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Anyone can read any book whenever they want, but some books may be best enjoyed at certain ages.
If anyone understands that, it’s the librarians in the Reader Services department of the New York Public Library.
We asked the librarians which titles we should be reading at every stage of our lives, and they were gracious enough to pick their favorites.
Here they are.
Ages 0-9: “The Sneetches” by Dr. Seuss
The picture book tells a classic story of the haves and have-nots – or, in this case, the Star-Belly Sneetches and the Plain-Belly Sneetches.
The Plain-Bellies aren’t happy they don’t possess the green Star-Belly star, so they’re overjoyed when Sylvester McMonkey McBean comes along and offers a way to print and remove stars at will. (They’ll be Star-Bellies after all!)
Only, now the Star-Bellies ask to have theirs removed – a cycle that gets repeated until no one knows who began as whom.
“The Sneetches” helps young kids understand an important lesson in life: External differences shouldn’t be what define people.
Ages 10-19: “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” by Junot Diaz
Oscar is a geeky, overweight Dominican-American boy living in New Jersey. He wants to be a fantasy writer.
He seems to have the chops, but there’s a curse following him and his family all the way from the D.R. – a centuries-long “fukú” that Oscar can’t seem to shake.
The librarians say the book is ideal for people’s formative years because at its core it’s “a story about a young person trying to figure out how to live in the world.”
Ages 20-29: “The Argonauts” by Maggie Nelson
If the teen years are for experimentation, the twenties are a time for reflection.
In “The Argonauts,” a memoir about Nelson’s relationship with the transgender artist Harry Dodge and the family the two of them start, Nelson gives many tiny windows into the universal dramas found in kinship.
It’s the kind of book that makes a chaotic, unstable life feel a little more normal.
“It is about being a family and living an examined life,” say the librarians.
Ages 30-39: “Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time” by Brigid Schulte
At a time when most people are raising young kids while still balancing a career, Schulte’s “Overwhelmed” should provide some clarity.
The author presents the story of her own overwhelmed life and her journey to understand (and eliminate) those bad feelings. Schulte presents different models of work around the world, many of which show that long hours aren’t necessarily used productively.
In a hectic world of deadlines and plans, the librarians say, “the subtitle says it all.”
Ages 40-49: “Mrs. Dalloway” by Virginia Woolf
As they near life’s halfway point, “Mrs. Dalloway” offers the middle-aged a second chance to reflect, the NYPL librarians say.
The novel takes place in a single day, as a 50-something named Clarissa Dalloway looks back on her life and the choices she’s made.
She questions her marriage to Richard Dalloway and imagines life had she gone with an old flame, Peter Walsh, who reemerges later in the book.
It’s an important blurring of past and present, the librarians note. “Don’t stop, you’re not done, keep examining that life.”
Ages 50-59: “Light on Yoga” by B.K.S. Iyengar
Emotional satisfaction isn’t the only part of growing old.
Physical health matters, too.
The librarians recommend “Light on Yoga” to help people stay limber as their lives may grow more sedentary.
To combat all those years of eight-hour office jobs, learn a few poses you can repeat every morning or evening.
The ancient practice may also help calm any feelings that a mid-life crisis is creeping closer.
Ages 60-69: “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor
Originally published in 1953, the librarians say “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” is still required reading for the newly-crowned senior citizen.
It’s a collection of short stories that look at daily life with a kind of morbid curiosity, but also detachment.
As people age, they start to look at their life and others’ with a similar mindset. Your own mortality starts rushing into focus and minor tragedies may start to look rather benign.
If you haven’t read the collection by now, the librarians proclaim, “it’s time.”
Ages 70-79: “The Accidental Universe: The World You Thought You Knew” by Alan Lightman
Better late than never to reexamine everything you thought of the world you inhabit.
In “The Accidental Universe,” Lightman juggles two competing tendencies that everyone seems to deal with on a daily basis: the assumption that everything is permanent, and the reality that nothing is.
The librarians recommend the book because new, difficult thoughts shouldn’t be confined to the young.
“Expand your horizons,” they say.
Ages 80-89: “The Sneetches” by Dr. Suess
Piles and piles of stuff aren’t so important after a lifetime of pursuing success, finding love, licking emotional wounds, and forging friendships.
“In case you forgot the lesson here,” the librarians say, “The Sneetches” should remind people that simpler joys – togetherness, acceptance, inclusivity – often matter more toward the end.
Old age can be lonely, especially in a world that doesn’t look like the one you grew up in. The librarian’s pick suggests that kindness, toward everyone, can go a long way to a more pleasant exit.