20 Books To Read In Your 20s

Everyone has one. That book that changed your life. Altered your perspective. Got you thinking. Or maybe it’s the first book you enjoyed in a long, long time, and got you back into reading. Fact is, books are the best. And especially as a 20-something, books can shape you, mold you, take you for a ride and spit you back out. Here are some of our books that we think it is crucial to read as a 20-something.

  1. May Cause Miracles, Gabrielle Bernstein

  2. The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand

The Fountainhead is an absolute must read in your 20s. It’s less political than Atlas Shrugged and far more about the power of one individual. Roark’s life sucks- and it’s mostly a product of his own stubborn clinging to his perspective, rationality, and his unwavering conviction to not let the collective beat him down. I read this right as I turned twenty, and aside from making me love philosophy even more, it’s provided a devastating look at both the dangers of giving in to society’s demands and what you’ll pay if you don’t. Even if you hate Ayn Rand, read this book and then ask yourself what you would give-up in the pursuit of your life’s work.

  1. Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut

  2. Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

  3. Come To Me, Amy Bloom 

Amy Bloom’s Come To Me is a breathtaking collection of short stories, beautiful and all too brief; each left me desperately longing for another “chapter” in the varied lives of the masterfully painted characters Bloom creates. (People watchers: Perk up.) Bloom’s prose is smart and self-aware, managing to be at once poetic and wryly funny, often by treating traditional themes like death and love with the detached and morbidly curious observance Millennials can empathize with all too well. The book’s first story, “Love Is Not a Pie” (a personal favorite—preview an excerpt from Bloom’s site here), demonstrates the collection’s true crowning achievement: It turns the stories of everyday people as real as your co-workers or distant aunt and creates from them a series of unforgettable (and emotional) engagements.

  1. White Oleander, Janet Fitch

  2. Kitchen,  Banana Yoshimoto

This book is one of Japan’s many literary gems that deals with a young woman’s acceptance of death within life. The poetic nuances and metaphors are beautiful yet simplistic, in classic Japanese style. You won’t forget it.

8. Ask the Dust, John Fante

If you grew up in Los Angeles and have never read this book, shame on you. We follow the Italian-American Arturo Bandini as he struggles to become a well-known writer in early Los Angeles. He falls in love with a vindictive Mexican woman and throughout the story we witness his struggle to win her over and his inner conquest over personal insecurity. The introduction was written by Charles Bukowski, who claims it is his favorite book. Enough said. Go read it.

9. The Magicians, Lev Grossman

10. The Last Convertible, Anton Myrer

Want a look at the Greatest Generation that’s not narrated by Tom Brokaw? Look no farther. No, The Last Convertible is not really about a convertible, it’s a metaphor for youth, growing up, and being the last of your kind. The book follows a group of friends in 1938 through their Ivy days, WWII, and adjusting to life after the war as grownups and parents. It’s a perfect coming of age story in a time of troubles and I dare you to not see how as much as things change, the more they stay the same.

11.  The Savage Detectives, Roberto Bolano

In recent history, Bolano has gained quite the cult following. This quixotic novel looks at a group of young avant garde poets and the unforgiving world they inhabit. Simultaneously, hilarious and poignant, this artful novel examines the fine line between genius and idiocy. As the characters age, so does the hope for their work and its place in history.

12. Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky

13. Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson

14. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera

An existentialist born out of the Russian occupation of the Czech Republic, Kundera is constantly searching for meaning in a senseless world. Set in the background of the 1968 showdown in Prague, Kundera creates a beautiful ensemble of deeply flawed characters. Within their stories, he illustrates the creation of meaning, the complications of interpersonal relationships, and the endless choices of humanity between lightness and being. Meditative and beautiful, this book will inspire anyone wrestling with identity and meaning.

See Also

15. At-Swim-Two-Birds, Flann O’Brien

THE book about college life. Flann O’Brien was an experimental mid-century Irish novelist and At-Swim-Two-Birds is his most acclaimed work. The book follows a young student of literature, who spends most of his time lazing about and drinking stout instead of studying. Intertwined are the stories he is writing, mostly influenced by early Irish writing. As the novel progresses, it becomes more surreal as the characters from the different plotlines begin to overlap and interact. All the plots climax as the young protagonist hits exam time. A great read for all, but especially for the college kids.

16. This I Believe, a collection of short and inspiring essays

17. The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCullough

18. If on a winter’s night a traveler…, Italo Calvino

If you’ve never read Calvino, drop what you’re doing and pick up one of his novels now. His prose is masterful and his stories, beautiful. This novel is an ode to the book lover and book culture. It begins with the stressful experience of going to a bookstore and choosing a book, and ends as a Vonnegut-esque espionage thriller. At its heart, it encapsulates the endless quest for the primordial book. With paper books going out of fashion, this effort of Calvino’s becomes extra touching, if not sentimental. Definitely worth your time.

19. Speaker for the Dead,  Orson Scott Card

While the entire Ender series is a must-read, Speaker for the Dead the sequel to Ender’s Game, can stand on its own. After committing the greatest atrocity he can imagine (and saving the world in the process) we revisit Andrew Wiggin thousands of years later as he’s cheating aging through tricky timey-wimey things, where he is spending his life speaking the truth. After someone dies he speaks their life- not the reinvented friendly version we tend to paint, but exactly who they were as a person- no better and no worse. It’s an incredible book that not only makes us look deeper at our own lives and the truths we keep hidden, but how even the best and purest among us are just as guilty of lying to themselves as the rest.

20. On The Road, Jack Kerouac

As a young 20-something, this book represents everything. Freedom, adventure, excitement. Discovering who you are with no accountability, uniting yourself with the voice of the beat generation. You can taste the Americana that oozes through its pages, and you can barely finish it because you long to jump up and go. This book is best read in your 20s, because at any other age it won’t hold the same glimmer. A rereading at an older age, say at the other end of 20s, will highlight the naivety and selfishness of the main characters you used to love. This book is like The Catcher In the Rye of your adulthood- when you read Salinger’s work back in high school it spoke to you and read into you more than you thought possible. But then you read it one summer while in college and you think “well, that was good, but I don’t really get the fuss…” Kerouac is the Salinger of your 20s. This doesn’t devalue the book or what it stands for though. I think everyone should read this book at some point, just because it’s good and people should read good books. But there is no better time to read this book than in your 20s.

[divider] [/divider]What book do you think everyone should read in their 20’s? Tweet us at @litdarling and tell us![divider] [/divider]

Hope Racine
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View Comments (4)
  • A really good book is The Flying Troutmans. At first I didn’t know about it but I ended up loving it. I just happen to find it looking around and it was on sale. I’m glad I did.

  • I think you have to include a Murakami novel. Either Norwegian Wood or The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. His stories transformed me as a reader, and I go back to them again and again!

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