14 Books Every Girl Should Read in Her Twenties

girl reading

*photo courtesy of Kati Mallory Photography http://www.katimallory.com

Dear twenty-something women of the world,

According to 10 books every girl should read in her twenties, women our age are supposed to read diet books and novels about shopping. As an ex-English major and book lover, I didn’t see anything on this list I wanted to read (except Pride and Prejudice, but BEEN there and so has anyone else who had high school English class).  So, here’s my list of 14 books every girl should read in her twenties.

The Awakening – this is a classic novel about female sexuality and personal exploration during the turn of the century (as in 1900). This is one of the first (if not THE first) novel to explore casual sex on the part of a woman, a married woman at that. But it’s not all about sex. It’s about a woman as a person, as a soul not as a gender. What does it mean to make oneself happy? What do you have to sacrifice to be independent? Does it make you selfish if you go after what you want? Or does it only make you selfish if you are female or if you are a mother? How do you reconcile your desires with society’s expectations? And the list of existential questions goes on and on.

Daughters of the North – you have to read at least one dystopian/futuristic novel in your twenties. To remind you that basically it can all go to shit in a matter of years. Plus, with all the environmental problems we are experiencing, these stories don’t seem as far fetched as we’d like them to. So civilization ends…where does that leave us as a species and more specifically where does that leave women? This novel is particularly interesting because it’s about a female commune that is made up almost entirely of women (a lot of whom are gay). However, it’s dystopian. So, just because it’s a lot of ladies lady-loving, doesn’t mean there isn’t corruption and some crazy messed up situations. BTW you could also pick The Handmaid’s Tale, which is like the worst possible version of dystopia for women, but I bet you already read it in high school.

Gone Girl – (SPOILER!!) this book is a journey into the musings of a female psychopath. This is a look an in-depth look at toxic relationships, which every girl should recognize—whether they are with friends or lovers—and sprint in the other direction. It also delves into some pretty interesting analysis of how society and men view women today and how women perpetuate these views. Plus, it’s a total page-turner!

Seductive Delusions – the one practical book on the list. It’s about STDs. All the fallacies and all the things sexually active people should know. You probably learned a lot of what Seductive Delusions has to offer in health class, but that was like 10 years ago! Plus, your twenties is the decade where you will probably have the most sexual partners in your life.  So brush up your facts. Take this quiz to see how knowledgeable you REALLY are.

Gone with the Wind – this is such a great read. It’s teaches you about the Civil War from the Southerner’s point of view, which is extremely underdone. Plus, it’s a beautiful love story and Rhett Butler totally stole my heart, the scoundrel. Obviously, there are some issues with this novel. For example, it has come under a lot of criticism for being racist—and yes, it is. But it is reflective of the thinking of the period, and we can’t pretend like people weren’t racist during the Civil War. To be fair, Mammy is one of the smartest, most intuitive, and most loyal characters in the whole book. And Scarlet is awful, so what does that tell you?

The Bluest Eye – this is a tragic story of how racial issues and societal conceptions of beauty can wreck a girl’s self-esteem. A poor, young black girl is treated with hatred from people of both races for her looks, because the ideal is white skin and blue eyes. The Bluest Eye is a heart-breaking look into what it’s like to be the victim of self-hatred induced by a society telling you you’ll never be good enough. This is Toni Morrison’s first novel, and one of my favorites. It was written in the 70s, so race relations are different now, but some of the same problems linger.

The Garden of Eden – if you love Hemingway, you’ll probably like this book. If you hate Hemingway (like me!), you’ll probably like this book. And if you haven’t read anything by Hemingway, except maybe A Farewell to Arms in high school, then you will probably like this book. It’s a posthumously published novel about a writer and his wife on their honeymoon. Hemingway is a pretty male-centered and misogynistic writer. BUT this book tackles some pretty radical issues for its time like cross-dressing, menage a trois, madness, suicide, and what it means to be a female artist.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being – this book is a look into the brain of a self-proclaimed womanizer. The protagonist loves his wife; she is the only woman in the world for him. But he can’t help himself from sleeping with other women. The book is philosophical, historical, and literary. Can monogamy be flexible? If two people are physically unfaithful can they still belong entirely to one another? What does it mean to belong to the person you love, is it purely cerebral or physical or a combination? Do we all have unrealistic expectations of people, especially those that we love? etc, etc.

The Portable Dorothy Parker – this includes a collection of Dorothy Parker’s poetry and short stories (it’s fabulous for reading aloud). She’s wildly clever and poignant. Parker was another woman “ahead of her time” and her words still resonate with women’s issues and sentiments today. She’s also a little too smart and thus a bit angsty.

Distant View of the Minaret – this is a book of short stories that will give you a glimpse into what it’s like to be a woman in an Orthodox Muslim society (it made me very thankful for what I have). The stories are so short they are like flash fiction, but they cut to the core of some really deep religious and social issues—touching on familial relationships, abuse, sex and shame, homosexuality—some of which mirror issues in the States. Reading these stories was enlightening, sad, and sometimes made me really angry. However, a few of them are an incredible testament to female solidarity.

The Edible Woman – a number of us will get engaged in our twenties (not ALL of us!). This book is about what it’s like to be engaged to the wrong person. Not wrong because he did something bad or he’s a bad person, just generally wrong for you. It’s Margaret Atwood’s first novel and was written in the 60’s, so it’s slightly out-of-date. BUT y’all know I freaking love this writer and she just had to make the list. This novel explores how your body and subconscious can work together against you when they know you’ve made the wrong decision. This is a feminist novel about rejecting stereotypes (for both men and women) and living for what you want in life, even if that means you let some people down (kinda like The Awakening, but different time periods).

The End of Men – The rise of women…a nonfiction book that shows how ladies have not only gained on men professionally, but are surpassing them. The author Hanna Rosin, looks at how this power shift is changing social, political, and personal relationships between the sexes. This book is great for women our age because it gives practical career and life advice, like how to ask for a raise (this is a big deal!) and why marriage isn’t an institution that makes sense anymore etc. etc.

Every twenty-something should also read at least one romance novel (and Beyond Heaving Bosoms). They are thoroughly entertaining, especially after you’ve read the Smart Bitches criticism and analysis of the genre! Who doesn’t love talk of the Magic Hoo Hoo? All of you young ladies should also read a classic romance like a Jane Austen novel. I suggest Pride and Prejudice; Emma; or Sense and Sensibility.

Reread The Awakening.

**I am 24 (today!!), thus am probably not qualified to write this, so let’s consider it a working list.**

What would your list look like?!

About Natalie Ramm

I read a lot, y'all.
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19 Responses to 14 Books Every Girl Should Read in Her Twenties

  1. Rachel says:

    Happy Birthday! Gone Girl is the only book on your list I’ve read, although they all sound great. I’m well into my 30s so I’m way behind!


  2. Happy birthday! And what an excellent post! Some great choices a couple I have read and the rest I need to put on my reading list!


  3. Ashley says:

    The Portable Dorothy Parker — SO true. I picked it up the other day at a thrift store and haven’t been able to put it down. So perfectly relevant for a case of the twenty-somethings.


  4. Maggie Carroll says:

    Natalie this is a GREAT blog- great mix of two topics, unexpected!


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  8. Jo Cavell Youssry says:

    Natalie I am 47 and your list has motivated me into reading again. I’ve had so little time recently but I am going to make sure I work my way through the list starting tomorrow. Yay!


  9. Chronology has nothing to do with maturity. Nobody can tell you whether you have bokks to read in your twenties or thirties. Readers have to choose according what the love reading. As far as I know, a writer does not write for certain readers. Writers write and readsers read. They are the ones to choose freely. Perhaps some books are written focued on females, males or both, in their ‘early twemties or late thirties or forties. There’s nothing wrong with that, unless we aren’t talking Literature but something I can’t define really. Something more connected to business. Perhaps a bestseller. I wonder when was the latest time we were asked for THE BEST BOOKS EVER WRITTEN! .


  10. Amber Peart says:

    I loved The Edible Woman! Have never found anyone else who’s read it. Love this list and I’m going to try a few more. Books about shopping can suck it.


  11. sheri says:

    I agree about the Awakening, that is a very good book. Also, Beyond Heaving Bosoms is a fantastic read. I did not like The Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing though, I just could not like the lead character. She highly annoyed me.


  12. jestoppel says:

    Such a pity I’ve read so few books on that list. BUT, i’m 20-something and I’ve been looking for a beautiful, intuitive book about women, for women, that doesn’t drink too much of the cup of radical feminism. If I had to pick one at random, (excluding the usual suspects like Gone with the Wind, P and P, the Unbearable Lightness.. ) what would it be? Something sparky, something with zip and nerve..


    • Natalie Ramm says:

      Try Daughters of the North. It’s a compelling story and fantastic writing! Gone Girl and Gone With the Wind are also page turners. A lot of the others are more philosophical and less plot driven.


      • jestoppel says:

        actually, i’ll try them all! i’m having a quarter life crisis, so i could use both the philosophy as well as heavy plotting! ;)


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