11 Books You Should Read If You’re A Woman In Your 20s

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. TC mark

image – The Awakening


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  • Mel

    What about Sylvia Plath? Or Virginia Woolf? Interesting list, by the way. I will be sure to read a few :)

    • Jessica

      Definitely The Bell Jar and A Room of One’s Own. I think that Gail Collins’ two surveys of women in American history (America’s Women and When Everything Changed) are must-reads, too. They’re easily digestible because they present history in an anecdotal way, but still give great insight into the women that came before us.

  • http://www.facebook.com/oliveramiller Oliver Miller

    Umm… number eight is a good book. And then… um. You also sort of selected Hemingway’s worst and most unreadable book — well, Across the River and Into the Trees might be worse. And I can handle Gone With the Wind as a pulpy novel, but how is it in “some ways” racist? It’s, like, in all ways racist, right?

    • http://baileypowell.com Bailey Powell

      It would be racist if it wasn’t reflecting history. That statement is absurd and makes no sense.

      • http://www.facebook.com/oliveramiller Oliver Miller

        No, dude. It’s racist because Margaret Mitchell goes out of her way to make all her black characters either (1) insane and pathetic, or (2) rapists who want to rape white women. Because the hero of the novel is a guy who killed a quote/unquote “uppity nigger,” which is a pretty conscious choice on the author’s part. Lemme guess, you haven’t actually read it, but you saw the movie, right?

      • http://baileypowell.com Bailey Powell

        I’ve read the book twice.

        I think your generalizations of the black people in the book are extreme, but I do concede they’re relatively true. Again, it reflects history, and a reflection is not racist in and of itself. If you would like to read a disingenuous book that incorrectly portrays the Civil War and those involved, Gone With the Wind is clearly not for you.

      • http://thoughtcatalog.com/ Oliver Miller

        I said it was fine “as a pulpy novel,” um, right? Margaret Mitchell is just plain pretty racist-y though, and she was writing in 1936, not 1861. The book doesn’t just reflect its times, you’re not getting the distinction here. The book was written in 1936. Margaret Mitchell supported the KKK and “the lost cause,” she dressed up in a KKK costume, and she chose to have her hero be a guy who killed “niggers.” She didn’t HAVE to do that, and it adds nothing to the novel, it’s not even a major plot point, it’s like, oh, yeah, I killed a nigger once; had to — he was so uppity. And everyone is like — sure. It’s so offhand as to be worrisome.

        You’re responding to facts of her being racist with, “well, it’s just a document of its time, everyone was like that then.” No-ooo they weren’t. Not in 1936. I have no prob’ with people liking GWTW, it’s a solid trashy novel. I just thought it was lame that this piece called it “sort of racist” or whatever, in a breezy, offhand, hey I sort of paid attention in English 101 kind of way.

    • Christina

      I love GWTW, and I agree that some books need to be taken as reflections of their time and for face value of what they say based on when it was said. The discussion can then just lead to “what has changed” but that’s a bit trite as it’s pretty obvious what has changed…what remains the same would be a really interesting place to start, but we have to forgive books for still holding the beliefs of their authors, even if they are super wrong and have been made irrelevant in time.

    • LS

      i actually thought garden of eden was compelling and readable. putting it next to across the river and into the abortion isn’t doing it justice. garden may not be a pristinely written, deliberated-over masterpiece, and it doesn’t fulfill all the usual expectations of hemingway style, but there’s a lot of in there that will interest hem readers — the gender stuff (which delves or seems to delve deeper into feelings obliquely expressed in for instance bell tolls), his discussions of method (which is i admit characteristically romanticized), etc.

  • Clara

    I was SO worried this was going to include 50 Shades of Grey. I would’ve wept.

    • TheGreenDoor

      I thought the same thing.

  • TheGreenDoor

    I’m so glad Dorothy Parker is on here. She was so brilliant and I wish more people knew about her.

  • http://awkdturtle.tumblr.com Liz

    I would also add Good in Bed by Jennifer Weiner – she writes intelligent “chick lit” about learning who you are and to love yourself – deals with body image, success and failure in life, and of course sex and love. Great reading. She also wrote In Her Shoes, Little Earthquakes and plenty more.

  • carla

    Can I just add How to Be a Woman, The Handmaids Tale (for a better feminist dystopian novel)and A Room With a View (I likened it to The Awakening, but less overtly feminist and more outright hysterical)

    • jamielynn247

      Yes- Handmaid’s Tale! I was thinking the same thing.

      • Amelia

        God, yes. Glad someone else mentioned this. I haven’t read the dystopian novel the author mentioned, but Handmaid’s Tale tackles some really important issues on the government and women’s reproductive rights and so on. Really essential to think about, especially in times like these.

  • Emily

    How about Fear of Flying?

    • Suzy


  • http://beachybrunette.wordpress.com BeachyBrunette

    #1 is my all-time favorite book. Definitely a must-read for any woman. The rest of the list is very interesting, I like your taste! I’ll have to read these.

  • http://blogofcaroline.wordpress.com Caroline

    How to be a woman – Caitlin Moran. For everyfucking human in the universe.

    • Jessica

      I am SO EXCITED to get my hands on this.

  • KRose

    Ughhhh I loooove The Awakening. I’ve read it at least 3 times since high school. It’s so wonderful. I added like 5 of these books to my Amazon wishlist. More reading lists like this!!
    Also, I recommend “I Married You for Happiness” by Lily Tuck. Beautiful depiction of a lifelong marriage. The book begins the night her husband dies. Read it in one day.

  • Audrey

    Also Califia’s Daughters by Leigh Richards The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, and The Goats by Brock Cole.

  • Carrie

    Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte is also a great book. So is Little Women, I’m currently working my ways through that one!

  • KB

    What about The Group by Mary McCarthy?

  • Day

    Definitely Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and The Bell Jar by Sylvia Platt. Changed my life, these books did.

  • Rachel

    Your putting The Awakening first gave me immediate confidence in your taste. I love Chopin and will definitely be checking out the works on the list that I have not read.

    (I do agree with those who said Woolf should be on the list. But I can forgive the oversight; the books you did include sound great.)

  • http://www.freewebs.com/timothykenslea/ timkens

    I’m in the early pages of GONE GIRL right now. Thanks for the alert-less spoiler.

    At the point I’ve read to, I had no idea which main character is a psychopath — but now I do.

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  • Elisha Ferguson

    Such a great list!

  • Stephanie

    I never thought of Kundera as a feminist author. I highly recommend his novels though. I’m reading Book of Laughter and Forgetting right now. Such a brilliant writer.

    • Alex

      I love Kundera. He’s one of my favorite writers. I’m reading ‘Ignorance’ right now, it’s really good.

  • http://makeupandmirtazapine.wordpress.com makeupandmirtazapine

    I read The Awakening for college as a teenager and Edna Pontellier is still one of my favourite literary characters. I hadn’t heard of a couple of the others, but will definitely be looking them on the basis of this and your Toni Morrison and Milan Kundera recommendations. You seem to have good taste.

  • http://midwestmamacita.wordpress.com midwestmamacita

    Unique topic – thanks for the suggestions. I’ll have to check them out!

  • Stacie

    Thanks for the book suggestions! I’m totally making a list from this post and the other books mentioned in the comments.

  • http://clearskiesbluewater.wordpress.com/2012/08/05/vampire-novels-and-one-version-of-the-top-10-novels-of-the-past-twenty-years/ Vampire novels and one version of the Top 10 novels of the past twenty years « clearskies, bluewater

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  • Em

    I’d actually put in a vote for Megan McCafferty’s Jessica Darling series. I think you shouldn’t just read about women in their 20s; it is, in my opinion, refreshing and important to reflect on who you were just before you turned 20 (and a bit after that). Reading McCafferty’s witty and intelligent series is an excellent way to do that.

  • georgie

    Anything by Jane Austen is ESSENTIAL, and Restless by william boyd is a great book!

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