the best meal they ever ate and one can’t wait to share that experience. Thanks for helping me give myself permission to take time out for reading!

  25. Rachel B says:

    I was happy to see that Letters of a Woman Homesteader and Autobiography of a Face made it into Jim’s book! Those are two of my favorites, and I never hear others talk about them. 🙂

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