30 Amazing Books to Read Before You Turn 30

Books Galleries
Share Tweet Submit Pin

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

It's time to break the first rule of fight club and talk about Fight Club. Perhaps Chuck Palahniuk's most famous novel, Fight Club highlights the possible ramifications of anarchist ideals taking on real world consequences. Through exploring modern culture with a satirical lens, Palahniuk weaves a compelling story that encourages you to examine your own beliefs. Even if you've seen the Palahniuk-approved film adaptation, it's worth returning to the source material and using Fight Club as a jumping off point for the writer's edgier narratives. Frannie Jackson

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

Nearly 27 years has passed since Geek Love was published, but Katherine Dunn has yet to follow it up. It's hardly a stretch to see why; the novel is so completely realized, so comprehensively detailed, so committed to its deeply plangent batshittery that one can't imagine Dunn has anything more to give. The novel tells the story of the Binewski clan from the perspective of daughter Oly, an albino, hunchbacked dwarf brought into the world by radioactive waste and her parents' insane desire to lead a successful traveling freak show with actual "freaks." As Oly details the lives of her siblings and colleagues—her flipper-limbed brother, Siamese twin sisters and "normal" baby brother harboring telekinetic powers—portraits of familial pathos, superheroic mythmaking and magical realism emerge. The narrative doesn't so much dovetail into a grand allegory about the perils of playing God or the underbelly of the American Dream as it literally blows up into something far broader. Geek Love, in all of its weirdness and wonder and mind-bending incest, is nothing less than one of the 20th century's most indelible tragedies. Dom Sinacola

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

I read this book when I was 25, but it made me feel 15 again. Hell, it made me feel 10 again. And yet, I am not certain I would have fully appreciated its nuances had I encountered it at an earlier age, despite it being shelved in the juvenile or young adult fiction section. Suspend disbelief and embrace the premise of an orphan boy seeking sanctuary in a cemetery to escape from a wraith-like villain, ultimately finding a loose-knit family of surrogates in the formerly-six-feet-under apparitions. Neil Gaiman is so good at taking the surreal and the sublime, the dreamlike and the dreadful, and making it commonplace. His narration makes it as though it were perfectly possible for a boy, known as "Nobody" or "Bod" for short, to find a field of graves materialized into a neighborhood of ghosts to guide him through adolescence. But what of this stalking enemy who waits for the boy just outside the gates…the same one who murdered his parents? There are myriad metaphors any reader could apply to this haunting antagonist, so I won't ruin it by sharing my own take. Suffice it to say, "Bod" has to leave the graveyard at some point to face this frightening foe. Jeff Milo

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

What began as a children's series about an orphaned boy whisked away to a magical school developed into one of the most beloved book franchises of all time, turning its then-unknown author into a billionaire. But forget the movies, the theme parks, the college Quidditch teams and the ubiquitous halloween costumes. None of that would exist if this coming-of-age story, begun in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, wasn't so completely enchanting. J.K. Rowling's wizarding world is so well developed—and her characters so lifelike—that legions of fans abandoned work, social interaction and even sleep every time a new entry was released. It earned its place alongside the giants of the fantasy genre with gripping tales about the boy who lived. Josh Jackson

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

The smartest thing the producers of the film adaptation of Nick Hornby's novel did was keep the book's words as intact as possible, having John Cusack break the fourth wall and read passages directly to the viewers. That's what inspired me to first pick up the book, and hopefully it will inspire you, too, because High Fidelity is essential reading for anyone in that weird "How did I get here?" stage of adulthood. Sure, the top five lists and musical references are what draw you in, but High Fidelity has some serious life lessons to offer, whether it's Rob finally realizing the difference between fantasy and real love or feeling regret for not chasing his dreams harder ("I keep wanting to apologize to the little guy: 'I'm sorry, I've let you down. I was the person who was supposed to look after you, but I blew it: I made wrong decisions at bad times, and I turned you into me.'"). We get to watch his evolution from man-child to man, and if you witness that while you yourself are undergoing a similar metamorphosis, High Fidelity rings especially true. After all, as Hornby writes, "We're like Tom Hanks in Big. Little boys and girls trapped in adult bodies and forced to get on with it." Bonnie Stiernberg

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

Alternate dimensions? Witches and soul-eating specters? Mystical talisman? Subtle-and-not-so-subtle atheistic ruminations? Animalic-incarnations of our inner selves called daemons who escort us 24-7? Celestial phenomenon known as "dust" plaguing the natural world? That's just the tip of Philip Pullman's mesmeric His Dark Materials Trilogy, which begins with The Golden Compass. It's exceedingly heavier in philosophy and more authentic in childhood portrayal than your C.S. Lewis, and far more lithe in its pacing and relatable with its human emotion than your J.R.R. Tolkien. We're recommending that you read all three books at once, because, unlike Lord of the Rings or even Star Wars for that matter, this is a trilogy that feels truly interconnected, as if it's one swift fever dream of an adventure. Jeff Milo

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Douglas Adams kicks off his phenomenal sci-fi comedy with the destruction of the Earth, for no other reason than it was in the construction path of a galactic superhighway. That sets Arthur Dent, the last surviving human, on an adventure every bit as weird and exciting as the best of classic sci-fi standard bearers. But it's the comic undertones that set Adams apart, with imaginative and clever writing that makes for endlessly pleasurable re-reads. The book is filled with phrases that have become cult favorites, from the quest for the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything, to Earth's official designation as "mostly harmless," to the titular guide's motto: "Don't panic," which none other than Arthur C. Clark remarked was the best advice that could be given to humanity. Eric Swedlund

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami's work has been compared to countless greats: Kurt Vonnegut, Raymond Chandler, even Franz Kafka himself. But his 2002 piece of fiction proved that, when talking about Murakami, maybe the best description is simply his last name. Kafka on the Shore is a brain-warping tale that explores the closely-woven stories of Kafka and Nakata—two wildly different characters on journeys toward self-completion. Within this thick volume, Murakami delicately balances whimsy with the macabre, incorporating magical realism with whiplash-inducing sexual encounters and some bloody laundry to spare. Kafka on the Shore is the bildungsroman for the post-modern crowd, and among commercial contemporary writers, Murakami might be gunning the hardest to add "-esque" to his last name in the bigger fiction discussion. Tyler R. Kane

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

With meditations on faith, fate and life's meaning, Yann Martel's Life of Pi delivers a loaded narrative for wanderers of all walks of life to carefully consider. The novel follows Piscine Patel, who recounts his childhood in India through many gorgeous flashbacks. As fans of the excellent Ang Lee film adaptation know, the meat of the book involves a shipwreck, one that strands Pi with Richard Parker—a bengal tiger—on a rowboat. Through hundreds of days lost at sea, Martel presents a scenario where the natural world collides with everything that lies beyond, and Martel details the inherent beauty of adversity through magical realism—blending universal themes from Hindu, Christian and Islamic faith. Life of Pi is a must-read for any forlorn wanderer seeking hope in life's troubled waters—tiger infested, or not. Tyler R. Kane

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien

J.R.R. Tolkien spent a dozen years building the world of Middle Earth between The Hobbit's publication and the completion of Frodo's epic journey to Mordor in The Return of the King. Every location the Fellowship encountered possessed a rich history and language, showcasing songs, poetry and mythology that always spoke of more beyond the page. But it was the four simple hobbits, bravely facing a world far larger and darker than their home in the Shire, that made every strange encounter relatable. Fighting orcs and spiders and worse, there was a nobility inverse to their size and a struggle between good and evil that resonates 62 years later. Josh Jackson