A few weeks back the book list “11 Books to Read Now that You’re a College Grad,” was brought to my attention. Although I’ve been out of college (though not school) for the last two years, a lot of the list’s themes appealed to me. I began to wonder whether a more apt title for the list would have been “11 Books to Read In Your Twenties.”
Many people are in their early-twenties when they graduate college and are trying to figure out how to be an adult. Those who don’t go to college still have to navigate their twenties and learn how to be the person they want to be. Love. Money. Family. Health. Humor. The Past. These are all topics everyone has to address in their twenties and the books on the original list highlight this.
Using the “11 Books to Read Now that You’re a College Grad” site and other lists of books to read in your twenties, I complied a collection of 20 books. It wasn’t easy. There were so many wonderful books that would have contributed something to the list. Also, being objective about what books would be beneficial for more people than myself or, at the very least, interesting to others was difficult. There are a few books listed that were recommended to me personally, but their descriptions sound as if they could be of value for many people between the pages.
20 Books To Read In Your Twenties (Mainly for Women)
(all book synopses and covers are from Goodreads.com)
1. The Girls from Corona De Mar “A fiercely beautiful debut blazing with emotion: a major first novel about friendships made in youth and how these bonds, challenged by loss, illness, parenthood, and distance, either break or sustain.”
Why this book? With only 5.5 years left in my twenties, one of the lessons I’ve grappled with is how to maintain childhood friendships and when to know that they are in the past. This is a struggle everyone goes through as people move away and grow apart.
2. In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto “Michael Pollan’s last book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, launched a national conversation about the American way of eating; now In Defense of Food he shows us how to change it, one meal at a time. Pollan proposes a new answer to the question of what we should eat that comes down to seven simple but liberating words: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Pollan’s bracing and eloquent manifesto shows us how we can start making thoughtful food choices that will enrich our lives, enlarge our sense of what it means to be healthy, and bring pleasure back to eating.”
Why this book? As our bodies age it becomes important to learn what is healthy and what is not. This book suggestion isn’t to encourage Pollan’s viewpoint, but to challenge readers to begin the process of eating better. Our bodies begin to turn against us in our twenties. No longer can we go without sleep or eat junk. It’s at this time we need to begin to develop healthy habits if we don’t have them already so our bodies remain our friends.
3. A Confederacy of Dunces (Reviewed May 20, 2013) “A Confederacy of Dunces is an American comic masterpiece. John Kennedy Toole’s hero is one Ignatius J. Reilly, “huge, obese, fractious, fastidious, a latter-day Gargantua, a Don Quixote of the French Quarter. His story bursts with wholly original characters, denizens of New Orleans’ lower depths, incredibly true-to-life dialogue, and the zaniest series of high and low comic adventures” (Henry Kisor, Chicago Sun-Times)”
Why this book? The original list this post is based on suggested Toole’s book for “high-brow giggles.” Having read this before and not finding it too funny, I still included it because not everyone will have the same opinion. Toole’s book does offer a different perspective of life and, in our twenties, it is important to be able to appreciate different approaches and views on life.
4. The Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance “One of the most important & influential books written in the past half-century, Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a powerfully moving & penetrating examination of how we live, a breathtaking meditation on how to live better. Here is the book that transformed a generation, an unforgettable narration of a summer motorcycle trip across America’s Northwest, undertaken by a father & his young son. A story of love & fear–of growth, discovery & acceptance–that becomes a profound personal & philosophical odyssey into life’s fundamental questions, this uniquely exhilarating modern classic is both touching & transcendent, resonant with the myriad confusions of existence & the small, essential triumphs that propel us forward.”
Why this book? The description kind of says it all.
5. The Marriage Plot “Are the great love stories of the nineteenth century dead? Or can there be a new story, written for today and alive to the realities of feminism, sexual freedom, prenups, and divorce? With devastating wit and an abiding understanding of and affection for his characters, Jeffrey Eugenides revives the motivating energies of the novel, while creating a story so contemporary and fresh that it reads like the intimate journal of our own lives.”
Why this book? Jeffery Eugenides is also the author of Middlesex and The Virgin Suicides, highly recommended books, so it’s worth a read for his authorship alone. However, love is an all consuming topic. From fairytales to our daily lives, we wonder about love and search for it endlessly. Being in your twenties is no different and it may be more of a focus because it’s a time when people make serious commitments to others.
6. An Untamed State
“An Untamed State is a novel of privilege in the face of crushing poverty, and of the lawless anger that corrupt governments produce. It is the story of a willful woman attempting to find her way back to the person she once was, and of how redemption is found in the most unexpected of places. An Untamed State establishes Roxane Gay as a writer of prodigious, arresting talent.”
Why this book? Life has unforeseen tragedies and it’s during these times we learn our strength. I can’t say much more than that, but from all the book reviews I’ve read An Untamed State is about surviving, being strong and recovering.
7. Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and and Life from Dear Sugar “Life can be hard: your lover cheats on you; you lose a family member; you can’t pay the bills—and it can be great: you’ve had the hottest sex of your life; you get that plum job; you muster the courage to write your novel. Sugar—the once-anonymous online columnist at The Rumpus, now revealed as Cheryl Strayed, author of the bestselling memoir Wild—is the person thousands turn to for advice. Tiny Beautiful Things brings the best of Dear Sugar in one place and includes never-before-published columns and a new introduction by Steve Almond. Rich with humor, insight, compassion—and absolute honesty—this book is a balm for everything life throws our way.”
Why this book? Who hasn’t secretly read advice columns looking for answers? All compiled in one place, these columns offer insight into some of the situations we all find ourselves in through out the years.
The Liar’s Club: “Karr’s comic childhood in an east Texas oil town brings us characters as darkly hilarious as any of J. D. Salinger’s—a hard-drinking daddy, a sister who can talk down the sheriff at twelve, and an oft-married mother whose accumulated secrets threaten to destroy them all.”
Cherry: “Karr’s edgy, brilliant prose careens between hilarity and tragedy, and Cherry takes readers to a place never truly explored–deep inside a girl’s stormy, ardent adolescence. Parts will leave you gasping with laughter. But its soaring close proves that from even the smokiest beginnings a solid self can form, one capable of facing down all manner of monsters.”
Lit: “Now Lit follows the self-professed blackbelt sinner’s descent into the inferno of alcoholism and madness—and to her astonishing resurrection.”
Why this book? Yes, there are three books in this one. Before I knew that each book covers a different part of Mary Karr’s life, I read Lit and was astounded by her writing and insights! Lit deals more with her twenties and adulthood, but Cherry may be of interest to those in their younger 20s. I included all three as one entry, because which book to read should be left up to the reader. Pick one or read them all!
9. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions On Writing and Life “If you have ever wondered what it takes to be a writer, what it means to be a writer, what the contents of your school lunches said about what your parents were really like, this book is for you. From faith, love, and grace to pain, jealousy, and fear, Lamott insists that you keep your eyes open, and then shows you how to survive. And always, from the life of the artist she turns to the art of life.”
Why this book? A lot of the Sitting In The Stacks readers are writers or aspiring writers (myself included). A respected English teacher recommended this book to me, so I thought it would a good addition to the list.
10. Gilead “Marilynne Robinson returns with an intimate tale of three generations from the Civil War to the twentieth century: a story about fathers and sons and the spiritual battles that still rage at America’s heart. Writing in the tradition of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, Marilynne Robinson’s beautiful, spare, and spiritual prose allows “even the faithless reader to feel the possibility of transcendent order” (Slate). In the luminous and unforgettable voice of Congregationalist minister John Ames, Gilead reveals the human condition and the often unbearable beauty of an ordinary life.”
Why this book? This was another recommendation from the English teacher. Given that this book deals, in part, with the Civil War — I thought it important to include some history. Also, parent-child relationships change during our twenties and it’s always good to keep in mind how these relationships impact the next generation.
11. Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance in Your Twenties and Thirties “The bestselling book that the New York Times hailed as “a highly readable and substantial guide to the grown-up realms of money and business,” Get a Financial Life is a must-read for anyone in their twenties and thirties (or beyond) who wants to understand the basics of personal finance.”
Why this book? A list of books to read in your twenties would not be complete without a guide to personal finance. From student loan debt and that first “real” paycheck to making big first time purchases, our twenties are a whirlwind of money decisions. It’s important to get some guidance on how to tackle finance so we don’t reach 30 in a pile of unmanageable debt.
12. My Horizontal Life “In this raucous collection of true-life stories, actress and comedian Chelsea Handler recounts her time spent in the social trenches with that wild, strange, irresistible, and often gratifying beast: the one-night stand. You’ve either done it or know someone who has: the one-night stand, the familiar outcome of a night spent at a bar, sometimes the sole payoff for your friend’s irritating wedding, or the only relief from a disastrous vacation. Often embarrassing and uncomfortable, occasionally outlandish, but most times just a necessary and irresistible evil, the one-night stand is a social rite as old as sex itself and as common as a bar stool.”
Why this book? Besides loving Chelsea Handler’s book Are you there Vodka? It’s me, Chelsea, this book seems to be a good addition to the others in this list dealing with romantic relationships. Plus, we all need some comedy in our lives, even if it’s awkward and embarrassing.
13. Girls In White Dresses “Wickedly hilarious and utterly recognizable, Girls in White Dresses tells the story of three women grappling with heartbreak and career change, family pressure and new love—all while suffering through an endless round of weddings and bridal showers.”
Why this book? It seems as if everyone is getting married these days. Facebook is full of engagements and wedding photos. As my sisters said to me the first time I complained about this — “Welcome to your twenties.” Girls In White Dresses will offer a literary view of this transitional time.
14. MWF Seeking BFF (reviewed May 5, 2016)“When Rachel Bertsche first moves to Chicago, she’s thrilled to finally share a zip code with her boyfriend. But shortly after getting married, she realizes that her new life is missing one thing: friends. Sure, she has plenty of BFFs—in New York and San Francisco and Boston and Washington, D.C. Still, in her adopted hometown, there’s no one to call at the last minute for girl talk over brunch or a reality-TV marathon over a bottle of wine. Taking matters into her own hands, Bertsche develops a plan: Meeting people everywhere from improv class to friend rental websites, she’ll go on fifty-two friend-dates, one per week for a year, in hopes of meeting her new Best Friend Forever.”
Why this book? Years ago, a friend who was graduating college (I was still a young freshman) expressed concern about making new friends outside of school. Back then I thought it was ridiculous, but now — 2 years out of college — I understand that fear. MWF Seeking BFF is another book about friendships and how to find that “best friend” as an adult.
15. The Bell Jar “Esther Greenwood is brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under—maybe for the last time. In her acclaimed and enduring masterwork, Sylvia Plath brilliantly draws the reader into Esther’s breakdown with such intensity that her insanity becomes palpably real, even rational—as accessible an experience as going to the movies. A deep penetration into the darkest and most harrowing corners of the human psyche, The Bell Jar is an extraordinary accomplishment and a haunting American classic.”
Why this book? It’s a classic!
“Travels with Charley in Search of America is an intimate look at one of America’s most beloved writers in the later years of his life—a self-portrait of a man who never wrote an explicit autobiography. Written during a time of upheaval and racial tension in the South—which Steinbeck witnessed firsthand—Travels with Charley is a stunning evocation of America on the eve of a tumultuous decade.”
Why this book? Steinbeck is a classic author and Travels with Charley is not usually on the list of his books to read. I believe this book will be an interesting look at the United States and its history at a critical time. As we age, it’s important to look back to see why we are who and where we are — as a nation and as individuals.
“A masterpiece of satire, this classic has entertained and enlightened readers the world over with its sly and ironic portrayal of human life from the vantage point of Screwtape, a senior tempter in the service of “Our Father Below.” At once wildly comic, deadly serious, and strikingly original, C. S. Lewis gives us the correspondence of the worldly-wise old devil to his nephew Wormwood, a novice demon in charge of securing the damnation of an ordinary young man. The Screwtape Letters is the most engaging and humorous account of temptation—and triumph over it—ever written.”
Why this book? We all experience temptation, no matter our age. Also, C.S. Lewis is a brilliant author.
“In the book that he was born to write, provocateur and best-selling author Christopher Hitchens inspires future generations of radicals, gadflies, mavericks, rebels, angry young (wo)men, and dissidents. Who better to speak to that person who finds him or herself in a contrarian position than Hitchens, who has made a career of disagreeing in profound and entertaining ways. This book explores the entire range of “contrary positions”-from noble dissident to gratuitous pain in the butt. In an age of overly polite debate bending over backward to reach a happy consensus within an increasingly centrist political dialogue, Hitchens pointedly pitches himself in contrast. He bemoans the loss of the skills of dialectical thinking evident in contemporary society. He understands the importance of disagreement-to personal integrity, to informed discussion, to true progress-heck, to democracy itself. Epigrammatic, spunky, witty, in your face, timeless and timely, this book is everything you would expect from a mentoring contrarian.”
Why this book? By your twenties, you’re usually past the rebellious phase. However, that does not mean you shouldn’t be contrarian to aspects of life and society. We may be “adults,” but we’re still young enough to see the world differently than those in charge.
“The original SEX AND THE CITY. First published in 1963, THE GROUP, set in the 1930s, follows the lives of eight college friends as they begin their adult lives. ‘A brilliant novel:honest, engaging and sharp as a tack’ Sarah Waters”
Why this book? Women. 1930s. Just graduated college. This sounds like a must read for a young twenty-something woman!
“Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now…”
Why this book? This book was on multiple lists that I consulted. It sounds intriguing and it’s a tale that has been routinely recommended. I’ll be interested to see what lessons there are for someone in their twenties.
Are you in your twenties? Do you find this list interesting? Join me in this reading challenge.
- Complete this list by the time you turn 30.
- Write a review for each book. Discuss lessons learned and whether you think it was a good book to read in your 20s.
- Assuming participants may have read some of the books on the list already; you do not have to read them again if they were read in your 20s. Please, post a review so we all know your thoughts.
- Use this badge with your posts, so readers know you’re participating in the challenge!
- Share your posts with other participants. Don’t forget to comment on each other’s posts so we can have a conversation going.
If you’re interested in participating in this challenge with me, leave a comment with your name and a link to your blog (if you have one). I’ll make a post of participating readers. There is no deadline to join, since we’re all different ages.
I hope you join me in this challenge. Happy reading!
20 Books Every Woman Should Read in Her 20s