inding relevant books to read is always a challenge, but it can be particularly difficult in your 20s. Everyone seems to have an opinion on what twenty-somethings should read, but most of those lists aren’t coming from actual people in their 20s.
Whether you’re reading to challenge yourself, get informed, or just give yourself a break from school or work, here are the books + book boxes our writers actually have on their shelves.
Keep reading for our recommendations on:
- Books you should read in your 20s
- Classic books you may have missed (but should definitely revisit!)
- How to stay on top of reading even though you’re busy
The Best Books to Read in Your 20s
My Year of Rest and Relaxation
For Every 20Something Who Has Ever Wanted to Quit Adulting and Just Nap… or Hibernate 🤷🏻♀️
🖋 Ottessa Moshfegh | 📚 Literary Fiction | 📖 289 pages
Life after college can be tough -- without a concrete goal to reach for, many recent grads find themselves feeling somewhat adrift in a sea of possibility and obligation, which is a feeling the main character of Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation knows all too well.
In a bid to deal with the existential alienation of early adulthood, our narrator decides to spend a year in hibernation with the help of one of the worst psychiatrists in the annals of literature and the medications she prescribes. As she drifts between sleep and making trips to the Bodega down the street, bleary visits to Dr. Tuttle and marathoning Whoopi Goldberg movies, the narrator processes the people and events who have shaped her life: her parents’ death, her Wall Street boyfriend, the love-hate relationship with her best friend Rita.
Even caught up in the narrator’s drastic scheme, we are left with the clear impression that stepping away from the pressures of our life and giving ourselves room to heal is not just helpful, but vital. And while we may not be able to dive into chemical hibernation in a luxurious apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan ourselves, we can at least escape into the tender but yet darkly funny tale of a woman doing just that.
“… I didn’t care about the housing market or the money I could get. I wanted to hold on to the house the way you’d hold on to a love letter. It was proof that I had not always been so completely alone in this world. But I think I was also holding on to the loss, to the emptiness of the house itself, as though to affirm that it was better to be alone than to be stuck with people who were supposed to love you, yet couldn’t.” -- My Year of Rest and Relaxation
Read this if… self-isolation is starting to get to you or life in general feels kinda overwhelming right now.
Between the World and Me
Required Reading for Anyone Who Wants a Better Understanding of Race in America
🖋 Ta-Nehisi Coates | 📚 Memoir | 📖 152 pages
If you aren’t familiar with Ta-Nehisi Coates’s writing in The Atlantic or for Marvel’s Black Panther comics, let us introduce you. Between the World and Me is a heartfelt reflection on race in America positioned as a letter from father to son. Coates tackles difficult, complex issues such as what it means to live in a black body and how we can all reckon with the fraught history of race in the United States with a personal, poetic style of storytelling that will leave you spellbound.
With well under 200 pages, Between the World and Me is a quick read, but its message will stick with you forever.
“I grew up in a house drawn between love and fear. There was no room for softness. But this girl with long dreads revealed something else– that love could be soft and understanding; that, soft or hard, love was an act of heroism.” -- Between the World and Me
Read this if… you’re looking for a read that’s as beautiful as it is impactful.
The Year of Magical Thinking
A Deeply Personal Reflection on Grief and Healing from one of America’s Most Iconic Writers
🖋 Joan Didion | 📚 Memoir | 📖 227 pages
After winning a writing contest in Vogue magazine in the 1960s, Joan Didion embarked on a journalistic career that carefully examined American culture through the lens of its social and political subtext. Decades later, Didion would turn that same critical eye towards her own life. Following the sudden death of her husband, Didion sifts through her own grief, reflecting on their lives together, what it means to lose someone, and how we heal from our deepest sorrows.
Grief is part of life, and that includes our 20s. Loved ones get older. Our relationships change. No matter what kind of loss you may be feeling, Joan Didion’s reflection may offer some much-needed clarity.
“Grief is different. Grief has no distance. Grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blind the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life.”
Read this if... you want to understand grief from the inside out.
The Dinner List
Invite Five People -- Living or Dead. Who would be on your list?
🖋 Rebecca Serle | 📚 Magical Realism | 📖 276 pages
Everyone has been asked at some point -- maybe an icebreaker in a college class, maybe at a party: if you could invite any 5 people to dinner, who would it be? Rebecca Serle lets the story of Sabrina, a young woman on the cusp of turning 30, unfold around exactly this question. Finding herself at a birthday dinner with her best friend, Audrey Hepburn, and a few other captivating characters, Sabrina reflects on the choices she’s made and how her life is turning out so far.
“That's the thing about life — these moments that define us emerge out of nothing. A missed call. A trip down the stairs. A car accident. They happen in a moment, a breath.” -- The Dinner List
Read this if… you’ve answered one too many generic interview questions or are otherwise experiencing a quarter-life crisis.
Escape on a Fantastic Fable About the Importance of Following Your Heart
🖋 Paulo Coelho | 📚 Fantasy | 📖 197 pages
If you like books that transport you to places beyond the bustle of daily life, places where anything is possible, this enchanting tale of a young shepherd boy named Santiago should be on your shelf. Santiago leaves his homeland of Spain, travels across the Egyptian dessert, and meets a cast of characters who help guide him on his journey to find a fabled treasure buried near the Pyramids. But what starts out as a quest to find buried treasure leads Santiago to discover untold treasures inside himself along the way.
Reading The Alchemist is like hearing a fairytale for the first time. The writing is lush, evocative, and deeply humane, and it leaves us with a timely reminder about the importance of believing in ourselves and in our dreams.
“No matter what he does, every person on earth plays a central role in the history of the world. And normally he doesn't know it.” -- The Alchemist
Read this if… 2020 has left you feeling disconnected and maybe even a little disillusioned.
Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion
How Lessons Learned from Major Religions Can Make Secular Life Better
🖋 Alain de Button | 📚 Philosophy | 📖 320 pages
Religion is a difficult subject -- that’s why we’re urged not to bring it up at family gatherings, on first dates, or in job interviews -- but it has also played an enormous role in shaping the world we live in. We’ve all seen religious debates turn ugly, but whether you believe in one god, many gods, or no god at all, lessons from the organization and value systems of major religions can help us cultivate a better, more connected world.
“The most boring and unproductive question one can ask of any religion is whether or not it is true.” - Religion for Atheists
Read this if… you’re trying to sort out your own values or figure out your place in your larger local or global community.
Widely Considered the Story That Proved Comics Had "Grown Up"
🖋 Alan Moore | 📚 Alternate History | 📖 436 pages
The only graphic novel to be included on TIME magazine’s list of the 100 best novels, Watchmen is a cult classic among bookworms and comic book fans alike. Watchmen takes place in an alternate reality in which the United States won the war with Vietnam, the Watergate Scandal never took place, and tensions with the Soviet Union are rising as the world creeps towards WWIII.
Following the stories and struggles of largely ordinary people who stepped into freelance “super-hero” roles for their own reasons, Watchmen reflects contemporary anxieties and explores the social and personal impact of American cultural ideals.
Watchmen is brought to life by illustrator Dave Gibbons and colorist John Higgins, whose captivating panels introduce us to a cast of psychologically complex characters with larger-than-life personalities you won’t soon forget.
"There's a notion I'd like to see buried: the ordinary person. Ridiculous. There is no ordinary person.” -- Watchmen
Read this if… you’re daydreaming about cooler job options in the gig economy or you want a break from pages crammed with tiny, dense text (without sacrificing literary quality).
Books You May Have Missed in High School English
Literary Staples That Are Worth Rereading… or Reading for the First Time
Most people who consider themselves well-read have a pretty solid understanding of classic literature. You don’t necessarily have to do a deep dive into classic literature if it isn’t your thing, but if you want to broaden your literary horizons, thinking back to your English class curriculum is a good place to start.
While historically the authors catapulted to popular and critical acclaim have represented only a narrow subset of all the works available from any given genre or time period, they do serve as an introduction to the culture and values of people across literary history.
Whether you never saw these books in an English class, you never quite gave them the attention your teacher asked you to (🤷🏻♀️), or you haven’t picked them up in a while, consider giving some of these classics a read.
Here they are:
- Animal Farm by George Orwell. Ever wonder how, exactly, power corrupts people? Watch it all unfold as the animals of Animal Farm try to organize a more equal government.
- Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Everything has a price, but is superficial happiness worth sacrificing personal freedom?
- The Color Purple by Alice Walker. The human spirit is extraordinarily resilient. Celie survives abuse, oppression, disappointment, and pain and perseveres.
- Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. Beginning with a below-average IQ, an experimental therapy makes Charlie hyper-intelligent. Is he better off than he was before?
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Jay Gatsby chases his lost love and the American Dream.
- Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. In a world that often makes little sense, characters must rely on personal integrity to get by.
- A Tale of Two Cities by Chales Dickens. Each person must make and live with their own choices, and during the French Revolution there can be dramatic consequences.
- Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. There are some things -- like love and morality -- that are innate to the human condition. Despite being left on his own, Frankenstein’s monster still strives to learn and connect.
- A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway. Life is full of struggles, and nobody understands that better than Henry, a soldier trying to get by during wartime.
- Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. If you like deep, philosophical quandaries and have lots of time on your hands, this one is for you.
- The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. Art, opium dens, forbidden love, and a solid moral at the end. What more could you want?
How to Stay on Top of Reading in Your 20s
Book Boxes + Subscriptions to Help You Stay on Top of Your Reading Goals
Finding time to read in your 20s is hard.If you don’t have time to stroll through picturesque book stores and sift through piles and piles of books to find the ones that speak to you, you’re not alone. Here are a few easy ways to stay on top of reading without losing your mind!
Book of the Month
This isn’t your grandma’s Book of the Month! Here’s how the subscription service works: every month, the BOTM team chooses 5 books to feature for the month. Featured genres frequently include contemporary fiction, thrillers, romance, best-sellers, and more. You can choose one of the books, add on additional books or goodies if you want, and then your selection arrives at your door a few days later in a cheerful blue box.
If you’re looking to stay on top of the latest releases, BOTM is a great option.
The Bookish Box takes your reading experience to the next level. Each month the Bookish team selects a theme, and they send you a book and lots of goodies to go with it. With both young adult and adult fiction options, you can easily stay up-to-date on your favorite type of books.
Swap Doomscrolling for Goodreads Scrolling
The average US adult spends almost 3 hours on their phone every single day. Instead of letting social media and news stories bombard you with things to be worried about, spend some time scrolling on Goodreads instead. Get book recommendations, read reviews, participate in discussions, and just engage in the literary community for a few minutes a day instead!
There are tons of books to read in your 20s out there, but hopefully this article has given you a good place to start. What are your favorite reads? Let us know in the comments, and happy reading!