Once upon a time, I read more hours than I slept. I’d forget to eat on Saturdays because I was too busy reading all day. I’d get headaches from not eating! Aside from picking raspberries, my favorite way to spend my time was wandering through the library, searching for the next book I’d delve into.
And then I became an English major.
Suddenly, I was reading the same amount, but they were no longer books of my choosing. A few of the books were amazing (anyone who hasn’t read Kafka’s The Trial needs to read it ASAP!), but a lot of the reading didn’t particularly interest me. Upon graduating from college (back in 2010), I decided to take a break from reading. And aside from a few great books that I’ve read, I’ve never consistently resumed my passion for reading.
Time for a change! I’ll be turning the lovely age of 30 in 20 months. So, a goal: read 20 books before I turn 30. I wanted to create the list now, because whenever I go the library these days, I end up with a book I’m only slightly interested in. I’m thinking I’ll do a small post after I finish each book. I just started reading The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. I’ll need to fly through this book, because December is already partly finished. Loving it already.
So, other than #1 on this list is the first book I’m reading, I will be reading these books in no particular order. I chose some books that I’ve intended on reading for years, some totally random books that had interesting reviews, and a good portion are books I’ve never heard of, but ended up on a variety of lists recommended to be read before turning 30 (it’s amazing how many of those lists are out there!).
And now, a list of books I’ll be reading over the next 20 months, along with basic descriptions that I took from Amazon (the descriptions are mainly to remind and help me choose the next book to tackle):
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
About: The Bell Jar chronicles the crack-up of Esther Greenwood: brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under — maybe for the last time. Sylvia Plath masterfully draws the reader into Esther’s breakdown with such intensity that Esther’s insanity becomes completely real and even rational, as probable and accessible an experience as going to the movies.
Why: I’d say this book inspired me to get reading again. A friend posted on Facebook that they were graduating and looking for books to read for fun. One of her friends suggested this book and called it a novel of poetry (or something to that extent). I’ve never been one to love poetry, but I figured I should read Sylvia Plath at some point in my life, so why not read her when I am near the same age as she was when this book was written!
The Catastrophist by Lawrence Douglas
About: Meet Daniel Wellington: art historian, academic star, devoted husband, and total basket case. Although Daniel has known nothing but success, he’s convinced the future promises nothing but disaster. When his wife, known simply as R., presents him with a tiny, size-XXS Yale sweatshirt, Daniel is seized by the impulse to bolt; the specter of imminent fatherhood sends him into a full-blown existential crisis. Soon this well-intentioned young professor finds himself plotting bigamy, lying about his past, imagining his pregnant wife in the arms of an androgynous grad student, and explaining to the dean his obscene e-mail to the lead in a student production of Miss Julie.
Why: I found this book at Ken Sander’s bookshop and it sounded hilarious. Anything with the word existential in its description is sure to interest me. I hope it’s as entertaining as it is likely to be depressing.
3. Animal Farm by George Orwell
About: As ferociously fresh as it was more than a half century ago, this remarkable allegory of a downtrodden society of overworked, mistreated animals and their quest to create a paradise of progress, justice, and equality is one of the most scathing satires ever published. As readers witness the rise and bloody fall of the revolutionary animals, they begin to recognize the seeds of totalitarianism in the most idealistic organization—and in the most charismatic leaders, the souls of the cruelest oppressors.
Why: I, of course, loved 1984, so it is obvious that this book needed to be on my list, as it is a classic novel reproaching certain societies.
4. Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
About: In the novel, Siddhartha, a young man, leaves his family for a contemplative life, then, restless, discards it for one of the flesh. He conceives a son, but bored and sickened by lust and greed, moves on again. Near despair, Siddhartha comes to a river where he hears a unique sound. This sound signals the true beginning of his life — the beginning of suffering, rejection, peace, and, finally, wisdom.
Why: Ever read The Alchemist? I’m hoping that this book will be slightly similar to it, because of the soul searching and unique connections with the environment.
5. Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers
About: The great Dorothy L. Sayers is considered by many to be the premier detective novelist of the Golden Age, and her dashing sleuth, Lord Peter Wimsey, one of mystery fiction’s most enduring and endearing protagonists. Gaudy Night takes Harriet and her paramour, Lord Peter, to Oxford University, Harriet’s alma mater, for a reunion, only to find themselves the targets of a nightmare of harassment and mysterious, murderous threats.
Why: Surely every good book list needs some sort of mystery novel.
6. A Room with a View by E.M. Forster
About: In common with much of his other writing, this work by the eminent English novelist and essayist E. M. Forster (1879–1970) displays an unusually perceptive view of British society in the early 20th century. Written in 1908, A Room with a View is a social comedy set in Florence, Italy, and Surrey, England. Its heroine, Lucy Honeychurch, struggling against straitlaced Victorian attitudes of arrogance, narrow-mindedness and snobbery, falls in love-while on holiday in Italy-with the socially unsuitable George Emerson.
Why: Honestly, this book doesn’t completely get me excited about reading, but it was on so many of the recommended novels that I figured I should give it a shot. Reading the back of Crime and Punishment gave me the same feeling of disinterest, and I absolutely loved that read.
7. Ada, or Ardor by Vladimir Nabokov
About: Published two weeks after Vladimir Nabokov’s seventieth birthday, Ada, or Ardor is one of his greatest masterpieces, the glorious culmination of his career as a novelist. It tells a love story troubled by incest, but it is also at once a fairy tale, epic, philosophical treatise on the nature of time, parody of the history of the novel, and erotic catalogue.
Why: Confession: I started, but never finished Lolita, and I know I will go back to that novel at some point, but I was fascinated by the description of this Nabokov’s work. I hope I can find a translation that I like. It’s amazing how a translation of a novel can make such a difference.
Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer
About: Jon Krakauer’s literary reputation rests on insightful chronicles of lives conducted at the outer limits. He now shifts his focus from extremes of physical adventure to extremes of religious belief within our own borders, taking readers inside isolated American communities where some 40,000 Mormon Fundamentalists still practice polygamy.
Why: This book feels like it is full of controversy, and especially surrounding the polygamous religion, which has always fascinated me.
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
About: We live as we dream–alone…. Heart of Darkness is a short novel written by Joseph Conrad, presented as a frame narrative, about Charles Marlow s job as an ivory transporter down the Congo River in Central Africa. This river is described to be … a mighty big river, that you could see on the map, resembling an immense snake uncoiled, with its head in the sea, its body at rest curving afar over a vast country, and its tail lost in the depths of the land. In the course of his commercial-agent work in Africa, the seaman Marlow becomes obsessed by Mr. Kurtz, an ivory-procurement agent, a man of established notoriety among the natives and the European colonials. The story is a thematic exploration of the savagery-versus-civilization relationship, and of the colonialism and the racism that make imperialism possible.
Why: Two reasons: 1) Pete liked the book, and I can’t have him reading more books than me. I’ll catch up eventually. 2) I once shadowed a high school class who was reading this book, and their discussion was impressive and interesting enough to encourage me to read this book.
10. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
About: Marriage can be a real killer. On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?
Why: Because every good book list should have 2 mystery novels…. Right?
11. The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron
About: In 1933, the delightfully eccentric travel writer Robert Byron set out on a journey through the Middle East via Beirut, Jerusalem, Baghdad and Teheran to Oxiana, near the border between Afghanistan and the Soviet Union. Throughout, he kept a thoroughly captivating record of his encounters, discoveries, and frequent misadventures.
Why: Travel memoirs are some of the funniest reads I’ve experienced, and I especially love reading travel novels on places I’ve yet to visit.
About: Composed with the skills of a master, The Goldfinch is a haunted odyssey through present day America and a drama of enthralling force and acuity.
It begins with a boy. Theo Decker, a thirteen-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don’t know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his unbearable longing for his mother, he clings to one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.
As an adult, Theo moves silkily between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty labyrinth of an antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love-and at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.
The Goldfinch is a novel of shocking narrative energy and power. It combines unforgettably vivid characters, mesmerizing language, and breathtaking suspense, while plumbing with a philosopher’s calm the deepest mysteries of love, identity, and art. It is a beautiful, stay-up-all-night and tell-all-your-friends triumph, an old-fashioned story of loss and obsession, survival and self-invention, and the ruthless machinations of fate.
Why: This book is 800-ish pages, so it’ll be quite hefty to trek around to and from work, but from the reviews I’ve read, it sounds like it’ll be worth it!
13. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
About: A vicious fifteen-year-old “droog” is the central character of this 1963 classic, whose stark terror was captured in Stanley Kubrick’s magnificent film of the same title. In Anthony Burgess’s nightmare vision of the future, where criminals take over after dark, the story is told by the central character, Alex, who talks in a brutal invented slang that brilliantly renders his and his friends’ social pathology. A Clockwork Orange is a frightening fable about good and evil, and the meaning of human freedom. When the state undertakes to reform Alex—to “redeem” him—the novel asks, “At what cost?”
Why: This book’s description is terrifying, so I’ll give it a shot. It’s unlikely that I’ll watch the film; for whatever reason, I can handle scary novels (aside from the R.L. Stine novels from the late 90s–too terrifying for a fourth grader), but I rarely can survive a horror film.
14. The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls
About: Jeannette Walls grew up with parents whose ideals and stubborn nonconformity were both their curse and their salvation. Rex and Rose Mary Walls had four children. In the beginning, they lived like nomads, moving among Southwest desert towns, camping in the mountains. What is so astonishing about Jeannette Walls is not just that she had the guts and tenacity and intelligence to get out, but that she describes her parents with such deep affection and generosity. Hers is a story of triumph against all odds, but also a tender, moving tale of unconditional love in a family that despite its profound flaws gave her the fiery determination to carve out a successful life on her own terms.
Why: I’m hoping that this is a feel good book. If it’s not, I’ll probably love it all the more.
15. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
About: Deeply moving study of the tyrannical and rigid requirements of New York high society in the late 19th century and the effect of those strictures on the lives of three people. Vividly characterized drama of affection thwarted by a man’s sense of honor, family, and societal pressures. A long-time favorite with readers and critics alike.
Why: Yep, I’m interested.
16. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
About: Set in Italy during World War II, this is the story of the incomparable, malingering bombardier, Yossarian, a hero who is furious because thousands of people he has never met are trying to kill him. But his real problem is not the enemy—it is his own army, which keeps increasing the number of missions the men must fly to complete their service. Yet if Yossarian makes any attempt to excuse himself from the perilous missions he’s assigned, he’ll be in violation of Catch-22, a hilariously sinister bureaucratic rule: a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, but if he makes a formal request to be removed from duty, he is proven sane and therefore ineligible to be relieved.
Why: One of my favorite novels of all time is A Confederacy of Dunces. I simply googled “books like confederacy of dunces” and Catch-22 kept coming up as a hilarious read. I’ll happily give it a shot, but it will be tough competition to beat out A Confederacy of Dunces as my new favorite funny book.
17. Europe on 5 Wrong Turns a Day by Doug Mack
Why: My mom gave us this book for Christmas, and it looks hilarious. I’m reading it now, and it think I’ll enjoy his views of traveling on a budget (as Pete and I have been in the same situation before).
18. – 20. Divergent series by Veronica Roth
About: In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.
Why: I enjoyed the story of The Hunger Games, even though I couldn’t stand the writing (which was a clear example of how terribly wrong first person narration can go). But, I did like the story, as I’ve said, and I think that this trilogy will be the same. I’ve got it on my list because I know at some point, I’ll want some sort of light read that is basically an action film in writing.
So, there you have it! I’ll be crossing these books off as I go, along with a little blurb on my thoughts after finishing each novel.