Book Club / Culture

30 books to read before you’re 30, according to the ‘RUSSH’ editors

In many ways, your twenties is adulthood with training wheels – though that's not to say you won't fall over, split your head open and make a real mess of things. For this reason, it's important to read, and do so voraciously (when will you have more free time to do so?), leaning on the words of your favourite authors to steady yourself and deliver comfort.

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, come pretty damn close. The stories that stick with us are either relatable, eye and mind-opening or allow us to retreat when things get dicey.

Below, we're rounding up 30 books to read before you're 30. From cultural classics to the self-help books we've avoided reading, we give you the roadmap to life, on paper. Carry these with you and godspeed!


In The Dream House, Carmen Maria Machado

30 books to read before you're 30


Chronicling the dynamics of an abusive lesbian relationship in a gothic fairytale format, Carmen Maria 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 intimacy.


Women, Race and Class, Angela Davis

We never stop learning, but it would be a shame to enter your 30s without having been exposed to the social and political education Angela Davis offers up here. Chances are if you're a women, especially one of colour, you'll be intimately aware of the dynamics outlined in Women, Race & Class. However, the genius of this book is Davis gives you the language to make sense of your experiences – and those that privilege blinds you from.


The Secret History, Donna Tartt

Everyone admires a whizkid, but a whiz-adult? Now that would be insufferable. In this fashion, you only have a small window to unabashedly adopt the dark academia Donna Tartt evokes in her beloved debut. Not that you can't enjoy the novel past your thirties (in fact, we insist you revisit it often), but the urge to wear pince-nez and discuss Bacchanalia is no longer received as a cute character quirk  – until you hit 60, then it's time to embrace it all over again.


Girl, Woman, Other, Bernardine Evaristo

Getting older can be frightening – especially when everything you encounter as a woman tells you ageing is a bad thing. What helps though, is cross-generation storytelling, which you'll find in Girl, Woman, Other. Of the 12 characters depicted, their ages range between 19 to 93 and each protagonist, it's revealed, has lived a rich life worthy of documenting – no matter how ordinary it might seem from the outside. Then there's the comfort that Evaristo herself won the Booker Prize at 60-years-old, having published tirelessly as an author for decades prior. This is your proof that the best is yet to come.


The Group, Mary McCarthy

Before there was Candace Bushnell's Sex and the City, there was The Group by Mary McCarthy. Set in 1930s Manhattan, the novel follows eight women in the wake of their graduation from Vassar College as they find love, experience heartbreak, fall pregnant and build careers. The perfect text for fans of Girls and Insecure.


Self-Help, Lorrie Moore

The closest we'll get to prescribing a self-help book. In her collection of nine short stories – the first from Moore – we reckon with life, death, love and pleasure. This slim volume also houses Moore's popular story How to Be an Other Woman, spawning a self-awareness around the trope that we still see in fiction today.


Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K Le Guin

For fantasy and science fiction readers, Ursula K. Le Guin stands shoulder to shoulder with names like Frank Herbert and J. R. R. Tolkien. So begin your education with The Left Hand of Darkness, which was groundbreaking in its depiction of gender-fluidity in the novel's Hainish universe.


Changing My Mind, Zadie Smith

If you get an opportunity to sit inside Zadie Smith's mind – hello, you have to take it! And what a pleasure it is to follow her while she thinks. Agile, generous and feisty, Smith analyses her favourite novels with an enthusiasm that's infectious and somehow never pretentious. We love her fiction but adore her essays, which are a reminder to ourselves that while it's important to stand for something, we must never be inflexible or too proud to see things from a different vantage point.


The Rachel Papers, Martin Amis

Written over the course of a single year, Martin Amis knew there would be interest around his debut regardless of the subject matter and used that to his advantage, publishing semi-autobiographical The Rachel Papers at 24 years old. It follows Charles Highway, a 19-year-old approaching the Oxford entrance exams and his 20th birthday, who has become obsessed with the posh and unattainable Rachel. As the blurb puts it, "Charles Highway is every mother’s worst nightmare". Funny, at times heinous, and a relatable piece of work for your meandering 20-something self.


This Ragged Grace, Octavia Bright

Memoirs about addiction can be tricky – mostly because we're all familiar with the beats of the recovery process. But what makes Octavia Bright's exploration of recovery so unique and absorbing, is the way she ties it in with her father's failing health – and what recovery means when it's not physically viable. With a stunning lyricism, we follow Bright over a seven-year period to London, Margate, Stromboli, New York and Sydney as she crosses over from her twenties to thirties, moving between banality, uncertainty, grief and rare moments of euphoria. She doesn't pretend to have all the answers, nothing is tied up in a neat bow, and in doing so she accurately captures the feeling of what it is to grow, languish and continue to try.


Who Gets To Be Smart, Bri Lee

The age we learn about privilege is directly related to how much of it we possess. However, there comes a time in your twenties when you begin to see the legs-up privilege provides in action – whether it's witnessing your peers become property-owners or racking up career success. Always one to speak truth to power, Bri Lee unpicks the way Australian society is built to the advantage of some at the cost of others. Whether that's through the obscene resource gap between private and public schools or the class, race and gender profiles of the country's most important institutions. While a lot of the information in this book will depress you, it's comforting to know that Lee is committing these injustices to paper. We only hope accountability and action will follow.


A Woman's Story, Annie Ernaux

Like Joan Didion, there are many entry points to Annie Ernaux's work – and they're all valid. However, we encourage you all to start at A Woman's Story, Ernaux's robust tribute to her mother who died from Alzheimer's in 1986. While the book captures the unyielding bond between mother and daughter, it also endeavours to sketch Ernaux's mother as an individual with a life outside her ability to give birth. For those contemplating motherhood or their own relationship with their mother, this is an introspective, quietly powerful story.


Trick Mirror, Jia Tolentino

A collection of nine original essays, Tolentino explores the current 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

30 books to read before you're 30

Take one bite and we inevitably want more. Slouching Towards Bethlehem is there when you come searching, open-mouthed with hunger pangs. Like all of Didion's essays, the book is an exercise in being concise and saying what one actually means. So much so, her famous essay On Self-Respect was written to an exact character count aged 26. Although it wasn't her first book, that space was filled by Run, River, it's definitely the one that established her reputation as an exacting writer with something to say. It also taught us to keep on nodding terms with out former selves, to always keep a notebook and delivered lines like: "Innocence ends when one is stripped of the delusion that one likes oneself".


The Uninhabitable Earth, David Wallace-Wells

There have been many books written about the climate crisis but few as meticulous and staggering in its analysis than this masterwork by David Wallace-Wells. If you're feeling apathetic toward the anthropocene, this will shock you back to reality. Essential reading to ensure you enter your thirties with eyes wide open.


Metropolitan Life, Fran Lebowitz

A witty, hilarious, albeit dry, collection of essays that take an anthropological look at 20th century American life. 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

30 books to read before you're 30

A modern sex bible for everyone everywhere. Sex educator Emily Nagoski is the empathetic and informed big sister we all need in her bestseller, which debunks the common myths that make sex a minefield. She introduces a new way of understanding the dual control model of arousal, demystifying the pathway to desire, sex and intimacy.


Ways Of Seeing, John Berger

"Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognises before it can speak." John Berger's monumental text Ways Of Seeing provides a scaffold for interrogating the images and media we see before us. It's an essential companion especially in our digital world, where we encounter thousands of images a day.


A Room Of One's Own, Virginia Woolf

30 books to read before you're 30

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 women must negotiate, it zeroes in on her thesis that all women need is income, and a room to themselves to obtain independence.


Acts of Desperation, Megan Nolan

There's no denying that since Sally Rooney burst onto the scene, there's an uptick in Irish authors breaking through and their literary excellence being championed. While I can think of many one should read before you turn 30 – Naoise Dolan, Caroline O'Donoghue, Anne Enright, Caoilinn Hughes – it would be a loss to not dive into Megan Nolan's debut, where many of the experiences and dynamics detailed are sure to resonate with the peaks of pits of being a twenty-something woman.


Beloved, Toni Morrison

30 books to read before you're 30

An innovative portrait of a woman haunted by the past. RUSSH purist 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 Argonauts, Maggie Nelson

30 books to read before you're 30

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.


Talkin' Up to the White Woman, Aileen Moreton-Robinson

If you only read one book on this list, let it be Talkin' Up To The White Woman. Professor Aileen Moreton-Robinson puts White Australian feminists on notice. It's a timeless, searing critique of the way white women are the handmaidens of patriarchal white sovereignty, and a reminder that if your feminism isn't intersectional, it's garbage.


Everything I Know About Love, Dolly Alderton

30 books to read before you're 30

Dolly Alderton is our ultimate comfort read. The author and broadcaster writes with candour, warmth and humour about her own experiences, offering them up like a big older system who's saying "look, I've been here too, and this is what I've learned".


The Selected Works of Audre Lorde, Audre Lorde

30 books to read before you're 30

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.


The Body Keeps The Score, Bessel Van Der Kolk

30 books to read before you're 30

Because if we're not entering our thirties trauma informed and in touch with our somatic nervous systems, are we really ready to enter our thirties? Bessel Van Der Kolk's exploration of the way poorly processed trauma seeps into most of our lives is one you won't want to go without. A handbook to processing the unhinged stories of your twenties.


Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

You may have seen the film adaptation or the superior BBC series, but have you read the source material? Jane Austen's 19th century masterpiece will plunge you into a world rife with British class tensions, patriarchy, literature's most famous romantic pairing and unforgettable opening lines.


Mating in Captivity, Esther Perel

30 books to read before you're 30

A large chunk of your twenties is dedicated to navigating romantic relationships – and importantly, matters of sex and desire. If you're in a long term relationship, maintaining the initial stages of limerence can feel like cupping water in your hands. Through rigorous studies and decades of experience, Belgian-American psychotherapist Esther Perel instructs on how to cultivate erotic intelligence, thus reconciling the paradox of our need for security and passion.


The Barefoot Investor, Scott Pape

Yes, this old chestnut! According to our Associate Publisher & Digital Strategy Director, Mia Steiber, 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. Never underestimate the power of financial literacy.


All About Love, bell hooks

As bell hooks insists, too often love is spoken of as a noun when we'd be better off treating it like a verb. The renowned scholar, cultural critic and feminist pens thirteen chapters on love, its definition and how we can become better practitioners in a society devoid of the world's most powerful substance.


Stay inspired, follow us.