Skip to content

30 Going on 30

2012 June 11
by Jill

This weekend, Flavorwire posted a list of “30 Books Everyone Should Read Before They Turn 30.”  I love lists of recommended books, books I “need” to read, “greatest books EVER,” etc. But this seemed like a strange categorization. Why 30? When you turn 30, are you no longer allowed to expand your reading horizons? If you haven’t read a certain classic, are you destined to lament it for the rest of your shriveled, sad, old life? Is your character and intelligence cemented forever when you turn 30, so that no matter what you read after that fateful birthday, it’s not going to have any impact on your worldview?

Of course, I may be extra-sensitive to this seemingly arbitrary designation because I turned 30 just last month, and it’s galling t think that I’ve somehow “missed out” on all of these books I haven’t yet read. Just for kicks, here’s a list of the books, with those I haven’t read yet bolded.

  1. The Iliad and the Odyssey: Homer
  2. The Secret History: Donna Tartt
  3. Jesus’ Son: Denis Johnson
  4. The Complete Stories: Flannery O’Connor
  5. Much Ado about Nothing: William Shakespeare
  6. The Sun Also Rises: Ernest Hemingway
  7. The Road: Cormac McCarthy
  8. Maus: Art Spiegelman
  9. Ender’s Game: Orson Scott Card
  10. Pride and Prejudice: Jane Austen
  11. Middlesex: Jeffrey Eugenides
  12. Ghost World: Daniel Clowes
  13. On the Road: Jack Kerouac
  14. Their Eyes Were Watching God: Zora Neale Hurston
  15. Cat’s Cradle: Kurt Vonnegut
  16. Lolita: Vladimir Nabokov
  17. The Lord of the Rings: J.R.R. Tolkien
  18. 1984: George Orwell
  19. The Catcher in the Rye: J.D. Salinger
  20. The Great Gatsby: F. Scott Fitzgerald
  21. Beloved: Toni Morrison
  22. Infinite Jest: David Foster Wallace
  23. Lord of the Flies: William Golding
  24. Don Quixote: Miguel de Cervantes
  25. The Trial: Franz Kafka
  26. To the Lighthouse: Virginia Woolf
  27. Fahrenheit 451: Ray Bradbury
  28. Invisible Man: Ralph Ellison
  29. To Kill a Mockingbird: Harper Lee
  30. Treasure Island: Robert Louis Stevenson
I have read exactly half of this prescribed list of “must reads.” What happens now? Is my membership card for the “30-year old Readers’ Club” revoked if I don’t hurry up and read the remaining 15 by my 31st birthday? Or have I already run out of time? What if I don’t WANT to read some of these books? I have absolutely no interest in reading The Lord of the Rings books, or Don Quixote, or any Homer, I don’t care what you say. Also, I hated On the Road, The Road, and the Secret History, for the record. I don’t know if that makes me abnormal, but I’m okay with that.
Like I said, I love these types of lists, and I know it’s all in good fun, but there’s something pejorative in delineating 30 as this magical age where you step across an invisible line of adulthood where your character is fully formed forever. What’s the point of even reading anymore? I might as well just give up now.
Does anyone else feel this way about these types of reading lists? Am I crazy?


*image via Nature’s Best

13 Responses Post a comment
  1. Jessica permalink
    June 11, 2012

    I’m always a fan of “Who cares what people tell me to do”, but I do highly recommend “Cat’s Cradle” (Kurt Vonnegut is one of my absolute favourite authors!) as well as “Their Eyes Were Watching God”. I hope you do, and I hope you love them. :)

    • Jill permalink
      June 11, 2012

      Thanks Jessica! I love Vonnegut as well, but I haven’t gotten around to Cat’s Cradle yet. And I’ve always wanted to read Their Eyes Were Watching God. Thanks for the recs!

  2. June 11, 2012

    Hmm, I love a good book list, but this seems like a kind of arbitrary group. I also take exception with #1 on the list. After slogging through both The Iliad and The Odyssey in college, I’d say they deserve credit as two separate books, not one!

    • Jill permalink
      June 12, 2012

      Amen! It seems like a copout to just lump them together…they’re two totally different stories! Just pick one. Geez.

  3. Amy permalink
    June 11, 2012

    I’ve only read 10 of these books and I just turned 35, unscathed all these years. Lists like this do hold a lot of appeal, if only because crossing things off of them brings me great satisfaction, but really–who is coming up with this stuff?! I second Jessica’s recommendation of Their Eyes Were Watching God. It’s a quick read and oh, what a love story. My dad adores Tolkein and has read the LOTR trilogy multiple times, so I read the first book a few years ago, after the movies had started coming out. I appreciated Tolkein’s skill, but good lord, those battle scenes were tedious to read! I got halfway through the second book and abandoned it. I couldn’t wade through all the descriptions and details and names and sidelines. Enough, J.R.R. We get it. You created a whole world.

    • Jill permalink
      June 12, 2012

      Yeah, I can’t see myself dealing well with the LOTR stuff…I haven’t even gotten around to seeing the movies, and I think I’m one of the few people in the world who can say that. I appreciate that he’s good at what he does (did…), but it’s just not my thing. I won’t apologize for that.

  4. Amy permalink
    June 11, 2012

    Ugh, I spelled Tolkien wrong.

  5. June 11, 2012

    I’m 43 and I’ve only read 14 of those books. There are a few that I think I’d like to read, but I’ve been purposely avoiding Lord of the Flies since I was a teen.

    • Jill permalink
      June 12, 2012

      I would say…keep avoiding it. It’s relevant when you’re a teenager, but if you didn’t have to read it for school, your reading time can be better spent.

  6. June 11, 2012

    i have read like 13 of these books and i think i am pretty well read! i am posting about this tomorrow and totally reference you so check it out! incidentally, i thought the secret history was very well written but i don’t get why its on the list and not 100 years of solitude or in cold blood? what the hell??


    • Jill permalink
      June 12, 2012

      Yeah, this list has some very huge flaws. I would make my own list if I wasn’t so put off by the idea of the list in the first place!

  7. Raquel permalink
    June 12, 2012

    Oh Jill, don’t you know that by the time you’re 30 you are irrelevant and no one gives a shit what you do ever again and you should just give up and crawl into a hole and hide in shame at being THIRTY OR OLDER?

    In case you didn’t pick up on it, I was wearing my sarcasm hat while saying that. Of course, it’s a hat anyone under the age of 30 would decry as being FRUMPY.

    I’ve realized that any list of “things you must do by XX age” usually tends to be pretty stupid, because we’re all individual and move at our own pace. Not all of us need to do the same things or move at the same pace or read the same books in order to self-actualize, have meaningful experiences, or contribute to the world. Bah, says the 31-year-old-spiritual-85-year-old-curmudgeon! 😉

    Also, publications seem to regurgitate these meaningless lists when they have nothing else relevant to say. They must be over the age of 30 then!

  8. Dawn permalink
    July 3, 2012

    That IS a funny designation. Perhaps it should be more aptly titled with something having to do with what to read before embarking on motherhood… as I’m (sadly) learning from friends who are new moms, magazines are the new novels. That is not allowed to happen to me…. hold me to it, please?

Leave a Reply

Note: You may use basic HTML in your comments. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS