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30 Life-Changing Books to Read in Your 20s & Reinvent Your Life

If only life came with an instruction manual. These must-read books to read in your 20s are the closest thing to an instruction manual you can get.

Books to Read in Your 20s

None of the things you’re going to go through are going to be easy, nor do they come with an instruction manual. Sometimes, advice from our parents or friends isn’t going to cut it. That’s where these books to read in your 20s come in.

What makes a book life-changing?

Well, it’s hard to define a life-changing book because the defining criteria are so subjective. But essentially, a life-changing book is one that has a profound effect on you. [Read: The 15 books every woman should read in their lifetime]

It’s a book that stays in your mind long after you turn the final page. It’s one that shakes your core and leaves you speechless by the profound effect it’s had on you.

It motivates you to make positive changes in your life, pushes you to make great strides, and will remain the one book that you quote whenever your friends and family members ask you for advice.

The actual subject matter it deals with doesn’t necessarily matter, it’s the effect it has on you that does.

So, a life-changing book could teach you any important life lesson, such as how to maintain deep connections with others, how to love yourself, how to find the person you want to spend your life with, how to discover yourself, or how to make it in the career field of your choosing.

30 books to read your 20s

When you read a book that really speaks to you, it changes your perspective, and you become a little wiser – not a lot, just a little. [Read: What is an old soul? 16 unique signs you’re wise beyond your years]

And during your 20s, you’ll want all the wisdom you can get. So, here are some of the must-read books to read in your 20s.

1. Wild by Cheryl Strayed

“I’m a free spirit who never had the balls to be free.”

Maybe you’ve seen the movie starring Reese Witherspoon. But if not, read the book first if you haven’t seen the film. The book illustrates the journey of Cheryl Strayed who decides to walk the Pacific Crest Trail after experiencing a series of dramatic events.

It goes through the feelings of loss and the process of healing. Let’s just say, you’ll want to walk 1000 miles after reading it!

2. The Myths of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky

“Nothing in life is as important as you think it is while you are thinking about it.”

In your 20s, you’re at a turning point – you’re transitioning from your teen years to adulthood. It’s not that scary *unless you’re hungover and late for work*. The Myths of Happiness touches on the topics of success and failure, and the misconceptions of how success and failure impact your life.

We mean, when you fail in your 20s, it’s really not anything you can’t get out of. You’re still in your 20s! [Read: Books that will teach you lessons about your love life]

3. How to Make Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

“It isn’t what you have or who you are or where you are or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about it.”

This book is actually really helpful, as it teaches you how to understand relationships and personal development. Plus, the book is really easy to follow since it’s in bullet point form. This makes it one of the necessary books to read in your 20s.

4. Catcher and the Rye by J.D. Salinger

“Among other things, you’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You’re by no means alone on that score, you’ll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You’ll learn from them—if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It’s a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn’t education. It’s history. It’s poetry.”

When you’re looking for books to read in your 20s, it’s always a good idea to start with the classics. One classic we recommend is The Catcher in the Rye.

It’s about a teenage boy, Holden, and his issues with identity, alienation, teenage angst, and loss. This is one of our favorite books to read in your 20s, and we’re sure it’ll be yours too. Just read this book. [Read: Romantic love quotes from books and literature]

5. Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham

“When someone shows you how little you mean to them and you keep coming back for more, before you know it you start to mean less to yourself.”

If you’ve seen the series Girls, then you know how blunt and jaw-dropping Lena Dunham’s humor is. You want to laugh while reading her book.

We mean, it’s refreshing to finally hear the opinion of someone who is in their 20s, speaking to other people in their 20s, but in a relaxed and relatable tone. It’s like getting advice from your hungover sister.

6. White Teeth by Zadie Smith

“In the end, your past is not my past, and your truth is not my truth, and your solution – is not my solution.”

Although it’s set in 1975 London, it looks at the relationship between two wartime friends, Bangladeshi Samad Iqbal and Englishman Archie Jones. It covers everything from self-identity, immigration, race, and fundamentalism.

The beautiful part about this book is that after meeting all the characters, you notice one thing – they all have white teeth.

7. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

“As my mom has said, when one person is unhappy, it usually means two people are unhappy, but that one has not come to terms with it yet.”

Another well-known Hollywood comedian, Mindy Kaling, has come out with thoughts on love, friendship, and Hollywood. She uses her experiences and hilarious personality to give thought-provoking advice that your parents wouldn’t give you. [Read: Memorable life lessons to perfect your life]

8. Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robbins

“There are many things worth living for, a few things worth dying for, and nothing worth killing for.”

Okay, first of all, the title of this book is great. Second of all, read the book before watching the movie. As you have probably guessed, this book is about a woman who was born with abnormally large thumbs, seeing them as a gift. Didn’t see that coming, eh?

Well, she decides to hitchhike to New York, and through her journey, the book touches upon drug use, body odor, free love, and animal rights – although not in that order. Yep, another one of those awesome books to read in your 20s.

9. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

“Depression is like a bruise that never goes away. A bruise in your mind. You just got to be careful not to touch it where it hurts. It’s always there, though.”

It may be set in the 1980s, however, The Marriage Plot can relate to anyone of any time period. This book follows a literature student named Madeleine who gets herself into a love triangle.

Throughout the book, you see how all three people deal with being in love, out of love, and moving on. We’ve all been in situations where we are falling in love and not receiving that love back. It touches really close to home. It’s a read that must happen.

10. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

“I’ve always wanted not to give a fuck. While crying helplessly into my pillow for no good reason, I would often fantasize that maybe someday I could be one of those stoic bad-asses whose emotions are mostly comprised of rock music and not being afraid of things.”

If you’re looking for a lighter read and a good laugh, then pick up Hyperbole and a Half. Originally, this was a webcomic off of Brosh’s blog, but because it became so popular that she decided to write a book.

Her stories are based on her childhood and the challenges she experienced throughout life. However, it’s not a heavy read that makes you want to sleep for three days after reading it. [Read: Life-altering lessons you can learn from regret]

11. Bossypants by Tina Fey

“Some people say, ‘Never let them see you cry.’ I say, if you’re so mad you could just cry, then cry. It terrifies everyone.”

Tina Fey is hilarious, there’s no doubting that. So, of course, you can imagine her book to be just as funny. But before we saw her on SNL, Tina Fey was just a girl doing her thing.

Her book illustrates her personal struggles while growing up, and talks about things that we all experience – especially if you’re a lady, but men can read this book too.

12. The Art of Imperfection by Brene Brown

“We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.”

It’s common to feel scared to be vulnerable and express your actual feelings. After all, who wants to be judged? But if you don’t try, you don’t know.

Read this book – Brene knows her stuff.  This is one of the most essential books to read in your 20s. Or your teenage years. Or if you’re 80. [Read: Things women wish they knew in their 20s]

13. Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself by Nedra Glover Tawwab

“The ability to say no to yourself is a gift. If you can resist your urges, change your habits, and say yes to only what you deem truly meaningful, you’ll be practicing healthy self-boundaries. It’s your responsibility to care for yourself without excuses.”

When you’re in your 20s, you typically don’t know how to set healthy boundaries with people. It’s almost a universal experience for people in their 20s to stay in relationships that are toxic and draining, to have one-sided friendships, and to give their all to a job that is unappreciative of their efforts.

But the sooner that you learn how to set healthy boundaries, the better your relationships with your friends, family, partners, work, and yourself will be.

14. All About Love: New Visions by Bell Hooks

“All too often women believe it is a sign of commitment, an expression of love, to endure unkindness or cruelty, to forgive and forget. In actuality, when we love rightly we know that the healthy, loving response to cruelty and abuse is putting ourselves out of harm’s way.”

If you’ve never dipped your toes into feminist literature or if you consider yourself well-versed in feminist discourse, or even if you wouldn’t call yourself a feminist, Bell Hooks is a brilliant author and person to read.

A great place to start with Hooks’s writings is All About Love. This insightful, thought-provoking, and radical book asks us to rethink everything that we know about love. It shows us that if we reconsider how we give and receive love, it can have hugely beneficial knock-on effects on our personal and professional lives, and even improve our communities on a national level.

15. Devotions by Mary Oliver

“Today is a day like any other: twenty-four hours, a little sunshine, a little rain. Listen, says ambition, nervously shifting her weight from one boot to another—why don’t you get going? For there I am, in the mossy shadows, under the trees. And to tell the truth, I don’t want to let go of the wrists of idleness, I don’t want to sell my life for money, I don’t even want to come in out of the rain.”

Listen, as much as we’re telling you to read these books, keep in mind that these are only suggestions. Ultimately, what you do with this time in your life is completely up to you.

A lot of books on this list, and the growing hustle culture on social media, will tell you to go, go, go, and that your 20s is the time to define the rest of your life.

But that kind of lifestyle doesn’t suit everyone. If you find yourself cringing at hustle culture and longing for a slower pace of life, look no further than Mary Oliver’s collection of poems, Devotions.

Her nature-driven poems will inspire you to achieve the slower-paced life your heart desires.

16. Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life by Emily Nagoski

“I am done living in a world where women are lied to about their bodies; where women are objects of sexual desire but not objects of sexual pleasure; where sex is used as a weapon against women; and where women believe their bodies are broken, simply because those bodies are not male. And I am done living in a world where women are trained from birth to treat their bodies as the enemy.”

Everyone thinks that your 20s is the time when you have the most sex. While that may be true, it might be more accurate to say that twenty-something-year-olds aren’t having sex, more they’re learning about sex.

Because really, where do we learn about sex? In porn? Yeah, that’s realistic… [Read: Sex tutorial – 20 tips about how to have & enjoy sex no one tells you]

If you want to learn more about sex and what your body particularly needs to feel good, then learn from a real professional like Dr. Emily Nagoski. In this book, she covers two main points. Firstly, every woman’s sexuality is as unique as a fingerprint, and secondly, that sex happens within a context.

If you want to find out more about what these two ideas mean, then read this important book to read in your 20s.

17. Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

“I think it best we went our separate ways and that those paths never crossed again.”

We’ve covered a lot of self-help books that you should read in your 20s. But fiction novels can also be truly life-changing. Take Such a Fun Age, for example.

Through the lives of Alix Chamberlain, a self-made businesswoman who empowers other women to be as confident as her, and Emira Tucker, a directionless, broke babysitter who faces challenges that Alix could never experience due to her race.

While the plot plays out, this novel provides pointed social commentary while exploring themes of transitional relationships, family, and the complicated mess that is adulthood.

18. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

“If you aim to be something you are not, you will always fail. Aim to be you. Aim to look and think and act like you. Aim to be the truest version of you. Embrace that you-ness. Endorse it. Love it.”

Somewhere between life and death, on the very outskirts of the universe, there is a library that contains an unlimited amount of books, each based on the countless choices you did and didn’t make throughout your life.

If you found yourself in such a library, would you want to find out how different your life could’ve been or would you not want to look back on your life with regret? That’s something that the main character Nora Seeds must decide.

This incredible book will teach you to let go of regret, embrace your life as you live it, and live it to the full at that. What’s a better lesson than that to learn in your 20s?

19. Already Enough: A Path to Self-Acceptance by Lisa Olivera

“We so easily forget that accepting ourselves isn’t about reaching some final destination but is more about doing the deep work of slowing down, turning inward, and gently reintroducing yourself to parts of you that you were told you should fix.”

It’s an unfortunate truth that a lot of people in their twenties don’t feel good enough. But if there’s anyone who truly knows what that feeling is like, it’s Lisa Olivera.

Abandoned by her mother and miraculously found by her adoptive family, Olivera grew up struggling under burdening thoughts of “why wasn’t I good enough?” But, she overcame these thoughts, so you can too.

In this book, Already Enough, Olivera teaches us how to reframe our narratives, to change “am I good enough?” thoughts to “I am good enough!”

20. Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong

“What imperfect carriers of love we are, and what imperfect givers. That the reason we care for one another can have nothing to do with the person cared for. That it only has to do with who we are around that person—what we felt about that person.”

This book deals heavily with themes of family, adulthood, and the core-shaking experience of caring for your parents and the subsequent shift in power dynamics that come with it. Because, much like Ruth finds out, sometimes life doesn’t go to plan, and everything we know gets turned on its head.

Life is about accepting the unpredictability of life and learning how to pick yourself up when life pushes you down.

21. The Roommate by Rosie Danan

“the scary things, the ones you spend the most time and energy talking yourself out of, are the ones that make life worth living.”

What happens when an overachieving socialite and a pornstar move in together? This sounds like the setup for a punchline, but really it’s the setup for a powerful lesson.

Through the personal journey that the protagonist goes through, this book deals with themes such as living life by your own rules and not others and embracing your sexuality, both being two lessons that define your 20s.

22. Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman

“If you prioritize only your romantic relationships, who is going to hold your hand through a breakup? Relying on your spouse to be your everything will undo your marriage. No one human can meet your every single emotional need. If you only prioritize your kids, what happens when they’re grown and living far away, wrapped up in their own lives?”

We’ve all gone through it… We enter a new relationship and we get swept up and away from our friends by the wave of excitement and exhilaration our new beau brings.

But if you give your friends the chance, they will be there by your side through thick and thin. If you don’t give them the chance, well, there’s a higher chance that you’ll be left in the dust all by yourself.

Big Friendship will teach you how to give your friends that chance, and call on you to think about how much you prioritize your good friendships.

23. F*ck! I’m in My Twenties” by Emma Koenig

“However, what I anticipated happening to me when I graduated from college was the equivalent of becoming the Pink Power Ranger (Viva L’Amy Jo Johnson!). Instead, I found out that the accumulated impressions from past experiences, others’ reports, and media representations did not fully prepare me for the WTF-ness of actually living it. ‘So… I’m in my twenties now.’ And it really sucks.”

Sometimes, we don’t need to hear advice. Sometimes, we feel a little better when we learn that other people aren’t doing as well as us.

If you just want to confirm that you’re not the only one who feels this 20-something-year-old crisis, F*ck! I’m in My Twenties is the book for you.

24. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb

“But part of getting to know yourself is to unknow yourself—to let go of the limiting stories you’ve told yourself about who you are so that you aren’t trapped by them, so you can live your life and not the story you’ve been telling yourself about your life.”

Take the backseat as you read about a therapist who goes to therapy. During this ironic journey, you’ll learn more about what it means to be a human; a lesson that a lot of 20-year-olds don’t learn but really should.

25. I Might Regret This by Abbi Jacobson

“Some of the best experiences don’t end with a bang, but rather a dose of reality.”

Somewhere amongst the pages of this collection of essays is bound to be a piece of life-changing information that will truly act as your life-defining lightbulb moment.

In fact, as you follow Abbi Jacobson along on a road trip across America through her insightful essays, you’ll probably have more than a few lightbulb moments.

26. The Art of Showing up: How to Be There For Yourself and Your People by Rachel Wilkerson Miller

“Showing up is the act of bearing witness to people’s joy, pain, and true selves; validating their experiences; easing their load; and communicating that they are not alone in this life.”

Here’s something that you definitely didn’t know in your teens – making friends in your 20s is hard!

But it doesn’t have to be, not if you take on board the lessons that you can learn from The Art of Showing Up. This self-help book will help you to strengthen the most important connection you’ll ever have – with yourself – so that you can work on forming and strengthening your connections with others.

27. The Defining Decade by Meg Jay

“The future isn’t written in the stars. There are no guarantees. So claim your adulthood. Be intentional. Get to work. Pick your family. Do the math. Make your own certainty. Don’t be defined by what you didn’t know or didn’t do. You are deciding your life right now.”

So, you’re in your 20s. Grab this decade by the horns! That’s what Meg Jay strongly proposes in her book The Defining Decade. Sick of hearing that “thirty is the new twenty,” Jay reminds us that our 20s are no time to sit around and wait for life to begin.

28. Strengthsfinder 2.0 by Tom Rath

“The key to human development is building on who you already are.”

With a lot of self-help books, you have to do the work to take the generic lessons they teach and apply them to your own circumstances. But Strengthsfinder is a more direct self-help book that will help you.

This book offers an assessment to find out what your natural-existing talents and strengths are, and then offers ways for you to build on those strengths to get where you want to be.

After all, why build a house from scratch when you can just build on your foundations? That’s what playing to your strengths essentially is!

29. Hello, Fears: Crush Your Comfort Zone and Become Who You’re Meant to Be by Michelle Poler

“What’s the BEST that can happen?”

If you can’t beat them, join them! So, when it comes to fears, you’ll find your life improving tenfold if you learn to live alongside them rather than in avoidance of them.

In Hello, Fears, Michelle Poler teaches us how to do just that, so that you can use every challenge you face as an opportunity to grow, hustle, and be authentically you.

30. Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ by Daniel Goleman

“In a very real sense, we have two minds: one that thinks and one that feels.”

If schools fail us in any way, it’s that they just don’t put any emphasis on emotional IQ. But memorizing facts and passing exams isn’t going to help us in life, not as much as having a high emotional IQ will.

The fact of the matter is, having a good grasp on emotional intelligence will propel you in your work, strengthen your relationships, and improve even your physical well-being.

When you’re in your 20s your motto is always go, go, go. Listen, chill out. Take some time for yourself and crack open one of these books. You won’t be able to put it down, trust us!

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Preeti Tewari Serai
Preeti Serai
Preeti, the founder of LovePanky, is an eternal optimist and believer in the beauty of love and life. With an exhaustive experience in love, relationships, and ...