Books Before 30

My list of books to read before I am 30; any book can be added, none can be removed.

Idea lovingly yoinked and modified from Simon’s 40 before 40.

  • Behind The Scenes At The Museum by Kate Atkinson
    Recommended by Elena.
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – Finished reading 03.06.12
    I have only read one Jane Austin novel, Persuasion, I would like to read her earlier work.
  • Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen – Finished reading 06.12.12
    Recommended by Crissy.
  • Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen – Finished readiong 25.12.12
    Recommended by my friend Xena.
  • Silk by Alessandro Baricco
    Recommended by Crissy.
  • The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks – Finished reading 19.01.13
    My friend’s band is named after this book.
  • The House in Paris by Elizabeth Bowen
    Recommended by The Northern Reader.
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte – Finished reading 06.10.12
    I loved the BBC adaptation; I know I will love this book.
  • The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
    Recommend by Crissy as her favourite book.
  • The Spy Who Came In From The Cold by John Le Carre
    Recommended by Dan
  • Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
  • The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins – Finished reading 23.08.13
    I studied The Moonstone at University and loved it, I’ve heard The Woman in White is the superior novel.
  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
    This will be h only Dickens on the list. Charlie has read this one; ‘I would suggest adding Dickens, but from what I’ve read (Great Expectations) and what I’ve heard from others, while the stories are good, if you’re looking to find hope in the classics, the extreme number of unnecessary words can be very off-putting – worth adding later, perhaps.’
  • Birdsong by Sebastian Faulk
    My friend Harriet adored it and recommended it to me.
  • The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald
    As with Hemingway. I had also heard his other novels were never as good as Gatsby.
  • The Beginning of Spring by Penelope Fitzgerald – Unfinished 03.02.14
    Recommended by EmilyBooks.
  • Dune by Frank Herbert – Unfinished 22.06.12: I just could not get through it; perhaps I will come back to it later.
    Recommended to me by many friends as the ultimate science fiction novel
  • Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
    I remember a guy I went to school naming his band after this book. It is also a term commonly used, I would like to discover its origin.
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
    I have thus avoided this book because it is set in a situation I know nothing about. I loved his writing style in The Sun Also Rises, so I need to try his other works.
  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac
    Recommended by Crissy.
  • Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier – Finished reading 19.02.13
    Both my parents have read and enjoyed this book, this is their recommendation.
  • Paradise Lost by John Milton
  • Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell
    The film doesn’t interest me at all, but once I discovered there was a book I was intrigued.
  • The Blue Castle by L M Montgomery – Finished reading 14.07.14
    Recommended by Charli
  • The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
    Practically every girl who has read this has said they loved it, and that it made them cry, I like a book that makes me emotive.
  • Appointment in Samarra by John O’Hara – Finished reading 01.07.12
    Because of the Paul Thomas Saunders of the same name
  • Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell – Finished reading 25.03.13
    This is a book everyone talks about, I would like to understand what they are saying.
  • Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust
  • The Tunnel by Ernesto Sábato
    Recommended by Crissy.
  • Blindness by José Saramago
    Recommended by Crissy.
  • Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare
  • I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith – Finished reading 06.04.13
    Recommended by Charli
  • Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
    Recommended by Anna.
  • The Warden by Anthony Trollope
  • Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope
    Trollope is mentioned off hand by Dylan Moran’s character Bernard Black in one my favourite comedy series, Black Books; how else to choose literature but through comedy. The reason I have also listed The Warden is that this is the first book of the series, but of what I have read, people prefer Barchester Towers.
  • Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh
    I find the 20s and the hedonistic Bright Young Things fascinating
  • Small Island by Andrea Levy – Finished reading 04.10.14
  • Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons – Unfinished. Not my cup of tea.
  • The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
  • Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
  • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  • The Trial by Franz Kafka
  • Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee – Unfinished. Not my cup of tea.
  • A Crime in the Neighborhood by Suzanne Berne
  • When I Lived in Modern Times by Linda Grant
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
  • Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe – Finished reading 21.07.14
  • The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
  • Middlemarch by George Eliot
  • The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingwayread!
  • Foreign Affairs by Alison Lurie
  • The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx
  • Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • March by Geraldine Brooks
  • Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
  • A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore
  • Oroonoko by Aphra Ben
  • On Writing by Stephen King
  • All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
  • The Fingersmith by Sarah Waters  – Read!
  • The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
  • The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making

18 thoughts on “Books Before 30

  1. How about The Blue Castle by L M Montgomery? There’s a free ebook on Gutenberg Australia. It’s not serious or particularly thought-provoking but it’s a riot and sort of a forgotten classic (don’t be put off by the romance covers, even if there is romance in it). And I Capture The Castle, definitely.


  2. I saw your plea on Twitter for more book recommendations, and I am nothing if not a fan of sharing cultural tastes of mine as a form of showing off.

    You already have my favourite book on your list; Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell. Read that, then come back and finish this comment.

    See? It’s really great, right?

    Otherwise, a book that holds a place in my mind is Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. Before we go any further; if you are unfortunate to have bore witness to the witless adaptation as a feature film, then I implore to expel as many frames from your memory as possible and start the book a fresh. If you haven’t seen the film; don’t. It’s atrocious.

    The book is a better example of post-modern literature than anything I’ve read by Palahniuk or Vonnegut. It’s also a beautiful example of learning about characters without any explicit information. You grow over the book to know Oskar the same way you would understand any child; not by the things he does or the things he says, but the *way* he does and says them. I love this book. It’s very playful with the novel as a form, as well. I cannot stress this enough; this book will ONLY work as a paperback. Do not get it on a Kindle. It won’t work. Trust me.

    If you’ve ready that, or don’t fancy it, then another book I’ve read recently and enjoyed was the breakout novel of John Le Carre; The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. This was before Tinker, Tailer, Soldier, Spy and is the story that gave him fame. It’s a very tight, unforgiving cold war tale, but with a beauty at it’s heart that can only be seen when surrounded by the callousness of the world of The Circus, created by Le Carre. This is a quick read, and if you don’t like Spy Fiction, don’t worry. More than any of his other books, this transcends the genre it’s written in and I think appeals to a broad audience.

    And if you’ve given up on reading, but still want a story, listen to Our Mutual Friend by The Divine Comedy, from the album, Absent Friends. If I’m honest, listen to the whole album, but this one track is a grand novel condensed into a devastating song.

    Anyway, that should be enough to be getting on with. I’ve been told endlessly to read Rebecca and I see it was on your list, too. I shall add it to mine.


    1. Consider 1984 begun! It’s a slow process, but I’m finding it hard to motivate myself to read at the moment. I’ve reached the Hate.

      I’ve read Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, I enjoyed it; it made me cry. It is always one I forget I have read. I don’t want to see the film, I’ve seen clips and I wasn’t impressed.

      I’ve added The Spy Who Came In From The Cold to my list, short and pithy is what I enjoy in my spy fiction, other wise I become disinterested.

      (Music rec also noted, because I do love a good music recommendation as well.)

      Yes, definitely read Rebecca, it is wonderful! Well 2/3 of it is wonderful the last 1/3 is okay.


  3. What a fabulous project! I hope you might find some more books to fall in love with on my blog, TheNorthern Reader. My Desert Island book? The House in Paris by Elizabeth Bowen (or that’s my choice for today, anyway). Best wishes from the north: as you so rightly say, there is a lot more to Britain than London!


  4. I recommend you “Behind the Scenes at the Museum” for a moving, feminist and lovely read. Maybe it’s a not a 30 before 30 book, but seeing what you like over at my blog, you’ll like it 😉


  5. I’d recommend:
    A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khalid Hosseini
    The Fingersmith, Sarah Waters and basically anything she’s written
    Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden
    The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
    The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy

    Good to see you doing your thing here chook – love your blog. I’m sure we must be due some kind of uni reunion soon – can’t believe it’s nearly 7 years since we graduated!



    1. Bryony! So lovely hear from you 😀 Hope you’re well. I can’t believe its been that long either, very scary.

      Thank you for the recommendations; I’ve read Gatsby and Hosseini, but I’ll definitely have to add The Fingersmith and The God of Small Things (I tried Memoirs of a Geisha and didn’t enjoy it).



  6. Hi Alice. 🙂 I came here to ask if I could yoink your yoinked idea and then I felt the urge to add a recommendation as well so here goes. 😉 Not sure if fantasy/children’s novels are your sort of thing but I read The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making (I know, long title) a while ago and I LOVED it. It is a little bit The Little Prince-ish (which I will recommend too, in case you haven’t read it yet) but then with a more solid story line as well and less… floaty. Still, I enjoyed both books. 🙂 Give them a try if they sound like your sort of thing.


  7. Something by Willa Cather. A beautiful writer who was somewhat overwhelmed by louder voices in the twentieth century, now we are starting to appreciate her more. My Antonia and O Pioneers! are perhaps her most famous, but take your pick of what looks interesting to you. And something by Thornton Wilder. In addition to his iconic plays, he wrote eight novels – The Bridge of San Luis Rey and Theophilus North are my favorites, but all of them are interesting.


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