Have you seen these lists? A quick google search and you can find hundreds of these lists on a variety of websites. They usually include some assortment of genres, but nearly all include The Bell Jar, a book by a comedian (Bossypants by Tina Fey seems to be the current choice, though some still include works by Chelsea Handler), and On the Road. Although most of the books on these lists are undeniably great in their own way, though I can’t say I’ve read them all, I have a real problem with the idea that you need to read these books because you’re 20.
People like to make lists about things that are good, bad, and in between. Books are no exception to that, and they shouldn’t be. Lists of the greatest works of literature are obviously objective in one way or another, however they illustrate the inherent value of some novels to a point past the ordinary. I cannot, however, say that there are certain books that are more important to a person based on where they are in their life, especially if they are in their 20’s. I get why that’s the age that’s most popular for such lists, hell, I’m 20 myself. It’s widely considered to be a turbulent time in a person’s life, and such books are supposed to help guide you through such times. Or something like that. So the book by a comedian makes you feel a bit better, because someone famous was having a hard time once and yet they can laugh about it now, while showing you that things get better and there’s potential for success somewhere along the way. Sylvia Plath tells you the story of a girl who gets lost in her own mind, and never really finds her way out. These works are intended to guide a person somehow, and so they’ve been listed as a ‘top 10’, ‘top 20’, or ‘top 65’.
So, why do I have a problem with these lists? I don’t like the idea that one has to be in a certain place in one’s life to really connect with a book. Or that you should go out of your way to find a book because a list told you that it was good for your age group. Go out and read, no matter your age or your situation! Find a book and dive on in. You can be 6 and reading Dickens, or you can be 6o reading Tina Fey – it doesn’t make any difference! Find a book you can’t put down, a character you can fall in love with, or an author you will give every penny to. Don’t go by the idea that a certain age should define what you’re reading. No special list can tell you what will make you feel better about your own situation, only you can know that. Look at those book lists as a stepping off point, but pave your own way when it comes to reading.
And sure, some of those books probably are great to read in your 20’s. Some might help you if you’re in a rough place. Some, however, are at a high school level – and those you should have taken care of way before your twenties.
Say hi to Barnes and Noble for me, and happy reading!