10 Must Reads Before You Turn 20! 

Author : Shefali Deshpande 

Many of you reading this could be university students turning 20 very soon or just turned 20 or if not anytime soon
will at some point in your life turn 20 or already have many many years ago, but either way, we are going to address the people who are entering the third decade of their lives, stumbling, sometimes falling and mostly confused but perhaps happy, hopeful and believing we’ll be forever young (which we will, of course) 

Here are ten books that I had the privilege of reading before I turned 20 and believe everyone should read in their lifetimes, top 10 books to read before you turn 20! 

A must to–do list for anyone looking for endless inspiration, hope and understanding of the complex emotional and social world around us before they awkwardly stumble around in adulthood.


1. Matilda – Roald Dahl



The first book on this list is none other than a childhood classic, a book which I first read when I were 8 years old, when my parents gifted me a collection Roald Dahl books and this one stuck with me the most. 

A hilarious book, one that masks intelligently a critique of a society obsessed with money and glacial looks, a society disconnected with their emotions, one where the greed of so many people destroy the others but more than anything it is a book about hope at the end of the tunnel and the value of human connections. 

Whats more that it’s a beautifully peaceful happy ending and a quiet lesson in telling us to embrace whoever we are, however we are. Telling us to embrace our quirks and celebrate our differences. Its funny, touching, truthful, revealing and will make you feel so warm inside that you will in times of doubt and trouble, find yourself reading this book at many intervals in your life.



2. A Series of Unfortunate Events – Lemony Snicket


There is little to no doubt about the fact that the world we live in is beautiful yet sinister and that kind of is the point of this series. 

Another childrens classic, this is actually not one book but a series of 13 books so well crafted and nuanced that reading this at 10 or 11 taught me a thing or two. A series of books that transports you to a place on planet earth but a place you’ll never hear of, people you’ll never meet at a time in history you are not even sure of, these lightly hilariously and brilliantly macabre books opened me up to the vast world of gothic literature, dark humour and beautiful, intricate plots with such subtle giveaways that they’ll have you hooked. 

They are beautifully written and have been best sellers for children throughout the globe. These books hold a certain degree of mystery to them which forms such a fantastic escapist route for pure pleasure escapism reading that they’re a must. Family values, interesting new villains, important life lessons, vocabulary building and with many more brilliant things, this series of books is a must for anyone who enjoys being humored, entertained and good old intelligent fiction. 

The whole concept of this series, from its original cover art to the fact that the author’s name is a pen name, to the warnings readers are given to put the books away and read something lighter, taught me, as a young girl a thing or two about heartbreak. 

These books are what taught me that heartbreaks and heartaches aren’t always loud and don’t come with a bang or heavy warning. 

Similarly, heart warming and comfort don’t come in big packaged bows and giant gestures, they also happen, in the smallest of things and moments. Although these are books typically written for an early teen crowd, these are a must for everyone before they enter adulthood!


3. The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger



The rest of this list will be books for young adults or adults whatever you want to call us.  

Now the Catcher in the Rye is a cult classic that needs no introduction for the most part. A book many think is just a young, spoilt boy whining away about life. I, for one, am not on that team.

 This book is tried and tested, and for many years remains a favourite amongst most for good measure. A hilariously narrated story with underlying sadness that can break your heart. This book has the power to make you laugh while you cry and then cry while you laugh and then feel absolutely insane. 

The story follows young Holden Caulfield, a complex man who is struggling with leaving childhood behind and is written with the warmth, honesty and pain of a boy who is disillusioned with the society that has given to him materialistically, financially, economically and socially but forgotten that money can’t buy everything and perfection is more than what meets the eye. 

A young man dealing with death, loss, confusion about manhood, childhood and life in general, feelings that money cant solve, feelings society sometimes forgets to help validate. A book in which the character is running and keeps running from something, something he cant quite escape, is a feeling a lot of us could probably relate to.

In this book Salinger shows the breakdown of the myth of the American dream amongst the youth of the 20th century in the United States of America.

It is a beautiful and funny story that spoke volumes to me in the smallest of moments, in the quirkiest of quotes and most random of reactions by Holden. Everyone should read this –  hate it or love it, read it.


4. A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers – Xialou Guo


This one, is a book about love, loss, abuse, blurred lines, distorted self image, hopes and dreams. Needs and wants and complexities within us not actualized resulting in loss of self worth, loss of love, loss of self love and just generally loss of self. 

A book about a trying love affair that highlights what self discovery can mean for everyone and how it can differ from individual to individual and how some people only know how to take while some only know how to give, creating havoc and disaster. It brilliantly captures the feeling of immersing oneself in a foreign language and culture and portrays the pains and anxieties of being an outsider, of being alone, of loneliness, of breaking, of rebuilding, of confusion, of swimming after sinking. This piece of literature by no means, is for the faint of heart.

It also captures the cultural differences between the lower classes of the East and the West, practical wisdom versus a experimental approach. The book also captures how the protagonist goes through transitions, she is complex, she is layered, she is insecure. She is believable. She could be any of us. Or none of us.

It’s a layered and complex story – A book showing us the many shades of people in this big world and its heartbreaking and heart mending. An almost tragic love story, a story of self discovery and self worth.

It is a book you will swim through, you will read it in gulps, huge chunks of the pages will slip through your pages and it will leave you hung-over only to find yourself returning to it a few years later hopefully.


5. Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie



This book is about a lot of things. Race, America, Nigeria, the first world and the third world, the rich and the poor, class and class differences, but for me it was mostly a love story which can hit so close to home for many. The ending leaves you with the feeling that there is always a glimpse and glimmer of hope for things that are meant to be and there is no place to be in love and be a coward at the same time. 

This is a book that gives you life, breaks your heart, fixes it and breaks it again only to fix it. It’s a lot like reality, not always sweet not always bitter, somewhere them leading and flowing into each other. Every single living being should read this book to understand how nuanced love, life, culture and the world can be. There is an element of shades of grey, showing that nothing is black and white. Nothing is absolute. It’s a perceptive and very observational book. 

The range of details and accuracy is vast and on point. Very few books can and have dealt with a range of heavy and light things with the kind of assimilation and accuracy as this book, doing justice to every perspective, every nuance it handles. Love a little cultural banter, behind the doors enjoyment, tragedies, romance, comedies even? This gives you everything. You don’t come out the same person you were before you read it. This is a definite must for everyone.


6. The Book Thief – Markus Zusak



This absolute gem finds itself narrated by Death itself, so lifelike and honest, so feeling and alive, so sick of his own job, So disappointed in the human race. 

This book is a heartbreak and heartache throughout, The Book Thief centers around the life of Liesel Meminger, a nine-year-old girl living in Germany during World War II. Liesel’s experiences are narrated by Death, who describes both the beauty and destruction of life in this era. 

Characters who are far from perfect, it is a story that is fast and ripe and full of feeling that oscillates, masterfully constructed to show various kinds of relationships, from major to minor, each told with deep understanding and compassion. The emotional depth of various levels explored in just one book is hard to believe. Death himself manages to highlight the futility and heinousness of crimes and war.

 The book reduces you to tears, leaves you feeling helpless, even frustrated. It’s a beautiful account of historical fiction. This is ideal for people who love war stories that aren’t just about what war on the battle fields, but a war stricken society. Violence, poverty, heartache, brutal reality of history, this one can’t be skipped.


7. 1984 – George Orwell


The fact that this book was written years before the year 1984 is only one of the reasons why this spooky, negative utopian dystopian, half science fiction half political commentary has been so famous since its release first in 1949. 

Controlling politics, your every move being watched, every word you say monitored, living in constant fear in the darkness and grimness of a world where there isn’t really any freedom, sound familiar?

 The way world politics has been taking turns for sometimes the worse since the world wars ended, seemed like something orwell knew would happen. Reading this book is the most brilliant way to appreciate and understand the reality in which we live in today and which hasn’t changed much in decades.

 The underlying themes of politics and fascism in the book are themes that resonate even strongly today and probably will in another 100 years. This book is timeless. Also, ever wondered where they got the idea for Bigg Boss, that tv show where there is an all viewing all knowing all trusted all controlling voice who no one ever sees but hey man, he controls everything. 

Every single thing. That’s right. The Indian tv show was inspired by the show with the same concept in the west called Big Brother, and Big Brother is our very own all knowing all seeing ambiguous voice of control and reason in this book. So that’s right, not only is this book a solid commentary on uncomfortable politics but has managed to inspire reality shows in different corners of the globe. Whats more, its well written, its brilliant, and its George orwell.


8. Impeachment – Anjali Deshpande



The book is a half fiction half true story account of the Bhopal gas tragedy which occurred in the heart of Madhya Pradesh in our very own india on the 2nd of December in the month of 1984. Here comes a narrative which explores sexuality, friendship, pain, tragedy, loss and the helplessness of the human condition and man himself in the face of disasters and trouble caused by his own actions. 

A book which challenges many concepts of what Indian literature has always been viewed as, this book takes on a deep and meaningful spin on life amidst a tragedy. Be it man made disasters, earthquakes, tsunamis, or tornados, what is the aftermath. A very all rounded story which encompasses multiple facets of life, this one is for all the young and older readers who enjoy a story with a touch of our very own contemporary indian history.

Its fast, pacey and I finished it over a two day span while I was travelling in the summer of 2012. I started it on the flight and had to get it done my first night at the hotel. It grips you and leaves you thinking. It makes you understand what activism can be and what goes on behind the scenes. This is a must read for anyone who would like to devour a sumptuous read and have something that they would not want to put down.  

The original, Impeachment, was written and published in English a few years ago but there will be a Hindi translation, Mahabhiyog, which will be releasing soon this year, and with that our purely hindi readers can also enjoy the story.


9. The white tiger – Aravind Adiga


This is another story I started late at night one night and by morning time I had finished it. It is so gripping, realistic, honest and funny that it is unputdownable.

 To understand the blend and existence of true modern day India where all the money in the world survives with bleeding poverty side by side, this book is it. This portrays a reality so true and so stark so beautifully about our country, that it covers almost all economic and social stand point that India with its vast melting pot and population has to offer. Its funny. Its supremely dark. Its entertaining from the get go, its pacey its fast and its beautiful. Its beautiful because its so simple and its slightly sad and it does a great job of highlighting how there really is no black and white in the world, only shades of grey. 

This is a definite must read for anyone who has ever set foot in Gurgaon or Delhi or lived even a remote amount of time here. Not a single sentence is wasted. It is weaved dramatically but caution, don’t start to look at everyone suspiciously because this book may initially evoke such emotions.

Absolutely loved this one and for any young person to understand contemporary India’s emotional and social hang ups? This one is it.



10. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov



This modern classic comes from the Russian God of terrifying tales. This story was terrifying, addictive and is unlike anything anyone will ever read. Ever thought something so taboo or typically creepy like pedophilia could be beautiful? Yeah I didn’t either. But this book isn’t saying that or doing that. This is not a story about promotion of pedophilia or creepiness or any of the stigmas attached to it. 

It’s a story about individuals who if we keep aside the stigmas, have a story that makes you question who and what they are and how you never thought things could be. This book opens your mind and makes your heart bleed and makes you think and stay up into the late late late hours of the night going over the things you had read. 

Sex, taboos, love of kinds most of us will never know, love that will scare you, madness, obsession and selfish consumption of human beings, and madness. Loads and loads of madness and blood. It awakens things inside you that you didn’t know and teaches you about things that you will always know very little of. This is a definite must for there really is never going to be another book like Lolita ever.


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