The books to read before you turn 30

Stock up your bookshelf before your twenties tick away...

There are certain tales that should be told before you grow up. We’re not talking fairytales. We’re not talking picture books. We’re talking stories that inform, teach and make you think on a different level. 

Books that advise you or influence you as you’re working out who you are, and put their own stamp on you as a person. These are the tales you must read – the books to pick up before you turn 30.

The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D Salinger

It may be a cliche, but it’s a cliche for a reason. J.D Salinger’s tale of teenage angst and inner turmoil is a masterpiece – one of the great American novels. But its majesty comes not from the writing – which is simple and colloquial – but rather the way that by the time you shut the cover, you feel closer to protagonist Holden Caulfield than anybody else in his life.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve never met a prostitute, been expelled or had a fist fight in a hotel room – Salinger’s excellent story follows its protagonist’s thought processes to such an extent that you can relate to every of his myriad issues, from alienation to frequent lying. A must read.

On the Road, by Jack Kerouac

Like The Catcher in the Rye, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road is a book best read before you grow too old – because of its sheer power to influence who you are as a personal. Readers have epiphanies and revelations as they flick through its pages, realise that they’re not on the right track themselves and peg the rest of their life against the Beat writer’s second novel.

Split into five parts, it’s not an overly long book – but it will stay with you. Read it now, when you’re young, and it’ll fill you with wonder. Leave it too late, and it’ll fill you with regret.

East of Eden, by John Steinbeck

Published just one year after The Catcher in the Rye, Nobel Prize winner John Steinbeck originally wrote this novel for his young sons – to describe their native Salinas Valley in detail.

What sprung from Steinbeck’s mind, however, was a contemplation on life – how the world moves in cycles, destiny is inescapable, but your time on earth can still be unique and wholly your own. Weighed down with religious allegory, this is nonetheless a tale that has stood the tests of time, and is as pertinent to the youth of today as it was over half a century ago.

To the Lighthouse

Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse is 90 years old this year, and remains the paragon of the introspective modernist novel. Following the story of a group of friends over time, Woolf takes us into their heads one by one, and thus the pages hold very little dialogue.

Instead, like Salinger and Steinbeck, Woolf lays bare the human condition, showing us the fears and hopes of the protagonists and allowing young readers to address these questions and worries in themselves.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Every young man may want the life of Dorian Gray – sex, hedonism, decadence, fine wines and finer women – but Oscar Wilde’s widely celebrated novel introduces young men to the unsexy but important world of consequences.

Corrupted by the city of London, and his own urges, Gray soon delves into depravity – his selfishness and vanity leading him down a terrible path. An education in the importance of modesty, the tale itself is supplemented further by Wilde’s unbelievable wit and nose for a lasting one-liner.

Further Reading