Since I was about 17 or so, I’ve held on to a reading list I discovered in one of my Seventeen magazines aptly titled 25 Books to Read Before You’re 25. Being 17, I was into imagining myself as a fabulous 25-year-old. The list was also a good one, being partly written by then-First Lady Laura Bush, who — unlike her husband — I held in high regard because she’s a former librarian.
I eventually discarded the magazine tear-out, saving the list on a flash drive then copying it here. Over the years, I’ve tried to use the list as a guide for my reading habits, but as always, life interrupts. New books are released, Harry Potter marathons ensue, and I find myself distracted by the nearly 10 reading lists I’ve put together for myself. Laura Bush’s list, unfortunately, was oftentimes forgotten.
For a long time, though, I really thought that I would finish the 25 Books list before I turned 25. I mean, if I can hold myself to one goal, it should be this one, right?
Wrong. Twenty-five came and went last month and there are still 10 books on the list left un-read. Not bad, I guess – I mean, I read more than half the list. And one of them was War and Peace, which should count as 5 books. Of course, there were several books I was able to cross off the list immediately even as a 17-year-old, books like Pride and Prejudice and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
But the list did push me to pick up a few books that have honestly made a major impact. Music for Chameleons became my favorite Truman Capote novel (or rather, collection of short stories) and cemented him as one of my favorite authors of all time. Jane Eyre was also a game-changer and is now one of my favorites (though I probably would have read that anyway).
The best book from the list (so far), though, is definitely Reading Lolita in Tehran. I probably would have read this anyway, but Azar Nafisi’s account of literary repression and self-identification in 1970’s Iran was one of the most profound non-fiction books I’ve read in the past five years. It really is something everyone should read at least once, if only to recognize the power of literature in the face of unimaginable odds. Am I better 25-year-old for reading it? You bet.
There are a lot of books still left on the list that I would love to read: the complete stories of Flannery O’Connor, Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. I’m not exactly looking forward to giving My Antonia by Willa Cather another try (I picked it up years ago and couldn’t get past the first chapter), nor Siddhartha (it just sounds hard).
But I will get to them. I don’t know if my life would have been different had I read them before my 25th birthday, but I’m confident that they’ll have the same impact as I grow into my 20s and maybe even early 30s.