Earlier this week, we stumbled across a list over at Divine Caroline of thirty books everyone should read before they’re thirty. While we totally agreed with some of the picks, we thought there were some essential reads missing, so we decided to put together a list of our own. We stuck to fiction for simplicity’s sake, and chose the books below on a variety of criteria, selecting enduring classics that have been informing new literature since their first printing, stories that speak specifically or most powerfully to younger readers, and books we simply couldn’t imagine reaching thirty without having read. Of course, we hope that you read more than thirty books by the time you hit your fourth decade, so this list is incomplete — but we had to stop somewhere. Click through to read the books we think everyone should read before their thirtieth birthday, and let us know which ones you would add in the comments.
The Iliad and The Odyssey, Homer
Two of the oldest existing works of Western literature, these stories have in some way informed almost every quest and adventure tale written in the last thirteen centuries or so. Plus they’re frankly rollicking good tales. Especially if you read them in Greek.
The Secret History, Donna Tartt
Tartt’s obscenely beloved first novel — pagan rituals, elusive love affairs, youths murderous and studious in equal measure — should be read freshman year of college, during the winter. Trust us.
Jesus’ Son, Denis Johnson
A ferocious collection of short stories told from the perspective of a strange young addict in a small Iowa town. It will knock you down, no matter how old you are.
The Complete Stories, Flannery O’Connor
The master of Southern gothic’s sharply spun tales whirr with comedy, grotesquerie, and insight.
Much Ado About Nothing, William Shakespeare
We expect that by the time you’re 30 you’ll have read several Shakespeare plays — we recommend one per year at least, starting at age 12 — but this one is our favorite.