When you grow up with a mother who is a literature teacher, it's practically inevitable that you'll develop a passion for reading. My mother often reminds me that when I was a child, she would always save enough money each week to buy me and my sister a new book to share. This instilled a great fondness for reading, and a habit of reading every night before I go to bed (which I've done since I was about 5!).
It goes without saying that there are still many, many books on my 'to read' list, and there are many classics that I've yet to delve into. With that in mind, the following 20 books have been very important to me, all for various reasons. Many shaped my childhood, while others were read more recently and have already had a profound impact on me and how I view the world. I'd recommend each of these books extremely highly, even the titles aimed at children.
1. The Harry Potter Series / J.K. Rowling
You'd struggle to find a book list written by someone in their twenties that doesn't mention Harry Potter. I truly cannot emphasise how much this series has meant to me throughout my childhood (and even adulthood). From lining up with my friends at my local bookstore, each of us clutching our new copy of Deathly Hallows with wild eyes, to crying my eyes out when (spoiler alert) Dumbledore died, I've never read a series of books that has moved me as much as Harry Potter.
2. Frankenstein / Mary Shelley
This was one of the first examples of gothic literature I'd ever read, a genre I've become quite enamoured of. Shelley's prose is absolutely exquisite, whether describing the European countryside or presenting the moral dilemma of separating man from monster. This is so far removed from the Hollywood presentation of the tale, and it's beautiful.
3. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle / Haruki Murakami
Murakami is one of my favourite authors, so it's a bit of a struggle to only list one of his books here. I would consider The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle my favourite of his, as it perhaps the most unique and memorable. Reading Norwegian Wood had me intrigued by his work, but this made me a huge fan, introducing me to a whole new type of bizarre Japanese literature.
4. Looking For Alibrandi / Melina Marchetta
Growing up as a teenage girl in Australia, this was the book. The book everyone read and adored because it understood us, didn't talk down to us, and most importantly: was an Australian novel that we could relate to - a change from the American content we would greedily consume every day. The film adaptation was equally adored by us all, that soundtrack would have me crying for days.
5. We Have Always Lived In The Castle / Shirley Jackson
Jackson is a more recent discovery of mine, but her delightfully creepy stories are just too good. This book is so atmospheric and eerie, leaving you with an ever growing sense of unease.
6. The Book Thief / Markus Zusak
Another fantastic book by an Australian author, I read this as an adult even though you will find it in the YA section of any bookshop. Having said that, this is - truly - one of the most moving, beautiful, poignant, original stories I have ever read. I can't recall crying as much in any book (except maybe Harry Potter) as I did in this one.
7. The Handmaid's Tale / Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood is another author I would consider one of my favourites - I absolutely love how she writes about such interesting and different women throughout each of her novels. The Handmaid's Tale was, like many, my introduction to her and probably had the most profound affect on me. Similar to 1984 in many ways, it paints a terribly misogynistic, hyper-conservative future where women are used as reproductive slaves. A fantastic read.
8. The His Dark Materials Trilogy / Philip Pullman
Luckily for me, I had read this trilogy long before the mess of a film The Golden Compass came out. The series is perhaps the most engaging, intelligently-written work for young adults I've come across, and deal pretty heavily with religious corruption and religion used to justify evil. Pretty heavy stuff for a a young girl, but it sure helped me look at things a bit differently.
9. The Secret History / Donna Tartt
I read this book only a couple of months ago and it already ranks amongst my favourite books ever. Tartt is able to effectively recreate the mood and atmosphere of a group of people that discover what it really means to kill someone, the aftermath, and the consequences of truly transforming their consciousness into a way of thinking that vanished with the classic era.
10. 1984 / George Orwell
This book had an incredibly profound effect on me when I first read it at sixteen. I was horrified at what I had just read - seriously, the final chapter of that book should place it within the horror genre alone. A cautionary tale, social commentary, and exemplary example of dystopian fiction, 1984 is one of those perfect novels that not only entertains, but forces one to think about the danger associated with giving any one person or entity too much power or control over our lives.
11. Charlotte's Web / E.B. White
This was the first novel I ever read by myself, a feat I was so proud of that I told practically everyone I met for the following year. Perhaps the most striking aspect of the book is the abundance of endearing, clearly-drawn characters, and despite being written for children, each character has charming and distinct traits and idiosyncracies.
12. Monkey Grip / Helen Garner
Simply put, I love Helen Garner's writing. She really knows how to capture the mood without using over-indulgent language. I also love that she is from Melbourne - a wonderful sense of familiarity washes over me when she refers to specific places that evoke a lot of memories for me. This book was written well before I was born, and although many things have changed in Melbourne, many are still the same; drugs are just as rife now as they were in the '70s, but the culture is a lot different.
13. A Series of Unfortunate Events / Lemony Snicket
Along with the Harry Potter series, A Series of Unfortunate Events defined my childhood. Lemony Snicket's delightfully morose prose was so refreshing to me, and the characters were all so interesting! I loved how clever the Baudelaire orphans were despite their unfortunate circumstances, and although it somewhat lost its way towards the end, it was such an original and captivating series.
14. Never Let Me Go / Kazuo Ishiguro
There is nothing easy about reading this book. I won't say any more, because the less you know about the plot the more enjoyable the experience will be. The book presents a pretty significant ethical dilemma, and absolutely crushed me by the end of it.
15. Matilda / Roald Dahl
This was one of my absolute favourite books as a child; Roald Dahl certainly knew how to capture the imagination of a young girl! While I read (and reread) virtually all of his books, Matilda stuck with me. I remember looking at the list of novels Matilda reads and thinking 'one day, I'll be able to read them too!'
16. To The Lighthouse / Virginia Woolf
I can say, without reservation, that this is one of the most exquisitely written books I have ever read. Woolf's prose is second to none, and few authors could achieve the vast scope of human emotions and frustrations as she has. Not an easy read by any means, but well worth the effort.
17. A Song of Ice and Fire / George R. R. Martin
Ah, where to begin? Like many, I discovered this series when Game of Thrones first aired on TV. I just had to find out what happened after the first season aired, so I greedily consumed these books as fast as I could. I've never read a book series that has such enormous scope, and one that could absolutely rip my heart out and leave me feeling breathless.
18. The Railway Children / E. Nesbit
I think the reason I loved this book so much as I child was that the children behaved like actual children, who fought and worried and snapped at each other. It's a very sweet story about a family that experiences great sadness, and the adventures of the children in the process.
19. The Hobbit / J. R. R Tolkein
"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit." From the very first line I adored this book, from the stunning, lyrical descriptions of the natural world to the riddle game Bilbo plays with Gollum. I adored the sense of adventure this book inspired in me, as I'm pretty sure almost everyone has had this feeling, the want for adventure and to travel and see the world. That is probably part of the reason why I enjoyed this book so much. When I was younger I was always pretending to go on adventures in the backyard, however this book let you go on an adventure full of trolls, goblins, orcs, magic, dragons, dwarves, wizards, elves, gold, and everything a young child could want in a story.
20. A Midsummer Night's Dream / William Shakespeare
I know this sounds horribly pretentious, but my mum read this to me when I was little and I've always loved the story (even if I may not have understood the more risqué elements). Rediscovering it at fifteen made me fall in love with the play all over again, and truly appreciate Shakespeare's incredible command of the English language.