There are books we read for a thrill, and then there are books that stick with us forever. The text on their pages work their way into our minds and make homes in our psyche, a lasting influence on the lives we lead. Our twenties serve as the growth spurt into adult hood. A messy, unexplored space of learning and loving, the words we consume the sketchy roadmap to living life. Of course, life doesn't end when we're thirty - it probably begins in a much more real sense - and the hope is that we are equipped to take it all in. Books, while not the official bible to guide us, are pretty damn close to the real thing. The stories that stick with us and make life both relatable and fantastical all at once.
Below, we're rounding up 30 books to read before you're 30. From cultural classics to stories that stuck, to the self-help books we've avoided facing, we give you the roadmap to life, on paper.
In The Dream House, Carmen Maria Machado
There are little more formative texts than queer writers finding their voices in a vastly under-explored genre. Carmen Maria Machado does this in the most stunning way. Chronicling the dynamics of an abusive lesbian relationship in a gothic fairytale format, Machado shows just how little context there is for her experience in the world of literature, and in doing so, provides a bible for queer folks everywhere on desire, power, love and queerness.
Trick Mirror, Jia Tolentino
A collection of nine original essays, Tolentino explores the forces that warp our vision, demonstrating a critical look into what it means to be an ambitious woman in the world, the media, feminism, consumerism - the lot. Sharp and witty, Trick Mirror is an eye-opening must-read.
Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Joan Didion
One must always read Didion, no matter how old, but if you're to read one before you're 30, let it be her most notorious. Her first non-fiction, a collection of essays about the writer’s experiences in California during the 1960s. There is nothing like the voice of Didion, so if you haven't already, read.
Metropolitan Life, Fran Lebowitz
A witty, hilarious albeit dry collection of essays hat unpick the American human condition. Lebowitz, as always, covers ample ground with her wry commentary on fads, crazes, morals, fashions, and mores in 1978 America, including thoughts as fleeting as the weather, to musings for the ambitious reader.
Come As You Are, Emily Nagoski
A modern sex bible for everyone everywhere. Sex educator Dr Emily Nagoski acts as a worldwide, honest big sister by debunking the common sexual myths that makes people feel unclear and inadequate when it comes to sex, while reassuring the reader that most of the time, it all is in fact quite normal.
Ways Of Seeing, John Berger
"Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognises before it can speak." John Berger's prolific Ways Of Seeing explores the way we view art in the most captivating way, and will change the way you view art and the art world forever.
A Room Of One's Own, Virginia Woolf
an essay based on a series of lectures Woolf delivered at Cambridge University’s two women’s colleges in 1928, A Room Of One's Own is a modernist, feminist text that sticks. Unpacking patriarchy in the literary world and the power and privilege that it is rife with, it zero's in on her thesis that all women need is income, and a room to themselves to embody independence.
Beloved, Toni Morrison
An innovative portrait of a woman haunted by the past, held hostage by the things that have happened to her. Matilda Dods once said,"there is a quote from Sixo, in Beloved where he says ‘she is a friend of my mind. She gather me man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order.’ I’ve come to feel like reading Morrison does the same thing for the reader."
The Topeka School, Ben Lerner
The story of a young boy in the late 90s who is trying to make sense of it all. The Topeka School explores family dynamics, toxic masculinity, and the modern identity crisis of white men in a tender and far-reaching way.
The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson
Not a classic, but when are queer texts ever considered such? Maggie Nelson takes the reader through her journey falling in love with genderfluid artist Henry Dodge, and offers a stunning, honest, and joyful portrayal of queer dynamics through a pregnancy and family making.
Growing Up Aboriginal In Australia, Anita Heiss
An anthology compiled by award-winning author Anita Heiss, which serves as a compilation of stories that speak to the title. Articulating the effects and impacts of invasion and colonisation in Australia, the book delves into language, country, the education system, and the treatment of Indigenous Australians in this country, offering a glaring and necessary account to inspire and educate those living on stolen land and beyond.
The Selected Works of Audre Lorde, Audre Lorde
A collection of landmark essays and poems that delve into queerness, race, beauty, and feminism. As one of the most prolific black queer female writers of the modern era, Lorde's collection of works is not one to miss.
Fight Like A Girl, Clementine Ford
A must read for feminists everywhere. Clementine Ford's hard-line, take no prisoners attitude sees her debut manifesto cater to feminists new, old and soon-to-be, and exposes just how unequal the world continues to be for women.
Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
Because classics are a must. A story of love, lust, passion and scandal in Russian high society. A read you'll never forget.
The Body Keeps The Score, Bessel Van Der Kolk
Because if we're not entering our 30s trauma informed and in touch with our somatic nervous systems, are we really ready to enter our 30s? Bessel Van Der Kolk's exploration of the way poorly processed trauma seeps into most of our lives is one you wont want to go without.
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
You may have seen the film adaptation, but have you read the classic? 19th century romance written one of the female greats, this fraught and dramatic romance will plunge you into an alternate world and serves as the perfect introduction into 19th century literature. Essential reading.
Feel Free, Zadie Smith
Zadie Smith plunges into the far reaching corners of pop culture and politics with razor-sharp intellect and a compassionate approach, all from a contemporary lens that examines what it is to be alive and partaking in culture today.
Crying in H Mart, Michelle Zauner
A heart wrenching book by the rockstar of Japanese Breakfast, Crying in H Mart unpacks Zauner's life growing up Korean American, losing her mother, and forging her own identity as she recalls memories of cooking for and with her mother. A beautiful memoir for anyone needing to access their heart strings.
On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous, Ocean Vuong
Another perfect memoir-style novel in the form of a letter, where the writer addresses his estranged mother, who cannot read, and unfolds his life growing up as a queer, Vietnamese American. Tear jerking and beautifully written, this is a must read in regard to the style of prose and the subject matter. I know I grew from reading it.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera
A story about love, life, monogamy and passion. Set against the backdrop of Soviet-era Czechoslovakia, it touches on themes of communism and its impacts. The storyline itself focusses on one man and one woman in a relationship that turns out to be a love triangle, but it is so much more at the same time.
Mating in Captivity, Esther Perel
From the french sex therapist of our dreams, Perel invites the reader to explore the paradoxical union of domesticity and sexual desire, and explains what it takes to bring lust home. For those in a long term relationship or looking for one, Mating in Captivity is essential.
The Barefoot Investor, Scott Pape
Yes, this old chestnut! According to our digital content director, Mia, this is one of the most important books to read when you are ready to grab adult life (and your finances) by the balls. Read it and thank her later, many of us already have.
The Second Sex, Simone De Beauvoir
Published in 1949, The Second Sex is a feminist classic. Perhaps not as up to date as Zadie Smith or Clementine Ford's manifestos, but an essential piece of text fundamental to the feminist movement which transgresses the way women have been treated throughout history.
All About Love, Bell Hooks
Renowned scholar, cultural critic, and feminist Bell Hooks explores the concept of love through the lens of the modern paradigm, and asks the questions we are all thinking at some point. Inquisitive, profound, and redemptive, it will influence the way you think about love forever.
Atonement, Ian McEwan
No one waxes lyrical quite like McEwan, which is why Atonement gets into your bones. A perfect example of text laden with lyricism, McEwan turns the story of love, betrayal, class, war and childhood into the kind of prose that is dreamt up. One of the reasons why it is such an iconic story.
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
Friend of RUSSH Ilkin Kurt once told us To Kill a Mockingbird is a book everyone should read at least once because "it is truly wonderful. There is sadness and happiness, racism and equality, immaturity and maturity, injustice and redemption."
1984, George Orwell
A classic, infamous read that will change the way you view ideologies and leadership. Continuously culturally referenced throughout the decades, 1984 is one to be across.
A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara
Because I don't know a single person whose life hasn't been altered by this stunningly heartbreaking read. Take as much time as you need, and keep tissues on hand at all times.
The Book of Eels: Our Enduring Fascination with the Most Mysterious Creature in the Natural World, Patrik Svensson
A book dedicated to one of the most mysterious creatures on earth. As Michaela Coel says, "It’s a beautiful book that makes you realize that the eel is our cousin — we are the eel, and the eel is us."
When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chodron
Offering an accessible guide to compassionate living through showing us how we can use painful emotions to cultivate wisdom, compassion and courage, ways of communication that lead to openness and true intimacy with others, practices for reversing our negative habitual patterns, methods for working with chaotic situations and ways to cultivate compassionate, energetic social action.