17 Books You Need to Read Before You Turn 30
Turning 30 is a huge milestone: like any changing over of the decades, it’s the end of one section of your life and the start of another. It’s a time of change and evolution, which necessarily comes with some anxiety and one way to overcome that is to read books.
We’ve collected a list of the books that have helped us as we go through our 20s and into our 30s, and that we hope will be a balm for you as you approach the big 3-0. (Our number one piece of advice, though? Enjoy it! Turning 30 is a blessing. And it’s so much fun.)
17 Books to Read Before Turning 30
We had to put this one up high! We’re huge fans of Dolly Alderton’s here at Bed Threads, as we’re sure you are too. This memoir, written when she was in her late 20s but released in paperback when she turned 30 – try to buy that version if you can, because it has a chapter specifically about the changing of one decade into another – is one of the best things you can read before you move into your 30s.
It’s a book about cherishing your female friendships, making peace with dating, break-ups and being single, and about learning to live – and be – alone, without being lonely. We adore it.
This collection of essays is an interrogation of some of the biggest, and smallest parts of life: it veers from reality television to wellness and marriage, and writer Jia Tolentino pierces each subject with her trademark precision and clarity. This is a book that will help you hone your critical thinking, just in time to turn 30.
We love food here at Bed Threads. (Not a surprise to anyone reading this, right?) And we love a food memoir even more. Laurie Colwin is a writer of novelists who also wrote a series of food books, this being one of them.
It’s a must-read before you turn 30 because it’s a celebration of cooking for yourself, and others, at home, full of advice on how to approach dinner parties as well as solo, dinner-on-the-couch meals. It’s wonderful.
Both of Sally Rooney’s books should be on here, quite frankly, Normal People and Conversations With Friends, but if we had to pick just one to read before you turn 30 we’re going with Normal People.
This book articulates a time in your life that is never repeated, that messy, up-and-down early 20s when you’re trying to figure out who you are, and what kind of person you want to be with. It’s a beautiful and heartbreaking book and a reminder of all that is great, and occasionally painful, about life.
It’s won prize after prize for a reason: The Yield is one of the incredible books we’ve ever read. About a young Indigenous woman reconnecting with her dying grandfather, set against the backdrop of an environmental crisis in Australia, this book could not be more timely. Stunningly written, and full of an urgency, it is a reminder that we still have so much to do to take care of the world around us.
Would you do things differently, if you had your time over? It’s a question that we often ask ourselves as we cross over into a new decade, and one that is addressed so perfectly in this gorgeous novel. A bestseller when it was first released, this is a book that shows us how to find the joy in even the darkest parts of our life.
Miles Franklin is one of Australia’s greatest authors, hence why our top literary prize is named after her. This is one of her best known novels, written when she was a teenager and published in 1901. It’s a book about ambition and dreams, the story of a young woman who wants to be a writer, but whom society is constantly trying to keep in her place.
A must-read for everyone, but definitely as you go into your 30s. Let it serve as a constant goal for how you want to live your life: boldly and unashamedly you.
We could have put any of Nora Ephron’s incredible journalism and essays on here, but we kept returning to this, her novel. Why? Because it is such a sharp and witty story, full of crucial life lessons for when you’re about to enter a new decade.
It’s the tale of a woman whose husband is cheating on her, a fact she discovers after just having their baby, and is loosely based on Ephron’s own life as a journalist, before she started making films like You’ve Got Mail and Sleepless In Seattle. Ultimately, it’s a book about never settling. And that’s a very important message for your 30s.
Again, we wish we could put all of Jane Austen on this list. But we’ve chosen Persuasion because it’s quietly our favourite, but also because it’s the one that most keenly looks at the notion of getting older. Our heroine Anne is in her late 20s, and considered something of a failure in Regency society.
She turned down a marriage proposal when she was young, even though she loved the man, because he was poor. Now he’s back, having made his fortune in the navy – is there a chance they could be reunited? Persuasion is full of hope, exactly the emotion you should be taking into your 30s.
Yes, this is technically a children’s book, but we’re finding more and more comfort these days from reading books for kids. This one in particular: a romantic’s dream, about a teenager living with her family in a crumbling castle experiencing the first blush of love. The important lesson in this book, though, is one that stands true both in its original setting of 30s England and now: don’t ever settle. Put yourself first. Life is short, you should always enjoy it.
You might know Bryony Gordon from her journalism: she hosts a beloved podcast and has even interviewed Prince Harry! This memoir is about an extraordinary time in her 30s when, after never having run a day in her life, and being then both a smoker and a big drinker, Gordon decides to run the London marathon. Eat Drink Run isn’t some melodramatic, you-can-do-anything self-help tome, though.
Gordon documents her struggles and her ups and downs as she trains in great detail, she never shies away from showing you how hard it can and has been. But there’s so much triumph in this book, and through it all the message that you should never let fear stop you from trying something new. So, yes, we suppose this is a bit of a you-can-do-anything self-help tome, but in the best possible way, trust us.
You should have at least one big, blow-out, knockout romance on your list before you turn 30, and let One Day be it. This is the most wonderful book – there’s a reason why both Dolly Alderton and Pandora Sykes have called it one of their favourites of all time.
It’s a book about two friends who meet at university but who never quite figure out the timing to get together, even though they are so clearly meant to. But through weaving in and out of their relationship over the years, One Day shows you a slice of real life, ordinary and extraordinary as it so very often is. It’s fantastic.
There are four sections to this book: reading, being, seeing and feeling and in each writer Zadie Smith asks us to critically engage and really think about the topics she is putting forward. It’s an exercise in thinking seriously, and sharply, about big issues, led by one of the best writers of all times.
This collection of essays might not be as well known as some of her novels, such as White Teeth or On Beauty, but we revisit this constantly as a way of shaping arguments and kicking our brain into gear.
We loved reading Sorrow and Bliss recently, a book by the Australian author Meg Mason. We like to think of it as a slightly updated Normal People: If that book looks at your early 20s, this one looks at your late 20s and into your 30s with incisiveness and keen observation.
Though not all of what the protagonist goes through will be relatable for every reader, the broad strokes of the story will be, especially when it measures up the gulf between how she wanted her life to look in her 30s and the reality of it.
Another great memoir to put on your list. Sophie Heawood is a journalist who used to live in Los Angeles, living a fabulous, girl-about-town life. But when she falls pregnant accidentally and decides to keep the baby, her life changes immensely. This is a book about embracing all of life’s surprises, as well as being a book quite literally about the biggest questions that you will face in your 30s, and it tackles them all with warmth, empathy and humour.
If you’ve just watched the Amazon Prime Video series starring Lily James and have been enticed to read the original Nancy Mitford novel that the show was based on, we hope you loved it. One of the reasons this book is so fantastic is its brilliant wit: it sparkles with intelligence and cleverness and Mitford’s trademark sharpness.
But it’s also a book about love, which you’ll definitely want to read before you turn 30. What is love? How do you find it? What does it look like? What doesn’t it look like? All important questions to know the answer to before you enter a new decade.
In her memoir My Salinger Year, Joanna Rakoff writes about the time she spent assisting a literary agent who worked for JD Salinger. It was her first job out of college and she was with a not-so-great boyfriend, living in a terrible flat in Brooklyn and eating pasta for dinner most nights because she was exhausted, and it was all she could afford. But boy, she loved that job.
This is a great book to read when you’re about to start your first job, but it’s equally as good to read as you go into your 30s, as it clearly shows what happens when the balance in your life is off: when one thing is succeeding and the other is failing. Something that you’ll want to get right as you go into your 30s.