12 Fantastic Books to Read in Your 20s

What to read for some valuable lessons on life, love, money, friendship, and more.

12 Good Books to Read in Your 20s
Photo: Bookshop.org

Your 20s are a pivotal decade. You leave the comfort of childhood and school schedule, and suddenly, you're supposed to be an adult. As you navigate your new world, you'll make mistakes and changes, celebrate milestones, learn lessons in love, and mourn missed opportunities. It's an important, fundamental time to explore who you are, who you want to be, and what matters most to your happiness.

Though 10 years might not seem like a long time, 20-somethings shape every generation, have buying power, and ultimately, will become leaders as their careers —and lives—grow. During this unique, transformational period, reading the works of great writers can inspire your journey. From harrowing nonfiction tales to cheeky self-help reads and page-turning fiction, here are 12 fantastic books to read in your 20s (and want to return to again and again).

01 of 12

'Imposter Syndrome' by Kathy Wang

Good Books to Read in Your 20s: Imposter Syndrome by Kathy Wang

The term 'imposter syndrome' has been trending for a while now. While it can impact anyone at any age, it often begins or gets worse in our 20s. That feeling of not being good enough in your career or confident in your abilities is terrible, you feel like you're posing as a phony—and anyone could find out at any time. In a digital age, imposter syndrome can be intensified. Social media, for instance, can paint a perfect image of someone else's life, making it feel impossible to live up to those expectations. This fictional bestseller weaves together the lives of two successful women in tech, and their struggle with feeling like imposters as they work toward the so-called American dream.

02 of 12

'Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies' by Tara Schuster

Good Books to Read in Your 20s: Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies by Tara Schuster

Feeling envy toward successful influencers, entrepreneurs, and celebrities is entirely normal; but it's also important to remember that not everything is as it appears. This is the story of Tara Schuster, who writes about her experience as a television executive rising to stardom in her late 20s. While her life looked glamorous, in reality, she was suffering from intense anxiety and depression. Her rock-bottom moment came when she called her therapist while drunk, begging for help. Her quick-witted, straight-talking book is about accepting who you are, dealing with your baggage, owning your emotions, treating yourself with love, and building confidence.

RELATED: How to Fake Confidence at Work (Until There's No Need to Fake It Anymore)

03 of 12

'Revolution From Within' by Gloria Steinem

Good Books to Read in Your 20s: ‘Revolution From Within’ by Gloria Steinem

Every woman (and everyone) should keep handy a copy of this 1993 book from feminist icon Gloria Steinem. As one of the pioneers of the women's movement, Steinem's guidebook discusses sexuality, age, race, gender, and ability. In addition to sharing her own stories, she draws on the journeys of other women, all sending the message that it's vital for all people to fight for equality. It was once heralded as 'the ultimate self-help book' by the Los Angeles Times.

04 of 12

'Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail' by Cheryl Strayed

Good Books to Read in Your 20s: ‘Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail’ by Cheryl Strayed

There's a moment in your 20s when you look around, take inventory of your life, and wonder: What would happen if I changed everything? Many resist the urge. Others dive head-first into it, like author Cheryl Strayed did. In her captivating memoir, she explains how and why she decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail alone at age 26. As she walks thousands of miles by herself, she heals the grief of losing her mother, the pain of her divorce, and discovers she has all she needs to change her life. Before you watch the movie (and even if you already have), add this book to your must-read pile.

05 of 12

'The Year of Magical Thinking' by Joan Didion

Good Books to Read in Your 20s: ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ by Joan Didion

Joan Didion is considered one of the greatest writers of the past 50 years. Her captivating prose draws in readers with true vulnerability and realism. For any 20-something who is sadly forced to process the grief after losing a loved one, this book is an absolute must-read. Right before Christmas, Didion's only child, a daughter, was induced into a coma due to septic shock. A few days later, her husband suffered a fatal coronary right in front of her at the dinner table. While her daughter recovered, she was left to grapple with the grief of losing the love of her life. Then, four months later, she had a hematoma that required six hours of brain surgery. Her writing takes readers through her journey with a beautiful ability to connect life, death, sanity, pain, and joy, as only Didion can do.

06 of 12

'The Book of Moods: How I Turned My Worst Emotions Into My Best Life' by Lauren Martin

Good Books to Read in Your 20s: ‘The Book of Moods: How I Turned My Worst Emotions Into My Best Life’ by Lauren Martin

One of the reasons older generations tend to roll their eyes at those in their 20s is due to a difference in the way these age groups process emotions. With age and experience comes the ability to manage how you feel and deal with it effectively. Or do we simply better understand the social standards of what's accessible? These are the questions The Book of Moods seeks to uncover. Martin investigates how we can better accept and honor feelings, rather than shying away from emotional triggers and controlling our responses. More importantly, she shares how to prioritize our mental health habits. In addition to personal anecdotes, Martin includes thoughts from Mariska Hargitay, Bobbi Brown, Emma Robert, Brie Larson, and more.

RELATED: 13 Amazing New LGBTQIA+ Books Written by Queer Authors

07 of 12

'How to Be a Person in the World' by Heather Havrilesky

Good Books to Read in Your 20s: ‘How to Be a Person in the World: Ask Polly's Guide Through the Paradoxes of Modern Life’ by Heather Havrilesky

If you missed reading the amazing 'Ask Polly' column in The Cut, here's your gentle nudge to start. You'll find yourself pouring over every last word, nodding along, tearing up, and wanting more. Bad news: The column was discontinued in 2021. Good news: There is more. This book from 'Polly'—aka writer Heather Havrilesky—explores how to be your own problem solver, how to process your emotions, and how to build your sense of self. It will leave you ready to tackle anything that comes your way, guaranteed.

08 of 12

'The Group' by Mary McCarthy

Good Books to Read in Your 20s: ‘The Group’ by Mary McCarthy

In your 20s, you'll collect friends from different aspects of your life—the college friends, work pals, the happenstance buds you meet randomly. The Group is an older book, but a timeless one that illustrates perfectly the ups and downs of adult friendships. This classic novel takes readers along on the separate, but intertwining journeys of eight friends and Vassar graduates post-university.

RELATED: 34 Great Books to Serve Any Mood or Interest

09 of 12

'Broke Millennial: Stop Scraping By and Get Your Financial Life Together' by Erin Lowry

Good Books to Read in Your 20s: ‘Broke Millennial: Stop Scraping By and Get Your Financial Life Together’ by Erin Lowry

Money is a stressful topic for most people, regardless of age. And the only way to break through feelings of discomfort and anxiety around finances is to educate yourself and take control. This detailed book helps 20-somethings navigate the big money topics most on their minds—budgeting, student loans, savings and investing—and also touches on the more hush-hush struggles that don't get enough air time, like keeping up with your friends' spending habits, asking for a raise, and getting comfortable talking about money around colleagues, romantic partners, and friends.

RELATED: Discover Money Confidential, a Weekly Podcast That Offers Practical Solutions to All Your Money Questions

10 of 12

'The Defining Decade' by Meg Jay

Good Books to Read in Your 20s: ‘The Defining Decade’ by Meg Jay

The name says it all: This nonfiction best-seller is focused on remaining in the present. All too often, the 20s are touted as a throw-away decade that's full of bad mistakes, too much booze, and career mishaps. In reality, these 10 years are significant ones, and it's vital to give them the attention they deserve. Based on research, Jay takes a provocative look into why our 20s matter and how they can shape our relationships, our jobs, and our identity for decades to come.

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'Fear of Flying' by Erica Jong

Good Books to Read in Your 20s: ‘Fear of Flying’ by Erica Jong

Before we had talk shows, sitcoms, and social media, talking about sex was totally taboo. But Erica Jong changed the course of how we talk about sexuality and desire in her 1973 fictional best-seller, in which the protagonist, an erotic poet, decides to leave her second husband and travel through Europe solo. Her goal? To enjoy great sex with strangers. Her one obstacle? A fear of flying.

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'Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person' by Shonda Rhimes

Good Books to Read in Your 20s: ‘Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person’ by Shonda Rhimes

You already know the powerhouse that is Shonda Rhimes, the creator and producer of Emmy-award-winning shows Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, How to Get Away With Murder, and Bridgerton. Though she's built an impressive career, Rhimes self-identifies as an introvert and had to force herself to lean into activities that made her uncomfortable. How? By committing to one full year of saying 'yes' to anything that scared her. Yes, anything. Her powerful and heartwarming book details this 12-month challenge and how it transformed her life for the better.

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