Books are a portal to our personal histories. Pick up a worn copy of a childhood favorite and you might be transported to the warmth of a parent's arms or a beanbag chair in a first-grade classroom or a library in your hometown. Avid readers could build autobiographies around their favorite books and come to the realization that what they have read is almost as meaningful as when they read it. A high schooler poring over "To Kill a Mockingbird" for a summer reading assignment encounters a different book than someone who reads it decades later, closer in age and outlook to Atticus than Scout.
In light of that reality, we took a stab at picking the best book for every age. There's no definitive way to do this, of course. What moves one reader may not resonate with another, regardless of their birth year. So think of this list as a starting point, plus an invitation to look back at your own literary chronology: What spoke to you during a certain time in your life - and why?
Here are our picks for worthwhile books to read during each year of life, from 1 to 100, along with some of the age-appropriate wisdom they impart.
(BEGIN ITAL)-Stephanie Merry, Book World editor(END ITAL)
"The Very Hungry Caterpillar"
By Eric Carle
Welcome to the world! It's a good time to start learning numbers, days of the week and the helpful fact that too much food will give you a tummy ache.
"Llama Llama Red Pajama"
By Anna Dewdney
Your parents might not come the moment you call them, but they will come. And now is as good a time as any to start learning patience.
"Where the Wild Things Are"
By Maurice Sendak
You will act like a monster sometimes, but you can always go home again.
"Charlie Parker Played Be Bop"
By Chris Raschka
It's never too early to start appreciating a good improv riff.
"The Giving Tree"
By Shel Silverstein
Books can make you cry; trees deserve to be loved; and selfish little boys, if enabled, will grow into selfish old men.
"Ramona the Pest"
By Beverly Cleary, illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers
It's not your fault. Older siblings are the worst.
"The Complete Calvin and Hobbes"
By Bill Watterson
Friendship can be so magically transformative that it might turn a stuffed tiger into a partner in crime.
"Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone"
By J.K. Rowling
Enjoy your first brush with binge reading on an adventure you'll never forget.
"Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing"
By Judy Blume
Hang in there. Younger siblings are the worst.
By Raina Telgemeier
Underneath whatever embarrassing, ostentatious orthodontia you're forced to trot out, you're still you.
By Jason Reynolds
Not all childhoods are idyllic and not all parents are good, but if you look, you'll find people to help you reach your potential.
"Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry"
By Mildred D. Taylor
The terrible legacy of racism touches everyone and benefits no one.
"I Am Malala"
By Malala Yousafzai
There's power in peaceful protest. Danger, too.
"The Perks of Being a Wallflower"
By Stephen Chbosky
Everyone feels like an outcast sometimes. You just need to find your island of misfit toys to call home.
"The Hate U Give"
By Angie Thomas
Being true to yourself may cost you friends. It's worth it.
By Charlotte Brontë
Nobody understands you and your terribly unfair life. Reader, you are not alone.
"Once Upon a River"
By Bonnie Jo Campbell
Feeling lost? Time spent in nature may guide you back to yourself.
"A Gate at the Stairs"
By Lorrie Moore
There are many important lessons to learn in college, not all of them from books.
"The Handmaid's Tale"
By Margaret Atwood
Behold the scary possibilities of our dystopian future, inspired by our dystopian present.
"The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao"
By Junot Díaz
Hilariously tortured, exuberant nerds are great company.
"The Sun Also Rises"
By Ernest Hemingway
You're old enough to drink and carouse with your friends. Isn't it pretty to think so?
"Democracy in America"
By Alexis de Tocqueville
To truly understand the country we live in, sometimes you have to see it through the eyes of a 19th-century Frenchman.
"The Autobiography of Malcolm X"
By Malcolm X and Alex Haley
There's power in confrontational protest. Danger, too.
By Ayn Rand
Marvel at the profundity of its objectivist themes - then, in a few years, marvel at your naivete.
"I Capture the Castle"
By Dodie Smith
Keep a journal and don't forget the most personal details. It'll make for an entertaining, maybe even enlightening, read one day.
By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Our grandest ambitions may spur us toward far-flung places - and heartbreaking disasters - but ultimately there's no place like home.
"The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People"
By Stephen R. Covey
It's time to decide whether you're a self-help book person. Because a better you is just a page-turn away.
By Audre Lorde
To truly understand oppression - including a host of destructive -isms - try walking in the shoes of this pioneer of intersectionality.
"In Defense of Food"
By Michael Pollan
So much of what you need to know about consumption can be summed up in Pollan's simple directive: "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants."
"The Joy of Sex"
By Alex Comfort
Live a little.
"Mastering the Art of French Cooking"
By Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck
Now that you're proficient in spaghetti with meat sauce, it's time to up your game. Beef bourguignon, anyone?
"The Grapes of Wrath"
By John Steinbeck
This high school English-class staple is even more devastating when read from the perspective of a parent - or anyone old enough to be one.
"Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story"
By Paul Monette
Society may try to force you into a mold. You don't have to comply.
By Toni Morrison
The legacy of slavery still haunts this nation.
"How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk"
By Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
Tips for communicating with children also come in handy when dealing with adults who act like them.
"Life Among the Savages"
By Shirley Jackson
For parents, best-laid plans are an exercise in futility.
"The Joy Luck Club"
By Amy Tan
Your mother has stories to tell and insights to share, though you might not be ready to hear them until you're grown up.
By Richard Ford
There is a lost and sad, yet somehow hopeful, dude lurking inside every man.
"What Alice Forgot"
By Liane Moriarty
Is this where you really want to be in life? Because it's not too late to do things differently.
"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"
By Jean-Dominique Bauby
Life is fleeting and unpredictable. Accomplish your goals while you still can, obstacles be damned.
By John Updike
You may feel like fleeing sometimes, but remember: Selfishness is not a victimless crime.
"The Woman Upstairs"
By Claire Messud
When everyone expects you to act like a cheerful and invisible old maid, get angry.
"Their Eyes Were Watching God"
By Zora Neale Hurston
You have your finger on the trigger of your own destiny.
By Donna Tartt
The images of love we start with never leave us.
"Where'd You Go, Bernadette"
By Maria Semple
When it comes to midlife crises, go big or go home.
"Salvage the Bones"
By Jesmyn Ward
Sometimes the only thing you can do is cling to those you love and wait out the storm.
By Bob Anderson
As if you need a reminder, you're not 25 anymore. Treat your body accordingly.
By Tina Fey
You're juggling a lot. You've earned a good laugh from a celebrity who doesn't pretend to be picture-perfect.
By Henry David Thoreau
Living a life of quiet desperation, you're ready to hear Thoreau's inspiring advice.
"Fifty Shades of Grey"
By EL James
Spice things up - or at least enjoy a good laugh.
"Who Do You Think You Are?"
By Alice Munro
It's the small moments that define us.
"Men Without Women"
By Haruki Murakami
Life is a riddle with no right answer; attempting to figure out the solution is its own reward.
"A Man Called Ove"
By Fredrik Backman
It gets harder to make new friends as you age, but do it anyway. They might save your life.
"The Denial of Death"
By Ernest Becker
What would you do - and who would you be - if you weren't afraid of dying?
By Elizabeth Strout
A person can be cruel and difficult but also loving and worthy of compassion.
"When Things Fall Apart"
By Pema Chödrön
Every challenge is an opportunity for transformative wisdom.
"Remains of the Day"
By Kazuo Ishiguro
If you've been living according to someone else's rules, you can stop now.
"The Plague of Doves"
By Louise Erdrich
Think about what's come before you because "history works itself out in the living."
By Katy Bowman
Don't blame your age if you're feeling creaky. It could just be the way you're using (or not using) your body.
"The Five Years Before You Retire"
By Emily Guy Birken
Not to stress you out, but time is ticking. Do you have a good plan?
"Fear of Dying"
By Erica Jong
There are many ways to age. Gracefully doesn't have to be one of them.
"Major Pettigrew's Last Stand"
By Helen Simonson
Love knows no bounds, especially when books bring people together.
"Our Souls at Night"
By Kent Haruf
Curing loneliness can be as simple as asking for company.
"Old in Art School"
By Nell Painter
It's not too late to try a new career, but brace yourself for the ageist naysayers.
"65 Things to Do When You Retire"
Edited by Mark Evan Chimsky
If you need ideas, Jimmy Carter, Jane Fonda and Gloria Steinem have suggestions.
The "Outlander" series
By Diana Gabaldon
You don't need time travel to keep the romantic sparks flying as you age - just imagination.
By Miguel de Cervantes
You finally have time to read the first modern novel.
"The Year of Magical Thinking"
By Joan Didion
Grief can make you feel like you're losing your mind. That's normal.
"I Remember Nothing"
By Nora Ephron
"Every time one of my friends says to me, 'Everything happens for a reason,' I would like to smack her."
"Master Class: Living Longer, Stronger, and Happier"
By Peter Spiers
Among the secrets to a fulfilling life: Never stop learning.
By Salman Rushdie
You are forever linked to the time and place of your birth. What you do with that connection is up to you.
"Love in the Time of Cholera"
By Gabriel García Márquez
In the words of the Supremes: "You can't hurry love. You just have to wait." Sometimes decades.
"The Years of Lyndon Johnson"
Four volumes, by Robert Caro
At 83, Caro is still working on this extraordinary series. You have time to catch up.
"Paris in the Present Tense"
By Mark Helprin
"Music is the only thing powerful enough to push aside the curtain of time," so fill your life with song.
"The History of Love"
By Nicole Krauss
Time cannot forever thwart the persistence of real affection.
"Women Rowing North"
By Mary Pipher
With the right mind-set - and a willingness to say no - this could be the time of your life.
By Marilynne Robinson
You're ready to start thinking about what your life means and the legacy you'll leave behind.
By E.B. White
Within this gentle tale lies a good lesson to share with grandchildren and to remind yourself: Change is the only constant.
"The Coming of Age"
By Simone de Beauvoir
You don't have to act your age.
"Coming Into Eighty: Poems"
By May Sarton
Your ship may be battered, but what a voyage "Of learning what to be / And how to become it."
By Mary Oliver
At 81, the poet took stock of her life with a collection spanning five decades that asks, "What it is you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?"
"The Summer of a Dormouse"
By John Mortimer
When your body stops doing what you want it to, laughter is a great coping mechanism.
All the thrillers and mysteries
If you haven't yet acquainted yourself with Easy Rawlins, Mrs. Pollifax, Maisie Dobbs, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and Commissario Guido Brunetti, invite them over. They're great company.
"The Last Unknowns"
Deep, Elegant, Profound Unanswered Questions About the Universe, the Mind, the Future of Civilization, and the Meaning of Life edited by John Brockman
With time and wisdom to spare, there may be no better moment to ponder life's big mysteries.
By Saul Bellow
Our oldest friendships can still fascinate us.
By Jane Gardam
It's never too late to make peace with your personal history.
By William Shakespeare
Count your blessings for unconditional love, and express your appreciation to the people who bestow it.
"Nearing Ninety: And Other Comedies of Late Life"
By Judith Viorst, illustrated by Laura Gibson
Take it from someone who finds humor even in the tribulations of advancing age: "What's there to complain about? Not much."
"A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing 90"
By Donald Hall
"Why should the nonagenarian hold anything back?" That, you'll be happy to hear, is a rhetorical question.
"Beachcombing for a Shipwrecked God"
By Joe Coomer
You may have to journey into the past to make sense of your present.
"Selected Poems: 1988-2013"
By Seamus Heaney
Enlightenment and beauty abound, even in the seemingly mundane moments of everyday life.
"Nothing to be Frightened Of"
By Julian Barnes
Don't avoid the big questions of life and death and faith: Tackle them straight on with help from some of the greatest thinkers.
By Yuval Harari
You've witnessed nearly a century. Now behold the history of mankind.
"This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism"
By Ashton Applewhite
There are a lot of myths about aging. Don't buy into any of them.
The Neapolitan novels
By Elena Ferrante
A true friendship can survive the ravages of time.
"Somewhere Towards the End"
By Diana Athill
There's no value in regret.
"My Own Two Feet"
By Beverly Cleary
Every choice you've made has led you here, where you belong.
"Life Is So Good"
By George Dawson and Richard Glaubman
Dawson learned to read at 98, then wrote a book. So what are you going to do today?
By Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Just because you're old doesn't mean you've lost the beat.
"Sailor and Fiddler: Reflections of a 100-Year-Old Author"
By Herman Wouk
Life is a wonderful adventure. Books make it even better.
Ron Charles, Nora Krug, Geoff Edgers, Monica Hesse, Carlos Lozada and Manuel Roig-Franzia contributed to this story.