40 Books Before I’m 40 (Redux)…

So today is my birthday and I have turned the ripe old age of thirty one, which means I officially can no longer pretend I am in my ‘very late’ twenties, rather like at New Year I use my birthday to put the last year into perspective and focus myself for what I want in the year ahead. As it was the big 3-0 last year I pondered looking a decade forward and choosing forty books to read before I was forty. I promptly then went off the idea and popped it on the back burner for another time.

Well that time has arrived. I have spent the last few days whittling over books that I feel it would be good to give myself, albeit rather loosely, a nudge in the direction of reading. Some of the books were ones, like ‘Middlemarch’ which will get a special mention shortly, which I have been simply meaning to read, other more modern books I have been intrigued about. I was also greatly helped with my new edition of ‘1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die’ (not that I am suggesting this will be on my 40th heaven forbid) which I have spent long periods mulling over.

1001 40

The rules, for there must always be some guidelines or things just get silly (see I even sound older), were simply that the books must be published by an author that I hadn’t tried before – thought I better throw that in there before I get some emails/comments telling me I have missed some absolute gems. Simple as that! And here is the list…

  1. Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe
  2. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou
  3. Before Night Falls – Reinaldo Arenas
  4. Nightwood – Djuna Barnes
  5. The Heat of the Day – Elizabeth Bowen
  6. Wild Swans – Jung Chang
  7. Claudine’s House – Colette
  8. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz
  9. Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoevsky
  10. Middlemarch – George Eliot
  11. Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
  12. Lord of the Flies – William Golding
  13. The Well of Loneliness – Radclyffe Hall
  14. Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
  15. For Whom the Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway
  16. Smilla’s Sense of Snow – Peter Hoeg
  17. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
  18. A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving
  19. Schindler’s Ark – Thomas Keneally
  20. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey
  21. Independent People – Halldor Laxness
  22. Lost Language of Cranes – David Leavitt
  23. The Golden Notebook – Doris Lessing
  24. Embers – Sandor Marai
  25. Fugitive Pieces – Anne Micheals
  26. A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
  27. The Country Girls – Edna O’Brien
  28. Quartet in Autumn – Barbara Pym
  29. The Mysteries of Udolpho – Ann Radcliffe
  30. All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque
  31. Pamela – Samuel Richardson
  32.  Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts
  33. A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
  34. Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
  35. Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
  36. Restoration – Rose Tremain
  37. Myra Breckinridge – Gore Vidal
  38. The Colour Purple – Alice Walker
  39. Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham
  40. Therese Raquin – Emile Zola

So there they are! I have also made sure I miss some famous classics (‘The Leopard’, ‘The Iliad’, etc) and some lesser known ones (‘The Odd Women’, ‘A Crime in the Neighbourhood’) but those are on my periphery too plus I also need to have some for when I do my fifty before fifty don’t I?

Now you may have noticed that there is one book which breaks the trend slightly and that is ‘Middlemarch’. Which leads me to a little announcement, and I hope those of you joining in with Classically Challenged won’t be cross, as I have decided to postpone writing about it on the last Sunday of March and am moving it to the end of June. I know, I know, June is ages away. However after some thought, and having only got eight chapters in so far, I decided I don’t want to rush this read (and I am enjoying it so far) because of a deadline and with a fairly long trip to London next week, plus a literary festival to prepare and read for, oh and those solo podcasts too… you get the picture. I simply want to enjoy ‘Middlemarch’.

So what do you make of the list? Which have you read and which have you been meaning to? Let me know and I promise I will be back next week, well tomorrow, catching up on all the comments that I have been meaning to for ages. In the meantime there are things to unwrap, candles to blow out, cake to eat and some serious applying of anti-aging cream to be done!


Filed under 40 Before 40, Random Savidgeness

47 responses to “40 Books Before I’m 40 (Redux)…

  1. This is a really good idea!
    I have a few years left before I hit 30, so maybe I should make a ’30 Books Before I’m 30′ list.
    Great collections of books you have there, I can almost guarantee that you will absolute love them! But I haven’t heard of all the books that you’ve posted so I’ll those to my own list. :3

  2. sharkell

    Happy Birthday! I hope you have a wonderful day. 31 is much easier than 30! I am very happy you have delayed Middlemarch as I wasn’t going to get to it this month or next so at least I have a chance now. You have some absolute gems in your 40 before 40 list. The ones that I have read and loved are:

    Wild Swans
    Catch 22 (I have read this twice and want to re-read it soon)
    A Fine Balance (I only read this last year and it made my top 10 for the year)
    All Quiet on the Western Front (ditto as for A Fine Balance)
    The Colour Purple.

    I have these books in my tbr:

    Middlemarch (of course!)
    Lord of the Flies (which I haven’t read since high school)
    A Prayer for Owen Meaney
    Schindlers Ark (which I am going to read for the Reading Matters Australian Literature Month next month)
    Fugitive Pieces
    Restoration (I did pick this up once but just wasn’t in the mood).

    I’ll get to them all eventually! Best of luck with your reading and your podcasts and your literature festival and your visits to your Gran…

  3. Happy Birthday!
    “Wild Swans” is amazingly beautiful. It is the best way to read about history of China from the women’s perspective.
    I’ve read “Claudine” (the whole series) when I was somewhere at the end of primary school, so about fourteen, and I loved it, but I don’t know how it’ll be for you now.
    “Crime and Punishment” and “Madame Bovary” were my obligatory reads at high school and I do want to read those again as you read diffrently when it is for school.
    I’ve read another book or Remarque and I liked his style, at least in translation I had. “All Quiet on the Western Front” is on my list.
    I like the list and the idea to read authors you hadn’t tried before. It’s so exciting to read a new author.

  4. Sweet Fanny Adams

    Couldn’t help doing a mental tick-off of your list – I’ve read 19 of them but as I have a son of your age, It’s not a great achievement of my part. You seem to be a quick reader so I think you could read Things Fall Apart is a couple of hours. I am so happy to see Therese Raquin on your list – Zola is my favourite author and I have read my 1970s copy three times.
    Happy birthday Simon, hope it’s a good one (at 31, you are still a baby, ha ha) x

  5. Happy Birthday Simon. You’re in for quite a treat

  6. Sarah Cubitt

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!! I’m at the big 3-0 in October! Maybe I should make the same list. Number 26 is one of my top 5 of all time, so I’d love to see what you make of it. I’ve also got the colour purple on my TBR at the mo. hope you have a great day!! Xx

  7. gaskella

    Happy Birthday Simon! Does coming to London next week mean you’ll be at the event on Wed eve? If yes, it’ll be lovely to touch base once more.

    To your list – there are some crackers on it, you have lots to look forward to. Despite being old enough to be your mother (eek!) I’ve only read ten of them with another 8 authors I’ve read different books of. Looking at your No1, that reminds me that I borrowed a copy of Things Fall Apart from my next door neighbour about a year and a half ago – given that he’s just passed away, I should get on and read it.

  8. What a wonderful list. Some great translated fiction. Maya Angelou is on my list too for this year. A Fine Balance will blow your mind. It’s hard work but well worth it. This and Crime and Punishment are on my ‘life changing reads’ list.

  9. David Nolan (David73277)

    Excluding a couple on my “unlike Magnus” shelf (i.e. I’ve started but not finished), I have only read six of these, including Middlemarch. Among the unfinished is Catch 22. Sharkell enjoyed it so much s/he read it twice; I have tried to read it twice but failed to get beyond about page 70 on both occasions. I would suggest that you apply your eighty-page rule: if you are not liking one of the books on your list by then, give it up and make another selection from the 1001 instead.

  10. Happy Birthday!!! You’re as young as you feel. Take that from someone who is 46. I like this idea and I may steal it from you and do 50 before 50. I try to be versatile in my reading choses but I have managed to avoid some great books I’m sure, which is a shame. I have been thinking of purchasing this book for a while and haven’t. Now you’re making me put it back up at the top of my TBR. The list you’ve made is a good. I’ve been meaning to read Things Fall Apart and Achebe died last week. He was a great African writer. I read I Know why the Caged Bird Sings and all of her other books and poetry. She’s a wonderful expressive strong African-American woman and writer. Read Claudine’s House, Madame Bovary, The Color Purple, Frakenstein, Lord of the Flies, A Prayer for Owen Meany, and Pamela. Have been meaning to read Vanity Fair, Middlemarch, Crime and Punishment, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Catch-22, Brave New world, The Golden Notebook, and A Suitable Boy (although it’s colossal). So many books and so little time. Thanks for this post and hope your day is full of surprises. 🙂

  11. Have a happy birthday. Interesting you chose Chinua Achebe as I just read the day before yesterday that he has died. So no one will see more books from this amazing African writer. I hope you enjoy him.

  12. Laura Caldwell

    Happy Birthday! Re: Middlemarch, I am half way through but just had to set it aside for a while (forever?). Funny thing is, I enjoy it (not love it) but just didn’t want any more of it. I read the first part back in December, and finished parts 2 & 3 before March. Part 4 is done except for a few pages-I couldn’t even finish those few pages! Maybe I will pick it up for finishing in June, but really I would need to read part 5 and maybe 6 in April. We’ll see. Only one of the classics that I couldn’t finish on time, although Tess came close.

  13. Happy birthday Simon! You’re only a few months behind me (and sometimes I still get scrutinised when buying booze). Hurrah for Triffids! I love that book. There’s a few on your list that I think I should read too…but I get too distracted by the want-to-read-right-nows.

  14. rosemarykaye

    Happy Birthday to you Simon!

    I’m ashamed to say I’ve only read 5 or 6 of these, and – whisper it low – although one of them was Middlemarch I didn’t enjoy it at all. I think I must be too dim to get it or something.

    The only comment I have on your choices is re the Barbara Pym – as a Pym fanatic, I would start with one of her lighter books, as QIA might put you off reading her wonderful earlier works. QIA is good (and was of course Booker prize nominated) but it’s dark and quite depressing, whereas Some Tame Gazelle, Excellent Women, A Glass of Blessings and No Fond Return of Love are much more fun. Some Tame Gazelle is, I think, the earliest of these, and it’s just wonderful – once you have read about Belinda, Harriet and the Archdeacon, you’ll never forget them.

    Have a great day. I really enjoy your posts.

    Rosemary (another one old enough to be your mother…though my oldest is ‘only’ 20.)

  15. Happy birthday! Hope you enjoy it.
    That’s a great list, lots I haven’t read but would like to and some I’ve read and really enjoyed, like the Zola and Catch 22. I might try and read Middlemarch for June too then, as I’ve never read any Eliot and it’s on my list to get to soon.

  16. Janet D

    Happy birthday! Enjoy being a mere youngster at 31. I hope you have more enjoyment with reading Catch 22 and The Golden Notebook than I did. I will however try them again; one day. Lots of lovely others to read though. Have a wonderful time.

  17. Many happy returns on the day! I think you will really enjoy A Prayer for Owen Meany – pick it up when you need something funny. I would second the other recommendations for Wild Swans as well. I’m stunned you made it through school without having to read Lord of the Flies – I guess I thought kids everywhere had to suffer through that one. (Must say, it was not so bad when I reread it as an adult — they do tend to ruin literature in school!)
    Happy reading to you!

  18. Happy Birthday!!!

    There are some really great books on your list–lots that I enjoyed, and a couple that I didn’t. Looking forward to your thoughts on all of them.

  19. zeneedle

    Happy Birthday, Simon. You have some great reading ahead of you! May you have many more decades of making lists ahead of you!

  20. Happy Birthday! I’ve recently read two on your list, Middlemarch (loved it) and Madame Bovary (hated it more than anything I’ve ever read in my life). Good luck with your list!

  21. Happy birthday Simon! Some great choices there on what seems to be a very varied list. They should certainly keep you busy over the next decade. I absolutely adore Lord Of The Flies and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Owen Meany is also great, although when it comes to Irving, The Cider House Rules is by far my favourite – maybe one to try if you enjoy Owen Meany! A couple that I didn’t enjoy from your list are Madame Bovary & Brave New World. But of course lots more of them are sitting on my TBR waiting to be picked up.

    I think my time to do a 30 before 30 is sadly running a little short, not many years left to fit them in, but maybe I will wait until then and come up with a similar list for my next decade.

  22. Happy birthday, Simon!

    Great list! I’m happy to see that Zola made it as he is one of my favorite authors. I haven’t yet read Thérèse Raquin since I’m still trying to get through his Rougon-Macquart series.

    Ones on your list I have read and would recommend are: Frankenstein, Lord of the Flies, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, A Prayer for Owen Meany, Schindler’s Ark, and Things Fall Apart. I remember taking forever to get into Vanity Fair, but liking it once I did. The only one here I really didn’t enjoy is Madame Bovary, but I know many love it.

    Ones I really want to read are Crime and Punishment, Middlemarch, Catch-22, and Quartet in Autumn. And now also Restoration, which I’m just learning about today, so thank you for making me look up Rose Tremain on Goodreads!

  23. Happy Happy birthday.enjoy each and every book on your list.

  24. Happy birthday! I love the idea of selecting authors you haven’t read, and from this book – very sensible to have limits.

    I’ve not read many of these, but I have read Fugitive Pieces, Pamela, and Frankenstein. I found them all rather hard-going, I’m afraid…

  25. Happy Birthday Simon and yay for a new year ahead of you! I like your list very much and just wanted to do a plug for Barbara Pym. I discovered her at the end of 2012 (Excellent Women) and absolutely loved the book and her writing style. It was a perfect book for me to end the year on. A few of the others on your list are also on my books-I-am-committing-to-read-in-the-next-few-years list (Smilla’s Sense of Snow, Things Fall Apart, I know why the caged bird sings, Middlemarch) so I’ll be interested to see your thoughts on them.

  26. I’ve read a quarter of your list (although I passed fourty fourteen years ago) and it struck me how random the omissions we all have are. I’ve never read George Elliot, for instance. But, I have read Madame Bovary, which may be the sexiest book I’ve ever read. Zola is breathtaking – Nana is amazing, too, if you get around to it. After you’ve read those two you’ll understand why the British were so nervous of the French. Catch 22 the funniest. Oscar Wao is fantastic, and I can’t say anything else without spoiling it. Sorry, I won’t go on, but I may try the 30 on your list that I haven’t read. Happy birthday. x

  27. ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ (the caged bird signs of freedom and things yearned for still) is one of my favourite, favourite books. Are you reading the books in the order you listed them? If so, caged Bird is second on your list. I defy you not to fall in love with it!!

  28. I’m 53 and I’ve read nine of these. I’ll only comment on the Colette choice, which is not I think the book I’d start with and I’d suggest that for that particular one you might get more out of it if you’ve read a good biography of her first. Enjoy.

  29. Happy Birthday!! Hope you are enjoying a lovely birthday 😉 As for your list – I love it! Its quite diverse and as I’ve read quite a few of the titles on there, I’m pretty confident you will definitely enjoy the books you have chosen. Your list actually makes me want to start my own list. Hmmm.

  30. Hope you have a lovely birthday : ) I love your list, but I agree with Rosemary above on the question of Quartet in Autumn – not the best Pym to start with, my personal favourites I think would be Jane and Prudence or No Fond Return of Love, though Some Tame Gazelle and Excellent Women would also be good places to start.

  31. A very happy birthday to you. I too did a mental ticking of books I’ve read from your list and so pleased with myself as there were quite a few. Nice idea as well.

  32. Yay! You’ve included some of my own favourites on your list: Fugitive Pieces, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, A Prayer for Owen Meany, Smilla’s Sense of Snow, The Colour Purple, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao… and so many other good books too. I second the suggestion by Sweet Fanny Adams to start with Things Fall Apart, or else another of the shorter ones like Nightwood or All Quiet on the Western Front, and then you’ll have a bunch of these checked off in no time. Plus you will be fulfilling your recent goal of adding variety to your reading diet. Happy birthday and happy reading!

  33. You are in for so many delightful experiences. What. Great birthday present to yourself. Wild Swans is a must read for anyone interested in this economic powerhouse – I got our CEO to read it a few years ago a d she promptly made all the executive team read it. Am just finishing crime and punishment which is outstanding.

  34. Happy Birthday to you, happy birthday to you, …

  35. Jen

    Happy birthday, Simon! A Fine Balance is one of my very favorite books. I hope you enjoy it, too!

  36. If we were sitting down together having a chat I would probably have something to say for every book on your list. Whether I have read them or not, I seem to have an opinion on everything. But, I will try and limit myself.

    Collette: I loved The Ripening Seed. But I read the first two Claudines this year (at school, and in Paris) and I found them really tedious.

    The Golden Notebook had its moments but man it was a slog for me. I prefer her novel The Summer Before the Dark. However, I will say that TGN is one of those must read books that I think really is a must read–even though she wrote other much more enjoyable books.

    I think Catch-22 is a joke that goes on way too long.

    The Angelou, the Walker and the Iriving are delights in their own ways.

    Brave New World is a great book but not necessarily indicative of the rest of his work. Point Counterpoint is very good and Chrome Yellow was one of Barbara Pym’s favorites.

    And speaking of BP, you could read Quartet in Autumn in time for your reading week in June. It is one of hers that I haven’t read but I am told it is more sombre than her other novels.

  37. Belated happy birthday, Simon! Some great books on there – some I’ve read, and others I’ve been meaning to read, plus a few I hadn’t heard of before and enjoyed looking up. A Fine Balance is a wonderful book, probably my favourite from those I’ve read on your list. Enjoy!

  38. What a varied selection! Just what you need to get you through your fourth decade. Trust me, you won’t be short of new reading challenges in your fifth either!

  39. Happy Birthday! Hope you had a lovely day.

    What an excellent list, you could open it up as a challenge of sort if you wanted to, invite everyone to read along or complete it with you.

  40. maqybe I could do a 50 before 50 list I m now over forty lol ,all the best stu

  41. I’m late but I wish you a happy birthday. I read Owen Meany last summer, I liked it but it’s not my favourite by this writer.

  42. Pingback: Guest Blog – ofBooks on Books Before 30 | EmilyBooks

  43. What’s happened to this idea? You seem to have gone all quiet on us.

  44. Pingback: Update: Books Before 30 | ofBooks

  45. Pingback: Pondering: The Return of 40 By 40 (I Need Your Book Recommendations) | Savidge Reads

  46. Aunt Tessa

    Great picks.

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