My almost definitive list of Coming of Age Novels

I was going to call this 18 novels you should definitely read before you are 18, because I thought that sounded catchy but I got stuck on 23 and couldn’t bring myself to cut it down any more than that. I suppose I could have called it 23 before 23 and that would give everybody a bit more time. Anyhow. There is something for everyone here, but what they all have in common is that they are books about people on the verge of adult life and the choices that come with stepping over that threshold.   I’m not going to tell you any more about them, read some, or all, of them and make up your own mind. With any luck, one will change your life. Some of them changed mine.


The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath

I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The Country Girls, Edna O'Brien

Before She Met Me, Julian Barnes

Great Expectations, Charles Dickens

Goodbye Columbus, Philip Roth

The Story of Lucy Gault by William Trevor

The L Shaped Room, Lynne Reid Banks

The Outsider,  Albert Camus

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce

The Buddha of Suburbia, Hanif Kureishi

Invitation to the Waltz, Rosamond Lehmann

Frost in May,  Antonia White

Sense and Sensibility,  Jane Austen

Breakfast at Tiffany's,  Truman Capote

A Room with a View,  EM Forster

This Side by Paradise,  F Scott Fitzgerald

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter,  Carson McCullers

Atonement, Ian McEwan

Girlfriend in a Coma , Douglas Coupland

Goodbye to Berlin, Christopher Isherwood

All Quiet on the Western Front,  Erich Maria Remarque

My top 100 novels for young adults

Now that young adult literature has become the generally accepted term for teenage fiction, what should those people who are genuinely young adults be reading? I’m assuming that if you have chosen to take English Literature at A-Level you have a genuine interest in reading for pleasure above and beyond the set texts for your course work. This is an attempt to put together a list of  adult literature that  young adults should enjoy , classified, rather arbitrarily, by genre (the dividing line between classic and contemporary fiction is a little hazy in my mind for instance). You won’t like all of it, but that’s not the point.  Look them up on Amazon/Wiki/whatever and see what you fancy reading.


Billy Liar, Keith Waterhouse

Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S Thompson

The Code of the Woosters, PG Wodehouse

Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis

Adolf Hitler: My Part in his Downfall, Spike Milligan

Catch-22, Joseph Heller

When You are Engulfed in Flames, David Sedaris

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, aged 133/4, Sue Townsend

The Diary of a Nobody, George and Weedon Grossmith



The Drowning Pool, Ross McDonald

Murder Must Advertise, Dorothy L Sayers

The Beast Must Die, Nicholas Blake

The Franchise Affair, Josephine Tey

The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett

The Talented Mr Ripley, Patricia Highsmith

The Third Man by Graham Greene

The Thirty-Nine Steps,  John Buchan

The Tiger in the Smoke, Margery Allingham

The Big Sleep,  Raymond Chandler


Science Fiction

A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams

Girlfriend in a Coma,  Douglas Coupland

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?,  Philip K Dick

Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A Heinlein

Brave New World, Aldous Huxley

The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula Le Guin

Foundation, Isaac Asimov

Sentimental Agents of the Volyan Empire, Doris Lessing

A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M Miller

The Day of the Triffids, John Wyndham

Historical Fiction

I Claudius, Robert Graves

Fire from Heaven, Mary Renault

The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller

The Reader, Bernhard Schlink

Dr Zhivago, Boris Pasternak

Regeneration,  Pat Barker

Hawksmoor, Peter Ackroyd

Troubles, JG Farrell

Fortunes of War, Olivia Manning

When Christ and his Saints Slept, Sharon Penman



Short stories

The Fly, Katherine Mansfield

After Rain, William Trevor

The Burning Baby, Dylan Thomas

Solid Geometry, Ian McEwan

Guests of the Nation, Frank O’Connor

Mysterious Kor, Elizabeth Bowen

Will You Please be Quiet, Please, Raymond Carver

The Gift of the Magi, O Henry

The Overcoat, Nikolai Gogol

The Confirmation Suit, Brendan Behan


Pre-1914 Classics

Dusty Answer, Rosamund Lehmann

The Mill on the Floss, George Eliot

The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins

Mary Barton, Elizabeth Gaskell

Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray

Far From the Madding Crowd,  Thomas Hardy

The Scarlet Letter,  Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Way We Live Now,  Anthony Trollope

The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton

Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy

American Classics

The Road,  Cormac McCarthy

Beloved,  Toni Morrison

The Member of the Wedding,  Carson McCullers

Go Tell it on the Mountain,  James Baldwin

On the Road,  Jack Kerouac

The Bonfire of the Vanities,  Tom Wolfe

An American Tragedy, Theodore Dreiser

Portnoy’s Complaint, Philip Roth

For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway

The Portrait of a Lady, Henry James


20th Century World Classics

The Trial,  Franz Kafka

The Third Policeman,  Flann O'Brien

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Alexander Solzhenitsyn

The Unbearable Lightness of Being,  Milan Kundera

Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys

The Handmaid's Tale,  Margaret Atwood

Death in Summer,  William Trevor

Schindler's Ark,  Thomas Keneally

The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco

Wild Swans, Jung Chang


20th Century British Classic Novels

What a Carve Up!,  Jonathan Coe

Rebecca,  Daphne du Maurier

An Ice-Cream War, William Boyd

The Remains of the Day,  Kazuo Ishiguro

Room at the Top,  John Braine

Goodbye to Berlin,  Christopher Isherwood

Frost in May,  Antonia White

Novel on Yellow Paper,  Stevie Smith

Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont, Elizabeth Taylor

Loving, Henry Green


Contemporary Fiction

Fight Club,  Chuck Palahniuk

The Blackwater Lightship,  Colm Toibin

The Kite Runner,  Khaled Hosseini

Trainspotting,  Irvine Welsh

The Line of Beauty, Alan Hollinghurst

The Siege, Helen Dunmore

The Wasp Factory, Iain Banks

Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell

The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, Maggie O’Farrell