10 Books To Read In Your 20s

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. Here are 10 books to read in your 20s:

10 Books To Read In Your 20s

1. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

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.

I’m not one for summarizing the plot line of a book because I can’t do it without exposing how it ends, so I’ll leave that to the Internet, but if any of you are slightly interested in reading this and haven’t yet, I highly recommend it.

2. Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah

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.

So, go out now and read Firefly Lane! You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and then you’ll share this book to your best friend.

3. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof & Sheryl WuDun

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.

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4. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

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.

5. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

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.  And unlike Stanley Kubrick’s film based on A Clockwork Orange, the ending of the book is rather inspiring.  For me, the language is also hypnotic, and it’s not everyday that you read a book with such a charismatic madman as it’s central character.

6. The Mastery of Love by Don Miguel Ruiz

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.

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I think everyone in their twenties should read this book. 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.

7. She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb

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.

When I first started reading I knew nothing about the author and assumed he was a woman. Oh boy was I wrong, and then I was very impressed and astonished. I don’t think any man could portray a woman character with so much perspective and raw emotion as Mr. Lamb did.While the book does deal with major issues, it is not purely a depressing story. The story is written with plenty of tongue-in-cheek humor and the sassy, spunky character of Dolores keeps the reader wanting to more. This fascinating character will have you reading with a gamut of emotions.

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.

5 Bonus Books To Read In Your 20s:

8. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

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.

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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.

Related: 5 Life Lessons From Your Favorite Children’s Books

9. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

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. Charlie shares his life experiences with us, something you’ll take with you each time you turn a year older. I’ve been in love with this book since I was in high school–and I’m even more in love with it in my twenties.

10. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

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.

10 Books to Read in Your 20s List