I started this blog at the end of my teens, and now, a decade later, I’m in the last year of my twenties.
Throughout that time, Tolstoy Therapy has been my way of documenting the best books I’ve read as a twentysomething, including those that guided me through anxiety, heartbreak, trauma, depression, and bold leaps: to quit my job, start my business, and move abroad several times.
While writing this post, I’ve asked myself: of all that I’ve read, what are the best books I’ve read as a woman in my twenties? And which books would I recommend to others navigating this stage of their life?
Here’s my pick of the best books for women to read in their 20s, featuring the best novels and most impactful non-fiction for understanding who you are, reaching your goals, navigating relationships, managing your finances, and finding your courage and creativity. And for just living.
The must-read books for women in their 20s
1. The Course of Love by Alain de Botton
I’ve recommended The Course of Love to so many people, and so many people have recommended it to me as well. It’s a guidebook to love, really, told as a novel yet interjected with philosopher Alain de Botton’s trademark comments on the psychology, sociology, and philosophy of love.
Why is love never smooth sailing? Why do our partners infuriate us? And why is our partner so uniquely infuriating? Read this book if you’d like an answer – it’s one of the most impactful non-fiction books to read in your twenties. (Spoiler: we’re all infuriating and crazy in our own way, only those we don’t know very well seem totally sane.)
2. Meditations of Marcus Aurelius
Meditations was one of the best books I read during the most anxious period of my life, at university in the southwest of England. This is the first self-help book ever written, and it’s just as applicable today as it was two thousand years ago. Get your own copy and turn to it when you’re feeling lethargic, lost, or lacking motivation.
One of the sections I think of most is this:
“At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: ‘I have to go to work — as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for — the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?’”
3. Undistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life by Nir Eyal
There have never been more distractions. We’re surrounded by them. And yet, if you can find a way to control your devices – rather than let them control you – you unlock a superpower that lets you access more focus, time for your projects, creativity, and often, joy. Undistractable is one of the best books to help you find more digital balance and time for what matters.
4. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
If I had to name the perfect author today for women in their twenties to read, it’d be Taylor Jenkins Reid. She’s the bestselling author of Daisy Jones & The Six, Malibu Rising, and newly-published Carrie Soto is Back. For this list, I’ve chosen her 2017 novel, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.
In this novel, a young and ambitious woman gets the gig of a lifetime when she’s asked to interview Evelyn Hugo, a woman at the end of her own career of iconic stardom. Like Jenkins Reid’s other novels, it’s compulsively readable and binge-worthy. But it’s also packed with life lessons.
5. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
This is my go-to guidebook on creativity. When I need inspiration, courage, or a kick in the butt, I pick up my copy of Big Magic or listen to the fantastic audiobook read by Liz Gilbert. There’s some woo-woo to navigate, but that’s pretty easy to skip past if it’s not for you.
Pay more attention to the main message: you are creative, just by being a human. And you can create, be, and do so much during your lifetime. If someone else is doing the things you dream of, why can’t you?
6. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
At the stroke of midnight on her last day on earth, Nora finds herself transported to a library. There she is given the chance to undo her regrets and try out each of the other lives she might have lived. Which leaves her with the all-important question: what is the best way to live?
On Reddit, user Parcival_Reddit shared about The Midnight Library: “I’m about halfway through right now and I cannot recommend it enough. I don’t know how it’s going to end but it’s already making me think about the decisions I’m making every day.”
7. Think Big: Take Small Steps and Build the Future You Want by Dr. Grace Lordan
How would your life change if you started thinking bigger? If you dream bigger dreams, set bigger goals, and made bigger changes? I recently read Think Big and loved how it gave me a new spin on some of my own philosophies, both in the decisions I’ve made in my own life and in Life Studio, the course I launched this year over on Live Wildly.
8. How to Love by Thich Nhat Hanh
I read How to Love during a breakup in my early twenties and it’s held a fond place in my heart ever since. In this little guide, Thich Nhat Hanh shared his best advice on how to love not just others, but also ourselves. That’s the most important place to start.
If you enjoy this, you might also like the other books that soothed my soul during the same breakup, especially The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down by Haemin Sunim.
9. You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero
I needed to read this book at the start of my twenties. Sure, it’s got a really cheesy title, but You Are a Badass gave me the push I needed to shake up my life. I needed to hear that so much was in my power to change and things could be different. I wasn’t stuck. I could dream up different directions for my life and work and actually make them happen. Read this to quell your self-doubt and remind yourself that you are capable of so much.
10. Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May
Wintering is one of the best books to learn to live by the seasons of your life and navigate burnout. You won’t always feel full of energy and creativity, but nor should you. Wintering is just as acceptable and inevitable. This is exactly what I needed to hear during my last period of burnout.
11. Playing Big: Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create, and Lead by Tara Mohr
Written by a fellow quiet person, Playing Big is a handbook for stepping up and being more you. That doesn’t need to mean shouting or wearing a nice blazer. It can also mean quietly sharing more of your writing, ideas, and creations with gentle and graceful confidence. You get to choose how you show up. What matters is that you do, whatever your own way looks like.
12. Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez
This finance classic is perhaps the best reminder in a book of what money is really for: life. Your Money or Your Life is not just about managing money, it’s also about creating a life you love. And that’s something worth thinking about as early as possible.
If you read one personal finance book, I’d recommend choosing this one. If you enjoy it, you might also like Meet the Frugalwoods by Elizabeth Willard Thames.
13. Normal People by Sally Rooney
Are we in a relationship or not? I thought you liked her? Why don’t you like me? This is the classic modern (and very dysfunctional) love story. Oh, how reading Normal People will make you want to scream at its characters. But we’ve probably all been there.
14. Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman
How do you actually want to spend your time here on earth? Four Thousand Weeks is one of the best books to help you answer that question. I flew through it earlier in 2022 and covered it with notes and annotations. It’ll make you rethink your ideas of productivity and time management and dive into what it’s all actually, ultimately for.
15. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
What makes life worth living? When Breath Becomes Air is an incredibly moving memoir about the beauty and fragility of life. At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient coming to terms with the little time he had left.
In a Reddit thread about the books everyone should read in their 20s, user IWouldLoveThat shared, “I bought this book on [user burrosfail’s] recommendation two days ago. I just received it and almost read the full thing in one sitting. The way he writes is incredible.”
Enjoy more from me
- Retreat into my new book, Your Life in Bloom: Finding Your Path and Your Courage, Grounded in the Wisdom of Nature.
- I'm also the author of Mountain Song: A Journey to Finding Quiet in the Swiss Alps, a book about my time living alone by the mountains.
- If you love books, are feeling a little lost right now, and would love some gentle comfort and guidance, join The Sanctuary, my seven-day course to rebalance your life.