Your twenties are a transformative time.
Turning 20 felt like such a landmark event in my life. In my opinion, your twenties are both exciting and terrifying at the same time – with the freedom, growth, and excitement come the responsibility, stress, and pain of this transition in your life.
What I find most helpful – in all situations – is to turn to books. In these books, I found reassurance, confidence, and an awakening of my own voice and the person I wanted to focus on growing into during this time. They also restored my excitement for this time, and when I feel growing doubts or anxieties, I know I can turn back to them for guidance.
And hopefully – now you can too!
1. The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make the Most of Them Now – Meg Jay
This is the first book that came to my mind, and if you’re going to read any on this list, I’d say this is the most important. Jay has worked as a clinical psychologist for twentysomethings for years, and her experience shows. This book helped me with all aspects of twentysomething life: career, relationships, family, friends, etc. I ended up highlight so many tidbits from this book that I had to replace my highlighter!
If you want a little taste of Jay’s expertise now, you can watch her TedTalk about why “our thirties are not the new twenties,” and how damaging this attitude can be for us twentysomethings.
2. Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert
3. How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are – Mas, Diwan, Maigret, and Berset
I bought this book on a whim in Les Galleries Lafayette on my last day in Paris. And I have to admit, I’ve never felt more chic or cultured than when I’ve just finished rifling through a few of these pages. This book is like a manual for becoming the ultimate Parisian girl (no matter how far from the city of lights you are): how to do your makeup like one, dress like one, set the table like one, and swear like one.
It’s a fun little book that manages to capture the spirit of the French woman and Paris perfectly. So if you’ve got a wanderlust spirit and an ability to gulp down coffee, wear all black no matter what, and swear as quickly as you breathe, then you’ll get a kick out of this baby.
4. The Beautiful and Damned – F. Scott Fitzgerald
The emotional tenderness and turbulence of Gloria and Anthony Patch never cease to remind me how intense and complicated love can truly be. I put this book on this list in hopes that if you begin your first big love affair (or maybe it’s continuing) in your twenties, you can avoid the mistakes Gloria and Anthony make, while also relishing Fitzgerald’s perspective on love, marriage, and the jazz age as a whole. We also need a classic for this list. (;
5. Everything Happens For a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved – Kate Bowler
What can I say about this book except that I’ve never laughed or cried my way through any other book like I did with this one? I don’t want to detract from the magic and poignancy of Bowler’s sharp perspective and hilarity – but here’s the rundown: Bowler is 35, married to her “high school sweetheart,” successful, and a new mother. Then she is suddenly diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer.
What ensues is both heartbreaking at moments and amazingly uplifting, hilarious, and downright inspiring. She also has an amazing podcast called “Everything Happens” that features other creatives on a weekly basis.
6. Brave Enough – Cheryl Strayed
If you’re like me and you fell in love with Wild (movie or film, I don’t judge) then this little book of quotes is for you! Strayed has a kind of kick-ass yet gentle wisdom that is both comforting and a little kick in the butt when you need it. I find myself flipping through this book every so often, picking a quote to sit with for a while, and then feeling clearer with purpose.
The one I’m sitting with this week?
“Compassion isn’t about solutions.
It’s about giving all the love that you’ve got.”
– Cheryl Strayed
7. Milk and Honey – Rupi Kaur
I’m sure you’ve seen filtered photos of the pages of this book on Instagram, Pinterest, and Tumblr. The poems are short enough to read while soaking in a bathtub (as I did), but carry a weight and meaning to them to stay with you for a long time. Rupi Kaur encompasses grief, anger, adoration, outrage, jealousy, and everything in between with empathy, compassion, and cutting honesty. Reading Milk and Honey feels as if someone went through your diary and translated the entries into poems.
8. We Should All Be Feminists – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Remember when I said these books helped me develop the person I wanted to become? This is perhaps the book that played the largest part in that. Adichie’s writing is flawless, focused, and laser-sharp. Not only does she point out the harm done to women by toxic masculinity, but the harm that is done to men as well. If you have a few minutes to spare, I’ve included her TedTalk below, which hits many of the overall bullet points of the book.
9. Pack Up the Moon – Anna McPartlin
Never heard of it? I’m not surprised. This book fell into my lap completely coincidentally, but from the moment I opened it, I was in love. It’s a love story, but much more than that. The main character, Emma, is easy to identify with and you’ll find yourself grieving with her, healing with her, and rooting for her. McPartlin’s tone and writing style are peaceful and imaginative so you can get wrapped up in Emma’s world fairly easily. Just writing this bit makes me want to reread it!!
10. Call Me By Your Name – André Aciman
I know, I know – you’ve probably heard all about the movie. And the movie is fantastic. But the book is even better. Not only does it slip you into a wonderful Italian summer in the ’80s, but it illuminates the confusion and yearning that comes with our first love, even worse when we fall for someone who will eventually have to leave us. I included this on the list because it has lessons about friendship, heartbreak, and traveling that has stuck with me since I finished it.
Here’s to your growing book list! If you’ve read any of these, or think there’s a book that should be on here, comment below! I’m constantly looking for more books to read, so I appreciate all the suggestions.
Madi and the rest of the Gilded Twenties Team.
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