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For book lovers who want a more comprehensive library, publishers are making the process simpler. Amazon.com sells The Penguin Classics Library Complete Collection, over 1,000 paperbacks dressed up in Penguin's recognizable black and orange bindings; it retails for $13,413 and weighs a mere 700 pounds.

Hardcover aficionados might prefer The Everyman's 100, a set of the bestselling titles at EverymansLibrary.com for $2,282; The Histories by Herodotus to The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. If you're more interested in modern masterpieces, Everyman's also offers the Contemporary Classics, 20th-century works for $4,015. "It's a great sampling of writers as varied as Toni Morrison and Vladimir Nabokov," says Roz Parr, who helped assemble both collections. "They're beautiful editions with curved bindings and ribbon markers—and surprisingly well priced given the production value."

We understand laying out thousands of dollars at once isn't always practical. Enter Harvard Classics, also known as The Legendary Five Foot Shelf of Knowledge. The titles—"all the books needed for a real education"—were selected by Charles W. Eliot, who was president of Harvard in 1910. Today, you can sign up at EastonPressBooks.com to receive one leather-bound volume from his list each month ($70).