Some books are particularly poignant at certain moments in our lives. They're the coming-of-age stories we turn to for insights on life, love, and loss at pivotal moments. While the phrase "coming-of-age" probably conjures up images of rebellious teenagers, contrary to popular belief, the genre isn't limited to readers under 30. Just as Louisa May Alcott's Little Women and Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird are timeless tomes for teens, and Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar and Mary Gaitskill's Bad Behavior are must-reads for 20-somethings, these are the books that belong on every 30-something's bookshelf.
From Nora Ephron's hilarious musings on motherhood to Jenny Offill's heart-wrenchingly beautiful thoughts on marriage to Toni Morrison's masterful portrayal of friendship's complexities, the books on this list lend a particular perspective to womanhood that all 30-somethings can appreciate at this moment in their lives. Ranging from timeless classics to enlightening memoirs and works of contemporary fiction, here are 20 life-changing books to read in your 30s.
I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron
Reading Nora Ephron's laugh-out-loud funny, tell-it-like-it-is honest, surprisingly moving book should be considered a rite of passage for every woman in her thirties. Her candid book of essays covers the ups and downs of everything from relationships to menopause and everything in between.
Swing Time by Zadie Smith
Zadie Smith's latest novel depicts complex friendships that are so absorbing you're not going to want to put it down until you've turned the last page. Two childhood friends who grew up on the wrong side of London follow diverging paths as Smith expertly explores class, gender, and race.
Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
You're going to want to devour this beautiful, moving novel about a marriage in distress in a single sitting. Offill narrates the crumbling relationship of an unnamed couple through a series of short vignettes that's been deemed "beautifully devastating" by The Guardian.
A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
This collection of nuanced, incredibly crafted short stories tells the lives of women from all walks of life from mothers to nurses to cleaning women. This book compiles the best selections by the legendary short-story writer.
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Made even more popular by Hulu's recent adaptation, this dystopian novel is particularly poignant given today's political climate. The chilling tale of a concubine grappling with the new regime in an oppressive future America, though bleak, is wisely written by Atwood.
Sula by Toni Morrison
This novel follows two friends as they grow up and drift apart as their fierce devotion to each other ends in unforgivable betrayal. Morrison traces the lives of these two black heroines in her trademark rich and moving poetic lyricism that will touch you to your core.
Love War Stories by Ivelisse Rodriguez
This collection of stories about love, heartache, and betrayal from a new poignant voice in literature, Ivelisse Rodriguez, is a must-read. In it, she explores the many expectations of love experienced through the eyes of a Latinx woman.
Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot
This heart-breakingly honest memoir about love and loss belongs on every woman's bookshelf, regardless of age. Mailhot shares the ugly truth about heavy topics, such as sex abuse and racial cruelty, with wry humor and rich storytelling. It is simply a force of a book.
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
In Murata's novel, a 36-year-old woman who's worked in the same convenience store for 18 years contemplates life, love, and what it means to be "normal." At the very least, this quirky novel will make oddballs feel less alone in the world.
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown
One could argue that any one of Brene Brown's masterpieces are life-changing and worth reading, but this one seems especially fitting for your thirties when so many of us suddenly find ourselves in a rut from playing it safe. Read on and get your gusto back.
More Than Enough: Claiming Space for Who You Are (No Matter What They Say) by Elaine Welteroth
Elaine Welteroth, the force behind Teen Vogue's epic transformation and socially conscious voice, has penned a beautifully insightful and inspiring memoir that one could argue is more of a manifesto for the modern woman. You'll never want to play small again.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo
Named one of TIME's 100 Most Influential People, Marie Kondo penned a book-turned-Netflix special that sweeped the world. She is founder of the game-changing KonMari method that teaches practical ways of organizing your home and preaches only hold onto things that are useful or bring joy into your life. That's a lesson we all could learn.
Becoming by Michelle Obama
This memoir by the beloved former First Lady instantly became one of the most important books of our time. Through this deeply intimate and powerful account of her roots growing up in the south side of Chicago, the ups and downs of her coupledom with Barack Obama, and her experience in the White House as the first African-American family, Michelle Obama shares how she found her voice and owned the power of her story, and in turn, shows us the value of ours.
Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert
Elizabeth Gilbert's iconic memoir of self-discovery does not come without its critics. Even so, it is practically required reading for every 21st-century woman, as it details the hero's (or heroine's) journey for one modern day woman. Beginning with a shattering divorce at the age of 35, the story then accounts Gilbert's epic year of travel to honor herself and ultimately discover her own definition of true love and joy.
The Empathy Exams: Essays by Leslie Jamison
This New York Times bestseller will absolutely make you a better person after reading it. The Empathy Exams is a beautiful collection of nonfiction essays that examine the underrated topic of empathy. The stories will touch you and change you in ways only a spectacular book can.
Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More by Janet Mock
This memoir has become one of the most important books among the transgender community. As a trans woman of color, Janet Mock bravely and openly dives into her traumatic childhood as a sex abuse survivor and former sex worker. Her rise to becoming an empowered trans leader and advocate is beyond inspiring and hopefully helps shed more light and understanding around what it means to be a trans woman in society today.
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
The now-famous, though controversial, manifesto for the working woman is a must-read for any professional woman today. It'll light a fire in your belly to ask for that raise and go after that promotion, which is certain to be top of mind for any career woman in her thirties.
Up next: Looking for more reading recommendations? These are the most life-altering philosophy books that'll blow your mind.