Books to read in your 30s

A couple of weeks ago we discussed books to read in your 20s, that glittering decade of late nights followed by early-morning greasy kebabs and burgers by the footpath, massive hangovers, low-paying jobs and learning to sleep with earplugs in mildewed flats and backpacker "hostels" that are really more like "hovels".

The kind of books you want or need to read in your 20s are different from those for your 30s, because you'll be at a completely different life stage. That's if you follow the normal path of society. If you are a daredevil who lives outside the margins of society, doing something funky and potentially illegal, then I salute you - and hey, you probably don't need to read books, because you're already living the fantasy. 

This is not to say that the books I've listed should only be read while you're in your 30s. People can read and love them at any age, and I'm sure they do. These are suggestions to get readers started. And perhaps if you're at a certain stage of your life, to get you thinking about where you're heading.

Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates
If the 20s is the decade of experimentation, then the 30s is the decade of discovery. Most people will start settling into nuclear families and routines that can seem endless and more than a little grey and faded. By the time you finish the book, an occasionally dull life will seem a small price to pay for a sedate relationship and a steady romantic partner.

The Tibetan Book of Living & Dying, Sogyal Rinpoche
Though I read this book in my 20s, I think it would have resonated better in my 30s, because it's perfect for those quiet moments of introspection. There's a lot of talk about impermanence and karma and meditation methods, but this is the original new age tome, so it's to be expected. "There would be no chance to get to know death at all, if it only happened once," and so on.

Disgrace, J.M Coetzee
It won the Booker, and not because it's some self-indulgent literary pretension-fest. Disgrace is written in Coetzee's trademark wry, dry style, but is a powerful commentary on post-apartheid South Africa. The first part of the book, with the English professor who falls into disgrace, is really only a hook into the much more powerful tale that consumes the rest of the novel. Also, read it for this fantastic line: "A woman's beauty does not belong to her alone. It is part of the bounty that she brings into the world. She has a duty to share it."

Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell
I've recommended this book so much on the blog that I don't think I should go on about it anymore. But quite apart from the fact that the six little stories nested into one large Russian doll of a novel are wonderful and easy reads, Mitchell is also a master of innovative narrative techniques. It's postmodernism for people who hate postmodernists.

Snow Flower & The Secret Fan, Lisa See
Lisa See is quite fabulous, and this novel is both a paean to and eulogy for friendships, particularly of close female friends - but it could apply to either gender. It is an exquisitely painful tale to read in parts, but will ring so true that it will keep you up at night. It's been made into a bad movie, don't watch the film. Read the book instead.

What books would you recommend to people in their 30s?

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