Books you should read...in your 20s

Last updated 08:00 21/05/2013

There are books that you can read at any age from 18 to 80, and sigh at how beguiling and beautiful and true the stories still are. Then there are other books. Those that you loved at age 20, but will seem shallow and trite by the time you turn 35 and are saddled with two young children, a spouse just as overworked and overtired as you, and burgeoning debt.

I'm not usually in the business of "should", but I am rather a fan of lists, especially ones that are quirky and interesting. So I thought over the next few weeks, I'd compile a list of recommended reading for different ages...starting with, of course, the 20s - a decade all of us are only way too familiar with - after all, everyone passes by it on the way to increasing decrepitude.

Here is a list of books you should try to read in your 20s. Feel free to post your own suggestions below.

Cat's Eye, Margaret Atwood
The 20s is an odd period of your life, and what better way to reflect on the recent past than with a novel that's about transitions? This tale of childhood bullying will give particular insight into the group dynamics among girls - how they interact, and the sly methods they use to keep each other in place. Its wisdom is chilling and frighteningly accurate.

cat's eye

World Made by Hand, James Howard Kunstler
It's a flawed novel in many ways. The writing isn't great, and Kunstler tends to get bogged down by preachiness. But the 20s is a great time to explore dystopias, especially ones of our own making. This is how I imagine the world could realistically end. It serves as both entertainment and a warning for the future.

world made by hand

Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
People in their 20s often still believe in eternal love and fidelity, of the angst-ridden, Romeo and Juliet kind, where at least one of the lovers believes in the traditional concept of soulmates. The great thing about this novel is that it shows both sides of the coin, with Florentino's unswerving and undying devotion to the woman he can never have, and Fermina's more realistic love story which is played out through decades of marriage to Juvenal Urbino.

love in the time of cholera

The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
You're 21, you've just finished uni, where you've been told that getting a degree will open untold doors for you. After months of searching and living back in your old bedroom at your parents' house, the only job you can find is receptionist at an ad agency. Y'know, the kind of job you could've got without the thousands of dollars of student loans. Recruiters will tell you this is because you need to work your way up. Generation Whatever-It-Is-Now, Plath will give voice to your sense of ennui.

the bell jar

Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
Starting from that famous line "Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins", this is a book by an author who knows how to seduce by language. The story will disturb and the protagonist Humbert Humbert sicken you and make you contemplate the darkness in the soul of some men, but Nabokov's use of language is second-to-none: "she was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line". Plus, there's a reference to one of my favourite poems by Edgar Allen Poe in the first paragraph.

lolita

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