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27 Best Books for Women in Their 20s: An Unconventional Reading List

These aren’t just books for women in their 20s. They’re amazing books for all readers. But they resonate well with twenty-somethings. Being in your twenties is wild: You have to figure out who you are, how to be an adult, and how to earn a living, all at once. It’s a lot.

Sometimes, the right book comes along, and we glimpse a whole new way of being in the world. Or we discover new reasons to laugh at ourselves and feel less alone. These books make great gifts for women in their 20s — or gifts for yourself.

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How Did You Choose These Books?

Books you read in your twenties can be transformational. In your twenties, you're figuring out who you are. It's an ongoing project, it turns out, even when you're in your 30s and beyond. (Which is basically the takeaway message of Michelle Obama's glorious book, "Becoming," which tops this list.)

This list is, of course, subjective. Everyone can find plenty to disagree with in this roundup. But in an effort to be helpful to readers in their 20s, I included books that meant a lot to me when I read them in my 20s myself. I also included books that have come out more recently, which I wished had been published and available to me while I was in my twenties. I also asked my most bookish friends for their book recommendations for twenty-somethings. (And then I read a lot of their recommendations, which made this whole project take forever.)

As you might have guessed, these are mostly books written by women, but I did actually include two books written by men. Check out the reviews above to learn why these made the cut!

How Did You Choose Which Genres to Include?

Personally, I'm partial to memoirs. But I know a lot of readers prefer novels. I tried to make this list a well-balanced blend of memoirs and novels, with some essay collections and nonfiction included too.

Are These Considered Inspirational Books for Women in Their 20s?

Yes! These books are inspirational. But like all the best books, they may inspire more questions than answers. They may inspire you to look at your life anew, and even reshape your goals and your hopes for your future.

They aren't inspirational in sense of promoting young women to "hustle harder." Today, there's growing recognition that "hustle culture" can be toxic. Instead of inspiring women to hustle and become a "girl boss," these books inspire women to lead a good life, to think deeply about morality, truth, and identity. They may inspire young women to have more empathy for other women, including those that don't look like them, and those from previous generations.

Which of These Are Good Books to Read in Your Late 20s?

If you prefer to read books that are hilarious, Whitney Cummings' "I'm Fine... And Other Lies" would be a perfect book to read in your late twenties. If you're looking for something more meditative, I'd recommend Robin Wall Kimmerer's "Braiding Sweetgrass," a contemplation of how science and spirituality can offer us a better, more reciprocal relationship with the natural world. If your late twenties involve contemplating motherhood (or experiencing it), I'd recommend "And Now We Have Everything," a memoir about an unplanned pregnancy in the author's late twenties. And if your late 20s involve a new relationship with your sexuality or your mental health, I'd recommend "Why Fish Don't Exist", a breathtakingly beautiful book about one NPR writer's obsession with a long-dead scientist, which turns out to be about so much more.

Which Are the Best Books to Read as a 20 Year Old Woman?

At age 20, many women are in college, so I'd recommend reading Tara Westover's acclaimed memoir, "Educated." It will certainly broaden your appreciation for higher education, and how intellectual pursuits can transform your life. (And if you're looking at these books for a gift, you could also check out our guide to gifts for college girls.) If you or your favorite 20-year-old are entering the workforce instead, I'd recommend "The Best of Everything," a novel published several decades ago that still speaks powerfully to the power dynamics women encounter in the workplace today. For more nonfiction accounts of women in their early 20s facing sexism and sexual assault today, consider Chanel Miller's "Know My Name," a memoir about her rape and her decision to press charges against her rapist, and Jessica Valenti's "Sex Object," which details how men objectified her beginning in her early teens, and how it shaped the trajectory of her life and her sense of self. If that all sounds a little too heavy or triggering for you, consider Chloe Caldwell's essay collection, "I'll Tell You in Person," a hilarious yet sympathetic account of her struggles in early adulthood. (It will resonate particularly well with women who have struggled with drug dependency or even cystic acne.)

Did You Include Enough Books About Powerful Females?

Yes! We've included authors ranging from the iconic Michelle Obama to comedian Tina Fey to radical historical figure Audre Lorde. But we've also included books about ordinary women, working and studying and making mistakes and learning and growing. We think all women can be powerful. These books can help us recognize our own power, and maybe even use it to help other women.