10 Books Every 20-Something Must Read

illustration by: ella byworth

Let’s face it; our 20s are whirlwind years filled with growth, lessons, mistakes, new beginnings, setbacks and highs, and lows. They can be some of the most exciting years of your life, all while being some of the most uncertain.

As you look around you and on social media, it often feels like everyone you know has their lives straightened out, while you struggle to make that payment towards your student loans this month. But the truth is, no one posts or broadcasts their failures and no one really knows what they’re doing. We are all on the same boat called life, trying to navigate the seas as smoothly as we know how.

There is no one right way to “adult,” and everyone is on their own path to self-discovery, but these 10 must-read books offer curated insight on how to better navigate the many aspects of your 20-something years when it comes to your career, relationships and yourself:

  1. The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter–And How to Make the Most of Them Now by Meg Jay

Some say that “thirty is the new twenty,” but clinical psychologist Meg Jay says “absolutely not.” I recently read this book as I navigated my own quarter-life crisis and it really resonated with me.

While many dismiss their 20-something years and treat them as an extended adolescence, Jay argues that our 20s are in fact some of the most defining and shaping years of our lives. Drawing on more than 10 years of working with hundreds of 20-something clients, Jay touches on the importance of taking control of your life in your 20s and how what we do – or don’t do – during these years will affect us long term.

  1. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson

This here isn’t your grandma’s self-help guide.

In this expletive-filled book, blogger Mark Manson says you don’t have to be positive all the time to be happy. Manson bluntly tells it like it is and encourages readers to embrace their limitations, instead of avoiding them. This book offers a refreshing take on what you should and shouldn’t waste your energy on and serves as a wake-up call for what Manson calls a coddled generation.

  1. How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Want to make people like you? Do it! Want to convince people to think the way you do? You can! Want to change people’s ways without making them resent you? These things are all possible, according to Dale Carnegie.

It’s a pretty simple concept: if you want to win at life, you have to master the art of influence, and in this timeless bestseller, Carnegie breaks it down with simple pieces of time-tested advice that’s helped countless people rise to success.

  1. You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero

If you’re feeling in a rut and want to start kicking ass at life, this book is for you.

Similar to the #2 book on our list, Jen Sincero’s You Are Badass is a blunt self-help book that serves up comedic yet inspiring stories, insightful tips, and short exercises to help you reach your personal, professional and monetary goals. By the time you’re done with this book, you’ll understand why you operate the way you do and learn how to embrace the things you can’t change, how to change the things you don’t like and how you can start living the life you’ve always wanted.

  1. Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell dives deep into the topic of success. While many tend to focus on the characteristics of successful people, Malcolm takes a different route and zeros in on where successful people came from and the road leading up to their success. Outliers examines how your future successes hinge greatly on outside factors like culture, family, upbringing, and experiences, among other things.

So, if you ever wanted to know why Bill Gates was bound to become so wealthy or why you must be born in the first three months of the year to be an elite hockey player, check out Outliers.

  1. Modern Romance: An Investigation by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg

Dating isn’t what it used to be. With the rise of technology, the singles of the world have more romantic options than they can shake a stick at. But with so many options out there, why are we still so frustrated and confused by dating?

In this research book, comedian Aziz Ansari and NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg team up to take a good hard look at modern romance and explore the changing culture of dating that we’ve watched unfold in just the past few years.

Modern Romance combines humor with social science to help us better understand the new romantic era we’re living in.

  1. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

If you’re searching for the meaning of life or having an oh-so-inevitable quarter-life crisis, this may be just the book for you.

This fiction novel follows the journey of a young shepherd as he travels through Egypt in search of a grand treasure, one that was revealed to him in a reoccurring, prophetic dream. While the boy’s journey begins as a search for riches, the lessons he learns along the way turn out to be much richer than the treasure itself. The Alchemist explores the importance of following your heart, recognizing opportunity when it’s presented and why we must learn to pick up on the small signs the universe throws our way.

  1. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

Science says it takes 66 days to break a habit and Charles Duhigg, an award-winning business reporter, says you can change your life by simply changing your habits.

This book dives into the science of habits and how they dictate our lives. Duhigg argues that the key to reaching our goals in all areas of life is as simple as understanding how habits work. This book offers a fascinating take on human nature and potential.

  1. Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Sheryl Strayed

Famed anonymous online columnist-turned-author Sheryl Strayed knows a thing or two about giving advice.

This book is a collection of the best of The Rumpus’s Dear Sugar advice columns plus never-before-published pieces that touch on everything from love to loss to money problems. Strayed’s honest yet compassionate advice, often based on personal experience, leaves you feeling like you can take on anything life throws your way.

  1. Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

Often called the voice of her generation, Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey is a collection of poems about survival. Reading like a personal diary, Kaur touches on the subjects of love, pain, femininity, heartbreak, and loss. Her poems acknowledge the deep despair we often feel when dealing with difficult situations, but also encourages readers to find the light and sweetness in those situations.

If you’re looking for a quick read to feed your soul, this book of emotionally compelling poems is for you.