That Old Cape Magic , Richard Russo
The moral of this book, as your literary editor took it, is that anyone can fall out of love with anyone else at any time. This might be a true fact, but it also might put you off dating for several years — and since your 20s should be full of dating, best wait to read this one until you can just look shiftily at your husband or wife every few pages.
Revolutionary Road , Richard Yates
This is another one with the potential to put you off settling down for the next decade or so. Not that you should, necessarily, settle down in your 20s — but it’s probably better not to make yourself any more frightened of commitment than you already are.
The Catcher in the Rye , J.D. Salinger
If you’re reading this in your 20s, take note: you missed this book. You won’t like it. And then you’ll forever be the cynic in the corner hating on Holden. No one likes that guy.
On the Road , Jack Kerouac
Firstly, as with Catcher, your 20s are a little too late for this novel to really hit home. But more importantly, whereas a teenage reader might dream of attaining Kerouac’s romantic road-trip life, a reader in their 20s will realize its impossibility — it’s 2013; you have bills — and that’s just too depressing.
We Need to Talk About Kevin , Lionel Shriver
It’s not that you shouldn’t read this book — it’s that you should wait until you have children, so you can fully appreciate how horrifying it truly is.
Piercing , Ryu Murakami
The protagonist of this book could be someone you know — young, urban, normal. Except that he is secretly hiring prostitutes so he can sink sharp things into their flesh, in a desperate attempt to keep from doing the same to his own baby. This book is great, but it will terrify you, and is not for anyone who wants to feel safe about their decision to have a child in the next ten years or so.
The Painted Bird , Jerzy Kosinski
Look, your 20s are disturbing enough. No need to push it.
Eat, Pray, Love , Elizabeth Gilbert
All other things aside, wait until you’re in your 30s for this one, when dropping everything after a breakup and traveling across the world will really be a risk.
Atlas Shrugged , Ayn Rand
You get a pass for liking this book as a teenager, before you understood the world/ realized that Rand was serious about her whole “philosophy.” There’s just no excuse now. It’s like Obama said.
Gossip Girl , Cecily von Ziegesar
There’s nothing wrong with reading YA books well into your 20s (and 30s… and 80s, if you like them!), but if you’re going to do it, pick one of the good ones. OMG, was that too catty?
50 Shades of Grey, E.L. James
Similarly: nothing wrong with a little erotica, in your 20s or anytime. It’s just that there is so much better stuff out there. Go read that.
Discworld , Terry Pratchett
For all the claims that 20-somethings are hopeless layabouts, it can be a pretty crazy time — finishing college, going to grad school, getting first and second and third jobs, moving and moving back, settling down. So it may not be the time to start a series that has 39 installments (and counting). You might not look up again until your 30s.
The Sense of an Ending , Julian Barnes
Now, this is a great book. But much of its strength lies in its meditations on aging and the way memory works — two themes that just might hit home all the harder if you wait until you’ve ripened enough to grasp their true meaning.
Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans , Plutarch
Someday you’ll get to this one, and you’ll be a better person for it. But really, there’s no rush. The Romans aren’t going anywhere.
Cat Marnell’s forthcoming book
You don’t want to accidentally get any ideas.