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20 Books To Read In Your 20s

Published 2 years ago on December 4, 2017
By Vincent

Your 20s can be a bit of a weird time, to be honest. Often advertised as a sort of second adolescence, TV, film, and media provide an image of casual relationships, creative endeavors and the making of you as a person when the reality can be more existential crises and struggling to move out of your parent's home despite being desperate for independence.

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Don't worry, though; we've got a reading list for you that should make it a little bit more bearable in terms of understanding what you should or should not being doing.


1. The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter - And How To Make The Most of Them Now by Meg Jay

Well, it says exactly what it says on the tin. Some choose not to worry about where life will take them in their 20s and focus on enjoying themselves, but this book argues that you shouldn't just drift through life in a rudderless direction and encourages you to do something about it. A sobering jolt to those who may be gliding about aimlessly and it may just be what you need.

2. F*ck! I'm In My Twenties by Emma Koenig

A hilarious and self-deprecating look at being in your 20s by someone who is in their 20s. The poignant and painfully accurate illustrations, checklists and Venn diagrams will be increasingly familiar and will make you aware that you are not the only one who feels like this. The obvious moments of incredulity and wanton need for validation will have you laughing, before then probably crying, at the self-recognition.

3. High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

The mid-90s debut of much-loved author Nick Hornby, it has dated a little, and the main character is in his 30s rather than 20s, but if you recognize someone in a dead-end job with a stalling love life, then you may well appreciate its central character. Yes, you could watch the John Cusack rom-com but, as always, the book is better than the film.

4. Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

An advice columnist who went by the name of 'Sugar', Cheryl Strayed has spent a significant portion of her working life trying to help directionless 20 somethings with honest, open advice drawn from her own personal experience. Smattered with a deluge of trite terms of endearment like 'sweet pea' and 'huneybun' the book is a collection of those columns and has advice on almost any situation that is likely to arise in your 20s. Keep it in your glove compartment for emergencies and just breathe deeply.

5. Wild by Cheryl Strayed

By the same author as Tiny Beautiful Things, this book is sort of like Eat, Pray, Love in its talk of a healing journey as it lets you into revelations about life, loss, and love which may just see you strapping on your hiking boots and heading to the hills. Failing that, it's still a darn good read, better than the Reese Witherspoon film version of it, anyway.

6. The Circle by Dave Eggers

Most of us are painfully aware of the pros and cons of social media, the Facebook Generation and the desire for instant gratification and validation. However, Dave Eggers takes it to its most absurd, and yet, sadly logical conclusion in this fantastic novel about how the world is changing and changing us for the worse. Satirical, sharp, dark and oh so funny, try to put your phone down long enough to read it.

7. Bird by Bird: Some Instruction On Writing And Life

If not knowing what you want to do with your life sends you into a spiral of existential dread (and let's be honest, when doesn't it do that?) then this advice book about how you should approach life in the same manner as you should approach writing may make you a better person as well as writer. It may not, but it seems to make sense. Just take things bird by bird (or step by step).

8. The Harry Potter Books by J.K. Rowling

These books defined a generation and if, somehow, you missed out on reading abut the boy wizard (seriously,!) then you should get on it right now. Not only will you be opened up to a world of magic but you will become so much more aware of the iconography, pop-culture references and love for J.K. Rowling that everybody else in the world has. It is what made the generation of 20-somethings of today into the readers they are now.

9. Stoner by John Williams

Love is an act rather than a privilege or state of being. This is the message Stoner tells us and it is also a story of being content in our work and finding the meaning in our lives by just doing. If you only read one book from this list, please make it this one!

10. On The Road - Jack Kerouac

Kerouac was one of the fathers of the Beat Generation, and this piece of literature is probably as influential a part of it as Allen Ginsberg's Howl.  A semi-autobiographical novel, On The Road, sees the protagonist travel the length and breadth of America by any means possible (and mostly by the only means affordable) interacting with the people, listening to jazz and smoking a hell of a lot of cigarettes. It is the ultimate in road trips and adds a level of profound self-discovery over a humorous take on the discovery of his vast country. Unbound by social convention the narrator is spirited and audacious and it has led to countless generations just getting in their car and seeing how far they can get. Inspiring a whole counter-culture with its depiction of freedom, this is arguably one of the most influential books of its time.

11. The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemmingway

Hemmingway certainly had a penchant for travel, and as a war reporter, he saw much of Europe and, in his later years, he moved to Cuba. So pick up any one of his novels, and it will tell a story of the places he has been, seen and experienced but The Sun Also Rises tells of a journey itself as a group of English and American ex-pats travel from Paris to Pamplona, in the Navarre region of Spain, to watch bull-fighting. Hemmingway undertook this journey himself and exquisitely explains, not only the places and people but also their cultures, societies, prejudices and inherent nature that has grown from these. Multifaceted and extraordinary in every way this novel is an insight into how different the various European cultures can be.

12. Quiet by Susan Cain

If you find yourself being a little introverted from time to time this book is there to assuage your fears and make the most of your quiet creativity and productivity pointing you in the right direction and gently pointing out how you may well be more valuable than the loudest person in the room. It offers, hope and answers in the search for a role for oneself even if you are reticent about it.

13. This Is Water by David Foster Wallace

Written after he gave his only ever speech, this book tells us the importance of how we think about the world and how that alone can change who we are and the world we live in If we could make conscious decisions about the world we see and interact with all the time, then how would we shape it?

14. Hyperbole And A Half by Allie Brosh

A cartoon filled memoir on flawed coping mechanisms and unfortunate situations, it has some very apt and deeply touching and thought-provoking passages on depression. Despite this, it remains a funny and fabulous read that will help you understand better the struggles of those around you as well as, possibly, pinpointing some of your own.

15. The Sense of An Ending by Julian Barnes

A story about memory and how we perceive ourselves through time, it tells us that we won't see things that are happening now, in the same manner as we do now when we are in our 60s. As such, start taking notes now. A wonderful story of friendship and perception, it gives hope that maybe, one day, we will see things in a more positive light.

16. How's Your Drink? Cocktails, Culture and The Art of Drinking Well by Eric Felten

Because you can no longer pretend you're a student and go out and get smashed on cheap beer, you have to play at being an adult now and this book does that by providing you with cocktail recipes, interesting tidbits on the history of alcohol and some stunning insights into the culture that has grown up around it. Also, did we mention it has cocktail recipes?

17. Lean In For Graduates by Sheryl Sandberg

The CEO of Facebook brings you a book that is vital to all graduates out there struggling to find work. It tells you how to get that first job, how to negotiate your salary, and how to listen to your inner voice at the office. It then goes on to say about how to get ahead in the workplace and how to make the most of your career in your early 20s.

18. The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Filled with Greek myths, philosophy, and classic linguistics, it is a murder mystery that uses all of your critical thinking and is perfect for those on campus looking for a read that will both challenge them and expand their minds. The use of knowledge in such an engrossing narrative makes it a fascinating read.

19. Birds of America by Lorrie Moore

Twelve short stories with sharp-witted female protagonists, it shows the inner workings of complex domestic lives with meta-stories that will break your heart but expand your mind. Discerning and brilliant, it is a must read.

20. Letters To A Young Contrarian by Christopher Hitchens

A controversial and argumentative figure during his lifetime, Hitchens puts forward an excellent case for taking the contrarian view up and being persistent with your arguments because there is plenty of time for silence when you are in the grave. Poignant and necessary, it makes for an eye-opening reading.

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