I have always loved this quote. It resonates with me a lot, because I am a HUGE bookworm. I have roughly 200 and odd books at home, and my collection is ever growing. I have lived roughly 500 lives and come back to this reality, disappointed but enriched. I want to share some of that with you, my readers. Hence, this article enumerates the top 20 books to read before you die.
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.”George R.R. Martin
Why do we read books? To get a different viewpoint, change or reaffirm our position about any issue, help us grow, help us become better persons, increase our vocabulary and our grasp of a particular language.
It is basically the story of human kind and it is a necessity to make our lives colourful and beautiful.
All the books that I enumerate in this article helps by doing one of those things or a multitude of them. It is impossible to select only 20 books from the millions of books that have been written until now, so if I miss any, bear with it.
So, let’s get into the main article without further ado! Here are the top 20 books to read before you die, in no particular order.
1.To Kill a Mockingbird by HarperLee
It is a story that takes place in the small town of Maycomb, Alabama between the years 1929-1939.
The entire story is narrated from the viewpoint of young Jean Louise “Scout” Finch, who ages between 6 and 9 years through the story.
It tells a story about a black man, Tom Robinson, who is falsely accused of raping a white woman, and about Atticus Finch, the protagonist’s father, who chooses to defend Tom Robinson.
It is a beautiful story about staying true to your morals and principles, and being kind and empathetic to everybody, irrespective of sex, race, colour, religion and any other factor.
I think that this is especially relevant now, when everybody seems to be losing their minds.
A skim of the newspaper reveals such heart rending stories that you lose faith in humanity. If everybody would read this book and inculcated some of the values, the world would be a much better place than it is now.
Favourite quote – “Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird”.
2. The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
This is another book that immortalized a love story, but quite unlike Romeo and Juliet. That between Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan.
It sells the American Dream, about doing well and becoming rich, throwing wild parties and marrying the love of your life.
But what it also sells is the fact that some things are just not worth it. Some people are just not worth it.
It tells us the basic flaw that is very apparent in people now, that of selfishness. It’s a lesson in moving on and leaving the past in the past.
The literary masterpiece is a lesson in description, as Mr Fitzgerald descriptions are magnificent, beautiful, dark and poignant, all at the same time. Read it just for the language.
Favourite quote – “Let us learn to show our friendship for a man when he is alive and not after he is dead.”
3. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
This is an all-time favourite, and for all the right reasons. It is a love story, again. But what The Great Gatsby lacks in strong female characters, you get that in abundance here.
The main story is about how Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet start off by having animosity towards each other, which changes to grudging respect and then love towards the end.
The journey is a roller coaster of laughs and serious moments, between Lizzy’s sarcasm and Darcy’s arrogance.
But the reason this book is great is because it literally tore down preconceived notions of marriage and love for women.
Keep in mind that this was written 200 years ago, and it was a revolutionary piece of literature. So, this truly deserves its place in the top 20 books that you should read before you die.
Favourite quote – “There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.”
4.The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
This is a real tear jerker, so keep a box of tissues ready by your side.
It’s the story of Anne Frank, a young Jewish girl who stays in Frankfurt, Germany during the time Hitler came into power and WWII started.
Her family flees to Amsterdam and stays hidden with another Jewish family, and the book is basically a record of all that happens in their lives during this period in their lives.
It is narrated from the perspective of young Anne Frank, who ages between 13 and 15 years throughout the book.
Why this book? It is a clear message to the world that freedom is a basic human right of people everywhere and that it is something that is not supposed to be forgotten.
Also, the book is refreshing as narrated from the point of view of Anne, and it sometimes concentrates on the mundane, like arguments between siblings or the things that had to be done to be silent.
It repeatedly lets you know that the author is a young girl and is unable to comprehend the horrors that Nazi Germany perpetrated.
The book ends suddenly on August 1st, 1944.
5.Harry Potter series by J K Rowling
This is probably something that can be enjoyed by everybody, of all ages and sexes. J K Rowling is a God damn literary genius and she created the pathway for books to be major sources of entertainment.
She created a world of magic, astounding creatures, of witches and wizards, goblins, elves, centaurs and giants and great battles and cockroach clusters and all things that are funny, wondrous, and gives you hope for a little bit of magic in your own life.
She made broomsticks cool. You try doing that with any normal household object. Try making an ordinary object into a sport worthy of having world cups with!
Long story short, it is worth the read for the sheer magnificence of the world created by Rowling, and only for that reason, it deserves a place in the top 20 books to read before you die.
Favourite quote – “Y’er a wizard, Harry!”
6.1984 by George Orwell
This is probably one of the creepiest and most chilling book on the list, and with good reason. It tells us the story of a dystopian world where everybody is monitored through a screen and anybody who doesn’t follow the strict and extremely restricting rules of the government.
It is basically what might have happened if the Soviet Union had won the Cold War. Yeah, it’s that grim. Glad for oil-exploiting, beer-guzzling America now, aren’t we?
The main protagonist is Winston and the story is about how he tries to break through the rules and escape, but is unable to do so because the entire populace has been trained, conditioned and broken down to be subservient to the extreme, and Winston is no exception to that rule.
It is very relevant in the present time because monitoring and conditioning experiments have already been conducted on the population without its knowledge to manipulate how a particular event turns out.
Favourite quote – “And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’”
7. The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings series by J R R Tolkien
Again, this is probably one of the most famous book series in the world. It has 6 excellent movies made and has some of the most intricate plot lines that I’ve come across.
And it is an excellent source of inspiration if you want to start writing your own novels. Authors such as J K Rowling have credited these books as their inspiration.
It introduces to us the characters that are seen again later in The Lord of the Rings, and it is a light hearted series, full of song, mirth, joy, happiness, but also abound with heroism, adventure and an outlet for our imagination in the various landscapes designed by Tolkien.
The Lord of the Rings is more serious, and contains some parts of sadness, but also contains tales of bravery, solidarity and gives you serious friendship goals envy.
I mean, would your best friend come all the way to a bloody volcano to get rid of a dirty old ring? Probably not.
Did you know that Tolkien actually created runes and scripts for the languages described in the book? How often do you see that level of dedication?!
His books are basically the Holy Books for the fantasy genre. And anybody who hasn’t read the books until now should stop everything and start reading these books.
One of my favourite series and a game changer for eternity. No list is complete without this and so, it truly belongs in the top 20 books to read before you die.
Favourite quote – “`You cannot pass,’ he said. The orcs stood still, and a dead silence fell. `I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. You cannot pass. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn. Go back to the Shadow! You cannot pass.'”
8.Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
This is another book that is a must read. It tells the story of the black people in 19th Century Nigeria, how they adapted to the presence of the British and how they subjugated the indigenous people.
It gives a true picture of the people of Africa and how their lifestyle was, before the Colonizers came and the narrative is littered with proverbs, folktales and songs of the Igbo people, a tribe indigenous to Nigeria before the Colonizers arrived.
The story then twists and turns to how life changed and became very dangerous to those who didn’t conform to the rules set by the invading Britishers.
Many books have been written about how the British came and how everything changed overnight. But they have all been written from a very impersonal point of view.
This book takes you, the reader, and puts you in the shoes of the main protagonist. Right in the middle of all the action. You can’t help but beware the end, as you know it is not going to be a happy ending, but you cannot put the book down either.
9. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
If you though The Diary of a Young Girl was a tear jerker, this is a weeper of a book. I wept.
The story is about a cancer ridden girl who meets a cancer survivor boy, and the story about how they become frenemies to grudging friends and can’t help but fall in love with each other towards the end.
The roller coaster of emotions that the reader goes through by the end of the book is emotionally exhausting.
It is a story of bravery, laughter, friendship, teenage angst, romance, love and how cancer doesn’t only affect the patient but their families as well. It is a story full of humour and pathos, light and dark moments, full of contrasts.
It is a must read for all, cause it gives an insight into what it is to be human and what characteristics should be there in another person.
Favourite quote – “You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world…but you do have some say in who hurts you. I like my choices.”
10.A Game of Thrones by George R R Martin
Oh boy, the season finale was one astoundingly big train wreck. I mean, the writing got so sloppy in the last few seasons.
And I’ll tell you why. They didn’t have a book to base their scripts off of. G R R Martin has written only 4 books until now, and the show runners were able to piggyback on his books and write scripts.
But once they didn’t have any basic story, it dissolved from the sixth season onward.
If that doesn’t tell you about what a story teller George R R Martin is, nothing will. The writers were just not able to recreate the level of detail that he propounded and it was a sinking ship.
The story is about six “houses” and the power play between them for the throne to rule them all. It is full of betrayal, twists, turns, executions and some of the most unpredictable story telling I have ever read.
This raises the bar for any book, and so it truly deserves its place in the top 20 books to read before you die.
Martin is one intelligent fellow. He waited until the show runners completely butchered the show before he released his books, so that the sales for the books are quite possibly doubled or trebled than if he’d released it while the show was running.
The books are long, agreed. But they are definitely worth the read.
This is the only story in the form of an epic ballad. Don’t be scared by the use of the old English, it is fairly easy to understand once you get used to it.
The story is about how a great Danish king, Hrothgar, exultant in his victories against his enemies, makes enough noise with his celebrations that it attracts the attention of a demon, Grendel.
Grendel and his mother terrorize the people of Hrothgar for many years, until Beowulf comes with his friends and they kill them both.
He eventually returns to his homeland and becomes king and rules for 50 years, until a thief unwittingly releases a dragon and he is called to battle again.
Why should you read this book? Because it is one of the first instances to include fantasy and it gives you an idea of how the people were expected to be and what level they strove to achieve. This is especially relevant now, in this day and age.
12.Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
A catch 22 is a situation which offers no escape because of mutually conflicting or dependent conditions. This phrase was coined by the author and is so very popular now that I’m pretty sure that he should be paid royalties every time someone uses it.
The entire book is a satirical comedy about war and how a pilot doesn’t want to fly anymore, but is unable to not fly as he cannot get voluntary retirement.
The whole book journeys through the pilot’s mind as he experiences various situations and scenarios, and how he finally comes to the realization about what to do if he wants to stop flying.
The book is hilarious, absurd, mad and savage. It portrays how war is the point where logic leaves the equation, and instead comes all the idiosyncrasies of the human mind.
Favourite quote – “The enemy is anybody who’s going to get you killed, no matter which side he is on.”
13.Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
This is one of the few books that have been translated into English. It is originally written in Russian, and later translated into English.
It is a book that focuses on what it is to be a human. The needs of the body versus the need to do the right thing, morally and according to certain personal principles of people.
The story is spun in such a way that we immediately recognise and empathise with the characters, and we connect to them on an emotional level.
How do we behave when our body rules over our mind is what is illustrated in the book, and the difference between how when we are in control of our needs and desires is contrasted beautifully.
Anna and Vronsky are depicted to be when the body is in control, and Levin and Kitty are depicted when the mind is in control of our body.
The narrative can be jarring, long and sometimes odd, but it is worth the read.
14.The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
This is one of the books that I’ve read which moved me to no end. It is a book that makes you question if anybody has the right to tell us who we should love, how we should love and IF we should even love.
It throws a big question mark at the caste system and the invading communism that was seen during late 1960s Kerala.
It gives an intricate picture of the small community politics that are not really seen by the larger masses, and it’s given through the viewpoint of the children, Rahel and Estha. Just for the way she deals with issues common to that age, this book belongs in the top 20 books to read before you die.
This debut novel by Roy is a Booker prize winner and it is worth the read. It might seem a little lost in a few places, but the narrative becomes strong and compelling through the second half of the book.
15.A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
This is a massive book, and it is set across the late 1950s India, where inter-caste marriages were still looked not allowed, and it tells us the difficulties faced in finding a groom to a particular girl named Lata.
Lata wants to marry a boy, but he is a Muslim, so she knows that her mother will not agree to it.
Lata’s mother just wants to find a good boy for Lata with a certain checklist of her own, mainly being that he should be from the same religion and caste as them.
What happens next is a story of love, ambition, humour, pathos, prejudice and reconciliation and also contrasts between the delicate social etiquette of upper classes and the violence prevalent in the middle and lower classes during post-Independence India.
16.Thank You, Jeeves by P G Wodehouse
Honestly, this man is a literary genius in comedy and satire. He is one of the few authors that I would love to meet, if only to reaffirm my belief that he is hilarious in person as he is through his books.
He revolutionised comedy and sarcastic satire in books, and it is one of my favourite books just to pick up and read when I am having a bad day. Why? Read it for yourself!
And I’m just naming one of the books, but you can pick up any of his books and you will be amused just as much, and in some cases, you will genuinely laugh out loud with mirth.
All of his books are hilarious, and so deserve their place in the top 20 books to read before you die.
Favourite quote – “I mean, if you’re asking a fellow to come out of a room so that you can dismember him with a carving knife, it’s absurd to tack a ‘sir’ on to every sentence. The two things don’t go together.”
17.A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
This is another dystopian book that is a fan favourite. It shows us a not-too-far future where the protagonists are teenagers less and a lawless bunch of criminals more, who take over the city once dark falls. A slim, but horrifying tale unfolds.
The entire narrative is in the form of Nadsat, a slang invented by Alex, the main protagonist and his friends, and how they steal, murder, rape and eventually get caught by the government officials who try to rehabilitate them all.
I found this to have parallels with the Nirbhaya rape case, where the minor, who was not hanged on grounds that he was underage, was rehabilitated and released. The question arises, at what cost? Are we sure that we want such a person to be released into the public again? Can a person truly change?
What truly appalled me about the entire story was the apparent apathy of Alex and his friends, and this is something that is being seen more and more often in the present generation of children.
It gives you a lot of food for thought and poses more questions than it answers.
Nevertheless, it is a onetime read for the descriptive prowess of Anthony Burgess, and it truly belongs to the top 20 books to read before you die.
PS: may not be for the squeamish
18.Matilda by Roald Dahl
This is an excellent story about a young girl who loves to read, and teaches herself to read by the age of three, and in spite of her parents being discouraging, continues her passion to read.
Once she reaches school, she finds a supporter in the form of lovely Miss Honey, who encourages her to read, and she finds a nemesis in the form of the school principal, Miss Trunchbull.
The entire narrative is heart-warming and endearing and you find yourself cheering Matilda on.
Another way of looking at it is a little girl who has been suppressed her entire life and only through reading does she find an outlet for her frustrations and also by doling out just punishments to the adults in her life does she become a strong girl.
It teaches children that they can do anything they put their mind to and it teaches adults that they should be gentler and kinder to their kids, because they might not be as helpless as they seem.
Favourite quote – “So Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea.
These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.”
19.I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
This is a book that was revolutionary during its release and it broke the barrier for science fiction books in the 20th century.
It is especially relevant now, when human kind is becoming more and more reliant on machines and artificial intelligence is on the rise as well.
There will come the time when AI surpasses the human intellect and it is only a certain time period away from that where it realises that maybe humanity is not necessary for its survival or continuance.
The story is fast paced, gripping and has a few twists and turns. The characters are not that strong, but the narrative is excellent, and makes you wonder who the real hero is until the end.
20.The Shiva Trilogy by Amish Tripathi
Take away the religion from a religious text, and what remains is an extremely cool superhero story. And that is precisely what Amish Tripathi has done in this trilogy.
We see the God Shiva as how he was before he attained God-hood, a barbaric, brave, radical, strong, marijuana smoking man who was an excellent dancer and an excellent husband and father.
We see a side to him that has not been seen until now, a tender lover, a loving father, a self-doubting man.
The very humanness of the entire series is what echoes throughout its entire narrative. And the character growth from the beginning to the end is amazingly written, from innocent Karthik and the fearsome warrior he eventually becomes, to Daksha, a king with strong morals to one who lives in his own delusional world.
I would rank this as an all-time favourite of mine, because it is heart wrenchingly beautiful every time I read it. The final book, where it all comes to conclusion, is written especially masterfully.
It is a book that has strong women characters, something that is missing in many of the books, and it is gratifying to see women placed at the same pedestal that men are, in mythology.
The novel way in which a God is presented to us, the common people and be able to relate to it is one of the many reasons that it deserves its place in the top 20 books to read before you die.
So, these are my top 20 books to read before you die. I sincerely hope you read all of them and it inspires you to cultivate the reading habit, and helps you to delve more and more into becoming a bookworm. Live your lives, friends, both in reality and in books.
Here are some hand picked interesting articles :
If you find this article informative, do share it with your friends!