This week I read Krish Kandiah’s ‘11 Books Every Christian Should Read Before They Turn 25’, and found myself disappointed – I had clicked on it assuming that ‘books’ referred to ‘books’ in the generic sense – not Christian theological/apologetic books. However, as is fairly often the case when you complain about things on twitter, someone will come along and tell you to put your money where your mouth is – or, in this case, your words. I’m not on the whole a fan of ‘listicles’, and I’m too scared of the internet to present an absolute list of essential books for everyone, but here it is – my mild-suggestion-list of 30 books for under-30s.
This isn’t just a list of ‘classics’: I’ve tried to pick books that vary in difficulty/length/subject matter.
Note the following disclaimers:
- We often claim to have read far more books than we have done because we’ve seen the film/watched the play/read the Wikipedia page. But everything on this list is something I have honest-to-goodness read, and so this limited its scope. A lot.
- What makes a book ‘Christian’ or ‘non-Christian’? The author? The content? The intended audience? The idea here is that I haven’t included books that have primarily or exclusively Christian theological content. E.g. I haven’t included ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ by C.S. Lewis – partly because it’s too obvious a reading idea, but mostly because if it weren’t so clearly a Christian allegory we all know some of your parents would have taken issue with you reading about magic and astrology and animism.
- I haven’t included the sacred texts of non-Christian religions, but you absolutely should read them.
1. 1984 by George Orwell.
I know you feel like you’ve read it because people mention it so much, but have you actually read it?
2. Antigone by Sophocles.
When the personal becomes political, what will you be willing to die for? Read it, and, if you can, go and see it performed.
3. Atheists: The Origin of the Species, by Nick Spencer.
Do you know the history of atheism – or rather atheisms? This is a very readable history book, which is a pretty remarkable feat in itself.
4. Calvin and Hobbes: The Complete Collection, by Bill Watterson.
Comics can teach us lots of things, and sometimes we don’t recognise certain thoughts or attitudes in ourselves until we read them coming from the mouth of a precocious 6 year old whose best friend is a tiger.
5. Collected Poems: 1945-1990 by R.S. Thomas.
Verging on the ‘Christian book’ here – and some of his poems are explicitly Christian. But many of his most thought-provoking poems are very accessible to a non-Christian audience.
6. Discipline and Punish, by Michel Foucault.
Read at least part of it, and then put this eye-opening sociology classic in contemporary context by reading…
7. The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander.
8. Fear and Trembling, by Soren Kierkegaard.
Fear and Trembling considers the ethics of Abraham intending to sacrifice his son at the command of God, and toes the line between theology and philosophy.
9. Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.
This is a hilarious apocalyptic novel. When you’re done with Good Omens, pick up any of the ‘Discworld’ series by Pratchett, or American Gods by Gaiman. Both authors deal in their own hilarious ways with the myths and idols we rely on to prop up our lives.
10. His Dark Materials, by Phillip Pullman.
A dark fantasy trilogy that is quite uncomfortable for Christians to read – which, in my book, is a good reason for Christians to read it.
11. Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro.
If you haven’t seen the film yet, read the book first!
12. One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
13. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen.
No one observes and spears human foibles better.
14. Man’s Search For Meaning, by Victor E. Frankl.
Part autobiographical account of this former psychiatrist’s time in four Nazi concentration camps, part lesson in the psychotherapeutic method that helped him survive. For the weak-stomached amongst you, you may want to skim/skip some of the autobiography.
15. Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth, by Warsan Shire.
A British-Somali poet (now of Beyoncé’s ‘Lemonade’ fame, and so now contemporary essential reading) she pens the refugee experience like no one else I’ve read.
16. The Analects of Confucius.
17. The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath.
Her semi-autobiographical descriptions of her struggle with depression has given words to many people – including myself – who couldn’t find any.
18. The Better World Shopping Guide, by Ellis Jones.
More of a reference book than anything else, this is for those who want to be more environmentally and socially aware consumers but don’t know where to start.
19. The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
Don’t let the confusing number of Russian names put you off. This epic is philosophical debate, murder mystery, family drama, romance, and tragedy rolled into one, and is arguably one of the best novels ever written (I will argue this).
20. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon.
A well-crafted insight into what it’s like living in the world if you’re a child whose brain works a bit differently to ‘normal’ people.
21. The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank.
From living in constant fear of death to what it was like getting her first period, this is the astounding account of one Jewish girl’s life in hiding. And it’s a diary, so it somehow feels like less work to pick up and read than a novel.
22. The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy.
Award winning novel set in India, exploring the questions of “who should be loved, and how. And how much.”
23. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams.
This is the one exception to the ‘book over adaptation’ rule – in this case, the radio series came first, and is, in my opinion, better. So read the books or listen to the radio series. They’re an amazing mix of comedy and sci-fi philosophy.
24. The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Expury.
Teeny book with all the Big Question Feels.
25. The Long Walk to Freedom, by Nelson Mandela.
This autobiography may be the longest book on the list – but it’s worth it.
26. The Stranger, by Albert Camus.
This is a short, easy to read, existentialist novel. Afterwards you can tell people you’re familiar with French existentialism and it will be at least a bit true.
27. The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov.
What happens when the Devil pays a visit to an atheist communist?
28. The Rumi Collection, by Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi.
Get to know the world’s most famous Muslim mystic poet.
29. The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, by Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson.
The title pretty much explains the content. Really interesting sociological study, with lots of graphs and stats if you’re into that sort of thing.
30. The Story of Stuff, by Annie Leonard.
Five per cent of the world’s population is consuming 30% of the world’s resources: learn the story behind that stuff, and then change your part in that story…
Did I miss your favourite book? Comment below!
Please don’t shout at me.