Reading a book can be an intensely personal experience. Books can be truly life-changing, and also, as it turns out, make you smarter. Research repeatedly shows you boost your analytical thinking by reading, along with expanding your vocabulary, as well as your mind in general. 

The question, then, is not whether you should read, but what to read.

In the early 2000s, the BBC's Big Read ran a search for the U.K.'s best-loved novel. After parsing results of those nominating their favorite books, they made a list of the top 100--a list that follows.

In an interesting update on the idea, Howard Bentham of the BBC recently put together a new list of the top 100 books, but this time used authors and book experts. What's special about the list is there are audio clips that explain each choice -- recorded by the people recommending them. It's a good way of getting a brief overview of the books in order to decide which ones to put on your list.

Here's the original BBC list. It wasn't a ranked list, so I started out with a few of my own personal favorites--ones I found hauntingly beautiful, with characters I truly missed when they were gone. (If you only pick one, let it be Shadow of the Wind. It's unbelievably good):

  1. The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  2. Captain Corelli's Mandolin, by Louis de Bernieres?
  3. Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden
  4. One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel García Marquez
  5. The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho
  6. Watership Down, by Richard Adams
  7. The Secret History, by Donna Tartt
  8. The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold
  9. Atonement, by Ian Mcewan
  10. Cold Comfort Farm, by Stella Gibbons
  11. Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
  12. The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins
  13. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
  14. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
  15. The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
  16. Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë
  17. Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling
  18. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
  19. The Bible
  20. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë
  21. 1984, by George Orwell
  22. His Dark Materials trilogy, by Philip Pullman
  23. Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens
  24. Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
  25. Tess of the D'Urbervilles, by Thomas Hardy
  26. Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
  27. The complete works of Shakespeare
  28. Rebecca, by Daphne DuMaurier
  29. The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien  
  30. Birdsong, by Sebastian Faulks
  31. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
  32. The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
  33. Middlemarch, by George Eliot
  34. Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
  35. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  36. Bleak House, by Charles Dickens
  37. War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy
  38. Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
  39. Crime and Punishment, by Fydor Dostoevsky
  40. The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
  41. Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll
  42. The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame
  43. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
  44. David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens
  45. The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis
  46. Emma, by Jane Austen
  47. Persuasion, by Jane Austen
  48. Winnie-the-Pooh, by A.A. Milne
  49. Animal Farm, by George Orwell
  50. The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown
  51. A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving
  52. Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery
  53. Far From the Madding Crowd, by Thomas Hardy
  54. The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood
  55. Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
  56. Life of Pi, by Yann Martel
  57. Dune, by Frank Herbert
  58. Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen
  59. A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth
  60. A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens
  61. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
  62. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon
  63. Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel García Marquez
  64. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
  65. Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov
  66. The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas
  67. On the Road, by Jack Kerouac
  68. Jude the Obscure, by Thomas Hardy
  69. Bridget Jones's Diary, by Helen Fielding
  70. Midnight's Children, by Salman Rushdie
  71. Moby Dick, Herman Melville
  72. Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens
  73. Dracula, by Bram Stoker
  74. The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  75. Notes From a Small Island, by Bill Bryson
  76. Ulysses, by James Joyce
  77. The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath
  78. Swallows and Amazons, by Arthur Ransome
  79. Germinal, by Emile Zola
  80. Vanity Fair, by William Makepeace Thacker  
  81. Possession, by A.S. Byatt
  82. A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
  83. Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell
  84. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
  85. The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro
  86. Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert
  87. A Fine Balance, by Rohinton Mistry
  88. Charlotte's Web, by E.B. White
  89. The Five People You Meet in Heaven, by Mitch Albom
  90. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  91. The Faraway Tree Collection, by Enid Blyton
  92. Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad
  93. The Little Prince, by Antoine de St.-Exupery
  94. The Wasp Factory, by Iain Banks
  95. A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole
  96. A Town Like Alice, by Nevil Shute
  97. The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas
  98. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
  99. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl
  100. Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo