Rachel Grate
March 05, 2015 2:11 pm

I know I find a lot of must-read lists overwhelming, because there are so many AMAZING stories out there and so little time to read all of them. (Who needs sleep anyways, right guys?) So I narrowed these down to the best of the best (IMHO), the books that I’ve re-read time and time again and the books that have changed how I look at life. Because, sometimes we all need to step outside of our own boxes to get a more complete look at who we are and where we’re going.

Real talk: Each year takes us closer to for-serious adulthood, and I for one still don’t feel like I know how to deal with “real life” independently. Thankfully, we don’t have to do it alone, books can help. Again IMHO, these are the books, by female authors, to read before you turn 30. They might just help you realize that no one else really knows what they’re doing, but at least we can all fake this whole adulthood thing together.

1. Persuasion by Jane Austen

Austen’s last book is also one of her most touching, about lost love given a second chance. It’s a more mature, less sassy Austen than you may know from books like Pride & Prejudice, but you’ll fall in love with the characters and the book all the same. Besides, everyone needs a reminder from time to time that it’s never too late to change your life and defy everyone’s expectations.

2. Bossypants by Tina Fey

Chances are you’ve read it, but ICYMI Tina Fey’s hilarious autobiography will have you laughing so hard you’ll cry. Read this book for its valuable lessons about everything from body image to career success to feminism, but mostly for Fey’s laugh-out-loud style.

3. Beloved by Toni Morrison

In this world we’re constantly faced with stories of tragedy that can be hard to understand. The atrocity of slavery and the cruelty of violent crime come together in this novel where a woman’s darkest actions literally come back to haunt her. What we learn here is that while no one is innocent, guilt isn’t easily attributed either. This is a hard read, perhaps best done in a class, book group, or with a friend, but a necessary step to understanding both the impact of our country’s past and how to move forward after committing an almost unthinkable act.

4. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

A fan of dystopians like The Hunger Games and Divergent? This classic Margaret Atwood novel basically invented the genre, and I have yet to read anything that compares. Offred is a handmaid in a futuristic society where declining fertility rates have led men to grasp control over women’s bodies. Disturbingly, there are many moments that ring true to the modern day — and I guarantee you’ll walk away more invested than ever in your right to control your own reproductive health.

5. Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Sometimes life throws you a curveball, and this autobiography is all about hitting that ball out of the park. The novel tackles a woman faced with the two life moments that terrify me the most: the death of her mother, and divorce. In response, she decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail alone. Not only is the story empowering and reassuring that yes, you can make it through anything, but it may also inspire you to reconnect with nature.

6. Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling

For the cultural references alone, everyone should read Harry Potter. And no, you are never too old to fall in love with Rowling’s intricate world full of magic and hope. Read this when you need to be reminded that no matter what challenge you’re facing, you can tackle it, with a little help from your friends.

7. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath is one of America’s best poets, and this is her only (semi-autobiographical) novel. Be prepared for a lot of emotional issues with gender norms and mental health. Despite a seemingly fulfilling life, including winning a scholarship to work at an impressive NYC magazine, the protagonist suffers from mental health issues. The book will likely momentarily depress you, but it’s a necessary read to shed light on the complicated history of how women have been treated medically in America, not to mention remind you that even the most put-together lives aren’t always perfect.

8. Zami by Audre Lorde

This “biomythography” (part autobiography, part invention) tracks Lorde’s growing up in Harlem to her self discovery as a sexual being. Everyone can relate to the feeling of being an outsider every once in a while, and Lorde’s story will help you realize how to maintain bravery and hope in a world that doesn’t always feel like it’s on your side.

9. Forever . . . by Judy Blume

I’ve put this book on almost every must-read list I’ve ever made, for good reason. This 1975 novel was groundbreaking in its frankness about teen sexuality. It will help you understand the connections and lack thereof between love and sex, as well as how to deal with heartbreak. The story is at its core that of a sexual awakening, and the realization that love doesn’t always last.

10. How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti

This semi-autobiographical book is a fresh take on life as a twenty-something. It reminds you that success isn’t a destination, it’s a journey. This book isn’t one that everyone unanimously loves, but it is a book that makes you think and challenges you with real but not always likable characters, and a stream-of-consciousness narration style. You may not walk away with an answer to the title question, but you will walk away realizing that not having an answer is fine too.

11. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

If you haven’t seen Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s fabulous TED talk on feminism, watch it now. Seriously. It’s so good Beyoncé sampled it in “Flawless.” Okay, now that you’ve fallen in love with Adichie, imagine this: She’s even more eloquent in writing than on stage.

Americanah is the beautiful love story of a Nigerian woman who immigrates to the U.S. for college, and manages to make meaningful connections despite the struggles of racism and immigrant life in America. It’s so easy to get swept away by the incredible writing and rich characters, that you may not even realize until you’ve finished how much you’ve learned about your own perspective on the world along the way.

12. Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding

This modern take on Pride & Prejudice reminds us that it’s okay not to have life figured out — in fact, life is a lot more fun that way. The book is just as hilarious as the movie (though, sadly, doesn’t include Collin Firth), and will help you laugh about some of your own successes and failures. Bridget faces the same challenges we all do at some point — an unsatisfying career, a confusing dating life, and the constant struggle to feel comfortable in her bodies — but her take on the issues will make facing your own life seem a lot more manageable.

13. Fun House by Alison Bechdel

Perhaps best known as the creator of the Bechdel Test, Alison Bechdel is also a fantastic writer. In this autobiographical graphic novel, Bechdel tracks the history of her relationship with her dead father while simultaneously realizing her own lesbian sexuality. Both humorous and heartbreaking (Bechdel calls it a “family tragicomic”), the story will make you rethink the impact your parents have had on your life.

14. Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady by Florence King

This book will make you laugh, cry, and realize that sometimes disappointing your parents is ok. The memoir tracks King growing up in an eccentric Southern family (if you and your mom don’t see eye-to-eye, just wait until you read about her Granny), and eventually stepping out and claiming her own identity. After all, sometimes we all feel that pressure to be the perfect woman (or for King, the “Perfect Southern Lady”), and it’s about time we all realized what utter nonsense that is.

15. Poisoned Apples by Christine Heppermann

This 2014 collection of 50 poems subverts traditional fairy tales by retelling them as real-life experiences of teenage girls. You may not realize just how much fairy tales shape our cultural imagination until you see them restructured. The magical book will help you rethink how we’re taught to see ourselves from an early age — not to mention have you giggling to yourself at poems like “If Tampons Were Guys.”

[Image via and Amazon]

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