Reading lists

20 books everyone should read before they’re 60

Our fifties may be the first time many of us start to really reflect on life, but it's a time to look forward, too. Here are some great books to spur us on. 

A birthday cake with 60 birthday candles
Image: Stuart Simpson/Penguin

Mark Twain once said, “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter.” And both minds and matters can come to a head in one's fifties, when middle-age introduces a means of looking back over the life you've lived so far as well as casting forward to what else lies ahead.

Marriages may be crumpling or coming back together after children leave the nest, mid-life crises lurk and new leases of life are on the horizon. Literature has covered them all – and more besides. Here are the best books to read before the big Six-Oh!

“If you retire from love... then you retire from life"

Nine Island by Jane Alison (2016)

Here is a deep, vulnerable and shudderingly honest meditation on what it means to be alone, post divorce. J is a middle-aged divorcee tucked away in a sun-bleached Miami apartment where she spends her days translating sex stories by Ovid into English. She has an ageing mother, an incontinent cat, and a past punctured by romantic disasters. Now, she's beginning to contemplate giving up on sex and love all together.

Through J, Alison evokes beautifully the interior life of a single woman of a certain age who – for many reasons, both personal and societal – feels invisible to the outside world. But in this story – awash with humour, irony and no shortage of watery symbolism – there is always hope. As one friendly neighbour tells her, “if you retire from love... then you retire from life.” It's up to J to choose her path.

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