24 Books I Read Before My 24th Birthday

24 Books I Read Before My 24th Birthday

It’s hard to say whether I grew up loving to read, or if reading was so intrinsically part of my childhood that I couldn’t help but fall head over heels for stories. It runs in the family- my elder sister taught herself to read because she was too impatient to wait for our parents to read the next chapter to her. Four years younger, my first impressions of my sister involved blonde hair, her love of M&Ms and hatred of raisins and her head constantly being in a book. Determined to keep up, I soon followed suit.

Now just over two dozen years into life, my love of reading and stories has been matched by a love of film, photography, writing, and fashion. It moved from paperback pages to an endless universe of content through the internet. Everything you could want at the tip of your fingers, but with the infinite choices and dizzying speeds of online media I wasn’t able to pick up as many books as I would like. So last January, I decided to set myself a challenge to read 24 books before my 24th Birthday at the end of July- I had six months and the motivation of someone trying to recapture some of the magic of their childhood. I’m pleased to say I didn’t procrastinate too badly, even still it took a week in the mountains of Wyoming in June to complete my goal- entirely cut off from the internet, work, social media, and cell phone service. I read a book a day in a frenzy that surprised even me. This post features photos from that trip- in which I was channeling the main character of some historical western romance, Little House on the Prairie maybe? Overall, this challenge was a reminder that not everything you read will have a profound, meaningful impact on your life. Sometimes they just provide fun facts that will pop up in chatty conversation, sometimes it will be a sweet, wholesome story that comforts like a mug of tea between your hands. Sometimes though, the words stay with you long after you turn the final page.

  1. The Forger’s Spell by Edward Dolnick An excellent non-fiction read about the world’s biggest art heist, I recommend for any former art history majors and whoever has seen Ocean’s 8 more times than they can count *cough me*
  2. A Map of Salt and Stars by Zeyn Joukhadar This beautifully written novel follows a young girl’s journey as a Syrian refuge, the story I especially loved the poetry that marked the start of each section.  
  3. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab (Funnily several of the books I read are being adapted to film or television, I adored this book, reading it over the course of an afternoon/evening. The pacing and premise drew me in and I loved Addie’s fire and bravery and the power of art and beauty to sustain us through things!
  4. The Idiot by Elif Batuman Coming of age from Harvard to Europe- I found Selin a little hard to get into but as her voice evolves over the course of the year, it really captures the exhilaration and anxiety of young adulthood.
  5. Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson I have a weakness for period piece romances and this one was so charming, following a blue stocking as she teaches in the small seaside town. Great for anyone who misses Downton Abbey.
  6. Invincible Summer by Alice Adams Following four friends in the twenty years from graduating university, this explored how they grow apart and back together. I enjoyed it but found that it was somewhat limited in perspective.
  7. All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung A fantastic memoir looking at adoption, identity and both losing and finding your culture. Anyone who has ever uncovered a family secret or found their family outside of their childhood and blood relatives, this is an excellent read.
  8. The Secret History by Donna Tarte If you’ve heard of the dark academia aesthetic, this book is more or less the blueprint. Following a group of classics student at a New England liberal arts college, whose relationships, morals, and beliefs are tested as they stumble down a path that ends in murder. I tore through this book in just over a day and highly recommend to anyone who loves a mystery.  
  9. In the Midst of Winter by Isabelle Allende A freak snowstorm in New York brings together three strangers, tracing their histories from Chile and Guatemala to Brooklyn. I’ve read all of her other books and this one was equally excellent.
  10. The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates Magical realism and language at its finest, I found this book to be one of the best examples of compelling storytelling, and a really unique take on the underground railroad.
  11. Me by Sir Elton John My parents played a lot of classic rock growing up, including Tiny Dancer, Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting, Rocketman and more. I saw the biopic with Taaron Egerton a few years ago and loved it. So all in all, an autobiography was right up my alley. It was interesting to see how his career progressed, and how much of that, in Elton’s perspective, was up to chance.
  12. Quennie by Candice Carty-Williams I loved this book, it’s heroine was so relatable and the prose was quick witted and clever while also being compassionate about tackling mental health and black women’s identity and finding herself.
  13. Lady Killers by Tori Telfar I prefer heist/cons to murder, so this was a bit out of my comfort zone but definitely fascinating. Telfar does a great job of investigating the stories of some of the most cruel women in history without stereotyping or over sympathizing. Proving once and for all that despite former FBI analyst opinion- there definitely were women serial killers.
  14. Rules of Civility by Amor Towles Anyone who loves the Jazz Age, this is an excellent book, that dissects class, New York society and the creation and dissolution of a Gatsby-esque figure.
  15. A Promised Land by Barack Obama This one was a long haul, but I really enjoyed it. I found the early years and election most compelling, then it slowed for me during the middle chapters on the financial crisis and picked back up once it turned to foreign policy and diplomacy. I also felt that Obama gave interesting insight to his own thought processes, mistakes and hopes throughout his first presidential term.
  16. Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner I finished this memoir in a few hours, it’s very emotional, dealing with her mother’s passing and connection to her Korean side of the family. I most enjoyed her descriptions of visits to Seoul, the realization that her mother had a whole life before her, and all of the food!
  17. The Cave Dwellers by Christina McDowell This book was a scandalous and cutting look at the archetypes that make up the powerful in DC society, as someone who grew up in the area it was fascinating to read and recognize not only the geographical landmarks but the familiar Washingtonian types.
  18. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen The first book I read once in the mountains of Wyoming, it felt fitting to read a classic, regency novel when I was taking long walks in nature and sitting beside cozy fires sipping tea. My favorite Austen is still Emma, but I loved Marianne and Elinor’s stories and characters.
  19. Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo One of the few instances in which I read the books after watching the adaptation. Ben Barnes casting definitely influenced my decision to read this, and it was a fun read. I loved fantasy growing up so it’s interesting to re-read that genre now in young adult and adult novels. I may read the rest of the books closer to Season 2.
  20. The Switch by Beth O’Leary Honestly the most charming and wholesome book I’ve ever read. Telling the story of a grandmother and a granddaughter who switch places, one to the hustle and bustle of London and another to a seemingly sleepy village in Northern England, they both find their way back to themselves. I smiled, I laughed, I cried.
  21. The Last Tang Standing by Lauren Ho Described as ‘Bridget Jones meets Crazy Rich Asians’ but so much more than that. Andrea, the main character is so clever and sharp, and I loved the insights into South Asian society and families.
  22. Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari An absolutely fascinating book, that looks at everything in the world, science, history, politics and culture and breaks it down anthropologically. If anyone also asked incessant ‘but why’ questions growing up this book was written for you. So well written, it’s also clever and human, several times I laughed which I don’t usually do when reading educational non-fiction.
  23. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evarist Following a group of women over the course of their lives, who are each navigating love, meaning, gender, race- I adore stories about women and the women who come before them. I especially loved that you are introduced to each over time, and learn more about each woman, and slowly the mosaic comes into shape.
  24. Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton A memoir I think every woman should read, from one of the best journalists and authors I’ve ever known. I fell for her wit, sarcasm and insights first through podcasts and I have to say Dolly captured everything I’ve ever felt about love and friendships in her book. A quote that has stayed with me ever since I turned the last page “And if this is it. If this is all that there is- just me and the trees and the sky and the seas, I know now that that’s enough.”

Happy reading! Xx

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