30 Books Everyone Should Read Before Turning 30

Today I enter my 25th year. Eeek! I’ve always thought of 25 as the age  where you exit Jr. Adulthood and become a Real Adult. Like moving up from Webelos  to the real Boy Scouts.  Since Jr. Adulthood is annoying, what with people still assuming I’m in highschool and all, I thought I’d be more excited. But I just keep wondering- where did the last decade of my life go? I can’t possibly be closer to 30 than I am to 20, that just seems impossible.

I’m trying not to think about it too much because it makes breathing difficult, but clearly I’m failing because I stumbled upon this little list recently while Googling ridiculous things about turning 30. ( Examples: Is 30 too old to wear leggings? Is 25 too young to worry about getting wrinkles? If I wait any longer, will I be considered an “old mom”?  How much life insurance should a 30 year-old old mom have? Will I look ridiculous if I keep my nose ring past 30? What things should every 30 year old know and/or have done? Side note: I’m not normally this anxiety ridden. I was having a bout of insomnia, and the lack of sleep always makes me a little crazy.) I thought it was a fascinating concept. If you only read thirty books in the first thirty years of your life, should these really be the thirty? Why these thirty? Who decides the thirty? Why is Lolita, a perfectly wretched book in my estimation, included, but not say, Pride and Prejudice or even a single Austen or Bronte novel? Or for that matter, no women at all? Why The Wind in the Willows and not Charlotte’s Web, an arguably more influential book in our society? And who on earth shortens Thomas Paine to Tom? Is the “h-mas” really too difficult?

It seems a little trite to me, but even listology told me this was the list, so apparently I have five more years to finish this list and be a well-read thirty year old. If I’ve read nine-hundred books but not these thirty, I will have failed, or so the list gods tell me. I’ve read only 16 of the thirty, but to be fair, I spent the first 13 or so years of my life more concerned with Nancy Drew than life-altering literature, so I’m going to propose an alternative title to this list:

30 Books Everyone Should Read Between the Ages of 18 and 30, 16 If You’re Ambitious:

(The one’s I’ve read are bolded, and I put a * next to the ones I plan to read in the future because there are some that don’t interest me much. )

  1. Siddhartha by Herman Hesse*
  2. 1984 by George Orwell
  3. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  4. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  5. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
  6. The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine
  7. The Social Contract by Jean-Jaques Rousseau
  8. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez*
  9. The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
  10. The Wisdom of the Desert by Thomas Merton*
  11. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham
  12. The Art of War by Sun Tzu
  13. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
  14. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
  15. Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot*
  16. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  17. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  18. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  19. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky*
  20. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
  21. Walden by Henry David Thoreau
  22. The Republic by Plato
  23. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  24. Getting Things Done by David Allen
  25. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  26. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  27. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  28. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
  29. BONUS: How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman
  30. BONUS: Honeymoon with My Brother by Franz Wisner*

What do you think? Which ones would you change and why? Or better yet, if you had to compile the list, what would it include?



Filed under Books

13 responses to “30 Books Everyone Should Read Before Turning 30

  1. Janice Cahill AKA Mom

    Miss Lovely Little Things,
    What advice have you for those of us already past the 30 year mark (well past in some cases)? Is there hope for us, pray tell?? Do you have a suggestion list for those approaching, or even past, the 50 year mark (gasp!). Perhpas a list of books per decade of life (the 20’s, the 30’s, etc). Or maybe a blog on how reading keeps the mind sharp as it ages, etc. Looking forward to more of your literary insights.

    • Gee mom, by the time you get to be that old, you can just slap on your three- inch thick cheaters and read whatever the heck you want. Crazy old ladies can get away with anything! 😀

  2. Interesting and strange at the same time. I wonder why you have to read those particular books before you’re 30? And why 30? Why not, say, 25, or 20? I can understand how some books have an “expiration date,” meaning that you should read it at a certain stage of your life (ex: The Cather in the Rye, maybe?) because you would react differently to it if you had read it at any other age, but, I would think most books, especially classic literature books (which I think the books on the list belong to) can be read anytime, regardless of age…?

    Or maybe the list is saying that by the time you’re an adult, you should already be familiar with those classic works?

  3. Julia Marshall

    Not convinced by this list. As you point out – where is the Austen? I’d be interested to see your own list, perhaps of the 25 books that should be read by 25?

  4. 25 = Quarter Life Crisis = Excuse for the Lowest brow lit you can find! There have to be some guilty pleasures in that list somewhere 🙂

    Happy Bday!

  5. Thanks! I reaaaaaaally want to read Pride and Prejudice and Zobies- does that count as a guilty pleasure?

  6. Dear Amanda,
    I just love your blog. 😉
    And I’ve read “The Master and Margarita” by Mikhail Bulgakov, it’s quite good, so I wouldn’t take this book off the list.

  7. I don’t know that I would drop any from the list, but I too wonder why these are the ones to read before 30. If I were to make a list like this (which I might!) I think I would really try to focus on including books that offered a wide variety of human experiences and walks of life… and yes, that would include Austen. 🙂

  8. I’m intrigued by this list, and want to prioritize some of the books on it, in a similar way that you did with your asterisks.

    However valuable the literature here is, I have to admit that I tend to favor a balance between male and female authors. As a woman, I want to expose myself to the way female authors write. It’s not about woman power or anything, I just feel like I am missing out when I only read old books written by men, even though I am often inspired by those books.

  9. Li

    This list is admittedly hugely biased toward males, but Harper Lee is a woman. Just FYI.

  10. Where are youoooooooo? Come back!!

  11. Amanda, I’ve noticed that you haven’t posted recently, so I’m saying hi!

    About the list, perhaps it shouldn’t be considered…well, authoritative. After all, in it The Origin of Species is mandated but not the Bible. And…why the Prince, but not The Divine Comedy? Why Nabokov but not Solzhenitsyn? Why Hemingway and Fitzgerald, but not Edith Wharton? etc.

    It’s subjective and irritating. Plus it makes people feel inadequate. As you’ve said, even if they’ve read many other good books. By the way, if possible, please add to your list Alessandro Manzotti’s The Betrothed.

    About wrinkles. Just don’t get too much sun — wear nice hats. If you get some wrinkles, you can join a club made up of lots of women and men you would like. And because you like to smile, who will notice them anyway? Certainly not Cambria.

    Hope you’re doing well!

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