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The 50 Books to Read Before You’re 50

A good book never goes out of style. Consider this mix of contemporary and classic titles a personal challenge of must-reads before you hit the half-century mark.

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Little Women

Author Louisa May Alcott originally wrote this classic as two separate volumes in quick succession between 1868 and 1869, but they were compiled into the single book we now know as Little Women in 1880. The March sisters, each in their own way, are forces to be reckoned with, and you'll be hard-pressed to finish the tome with dry eyes. Here are some other strong female characters that would make Josephine March proud.

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The Five People You Meet in Heaven

A book doesn't typically open with the end of the main character's life, but that's exactly how author Mitch Albom sets the stage for The Five People You Meet in Heaven. Amusement park maintenance worker Eddie receives life-affirming understanding when he reaches the golden gates, encountering five pivotal people from his life with whom his connections were far stronger than he could have ever imagined. If you've ever looked at life's twists and turns and thought, "Why?" The Five People You Meet in Heaven offers a sentimental reassurance.

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The Handmaid's Tale

Just because you can stream Hulu's televised take on Margaret Atwood's haunting novel doesn't mean you shouldn't dig into the pages of the book itself. The author manages to mingle satire and humor with an absolutely terrifying look at what could happen when women have lost the right to be in control of their own bodies. Originally published in 1985, The Handmaid's Tale may hit very close to home in terms of the political stakes of our present world. There's a reason Reader's Digest counts it among the ten books written by female authors every woman should read in her lifetime.

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You'll Grow Out of It

When you need to commiserate, laugh, cry, and be reminded that, yes, this too shall pass, Jessi Klein's collection of essays will embrace you just as a good friend would. A New York Times best seller, You'll Grow Out of It covers all of the bases, from Klein's childhood to her foray into motherhood. An often humorous take on what it means to be a woman in the 21st century, female readers will likely relate to the issues and anxieties, while maybe, just maybe, men will gain a deeper understanding of their world.

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Think and Grow Rich

One might assume a self-help book published in 1937 would have no relevance in today's world. One would be wrong. The philosophies explored by author Napolean Hill during the Great Depression still apply, teaching generations of folks how to succeed in many different occupations. Think and Grow Rich is more than a guide to wealth, it serves as encouragement that one can be almost anything they wish to become.

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A Prayer for Owen Meany

Rich in themes of fate, spirituality, and social justice, John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany delivers a thought-provoking and often gut-wrenching look at two childhood best friends with vastly different views on life. Title character Owen Meany believes he is an "instrument of God," with a specific life's purpose and fate despite his small stature and high-pitched voice. His pal John Wheelwright, who narrates the story, isn't so sure. You'll likely look at life a little differently after becoming acquainted with these fictitious lives.

 

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The Alchemist

For anyone who has set aside their dreams out of fear they'll never come to fruition, author Paulo Coelho wrote this for you. "In The Alchemist, I relate myself to the Englishman—someone who is trying to understand life through books," said Coelho in an interview with the publisher on the novel's 25th anniversary. "It's quite interesting how many times we use books to understand life. I think that a book is a catalyst: it provokes a reaction. I am a compulsive reader. I read a lot, but from time to time, there are books that changed my life." Find out why Reader's Digest included The Alchemist on our list of the 30 most quotable books ever written.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

Harper Lee's Pullitzer Prize-winning novel about a young family in the deep South whose patriarch crusades against social injustice and rampant prejudice has sold over 40 million copies across the globe. If that's not reason enough to open To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time or revisit the classic, then we're not sure what is. Here are some more high school English books worth a re-read.

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The Poisonwood Bible: A Novel

When a book makes the reader question their previously held thoughts and beliefs, it's a keeper. Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible does just that. Following the story of an evangelical Baptist who takes his wife and daughters to Belgian Congo in the late 1950s, each twist and turn is just as gripping and suspenseful as the next.

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Shibumi

This isn't your ordinary spy novel, which makes it a must-read. Author Trevanian immerses the reader into the world of Nicholai Hel, described as "the world's most wanted man." There's mystery, history, and culture with a philosophical touch not typical to fiction of this genre. Originally published in the 1970s, folks find themselves returning to Shibumi for re-reads again and again. Don't miss these other top thrillers of all time.

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