Arts & Entertainment

30 Books Every Man Should Read By 30

A countdown of the novels you need to call yourself a grown up
IMAGE Esquire U.K.
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In an ascending level of importance, here are the 30 must-read books every man really should have tackled the time he's a grown up (and why).

30| Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis

A group of narcissistic, moneyed Hollywood spawn spend their time taking drugs, drinking, and shagging each other in the back of their porches. What you wish your youth was like, essentially. A tale of unbridled excess and, naturally, subsequent destruction.

29| How to Lose Friends and Alienate People by Toby Young

Our journalist narrator tries to penetrate the glamorous New York scene, but is hampered by his alarming ability to always say the wrong thing. A great lesson in how not to tackle your first move to the big city.

28| Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Seders

Thought you had it tough? Growing up gay, Greek, and with a lisp in North Carolina, USA, Seders tells the story of his youth through a series of hilarious essays. Worth it for the pithy one-liners alone.

27| My Uncle Oswald by Roald Dahl

For any man who still associates Dahl with giant peaches and magic fingers, step into the sex-driven world of his adult stories. The eponymous Oswald hatches a plan to obtain the world’s most powerful aphrodisiac and, with the help of a female accomplice, steals the sperm of the world’s most brilliant men. Einstein, Freud, and Picasso all fall victim to the scheme.

26| Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Everyone should read at least one Murakami (several, really), and this is up there with the best. Hearing The Beatles song that this novel takes its title from, protagonist Toru dwells upon his student days in the ‘60s protesting against the status quo. His relationship with the beautiful but damaged Naoko is a lesson that emotional dependence is not love. 

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25| One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kessey

A paranoid schizophrenic, confined to an asylum, narrates a tale full of racial tension, sexual repression, and confronts the treatment of the mentally ill. Ken Kesey wrote this after his experiments with LSD. 

24| The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde

Hedonism, vanity, and the selfishness of youth are key in this book. The original cocky upstart, Wilde’s precocious wit is also a valuable lesson in pissing off the powers that be. 

23| The Love Song of Alfred J. Pruflock by T.S. Eliot

“No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be”—there are a handful of poems every man should read whether they like poetry or not, and Eliot’s stream-of-consciousness moan about the frustrations and disillusionments of modern life is emphatically one of them.

22| Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie

The book that sparked the biggest literary controversy of our time. The fatwa issued because of critical references of the Prophet Mohammed saw Rushdie go into hiding for over a decade. This novel looks at a man trapped between Eastern and Western cultures, and flits between times and continents.

21| The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Conspiracy, secrecy, and murder are a thrilling backbone of this tale of a group of elise Classics students. The theme? How we the young and insecure can easily be manipulated.

20| Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Vonnegut’s most famous novel contains an account of when the Allies bombed Dresden, which he was caught up in as a German prisoner of war. Time-shifting also plays a part in this weird tale, which gives an insight into one of the most important events in recent history.

19| The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

A second generation Dominican growing up in New Jersey, Oscar is a nerdy fat kid who loves comics and sci-fi. Unable to display the machismo expected of boys in the Latin community, he is a likeable embodiment of the misunderstood outsider. And we’ve all been one of those, haven’t we?

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18| The Fall by Albert Camus

A Parisian barrister recounts his fall from wealth and high regard. An advocate for the less fortunate, he nevertheless fails to do anything when he hears a woman fall to her death on a riverbank. A riveting look at that great preoccupation: how we want others to see us. 

17| The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

A look at Communism in the 1950s through the thoughts of Anna Wulf, a radical left-winger in post-war Britain. Read for an insight into what it’s like to be the enemy in your own country.

16| The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

A young architect refuses to create the work that others want, believing that his own, new interpretations are superior to the traditions of the past. The lesson here: Being an individual is about more than dying your hair black and liking rubbish bands.

15| The Road by Cormac McCarthy

In a bleak, post-apocalyptic world, a man and is son travel South to avoid the coming winter. In with the terse prose and unbearable tension is a great story of fatherhood.

14| What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver

What are years 0 to 30 about if not fickle affections and brutal heartbreak? Conversations over gin are serialized in this collection of short stories that make for bleak but crucial reading.

13| Generation X by Douglas Coupland

Three friends trapped in dead-end “McJobs” reach adulthood in early ‘80s California. The ultimate post-graduation book about intellectuazing not knowing what the hell to do with yourself.

12| The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great American Novel captures the decadence of the 1920s, while telling the story of a man who has desperately reinvented himself to win back the woman he loves. Relatable for anyone who ever obsessively chased a first love. Ring any bells?

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11| The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Any young man who loved The Catcher in the Rye ought to read Plath’s novel, a similar story told from a female perspective. The beautifully written semi-autobiographical tale follows a young woman in the cusp of adulthood who struggles with her mental health.

10| On the Road by Jack Kerouac

The book that launched a million gap years, On the Road is beat poet pioneer Jack Kerouac’s free form account of a hedonistic road trip across America in the 50s that excites you when you’re still young enough to grab a backpack and follow him, and frustrates the hell out of you with its pretentiousness thereafter.

9| White Teeth by Zadie Smith

Written by the prodigious Smith aged just 24 (a fact either painful or inspiring—you decide), this is the best exploration of modern multicultural Britain we have. And you’re going to laugh out loud. A lot.

8| Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

One of the great dystopian novels, Huxley’s idea of a world in which we distract ourselves from reality to the point we accept a totalitarian regime seems more plausible than ever in the X-factor age.

7| The Watchmen by Alan Moore

The “graphic novel” that made reading books okay (as if it ever wasn’t), The Watchmen is, of course, much more than that—one of the most gripping fictional narratives of the past 40 years.

6|  High Windows by Philip Larkin

Grump old sod that he was, Larkin produced some of modern Britain’s most accessible and compelling poetry. Even the most verse-phobic men will shudder with recognition at the devastating “This be the verse…”

5| Fear & Loating in Las Vegas by Hunters S. Thompson

What is being in your 20s about if not going on a road trip with your best friend, buying a huge bag of hallucinogenic drugs, and losing your mind in Vegas? Okay, so few of us ever came remotely near matching Thompson’s hedonism even during our wild years, but this book remains the definitive way to experience drug abuse vicariously.

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4| The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst

Set in the aftermath of Margaret Thatcher’s landslide victory in 1983, Hollinghurst’s Booker winning novel makes being a young gay man seem sexy and London seem conquerable. 

3| The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Perhaps the ultimate “someone understands me!” moment literature has to offer any reasonably sensitive and intelligent teenage boy, Salinger’s idiosyncratic and often hilarious tale of a teenage boy struggling with his mental health in the face of a world of “phones” is, like sport, something you either fall for when you’re a kid or spend your adult years wondering what the fuss is all about. For the former, this book still has few equals.

2| Men Without Women by Ernest Hemingway

There’s a strong case to say all men should read all Hemingway, but as an introduction to his style and major themes (bullfighting, drinking, not knowing what the hell to do about women), this collection of short stories is priceless and should whet the appetite to tackle the major novels (specifically The Sun Also Rises, Farewell to Arms, and For Whom the Bell Tolls—in that order).

1| 1984 by George Orwell

Along with Animal Farm, 1984 is George Orwell’s gift to anyone experiencing their moment of political awakening, a book that drags you from the self-involvement of adolescence to the harrowing realisation that politics and the wider world can and will impact your life. Every important reason to be watchful, skeptical, and demanding of your government is in there.

This story originally appeared on Esquire.co.uk.

* Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.

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