20 Books to Read in Your Twenties
A definitive ranking of what you should be reading now.
1. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
A truly captivating tale of the immigrant spirit coupled with a coming-of-age love story. Spanning years and continents, this novel is an important read for twenty-somethings because it touches on love, race in America, growing up, and accepting who we are and who we have grown to be.
2. Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
If you live under a rock —Harry Potter is a boy wizard who, with his best friends Ron and Hermione, have to save the wizarding world against the evil wizard Lord Voldemort. No matter if you have plowed through these books many times or if you are a newcomer, this series is a must-read. And it’s not just a story for kids—Harry and the gang deal with death, prejudice, and learn the importance of love, which is something we all could use more of in our world. It’s a poignantly beautiful chronicle of growing up, with laugh-out-loud funny moments, and crying until you’re all out of sadness. Read it again. And again.
3. Oh the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Suess
Any self-respecting book list wouldn’t be complete without this classic book from America’s favorite author, Dr. Seuss. It’s a great book to read after you graduate college and have no idea what you just got yourself into, but also can be read if you just need a wee bit of encouragement during the winter doldrums. The famous quote says it all: “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”
4. Girl in the Woods by Aspen Matis
This memoir is the inspiring story of Aspen Matis' hike from Mexico to Canada. After being sexually assaulted on her second night of college, Aspen made the decision to go on an adventure in the hopes of healing and moving on from her traumatic past. Along the way she comes to terms with herself and realizes that to fully survive, she must rely on herself and her strength—a lesson we can all learn from. Read our interview with Matis here.
5. Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
If you love words and puns, then you’ll enjoy the writing of Norton Juster. Phantom Tollboth is book for kids, but don’t let that deter you. Juster creates a world so vivid, complex, and complete that you’ll feel the wind on your face. As twenty-somethings, it helps you see that, beyond the walls of your cubicle, the world is an exciting place. While you may feel stuck in your boring life, there is still plenty to see and do in this magical thing we call life.
6. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
A story about twin brothers in Ethiopia who are orphaned and abandoned by their family may not sound like the most pleasant way to spend an afternoon, but trust me, it’s a great story. Cutting for a Stone deals with estrangement and the cumbersome weight of long-held emotional burdens and teaches that there is always space for healing and forgiveness if we allow ourselves to be open to it.
7. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Set during World War II, the book follows two young people growing up—a girl in France and a boy in Germany—during the Nazi regime. It is a story that portrays love in various forms, a story that highlights the beauty in human relationships, and a story of resilience. You won’t be disappointed in this book.
8. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
The story of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy is a love story for the ages. Austin challenges societal norms and shows the consequences of living foolishly and how to deal with colorful family members. Pride and Prejudice is just one of many gems in Jane Austen’s canon, and her novels aren’t just for women. They’re not simply about stuffy, white, English people either; they speak about love, marriage, gender roles, and so much more.
9. Little Women by Lousia May Alcott
Marmie. Meg. Jo. Beth. Amy. You definitely need these strong, smart, independent, loving, loyal, humble, and stubborn women in your 20-something life. We can all benefit from Marnie’s wisdom. We need Meg’s reasonableness, and Jo’s independence. We can be humbled by Beth’s selflessness and Amy’s ability to see beyond what our circumstances are and hope and dream for a better life. This classic novel is best read with a hot drink in your hand and a fire by your feet.
10. Is Everyone Hanging out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling
This book is laugh-out-loud funny, but also deals with serious topics like what it’s like to be a woman in comedy. Kaling expertly addresses the asinine “are women funny” question, and her very personable writing style that will make you feel like part of her life. You feel like an intimate friend reading her stories of growing up, breaking into comedy, and carrying on a successful career. Best read rapidly and on an airplane.
11. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
John Steinbeck tells an interwoven story about two families living in Salinas Valley, California. You may have read this in high school, but don’t let that keep you from giving it an honest chance. The story parallels that of Cane and Abel in Genesis and deals with love, suffering, and free will. The book is long and entirely worth it, but if you start feeling your life passing you by, find the “timshel” passage and read it until your goosebumps subside.
Technology has made our world smaller than ever, so lose the screen and get to seeing it. Everyone should travel in their twenties, and Steves provides concise guides on how to best find the best hostels, food, and local attractions. Steves' books will help you learn about your destination and can make a strange place seem less scary and distant.
13. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
If you love sensationalized history, this book is for you. Clocking in at a little over 1,000 pages, this is another brick, but a good story. Set during the Civil War in the South, it’s not an accurate depiction of history; it sympathizes with the South and glamorizes its plight. Nevertheless, it is still a compelling story with flawed and interesting characters living in a harrowing time in America’s past.
14. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Another book that might have been on your syllabus in school, but an important reread if only to once again live with Atticus Finch (one of the best characters in literature). Scout Finch, the child protagonist of the novel, is growing up in a South filled with racism and discrimination, but learns to look at the character of humans instead of their outward appearance. Follow up with Lee's recent release Go Set a Watchman, which sees (the now adult) Scout return to her childhood home.
15. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
This is a dystopian story set in the fictional land of Gilead, where women are only valued for their ability to have children. A handmaid must hope that she will become pregnant from her master, because that is all that she is useful for. Atwood will wake the feminist in you.
16. Night by Elie Wiesel
Written by Elie Wiesel, this book recounts the experiences in a Nazi concentration camp. This book is heavy, but it’s a powerful story about one of the darkest points in history. Night is one of the best books written about the Holocaust because it doesn’t shy away from the horror and evil of it all, but instead it leaves you feeling disgusted that it happened, while espousing hope that this type of evil can be stopped.
17. Anne of Green Gables series by Lucy Maude Montgomery
Anne Shirley is one of the best female character to date. She’s spunky. She loves to read. She is incapable of being anyone except herself. She grows throughout the series but never loses herself. She has the best parental figures in the world in Matthew and Marilla. The series is also home to beloved literary love interest, Gilbert Blythe. He is funny, sweet, loyal and smart. He loves Anne completely for herself and accepts her ambitions, challenges her to be smart and studious, and sets the bar high for non-fictional men.
18. Where’d You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple
The story, compiled through emails, official paperwork, and letters, hinges on the crazy character of Bernadette. When Bernadette goes missing, her daughter, Bee, is determined to find her. The plot unfolds through the perspectives of three highly complex and entertaining family members. Interesting and unique, Where'd You Go Bernadette is a great read.
18. Any Cookbook
Everyone in their twenties should know how to cook a few meals. Whether you are cooking for yourself, a few friends, or a special someone, it’s good to have some meals you can pull out and wow a few stomachs with. So go out and get a cookbook and start making those recipes. Try new stuff, experiment, and become an expert in how to make your signature dish. How to Cook Everything is a great series that starts with the basics and these easy breakfast ideas are way better than soggy cereal.
19. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Jane Eyre is a young girl thrust into a world of secrets and new experiences, and doesn’t always handle it with grace and ease. Jane is an interesting heroine because she isn’t particularly strong willed or independent or stubborn, like many of the other beloved heroines of her time. Nevertheless, she is still a great character who overcomes abuse and intimidating odds.
Feature photo by Mo Riza/ Via Flickr