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30 Literary Works to Read Before You Turn 30

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I have always been a voracious reader. Even as a toddler, I would insist on my parents reading practically every book on the shelf before bedtime. I loved “reading” THE BERENSTAIN BEARS and LITTLE MISS CHATTERBOX to my dolls and stuffed animals. Books transformed me to a new place, introduced me to new ideas and experiences, and gave me creative fodder for countless hours of make believe. We didn’t have a television, so with the exception of Templeton’s Holiday, our family’s yearly adventure in which we would act just like Templeton the Rat from CHARLOTTE’S WEB by renting a TV/VCR combo and eating only junk food, we used books, games, and our creativity to entertain us.

My love of reading has only continued as I’ve grown. I married a writer and we’ve settled into an apartment so crammed with books we can hardly have space for anything else. Yet we still keep reading; we keep buying those lovely and dated objects they call real books. So, on the day of my 30th birthday, with the help of the public and school libraries across the country that gave me hours and hours of escape, The Strand Bookstore in NYC, and of course, our favorite bookstore of all, Powells Books in Portland, Oregon, I hereby present to you, my dear reader, with my version of 30 Fiction Books to Read Before You Turn 30, in order (roughly).

Books to read before 18:

Children Reading

  1. ONE MORNING IN MAINE, Robert McCloskey (I dreamed of being Sal, on a boat, showing my lose tooth to a seal)
  2. THE WORLD OF POOH: THE COMPLETE WINNIE THE POOH AND THE HOUSE AT POOH CORNER, by A. A. Milne (Simple, beautiful words: “If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I never have to live without you.”)
  3. THE JUST SO STORIES, by Rudyard Kipling (Weren’t you always curious to know How the Camel Got His Hump?)
  4. THE SECRET GARDEN, by Frances Hodgson Burnett (Dicken was my first literary crush)
  5. WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS, by Wilson Rawls (First book I cried over)
  6. HENRY HUGGINS, by Beverly Cleary (All Beverly Cleary really, but I always liked HENRY HUGGINS the best- so funny!)
  7. AN OLD FASHIONED GIRL, by Louisa May Alcott (All time favorite book of always, wanted to be just like old Polly)
  8. THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO, by Alexandre Dumas (Captures the young mind with ideas of adventure, love, and revenge)
  9. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, by Jane Austen (So funny, so charming, so many dreams of Mr. Darcy)

Books to read in those coming of age years:

  1. GONE WITH THE WIND, by Margaret Mitchell (Scarlett is a ravishing, intelligent, selfish girl and I love her for it)
  2. CATCHER IN THE RYE, by J.D. Salinger (I read this engrossing book in one sitting, on a bench, in Nashville, in my first week at college)
  3. THE STRANGER, by Albert Camus (One must read this when he is young; I read it when it was given to me at age 19 by a certain man in Aix-en-Provence)
  4. THE RUM DIARIES, by Hunter S. Thompson (Read the book, skip the movie, and chug mojitos)
  5. A FAREWELL TO ARMS, by Ernest Hemingway (If this is what love is, I thought after reading it, I’m not sure if I can live through it, but I’d like to try)
  6. TENDER IS THE NIGHT, by F. Scott Fitzgerald (See comment above, and repeat here)
  7. CATCH 22, by Joseph Heller (Clever, hilarious, and insane, Heller was a genius: “He was going to live forever, or die in the attempt.” It also expanded my vocabulary ten-fold) 
  8. GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN, by James Baldwin (Stunningly told, vivid in its details, and powerful beyond belief)
  9. LUCKY JIM, by Kingsley Amos (Hilarious hilarious hilarious does this really happen at a certain English University? If so, I want to visit)
  10. TO THE LIGHTHOUSE, by Virginia Woolf (At first I didn’t know how to read this stream of conscious narrative. Then, it was suggested that I think of the story like a ball, bouncing and rolling from perspective to perspective. I was hooked)

Books to read once you are (sortof) grown:

  1. CEREMONY, by Leslie Marmon Silko (One of the most incredible books I’ve read in recent memory, captures the true spirit and heartbreaking truth of the American Indian story in today’s world)
  2. THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER, by Carson Macullers (Tennessee Williams once said that Carson Macullers ”owned the heart and the deep understanding of it, but in addition she had that ‘tongue of angels’ that gave her power to sing of it, to make of it an anthem”)
  3. HOUSE OF LEAVES, by Mark Danielewski (Twisted, ingenious, and totally experimental, this book is groundbreaking)
  4. THE MASTER AND MARGARITA, by Mikhail Bulgakov (Bulgakov burned the entire manuscript, then rewrote it from memory. Can you get more badass than this?)
  5. AGE OF INNOCENCE, by Edith Wharton (Anything by Ms. Wharton is divine, enrapturing, and cuts to the quick)
  6. MIDDLESEX, by Jeffrey Eugenides (I believe this is the closest we have to a twenty-first century American Epic)
  7. LOOK HOMEWARD ANGEL, by Thomas Woolf (A stirring work of beauty, takes us on a journey from small town North Carolina to Boston, and shows us how hard it is to keep family ties alive)
  8. MAN GONE DOWN, by Michael Thomas (What is it like to feel pre-programmed for failure and how can one rise above the doom to claim the American Dream? Scenes from this beautifully told novel still haunt me)
  9. ALL THE KINGS MEN, by Robert Penn Warren (An American Political Classic, fictionally based on the life of Louisiana Senator Huey Long)
  10. SOMETIMES A GREAT NOTION, by Ken Kesey (Describes the grit, the chip on the shoulder, and the intensity of the American Northwest Spirit- a must read for any Oregonian- or anyone who might marry one for that matter)
  11. 100 YEARS OF SOLITUDE, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Simply the most engrossing, lovely, powerful, and passionate book of all)

**Happy reading!! DISCLAIMER: this is not an exhaustive list. Books like WAR AND PEACE, THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV, HOPSCOTCH, and MOBY DICK, have been left out because 1) There are only 30 spaces, but more truly 2) They aren’t “must reads” by age 30- you have a lifetime to read epics.**

About the Author

Verbal Vixen

14 Comments to 30 Literary Works to Read Before You Turn 30

  1. jmlindy422

    Well, it’s a good thing I’ve read more than 1/2 of these books ’cause it’s too late for me! I’ll turn 55 next year. My favorite on the list is the complete A. A. Milne. My husband and I read them together snuggled up in bed with our son. Sweet words and even sweeter memories.

  2. Liana

    MIDDLESEX, by Jeffrey Eugenides (I believe this is the closest we have to a twenty-first century American Epic) AGREED!

  3. Emotional Mommie

    Love the List….What about ‘Great Expectations’, Charles Dickens
    I am 31 (I Think). How this happens< I do not know, I grew up without books. My parents didn't own a book shelve (probably bcuz they didn't have any books). No matter!! I am excited about this list of suggestions :) Cervantes, 'Don Quixote de la Mancha; Homer, The Odyssey are some, to name a few, of my favorite Literary Works.

  4. ivonprefontaine

    Some great books on the list, but your best point was the comment about Powell’s in Portland. It is a place I am tempted to take my camping gear to when I visit the Rose City. It is just plain amazing that store.

  5. Jason

    Me and my wife continue to fill our home with books, and it’s comforting to know that our children (7 and 3), after we turn the lights out and say goodnight, often get out of bed to read books to each other well past bedtime. I look forward to one day sharing this story, and our many books, with my children.

  6. angloadventure

    I was debating whether I’d make it to the library today. This list inspired me to go and get reading, so thanks! If I made a list, I’d include Mouse, even though it’s a graphic novel. So good.
    Now to the library!

  7. bookstomark

    This list is great– I am going to get right on it! Personally, I would also add anything by Sharon Creech (especially Walk Two Moons!). Loved the commentary for A Farewell to Arms/ Tender is the Night.

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