The Big Read Blog (Archive)

Literary Challenge Accepted: 30+ Books to Read Before 30

October 12, 2012

A photo of the author's "30 Books by 30" list. Photo by J. Rachel Gustafson

I graduated from undergrad on a muggy April morning in 2007. No more homework, no more reading, and regular paychecks---yes, sign me up. This was the way of the world. Jobs are for adults and it was my time to be one.

What is not in the brochure for adulthood is that a regular nine-to-five job is a rather drastic change for most 20-somethings. This is particularly daunting for those of us with desk jobs where sitting and reading text on a computer for eight hours a day is rather fundamental. You forget that reading---the very thing that hounds you during the day---can free you after hours. I lost track of my love of reading those first few years out of school. The most alarming part, however, was I didn’t even realize it.

It took a blog post from the swell folks at Flavorwire to wake me up. They provided a list of 30 books that everyone should read before 30. A lot of the books were classics, a lot of the books were classics in the making, and the majority of them I had not read. I was shocked. I thought I was well-read. I thought I was a book nerd. I was in a book club! How could this happen? Then my competitive side made an appearance. I tweeted the link and thought of two simple words: “challenge accepted.”

Most can agree it is hard to find time to slow down and unwind with a book. That being said, reading makes me happy. I have time for happy. I wrote down Flavorwire’s list in my day book (a journal of sorts) along with an additional list from the blog Divine Caroline, checked off the books I had already read, and left the others with empty boxes to be checked for future literary conquest.

As I worked my way through the list, I found myself adding additional books just as fast as I was finishing them. As of today, I have 43 books in total, ten of which are checked off. I am 27. I am a young adult in America. And I have 33 books to read in 922 days. For those keeping score at home, that’s approximately one book every 27 days, or a book a month. These books aren’t exactly the Hardy Boys---some move more quickly than others, but I am girl on a mission.

This list and its books have become a new source of joy. Every time I exhaust a novel’s last lines and check it off the list, I miss them like old friends. I just completed Jack Kerouac’s On the Road last weekend and picked up George Orwell’s 1984 the following Monday. I’m on page 113 and well into section two of the book. Winston and Julia are with me on the Metro, in between my grad school classes, and even, I daresay, in bed. Years from now when I think back about my 20s, their stories will be part of my story, along with Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty. Next on the list is Lolita by Vladimir Nobokov. I can’t help but think about the experiences yet to come that will be tied to this next cast of characters as I drift closer and closer to my third decade.

To readers, young and old, what’s on your list? What is missing from mine? If there is one thing I’ve learned from this experience, it is the importance of keeping balance between work and what you’re working for, the life you enjoy. Slow down, write down a list of books, give yourself a deadline, and meticulously and blissfully attack it. Re-engage with reading. That is what the Big Read is all about. Take charge and restore reading in your own life. You will not be disappointed. And of course, please, share your experience with us. I believe we are a nation of book nerds at heart.

Rachel’s 30+ Books Before 30

The Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
Much Ado About Nothing by Shakespeare
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Maus by Art Spiegelman
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides
Ghost World by Daniel Clowes
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
1984 by George Orwell
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes
The Trial by Franz Kafka
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
Petersburg by Andrei Bely
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee
Treasure Island
by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Reef
by Edith Wharton
by Hermann Hesse
A Clockwork Orange
by Anthony Burgess
For Whom the Bell Tolls
by Ernest Hemingway
War and Peace
by Leo Tolstoy
One Hundred Years of Solitude
by Gabriel García Márquez
The Social Contract 
by Jean-Jacques Rousseau
The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Cosmos by Witold Gombrowicz
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller


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