According to Love Twenty, women in their twenties are supposed to read diet books and novels about shopping. I disagree. Here are my suggestions for novels you should read if you’re a woman in your twenties.
1. The Awakening by Kate Chopin (1899)
This classic novel about female sexuality and personal exploration during the turn of the century is one of the first novels to explore casual sex on the part of a woman — a married woman. But it’s not all about sex. It’s about a woman as a person, not a gender. What does it mean to make oneself happy? What must one sacrifice to be independent? Is it considered selfish to go after what one wants? How can desires be reconciled with social norms? The list of woman-centric existential questions The Awakening explores goes on.
2. Daughters of the North/ The Carhullan Army by Sarah Hall (2007)
You should read at least one dystopian novel in your twenties, if only for the reminder that everything could go to shit in a matter of years. If civilization as we know it ends, where does that leave us? Where does that leave women? Daughters of the North is about a commune made up almost entirely of women — many of whom are gay — and the corruption and messed up situations they get themselves into. Just because there’s a lot of ladies lady-loving doesn’t mean things don’t get real.
3. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (2012)
This book is a journey into the musings of a female psychopath. Gone Girl takes an in-depth look at toxic relationships, which every healthy woman should be able to identify — whether with friends or lovers — then sprint in the other direction. Its analysis of how society views women and how women perpetuate these views is also of merit. It’s a total page-turner!
4. Seductive Delusions by Jill Grimes (2008)
As the only practical book on my list, Seductive Delusions exposes common misconceptions and fallacies about STDs. You may have learned a lot of what Seductive Delusions has to offer in health class, but that was 10 years ago! You’ll probably have the most sexual partners in your life in your twenties. So brush up on the facts.
5. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (1936)
Written about the Civil War from a Southerner’s point of view, Gone with the Wind is a beautiful love story. Obviously, there are some issues with this novel. It’s come under a lot of criticism for being racist — and yes, in some ways it is. But it’s reflective of how people thought then, it would be disingenuous to pretend otherwise.
6. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (1970)
The Bluest Eye is the tragic narrative 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 that tells you you’ll never be good enough. It’s Toni Morrison’s first novel, and one of my favorites. Despite being written in the 70s, it remains relevant today.
7. Garden of Eden by Ernest Hemingway (1986)
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. Despite Hemingway’s conspicuous misogyny, Garden of Eden tackles some pretty radical issues for its time, such as cross-dressing, menage a trois, madness, suicide, and what it means to be a female artist.
8. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera (1984)
This book is a look into the brain of a man who loves his wife but can’t help himself from sleeping with other women. Philosophical, historical, and literary, The Unbearable Lightness of Being tackles flexible monogamy and expectations, and toys with different interpretations of love. If two people are physically unfaithful can they still belong entirely to one another? What does it mean to belong to someone? Is commitment purely cerebral, physical or a combination of both?
9. Distant View of a Minaret and Other Stories by Alifa Rifaat (1984)
This book of short stories gives readers a glimpse into womanhood in an Orthodox Muslim society. The stories themselves manage to expose the core of deep religious and social issues, and touch on familial relationships, abuse, sex, shame, and homosexuality, mirroring many issues that exist concurrently in the U.S. Enlightening, sad, and at times enraging, Distant View of the Minaret is an incredible testament to womanhood and female solidarity.
10. The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood (1969)
Some of us will get engaged in our twenties — The Edible Woman is about what it’s like to be engaged to the wrong person. Margaret Atwood’s first novel explores how your body and heart can work against you when they know you’ve made the wrong decision. The Edible Woman is feminist, and is very much concerned with rejecting stereotypes and living for what you want in life, even if that means letting some people down.
11. The Portable Dorothy Parker by Dorothy Parker (edited by Marion Meade) (1944)
This collection of Dorothy Parker’s poetry and short stories showcases her wildly clever and poignant views on women’s issues. Parker was another woman “ahead of her time” and her words still resonate today.