The Secret History, Donna Tartt, white cover

This title is a bit misleading. I’m not planning to list every single book I read in the previous 30 years of my life. Quite frankly, I don’t even think I could! As an avid bookworm since I can remember, the number of books I’ve read (and reread) up until this point in my life is, I’m sure, quite large. What I will do is tell you which of the 30 books I selected to read this past year (before turning 30) I actually completed. Consider it a wrap-up and review of the experience itself.

If you’re new here, about a year ago I compiled a list of 30 books that I personally wanted to read in the next year, prior to turning 30. Well, time’s up! I’m 30! Let’s take a look at how I did. Spoiler alert: I didn’t finish. 🙂

If you’ve been following along with this journey, you’ll know that about two months ago I decided to accept I wasn’t going to finish in time and not to push myself. Why? Pretty simple. These are still books I want to read, no matter my age, and I did not want to ruin my experience with them by rushing through just to tick them all off the list. Perhaps if I’d really pushed myself and sped through the remaining books in all my spare moments I could have completed all 30. But it started to feel daunting and like a chore, which was the opposite of what this experience was supposed to be. So I chose to just finish as many as I could and leave the rest for future. Just because I didn’t finish them in time doesn’t mean I can’t or won’t ever read them, after all!

Here’s the list of books I selected. The ones with a line through them are the ones I finished. Take a look! See any favorites or must-reads of yours?


  1. The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath
  2. 1984, by George Orwell
  3. The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
  4. This Side of Paradise, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  5. Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
  6. Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse
  7. On the Road, by Jack Kerouac
  8. One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  9. The Divine Comedy, by Dante Alighieri
  10. Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
  11. The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde
  12. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
  13. East of Eden, by John Steinbeck
  14. Watership Down, by Richard Adams
  15. As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner
  16. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
  17. In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote
  18. Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier
  19. Ulysses, by James Joyce
  20. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
  21. A People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn
  22. The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov
  23. The Federalist Papers, by Alexander Hamilton
  24. White Teeth, by Zadie Smith
  25. Giovanni’s Room, by James Baldwin 
  26. The Secret History, by Donna Tartt
  27. Dracula, by Bram Stoker
  28. Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  29. The Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin
  30. Persuasion, by Jane Austen


So I finished two-thirds of the list. I’m in no way ashamed of that accomplishment!

In hindsight, I probably should have given myself a little more than a year to complete it! I think if I had read only from this list for a year I would have finished, but of course there were many other books I wanted to read as well. I definitely read more than 30 books in the last year, so I guess those were really the books I needed to read before 30!



Overall, I enjoyed most of the books I read from the list. That said, there are a handful that really stood out as favorites and that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou

So engaging, interesting and beautifully written. Sometimes you read a book and you immediately understand why it is so well-loved. This was one of those books for me. Most times I could barely bring myself to put it down! This story wrapped me up in itself and when it was done I wasn’t ready for it to end.

Dracula, Bram Stoker

I will admit I was worried about this one. On the one hand I was nervous it might be a little too scary for me (it wasn’t) and on the other I was concerned it wouldn’t live up to my high expectations (it did). Dracula ended up being different than I imagined it would be, but I absolutely loved it. It doesn’t top my darling Frankenstein, of course, but it’s still a new favorite!

The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov

I had no idea what was in store for me with this book and I honestly think that’s the best way to go into it. If you haven’t read this yet, I urge you to and if you have, let’s talk about it! It was just so much crazy fun from beginning to end and I can’t wait to read this again someday.

The Secret History, Donna Tartt

I had sky-high expectations for this one and I am pleased to report I was still blown away by its magnificence. I’ve said before that one of the words that best describes this book is “accomplished.” It does so much within its pages and it’s absolutely beautiful to read besides. This book makes me pine for fall and the boarding school or quaint eastern college I never attended. Read it!

Persuasion, Jane Austen

I hadn’t read any other Austen since reading Pride and Prejudice in high school, so I wasn’t quite sure how this would go. I’m not especially a romance or love story kind of gal, but I think Austen is something else entirely. This book was fabulous! The main character seemed like someone I’d want as a friend and the unraveling of the love story had me on the edge of my seat at times. Absolute heart-clutching enjoyment.


I included the books on the list for various reasons, but I also did hope to love each one. There was nothing I absolutely hated, but there were a few that fell a bit short of my expectations. I don’t want to ruin these books for anyone else, so I’m not going to say anything about them individually. None of them were bad books and I don’t even know if I’d go so far as to say I disliked any of them, but each just fell flat for me. Each is a book from an author I’ve read before and loved, which I think is mainly where those expectations came from. But they can’t all be winners! And for me, these were a little dull or tough to get through.

1984, George Orwell

This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald

Beloved, Toni Morrison

Ulysses, James Joyce


You might be wondering whether I enjoyed this experience and the answer is absolutely yes! I’ve mentioned that I wish I’d given myself a more realistic amount of time. Would I do it again? Definitely! I’m already thinking about my list of 40 books to read before turning 40. 🙂 The actual act of selecting the books was half the fun and way more difficult than I’d imagined. I plan to take my time compiling my list for 40 and to give myself the whole decade to work on reading it, if need be. I think it’ll be even more enjoyable that way. As far as what I’m going to include on the next list? We’ll all have to wait and see! I think there will be a bigger variety this time around. And more poetry.

I might even make some lists of books that I think anyone should read in their teens, 20s and 30s. The list I made was tailored to me, my interests and based on what I’d already read. Let me know if you’d be interested in seeing a more general to-read-before list or even a list of books I think all people should read at some point in life!

Thanks for coming along on this journey with me!




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2 thoughts on “What Anna Read Before Turning 30”

  1. Getting 2/3rds of the way through while also reading other books off list and working/living/#adulting is brilliant, Anna! Especially because some of the books on this list are quite lengthy. I love the little reviews/reactions you wrote up about the books you enjoyed. The only Austen I ever read was Pride and Prejudice as well but I keep telling myself over and over to read more of her books. Your recommendation of Persuasion gives me more incentive to borrow a copy from my library. I absolutely love lists! It would be so much fun to read more bookish lists if you create them and put them here.

    1. I would definitely start with Persuasion if you’re considering it! I found it the perfect re-introduction to Austen. 🙂 Glad you enjoyed this and I will definitely be coming up with more lists in future!

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