What are the best books to read in your 20s? If you asked 20 people you would probably get 20 different answers. Which would be 20 times 20…and I’m pretty sure that’s 400. But I digress. This is a book blog, not a math blog. The reason for so many different book choices is that for the first time in your 20s, everyone’s lives start to look very different from each other. Some of us are focusing on romantic relationships, perhaps marriage or starting a family. Others begin excelling in their careers or creative endeavors. And some of us (I’m going to say most of us) spend the decade bouncing around just trying to figure things out. It’s all normal. Because in your 20s, there is no normal.
Still, there are some themes and experiences that feel near universal in this decade of transition into adulthood. It is a time of deep personal discovery, relationship building, and self definition. These books are ones I learned from in my 20s or wish I had found a few years earlier. They are books I love to give to 20 year olds in my life and wish I could go back and give to my younger self.
In some way, they all have to do with the question of who do you want to be and what do you want your life to look like? Whether you are in your 20s or just still feel like you are, I hope you enjoy and find meaning in the books from this list.
The Best Books to Read In Your 20s
Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself by Nedra Glover Tawwab
Of all the books to read in your 20s, I recommend this one the most. Nedra Glover Tawwab is a licensed therapist who focuses on how building boundaries can help both your relationships and yourself flourish. I’m slightly embarrassed to say, I went into this book not totally sure what the term boundaries meant. But Tawwab cleared up my confusion with real-world examples, questions for contemplation, and scripts for dialogue that might be helpful depending on your situation. A truly life-changing book that you should begin learning from early in adulthood. Seriously, I’m recommending it to everyone I know.
All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks
Whether looking for romantic relationships, deepening your friendships, shifting in your family roles, or thinking about how you relate with yourself, a lot of your 20s is related to love and loving. Like a a lot, a lot. But love isn’t always given the same intellectual priority as other human experiences. This beloved classic looks at relationships from every angle and discusses how to live a life guided by love instead of fear. It is deeply thoughtful, clearly written, and applicable to everyone.
Devotions by Mary Oliver
Your 20s might be fast-paced, confusing, overwhelming, or a whirlwind. Take a break and learn to embrace quiet contemplation with this poet. She writes a lot about lessons we can learn from nature and appreciating the small everyday moments. And don’t worry, this isn’t like the hard-to-read poems you sometimes read in high school and college classes. It is filled with beautiful moments and nubs of wisdom that will become a part of you as you keep changing and growing.
Sex! With yourself! With other people! It’s exciting (hence all my short sentences and exclamation points). But, as we know, sex education is severely lacking for many people. This book really gets into the science of what is happening inside our brains during sex. It also shows that there is no one way people experience sex or pleasure. It is written with women in mind, but I think people from all gender identities would benefit from reading through this book. Also, Emily Nagoski and her sister Amelia Nagoski wrote an amazing book on stress called Burnout if that’s of interest.
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
Amira is a broke 25-year-old, who makes her money babysitting and doesn’t really know what she wants to do with her life. The book begins when a store security guard accuses Amira, a Black woman, of kidnapping the white child she looks after. When the video goes viral, the child’s mother — a lifestyle guru named Alix — wants to capitalize on the moment. She wants to be a friend and mentor to Amira to help her achieve big things. But Amira might not want the same things that Alix wants for her. And Alix doesn’t seem to grasp the unequal and transactional nature of their relationship.
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
The premise of this novel is both whimsical and dark. Between life and death after a suicide attempt, Nora finds herself in a magical library. Each book she takes off the shelf is a view into what her life would be like if she made a different choice. What if she’d never quit her band? Or followed her dream to become a glaciologist? What if she’d said yes when the handsome stranger asked her out for coffee? These are all questions Nora gets to explore while trying to decide if any of her potential lives is worth living.
Already Enough: A Path to Self-Acceptance by Lisa Olivera
The self help or self improvement genre doesn’t really explain this book. As the title declares, readers don’t need to improve. We are…already enough. Still, this beautiful book straddles the psychology and memoir categories. The pages inside contain both stories from the author’s own life as an adopted child who was abandoned by her mother in the woods and therapeutic exercises the author has honed as a therapist. For a young person still figuring out their life and trying to make sense of their story, this book is an invaluable read.
Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khon
Ruth moves home after an unexpected breakup to help take care of her father who has advancing Alzheimer’s disease. She tries to cure him using every food and nutritional trend she can read about on the internet. But eventually, the story becomes about acceptance. Accepting her father’s disease and accepting that her life hasn’t gone the way she planned. This is a great book to read in your 20s, because it captures that oddness and grief of the shifting power dynamics with your parents when you must become a caregiver. The elements of how to rebuild your life after a disappointment or failure also feels so relevant to this decade of life.
The Roommate by Rosie Danan
Clara is an overachiever who’s spent the last 27 years doing exactly what her East coast, socialite family expects of her. To shake things up, she moves to LA to become roommates with her longtime crush, a childhood family friend. But that guy’s an ass and abandons her to travel with his band. Her replacement roommate, Josh, is handsome, sensitive, and also famous porn star. After a rocky start, things warm up between them personally and professionally. This is a book about Clara accepting her sexuality and growing out of the role her parents set for her. On a scale of 1 to 10 on the steamy scale, this romance novel is probably an 11. So it might not be safe for work. But it is sex-positive and sex worker positive, while also telling the story of two 20-year-olds making big life decisions.
Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman
A lot of people think your 20s are all about finding a spouse or life partner. But as people are getting married later, or not at all, friendships and friend groups are becoming more and more vital in this important decade. This book is about how to value friendship and keep these relationships at the center of your life. With a real life example from the big friendship between the authors who host the podcast Call Your Girlfriend it covers becoming friends, choosing friends, and what to do when a friendship is in trouble. Vital information!