the books to read before you die | recommendations

23 August 2018

Recommending books to people is an art. People ask me for reading recommendations all the time and it has become something I take very seriously. Almost a little too seriously.

It's not as simple as just sending them my own personal favorite books, expecting them to love them. It takes time and patience and purposeful thought to figure the perfect read (or three) to recommend. I always want people to walk away with a new all-time favorite that they'll think about forever when I give them something to read.

That's why I find those generic "top books you should read before you die" lists to be skeptical. They're usually all the same, regurgitating the same selective books stolen from a high school English class's required reading. They always have scholarly and literary significance, and are usually mostly always classics.

While those type of books have their own importance and should definitely be read, I believe there are very few books in the world that everyone should read before they die.

Books that really add something to the world that should be read regardless of where you are personally in your own life. I also believe that a book doesn't have to be a well known classic to be impactful for everyone. There is more than literary significance that makes a book one that everyone should read. I personally think that themes, characters, and even overall enjoyment are just as important.

Reading is such a personal thing. A single book can be interpreted a million different ways by a million different readers. A book that I hate could mean so much to someone else. That's what makes reading such a special type of entertainment. My experience reading a book is entirely my own. Finding books that will give an impactful reading experience for everyone is difficult. And that's why I take recommending books so seriously.

Of course, it's impossible to make a fail-proof list of books that everyone should read before they die. But out of the many, many books I've read in my lifetime, there are five that I strongly believe that everyone should read at some point in their life.

It might see like a strange, arbitrary list. Not all of them are all time favorites of mine, but they are books I have found to be valuable whether I enjoyed them or not. They are books that I think most people can get something out of in one way or another in their lifetime.
T H E  B O O K  T H I E F  -  M A R K U S  Z U S A K

The Book Thief is a book that has stuck with me ever since I read it for the first time five years ago. It is also the book I have recommended the most to people. It's so different than any other World War II book I've ever read and is one of the most powerful books. The narration is unique and captivating, but more than anything, this book has so many profound quotes and themes that make you think about life and death and the importance of literature. It's also such an accessible book that's not too hard to read or comprehend completely. I have yet to meet anyone who has hated this book. I've sort of become convinced that there is something everyone can get out of it.

W A T E R S H I P  D O W N  -  R I C H A R D  A D A M S

It surprises me when I talk about this book and so few people seem to know about it, and even fewer have actually read it. At first glance it's a weird dark book about bunnies living their lives, which doesn't sound like something everyone can like. This is a slow burning read. It doesn't wow you right away, at least it didn't for me. It had to sit with me. The more I thought about it the more I realized how much it impacted me. The characterizations of these rabbits is incredible. They are so much more real and relatable than many human characters in books I've read. How they grow through their struggles on their journey is something that has been so inspiring to me in my own life.

L E S  M I S E R A B L E S  -  V I C T O R  H U G O

This is the only intimidating book I'm putting on this list. I honestly think I personally enjoyed Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame more than Les Mis, but I think that this one holds far more significance than any of his other works. Not that I necessarily think that everyone should physically read this whole book in their lifetime. I know that some people are simply unable to take on a dense 1000-page novel like this. But whether it's an abridged version, or even watching some adaptions of it, this is such a powerful story of redemption. The characters, especially Jean Valjean and Fantine go through struggles that are so thought provoking and impactful, and it shouldn't be skipped out on just because of intimidation.

T O  K I L L  A  M O C K I N G B I R D  -  H A R P E R  L E E

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of those books that is always on the lists of important books to read, and with this one I have to agree. The message against prejudice is so important but it isn't in your face about it like other books can be when giving a similar message. It has subtly and innocence about it that makes is such an enjoyable read for anyone at any stage in life. I was never bored or confused while reading this one. It's another read that really sticks with you.

V I C I O U S  -  V . E .  S C H W A B

Vicious is another book that too awhile to set in my mind, but when it did it stuck there. I wrote a whole review for it if you want to read all my thoughts on it. It's dark and gritty and filled with action, commentary on life, and shows what happens when power, even with good intentions can be abused. This is a book that is overall really enjoyable to read for fun, but below the surface there is more to it to be gained from reading it. I'm very excited for the sequel to come out this fall to see the characters again and what V. E. Schwab adds to this world. 

What are the books you think people should read before they die?


  1. NICE RECS. I have read The Book Thief and I'm currently reading Les Miserables as well as studying To Kill A Mockingbird in school ^.^ I will add Watership Down and Vicious to my tbr!! great post!

    1. I'm so glad you're reading Les Mis! That makes me happy! I hope you enjoy all the books on the list!

  2. I definitely am a person who takes recommending books a little too seriously and this is a great list! ♡

    1. It's good to have someone who can relate to my struggle!

  3. I love your list! I started reading To Kill A Mockingbird the other day, am going to start reading Les Mis soon, and definitely have The Book Thief on my TBR! :D

    I love your posts. They are always so amazingly written and thought-provoking. <3

    1. Thanks so much for your encouragement, Lila! I can't wait to hear all your thoughts once you've read the books!

  4. I'm so happy you did this post because honestly, I was considering doing something similar. But wow, the point you make about finding the "right books" for this list, ones that will impact anyone who reads them - SO GOOD.

    Now, onto the books:
    I have heard GREAT things about The Book Thief. It's definitely on my list of "books to read" : )

    Yep. To Kill a Mockingbird would be on my list too. It's so good.

    Really excited to look into Vicious and Watership Down!! You always have the best book recs.


    1. Aw thank you Keira! I'd be interested in seeing what books you would put on a list like this! You have amazing book recommendations too. I think you would especially like Watership Down!

  5. This post makes me happy 😊 I loveeee TO Kill a mocking Bird & Les Miserables.

    The other books also look good quite interesting!!!!
    Love this post :) :)

  6. I'm glad I've heard of most of these books. I've read The Book Thief and hopefully I get to read Les Mos and Vicious soon.

    1. I'm glad you've heard of them too! They're all great books!!

  7. Thank you for the suggestions! Did you read Little Bee? It's an amazing book! =)

  8. I need to read all of them! Absolute classics :)