3. The Deptford Trilogy, by Robertson Davies
A wondrously insane and magical (in that it is actually about a magician) three-book series.
4. The Secret History, by Donna Tartt
The best time to read The Secret History is probably while you’re still in college, because it is about a secret society at a small liberal arts college gone horribly awry, but it is also worth picking up a few years later to be reminded about the intensity of college friendships, and also Ancient Greek.
6. A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan
These interwoven narratives (some of which were published as stand-alone stories in magazines such as the New Yorker) are brilliantly crafted, wryly tender portraits of life and love and the small tragedies of everyday modern life.
7. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Díaz
A book about the search for meaning even when life might be meaningless. (Also, my colleague Ariane says: “Yunior is also the dopest narrator you will ever encounter.”)
8. Lucy, by Jamaica Kincaid
A powerful coming-of-age story of an introspective 19-year-old girl from the West Indies who becomes an au pair in the U.S.
9. The Moviegoer, by Walker Percy
The story of Binx Bolling is kind of like what might have happened if Dick Whitman never became Don Draper, and instead started wandering around first New Orleans, and then the country, on a neverending spiritual and existential quest.
10. White Teeth, by Zadie Smith
In addition to White Teeth being perhaps the ultimate 20th century British immigrant novel, it will also, possibly, inspire you to greatness: Smith finished it during her final year at Cambridge and was 24 (!!!) when it was published.
12. Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace
Because you’ll never have time to read it later.
14. The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri
A beautifully told coming-of-age story that is also about how to reconcile in-betweenness: of culture, of place, of time.
16. The Rachel Papers, by Martin Amis
The Rachel Papers is “a fairly essential ‘leaving adolescence and discovering that everything is still confusing and awful’ kind of novel,” says my colleague Jack, which seems like a pretty decent recommendation.
17. Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
You almost definitely read this in high school English class, but you will almost definitely also have a much different perspective on Milkman and his family and their struggles a few years later.
18. The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
Another English syllabus special, Hemingway’s tight prose and peerless storytelling are somehow more resonant when you are reading it on your own. Or as my colleague Matt put it: “I couldn’t keep my eyes open for more than five pages of Hemingway growing up, but for some reason I picked this up in my post-graduation haze and was mesmerized.”
19. Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro
The ultimate dystopian love story. If it doesn’t make you cry, your heart may be made of stone.
20. A Home at the End of the World, by Michael Cunningham
A classic “queer Bildungsroman,” as my colleague Kevin says.
21. The Sandman Series, by Neil Gaiman
Gaiman’s dark, tragic comic series originally ran as a 10-book series from 1989 to 1996 but has now entered the graphic-novel pantheon.
27. The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath
My friend Julia puts it well: “What the protagonist Esther Greenwood goes through pretty much speaks to my whole generation and the next. College graduates who don’t know what they want to do as a career, are not excited about things their parents say they should be, want to have sex but not babies… all of it. It also encourages young people to be unafraid to voice their feelings and opinions. Makes me wish Sylvia Plath could have read her own book without prejudice — it might have helped.”
29. His Dark Materials trilogy, by Philip Pullman
The classic fantasy series — if you’ve only seen The Golden Compass, the film based on the first book in the series, you owe it to yourself to read the books (which are so much better).
33. I Love Dick, by Chris Kraus
I’ll let my friend Emily handle this one: “Readers will be rewarded with most psychologically astute sex scene ever written, plus a thorough, impassioned and wholly unique analysis of the power dynamics of heterosexual sex and love, how heterosexuality works to keep women unrepresented and unable to fully represent themselves, and how that affects the world.” Whew! (Also, sorta fun to read this one on the subway, IYKWIM.)
34. On the Road, by Jack Kerouac
So that you’ll realize the way you felt about this book in high school has totally changed.
36. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, by Haruki Murakami
Two complicated, brilliant, and intertwined yet distinct narratives (Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World) about a surreal dystopia.
37. Bossypants, by Tina Fey
This whole book is filled with brilliance — about work, about being a woman, about being a mom, about being a boss — but one of my favorites is what Fey writes about Amy Poehler: “Amy made it clear that she wasn’t there to be cute. She wasn’t there to play wives and girlfriends in the boys’ scenes. She was there to do what she wanted to do and she did not fucking care if you like it.”
39. How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, by Toby Young
Young’s memoir about his (mis)adventures in the New York media scene can seem a bit petulant, but he does manage to capture pretty perfectly that world’s bizarre rituals and petty status obsessions.
41. Lunar Park, by Bret Easton Ellis
Technically a novel, but more of a fictionalized memoir: “It’s about what happens when you reach your career goals yet you still find yourself haunted by ghosts,” says my colleague Michael. Also, it’s important to read Bret Easton Ellis before you get too old.
42. Just Kids, by Patti Smith
One of my favorite books of the last few years, maybe ever. Smith’s memoir is about falling in love — with a man, with New York, with her adult self — and will make you long for a New York that you never knew.
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