Your twenties are a transformative decade where what we read can have a profound impact on the way we way think into our second decade. At GenTwenty, we believe reading — of all kinds — is crucial to our personal development.
When we first published this post, I (Nicole Booz, Editor-in-Chief here at GenTwenty), was 23. Fresh out of college, and really still fresh in my 20s. Now, I’m over the cusp of 30 and have learned more than I ever could have imagined in my twenties. This list was originally 10 books to read in your twenties. We published it in June of 2013. Now that it’s 2021, it’s time to update it.
We’re proud to bring you these titles and amazing books we think are worth reading or at least considering reading. They’ve impacted us as a community more than we could ever express. Many of our contributors have brought this list to life over the years. Reading is a great way for young adults to experience new perspectives and find a better way to live their lives.
The following list brings together different people, personal anecdotes, a favorite quote or two, fiction books, a turning point, a true story, and more.Enjoy!
This post was originally published in June 2013. Updated August 2021.
65 Books To Read In Your 20s
As a Middle Eastern and North African Studies student, I have a predilection for books that take place in this area with any ounce of accuracy. I first read this book in my sophomore year of high school and really enjoyed it, but after re-reading and dissecting it in a class I took a little while back, I realized that I enjoyed it not only because of its accurate language and colloquialisms, but also because of Hosseini’s use of symbolism and recurring themes throughout the novel.
Not only is this a book that I recommend that everyone read in their twenties, but it is my all time favorite book. I first read Firefly Lane years ago and it has made a lasting impression on me. It is a story filled with friendship, love, loss and life lessons.
The story spans over three decades and covers the lives of two best friends, Tully and Kate, from childhood to adulthood. I learned so much about friendship, life and the importance of the choices we make while trying to find ourselves. The lessons these women learned as they grew up made me reflect on my own life as I’ve entered my twenties.
For any person of any age or any gender, Half the Sky by husband and wife duo Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn is a must-read. Through compelling anecdotes that uncover the struggles that women and girls face in the developing world, including sex trafficking in Cambodia and poor maternal health in Ethiopia, the authors uncover one of the most pressing human rights issues of our time: the pervasive oppression of women and girls.
The authors put the reader into their shoes, helping us to understand the social and economic constraints that often limit their ability to change their own lives for the better. However, they also include inspirational stories of women who beat the odds and went on to found organizations that work to improve the lives of other women.
Rather than leaving the reader to feel helpless to do anything in the face these looming issues, the authors show how the lives of women and girls abroad can be transformed through support to these aid groups, leading to more opportunities for women and girls to get an education, spurring economic growth and improving the society for future generations of women and girls.
Although the author of this book has her own legend floating around her, The Bell Jar is a great coming into your twenties story about a young woman who finds that, even if you have opportunities handed to you, it’s hard to stay motivated if your heart’s not in it. Esther goes through all the motions of depression and total listlessness while battling the life choices set before her. In a time where a woman was only expected to continue her education and pursuit of a career as long as she wasn’t married, Esther fights off the decision whether or not to lead the domestic life until it’s too late.
I read this book at the end of my second semester of college, a pivotal point in my life, as it is with everyone. We all wonder, at the end of that first year (or even where I am now–with only one semester left), whether we should keep going or fall into a spiral that ends with eating cereal on our parents’ couch for the rest of our lives, and the emotional toll either would take, especially if you suffer from depression or anxiety.I highly recommend this book if you are at a crossroads in your life. Esther is a relatable character who is forced to choose between totally different lives.
While this book might not seem like the best to recommend to others because of it’s subject matter, it makes the reader dwell on what it means to make decisions and have free will. The story centers around a violent young man, Alex, who is chosen to participate in an experimental rehabilitation program that messes with his ability to make his own decisions.
Yes, little Alex may be difficult to relate to at times because of his passion for a bit of the ol’ ultra-violence and some forced in-out in-out from time to time, but his transformation is compelling, if not a bit inspiring. Some also find the language of the book to be a bit off-putting because of the made up slang that is used–nadsat, a mix of Russian, English and other made up words.
Twenty-somethings are faced with tons of major decisions that must be made. At the very least, this book makes one think about what it means to really have the opportunity to make a choice.
Once I picked this book up, I could not put it down. It was given to me by an intern at work when she heard me say I wasn’t sure if I believed in love anymore. Upon reading it, I thought it would teach me about relationships and loving others, but it ultimately reminded me of the most important lesson about love; what love is, how to love and that all of the love that I ever hope to possibly receive in this world comes from myself first.
For me, most of my twenties have been about coming into who I really am as an adult and truly defining myself as a person. Now smack in the middle of my twenties, this book has served as a beautiful reminder of how to be in love and in touch with myself all over again, as well as others. Call me a self-help book lover if you will, but I promise you this book, told through stories from the Toltec tradition will change the way you treat, love and care for yourself and everyone else around you.
This novel is a heartwarming look inside one young woman’s unforgettable struggle through life. While reading I couldn’t help but think, there is no way someone can go through everything she went through. Everything that could go wrong, did, and she truly suffered.
This book is a story about Dolores Price who had endured many faces of abuse in her life. Starting with her father, then mother, her rapist and eventually, her husband. She goes through an abundance of trials and tribulations throughout the novel that many woman can relate to. There is an extremely sad edge to the story as Dolores plunders through life facing rejection, scorn and mistrust. While most young girls face the tough decisions of what outfit to wear to school or which boy to choose to take to the dance, Dolores faces intense problems such as: her weight, rape, an abusive father, unstable mother, sexual confusion, abortion and the constant hurting of not fitting in or belonging to anyone.
I believe any girl in their twenties should read this book because, undoubtedly, there is an issue that you can relate to represented in this novel. I was going through some rough patches in my early twenties, and while reading about Dolores’ story, I felt she was truly a character I could relate to and that she wasn’t just fictional.
The Little Prince is the story of a lonely Little Prince came to Earth in search of companionship and adventure, after visiting several other planets, each inhabited by a single man so focused on their tasks they barely had even a moment for the Prince.
This children’s book is simple but its message transcends age. It might seem like an odd book to recommend to someone in their twenties but perhaps that’s what makes it a good choice. It sings praises to exploration, shows the errors of narrow-mindedness, highlights the importance of making genuine connections and explores the sometimes unbearable nature of lonesomeness.
Short, bittersweet and charmingly illustrated by the author, The Little Prince, leaves readers wondering and seeking out what is and what could be which is exactly what we should be doing at this time in our lives.
While Perks doesn’t focus on life in your twenties, it does provide insight beyond words can describe.
Charlie, a new high school student, seeks to find himself and what he wants out of life. He befriends two outsiders, like himself, Sam and Patrick (also called “Nothing,” on occasion–not something he takes kindly to) and from here, Charlie begins to experience life in new ways: he reads, finds a role model in his favorite teacher, attends parties, school dances, tries marijuana and LSD, sees many performances of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” falls in love and more . The book is written through Charlie’s eyes–chapters are addressed to, “Dear friend…”, as if you are a part of his life.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a beautifully written novel that every single person should read, whether you’re a high school student, in your twenties or approaching your mid-life crisis. The messages behind it are endearing and crafted together in a way that make you feel as if you’re experiencing life from so many different angles.
In this short memoir (only 192 pages), Japanese novelist and avid runner, Haruki Murakami, describes the moment he decided to become a writer. Through pieced together diary-like entries, he paints the simplicity of the decision and the complicated years that followed. He chronicles some of his most successful writing and running ventures as well as his some of his most ill-fated undertakings throughout his career. Illustrated through personal experiences, Murakami describes how being both a runner and a writer are core pieces of his identity–and for him, one cannot exist without the other.
As twenty-somethings, we are all feeling obligated to either find our passions or the courage and means to pursue them. Reading this autobiographical work opened my eyes to something we young, ambitious spirits tend to overlook: the journey. Recognizing the beauty in the life-defining struggles and triumphs we are experiencing right now is a difficult thing to do, but as Murakami shows us in his reflections, it is these moments that shape us.
12. The Last Lecture
13. Rising Strong
14. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
16. 101 Secrets For Your 20s by Paul Angone
17. The Happiness of Pursuit by Chris Guillebeau
The tagline of this book is “Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose to Your Life.” In it, the author discusses the importance of doing something, anything, about what calls to you.
The journey, the act of pursuing what matters to you, no matter what it is, is the most important journey you’ll take in your life. There are interviews with people from all walks of life who do things like seek out exotic birds across or walk across the United States simply because they feel pulled to do so.
This book reminds me of The Alchemist in many ways and is one I keep returning to. The idea of pursing something that calls to you just for the sake of doing it is enchanting and rare
18. Corporate Survival Guide For Your 20s by Kayla Cruz
19. Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin
20. You Are a Badass
If you lead others in any capacity, you have to read this. John Maxwell thoroughly explains what makes some leaders great… and some less than stellar.
This book is infused with stories that show clearly what good leadership is all about.
The Year of Yes is you guessed it, all about saying YES. Get out of your comfort zone. Stand in the sun. Dance in the rain.
Reading this book reminded me that I have the power to make choices that will make me a better person. I don’t have to always doing what other people want me to do.
This book changed the way I thought about my twenties. It made me realize how crucial these ten years are in all aspects of life, but particularly career and relationships (she also has a really great section about the brain that I loved).
Your 20s matter and are absolutely not the new 30. We had the opportunity to interview Dr. Jay on The GenTwenty Podcast. Listen to the episode here!
Quite simply, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho is a book that changed my life. It was the first book I was required to read my freshman year of college in a class that was designed to help me think about what I wanted out of life and how to obtain it.
When I look back on my time in college, Santiago’s story closely resembles mine: struggle, pain, hard choices. However, Santiago’s determination to never give up, his quest to find himself, and ability to persevere through the pain also resonates deeply with me.
We can’t choose what kind of pain enters our life, but we can decide how we are going to deal with it. By reading The Alchemist, I have learned that it’s the journey, not the destination that matters most as it is in the pain that we come to know joy.
This book challenged me to do exactly what the title suggests. Life gets hard, and sometimes looking at it from a different perspective is healing (whether that perspective makes you laugh or cry). Really, whatever you do is fine.
Because adulthood is hard, life is hard, jobs are hard, having kids is hard, dealing with death is hard… it’s all hard. And sweating the small stuff isn’t worth it, and worrying about if you’re doing it all right isn’t either.
I read this book a few years ago and it completely changed the way I approach happiness. I learned how to take time for myself to do the things that I love, and how it’s okay to let go of certain things.
It also taught me the importance of setting reasonable monthly goals for myself — something that I’ve found myself doing on a consistent basis this year.
This book totally flipped my idea of how I should be organizing my life. The author explains a lot about how to live a principle-centered life and addressing many topics I don’t usually think about. For example, he makes you really think about your listening skills. I always thought listening was just listening–who knew it took practice and hard work?
What I really found helpful is how he suggested ways to get shit done. An entire chapter is dedicated to living your life centered around priorities, which helped me a TON when I started my first real job and couldn’t figure out how to get everything done.
This book complately changed my ideas of the corporate environment and what I wanted out of work. The CEO of Zappos shares his story of how Zappos came to be and how he was able to create a company culture that is not only unique but desirable.
I now think of this book when I am at work and compare it to so many situations that could be handled better if we did them the way the book portrayed. There’s laughter, hardship, compassion and up-lifting material that has inspired me to be a better employee. It’s a must-read!
Kate White is the former editor-in-chief of Cosmo Magazine. She gives very practical and realistic advice to women on how to start and move up in your career.
She’s passionate and forward thinking. This book is full of top secrets of ambition! It’s a great recommendation for having a successful career.
30. Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder by Arianna Huffington
We love books from successful women. Huffington, co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post, writes about a new way to look at success. She challenges us to think about success in our whole life instead of compartmentalizing our success.
She talks a lot about sleep (which is so important), and unplugging from technology. Those are just two of the many lessons she teaches throughout her book.
If you’re looking at a career change, we recommend this book for that too. It will help you decide what matters most to you in the balance of career, money, and life.
31. Freakonomicsby Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner
Freakonomics is a unique blend of pop economics, criminology, and sociology that is both informational and fascinating. It sufficiently deviates from run-of-the-mill economic models to entertain those who know their way around a Hubbert curve, while being accessible to people who avoid graphs like the plague. The authors prove that economics is far more than a supply and demand curve; it’s a forever-evolving and sometimes surprising way of viewing the world around us.
32. Bossypants by Tina Fey
Fey writes about her journey from receptionist to world-famous comedian all in her memoir that is equal parts inspirational, introspective, and hilarious.
If nothing else, she gives us hope that the mundane jobs of our twenties may blossom into something spectacular if we work hard, sieze opportunities, and maintain a sense of humor about it all.
If you want more like this, read books from Amy Poehler book too!
33. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacksby Rebecca Skloot
An important read for anyone who has an interest in feminism, bioethics, race and class politics, or anyone who simply wants to have a good cry, this book documents the story of the “immortal woman,” Henrietta Lacks, who is the source of the immortal cell line HeLa, which is still used for research today. Skloot researched the Lacks family, old photos, and archival documents in an effort to discover the history of the now-famous cell line, revealing some sinister details along the way.
34. Linchpin by Seth Godin
The idea of being a linchpin stems from the power of the individual. Any singular person has the power to change the world. This book reminds me of that constantly. And is worth reading to think different and become indispensable. It gives you a clear idea of your value in this world.
In his book, Give and Take, author Adam Grant explores why some people are more successful than others. He found that those who are generous and compassionate in their everyday life have a distinct advantage over the social norm. Likewise, if you’re looking to excel at your career, it doesn’t pay to be self-centered; being respected by others is key.
36. The Kidult Handbook by Nicole Booz
Yes, adding my own book to this list! I wrote this book in 2017 and continuously come back to the idea oof playing like a kid! It’s full of inspiration and ideas to get back to your roots and embrace your inner child. Many are based off of my own experiences, too!
Most people feel busy, but they often don’t know why. Mostly, we move from task to task or deadline to deadline until the day is over without really knowing how it matters. We’re here just for a little while and then gone forever, so each second does matter in some way.
The key is to embrace the idea that time is finite. Henry shows how doing this allows you to succeed in your job.
This is the story about Joe, a self-proclaimed go-getter, who struggles to reach his goals. He is introducted to go-givers and his life is changed forever. Definitely read this in your early 20s if you can!
Blink is the must-read book to be a better decision maker. It’s not about having the most information but instead knowing what to pay attention to.
40. Jane Eyre
Jane acts on her disinterest to be bound or dependent upon anyone but herself. Though the code for women of the time is quite clear, Jane’s makes her own decisions based on her own code and feelings. Whether she’s turning down a marriage proposal or running away from everyone she knows, Jane makes decisions throughout her life that are unheard of for a woman of her position. Ultimately, Jane’s desire to follow her heart and gut lead her to an outcome where she is truly happy as an equal in her relationship.
We love a growth mindset but understanding that better means we need to understand the opposite: scarcity.
This book delves deep into the biggest thing that holds us back from reaching our full potential.
Did you know you have the power to change your habits? It’s true! We’re obsessed with habits here at GenTwenty. And if you are hoping to make a change in your life, this book should be on your to-read list. You have to understand how habits work before moving forward.
Gary Vee shares how to turn your passion into your income. This is just one of his highly popular books. If you’re interested in starting a business but don’t know where to start, we recommend picking up and Gary Vee book! He knows his stuff.
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie is a good complement to this book as well. Especially for harnessing the power of introverts!
44. The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better by Gretchen Rubin
The tendencies she outlines are known as Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. She asserts that our tendencies guide our behaviors and that by using our built-in frameworks, we can more easily guide our habits, behaviors, and outcomes. Even if you’re in your late 20s, this is a great read.
45. The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
Kristin Hannah consistently gives her readers strong, resilient female protagonists. This novel follows Leni, a 13-year old coming-of-age during a tumultuous time in her family’s history, and Ernt, a POW from the Vietnam War. Both Leni and Ernt wound up in Alaska for similar reasons: to escape their demons and start fresh. This is a good book to recommend to family members too as it scratches the surface of family issues.
Otessa Moshfeg is a funny, witty, creative writer. I had the pleasure of listening to her read from her novel, Eileen, and mid-sentence she laughed, later saying “I had forgotten I wrote that. And I still really enjoy it!” I appreciate an author who both does and doesn’t take herself seriously.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation is a bright,, hilarious and oddly tender novel about a young woman’s experiment in narcotic hibernation, “aided and abetted” by one of the worst psychiatrists in the history of literature.
47. You Are a Badass at Making Money by Jen Sincero
Like I said earlier, I love Jen Sincero. This book changed the way I looked at my finances and helped me accept that I deserved to make money. Money isn’t evil – it’s a tool! And this book showed me how to accept that into my own life. It will also give you a new perspective on student loans and how to move forward.
48. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
I have read this book many, many times. I am constantly captivated by what went wrong on Mount Everest in this recounting of the Everest Disaster. This book reminds me that there are many versions to every story and one point of view is never enough to know what really happened.
We tend to go through life following what was written for us — not what we want to be doing. Use these tools rooted in improv to live a more authentic and fulfilled life!
As mental health advocates, we are passionate about encouraging others (and ourselves) to reach out for the resources we need to heal. This book aims to give you the tools to do that.
As someone who has always struggled with anxiety, this book is something I need to turn to when my anxiety rears its head.
52. Unqualified by Steven Furtick
Post-grad depression is a real thing. I was trapped in it for months. Reading this book helped me to begin to heal and feel more like myself. Unqualified takes a look at the lies we tell ourselves about who we are and how inadequate we are. Furtick uses biblical examples to teach us that everyone has shortcomings, but God can use those weaknesses and turn them into strengths. He can use your story no matter how unqualified you think you are.
If you are looking for a life-changing book, this is one of the best books I have ever read. The idea is that you want to take action before your brain holds you back. To do this, all you need to do is a countdown from five.
54. Everything Is Figureoutable by Marie Forleo
The truth is believing in yourself can be hard when you battle with low self-esteem and self-worth like I do. Every day can be a struggle, but books like this remind me of how important it is to feed my brain with love and positivity to crowd out the negative self-talk.
55. Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
What I liked about Newport’s book was the key message was about needing to not just unplug for a recharge but detox and permanently change your habits to better serve you. It’s all about intention, especially when it comes to social media and the digital world!
56. WINTERING: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May
Sometimes you slip through the cracks: unforeseen circumstances like an abrupt illness, the death of a loved one, a break up, or a job loss can derail a life. These periods of dislocation can be lonely and unexpected. For May, her husband fell ill, her son stopped attending school, and her own medical issues led her to leave a demanding job. Wintering explores how she not only endured this painful time, but embraced the singular opportunities it offered.
57. Adventures in Opting Out A Field Guide to Leading an Intentional Life by Cait Flanders
Opt out of expectations and live a more intentional life with this refreshing guide from the national bestselling author of The Year of Less.
We all follow our own path in life. At least, that’s what we’re told. In reality, many of us either do what is expected of us, or follow the invisible but well-worn paths that lead to what is culturally acceptable. For some, those paths are fine — even great. But they leave some of us feeling disconnected from ourselves and what we really want. When that discomfort finally outweighs the fear of trying something new, we’re ready to opt out.
58. Brave(ish) by Margaret Davis Ghielmetti
At forty, Margaret quits her sales job to follow her husband’s hotel career to Paris. She’s setting sail on this adventure with a glass half full of bravery, a well-traveled passport, a journal in which she plans to write her novel, and the mentally engrained Davis Family Handbook of Rules to Live By.
Everyone tells Margaret she’s living the dream, but she feels adrift without a professional identity. Desperate to feel productive and valued, she abandons her writing and throws herself into new roles: perfect wife, hostess, guide, and expatriate. When she and her husband move to Cairo, however, the void inside she’s been ignoring threatens to engulf her. It’s clear that something needs to change, so she does the one thing she was raised never to do: asks for―and accepts―help.
Lisa See, author of The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, brings us a new tale about two girls from the Korean island, Jeju. Mi-ja and Young-sook are best friends and begin to work on their village’s all-female diving collective, starting a new chapter in their life filled with responsibility and excitement, but also danger. In classic Lisa See style, this novel bridges the gap of friendship and time, spanning many decades including Japanese colonialism through the Korean war.
Laurie Halse Anderson’s best-selling novel, Speak, was published twenty years ago. Outraged by how little has changed around sexual assault, and inspired by courageous and vocal survivors, Laurie Halse Anderson brings us Shout. In free-verse, this poem-memoir reflects, rants, and becomes a call-to-action, all through poetry and deeply personal stories from Halse Anderson’s life.
Gretchen Rubin helped her audience find happiness through The Happiness Project and now she’s back to talk balance with Outer Order, Inner Calm. Ruminating on the concept of outer order contributing to inner calm, she helps her readers create the order and organization that can make our lives happier, healthier, more productive, and more creative with a book packed with over one hundred concrete ideas for success.
In classic Dessen style, we follow Emma through a whirlwind summer of romance, family drama, and watch as a whole new world is opened up to her. Emma reconnects with family she hasn’t seen she was little, and becomes divided into two people: Who she is when she’s with her father, and who she was when her mother was alive. As the summer winds to an end, she must decide which version of herself will she be.
Even reading the description of this book had me close to tears. If you plan to be married or have children (or already do), this book will give you some perspective and help you approach your marriage and family life wholeheartedly.
This is the story of a girl who found her way through life despite not quite fitting in. She is passionate, talented, and creative in a way that many people aren’t. I found this book wholesomely inspiring, and so well-written. When you’re in your 20s and not quite sure where you fit in, this book warms your soul and reminds you that you aren’t alone. I love fiction book because they explore concepts so deeply.
65. Dark Matter by Black Crouch
If you want a mind-bending book that makes you think, Dark Matter by Blake Crouch is the book for you. In short, it’s a science fiction thriller that explores worlds the run parallel to our own. It’s the idea that the universe splits every time we choose one thing over another. The main character is thrust out of his own world and must decide what to do next. Each of our decisions has the power to change our future. And while this book is fiction, it has stuck with me for years. To me this book is a modern classic.
A List of 65 Books To Read in Your 20s
Did you make it all the way down here? I sure hope so. This list is extensive but full of fiction, non-fiction, finance, personal development, and more books that will leave a lasting impact on your in your twenties.
I hope you choose to pick up at least one of these. Comment below with one that stuck out to you!