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© Michaela Pointon / Culture Trip
© Michaela Pointon / Culture Trip
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30 Books Everyone Should Read in Their Thirties

Picture of JW McCormack
Updated: 7 November 2017
Thirty is an awkward age by any reckoning—you’ve been out of school for a good eight or nine years at least, hopefully you’ve been able to get your own place and begin a career, you might even be considering grad school, and legally you’re allowed to rent a car: the last real benchmark of adulthood.

For better and worse, a person’s twenties is a nebulous period where, for the first time, you might find yourself without firm responsibilities. The question by 30 becomes, “what to do with this excess time?”

The best answer is to treat these years as a laboratory for the mind, catching up on modern works of literature from around the world. Years spent reading become their own reward in a person’s thirties, when the knowledge and experience stored up from youth find their greatest application, and you’re capable of looking backward, to childhood, and forward to a future that is finally beginning to come into view.

Below, 30 books worth reading after 30, all classics in their own right and deserving of study, reflection, and rereading.

Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor…

Wise Blood
Wise Blood | Courtesy of Harcourt

One man’s search for faith in O’Connor’s southern demesne is a gallery of grotesques that anybody turning 30 can surely relate to, and it helps that “The Church Without Christ” sought by Wise Blood’s hero Hazel Motes is an existential paradox that leaves the reader with plenty to contemplate when the story’s parade of preachers and con men come to an end.

Fat City by Leonard Gardner…

Fat City
Fat City | Courtesy of NYRB Classcs

Since most have read The Great Gatsby in high school, Fat City is the West Coast equivalent, an all-American search for greatness set in the hard-luck world of boxing and boasting a subdued prose style that perfectly matches its character’s dingy surroundings.

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin…

Fire Next Time
Fire Next Time | Courtesy of Vintage

Perhaps the best literary document of the civil rights movement in America, James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time retains its poignancy and immediacy in the present. Although Baldwin wrote many novels and essay collections, the two letters that comprise this memoir are Baldwin’s most personal address, and both acquire the elevation of a sermon.

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov…

The Master and Margarita
The Master and Margarita | Courtesy of Penguin Classics

A sprawling novel of the Devil running amok in Stalin-era Moscow, The Master and Margarita is one of the most beloved and strange books in the canon, and one that every reader owes it to themselves to experience in all its bewitching glory.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami…

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle | Courtesy of Penguin Classics

The meditative masterpiece by Haruki Murakami received mixed reviews when it first appeared in English. But The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle has gone on to become a contemporary classic and its searching, surreal storyline—equal parts postwar malaise and sexual longing—has worldwide relevance.

Ulysses by James Joyce…

Ulysses | Courtesy of Vintage

It may seem like a chore at first, but there’s a good reason that Ulysses is celebrated as modernism’s most sublime masterpiece, as the story of an ordinary summer day in Dublin takes on mythic grandeur in Joyce’s unmatched and musical prose.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett…

The Secret Garden
The Secret Garden | Courtesy of HarperCollins

It may be a children’s book, but The Secret Garden is as heartbreaking a story as they come, and one of the ultimate entries in English fiction, as Mary Lennox discovers the squalid history of secrets behind her uncle’s sprawling mansion. Frances Hodgson Burnett’s subject is nothing less than hope and finding a reason to live when death is certain, topics that never lose their poignancy.

Old Man Goriot by Honoré de Balzac…

Old Man Goriot