15 of the best books for women in their twenties to read

I only share books I know and love. If you buy through my links, I may earn a commission (learn more).

Young woman in field of flowers illustration
Illustration by Xuan Loc Xuan

I started this blog at the end of my teens, over a decade ago now. Throughout my twenties, Tolstoy Therapy has been my way of documenting the best books I’ve read. And I’ve read a lot.

Books have 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: 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?

What’s more, which recent books do I think would be perfect for women in their 20s?

Here’s my pick of the best books for women to read in their 20s, featuring fantastic novels as well as life-changing non-fiction for self-discovery, reaching your goals, navigating relationships, and finding your courage and creativity.

Let’s dig in…

The best books for women in their 20s to read

Darling by India Knight

Crafted as a contemporary retelling of Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of LoveDarling is a witty comfort read about fresh starts, courage, and romance (with some partnerships more successful than others).

In this charming novel, teenage Linda Radlett feels herself destined for greater things – and a love story that she absolutely won’t find in her family’s sprawling farmhouse in Norfolk.

When she moves to London to become a model, Linda achieves a fresh start: but life is unromantic, dark, and complicated. One day, she spontaneously boards the Eurostar train to Paris, where love and transformation await.

Either/Or by Elif Batuman

If you’re in your early twenties, it’s a great time to read Either/Or. This is Elif Batuman’s story of Selin, who by all accounts is the luckiest person in her family.

Not only is she the only one born in America, but now she’s at Harvard beginning her second year. Selin knows she needs to make her fortune count for something, but first, she needs to figure out what happened over the summer with her elusive crush, Ivan.

Guided by her literature syllabus and worldly peers, Selin starts to find her place in the world and understand how to build a life as interesting as a novel – a life worthy of becoming a novel – without the drama, angst, and confusion.

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 one of the best life-changing books to read in your 20s as a woman. Essentially, it’s a handbook for stepping up and being more you.

It’s one of the best books I read when trying to find my place in a company during my early twenties – but it also helped me a few years later, when I quit and unexpectedly started my own business.

As Tara Mohr describes so beautifully in this book, you get to choose how you show up and speak up. What matters is that you do, whatever your own way looks like.

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.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

If you follow the world of books, you’ve probably seen the cover of Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow around. And personally, I think the hype is absolutely worth it.

This gripping bestseller weaves the story of two nerdy kids who meet in a hospital, bond over video games, and years later start their own game company. This brings them money and fame, but also tragedy.

Many readers have enjoyed Tomorrow x3 as much as I did – it was named Goodreads Fiction Book of the Year 2022. For more like this, here are 10 books to read next if you loved Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Anna Karenina Bartlett translation

Why should you read Anna Karenina? Because even though it isn’t without its darkness, it’s also a beautifully written book about renewal and rebirth. I think it’s a perfect book to read in your twenties.

There’s so much to Anna Karenina… it’s impossible to call it just a love story or tragedy. In this Russian classic, Tolstoy weaves an intricate labyrinth of connections in 1870s Russia, from high society St Petersburg to the country threshing fields in spring.

Here’s my comparison of the best translations of Anna Karenina (the short answer: I love the Rosamund Bartlett version).

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 most inspiring books to change your life and help you answer that question. I flew through it 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 ultimately for.

You Are Only Just Beginning: Lessons for the Journey Ahead by Morgan Harper Nichols

I adore Morgan Harper Nichols’s books. Her new book for 2023, You Are Only Just Beginning, offers her usual blend of inspiring poetic words and delightfully vibrant illustrations to guide you on the journey ahead.

It’s a wonderfully soothing yet empowering book to embrace your next adventure with grace and confidence, reimaging the classic heroine’s journey and drawing on the lessons all around us in nature.

Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention – and How to Think Deeply Again by Johann Hari

Have you also lost your ability to pay attention? Stolen Focus is Johann Hari’s groundbreaking examination from 2022 of why this is happening to so many of us – and how to regain the art of thinking deeply.

Read Stolen Focus if you want to win back your focus and learn how to pay attention in a world that wants to distract you.

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Big Magic

When I need creative inspiration, courage, or a kick in the pants, I pick up my copy of Big Magic (or listen to the fantastic audiobook read by Liz Gilbert.)

It’s one of the best books for inspiring creativity and taking a step forwards with your ideas and dreams. The main message? You are creative just by being a human. And it’s never too late to start honouring your creative spirit.

How to Love by Thich Nhat Hanh

Book_How to Love

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.

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

In this BookTok bestseller, Nora finds herself transported to a library at the stroke of midnight on her last day on earth.

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.”

Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May

I loved reading Wintering – it’s absolutely 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” – or allowing yourself time to rest and recuperate – is just as acceptable and inevitable. This is exactly what I needed to hear during my last period of burnout.

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

Following the success of Yaa Gyasi’s bestselling novel Homegoing, Transcendent Kingdom is a magnificent follow-up that’s both very different and similarly raw, beautiful, and deeply layered.

Determined to discover the science behind the suffering she sees around her, Gifty is a sixth-year PhD candidate in neuroscience at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

But most of all, she’s driven by the loss of her brother – something that also leaves her yearning for her childhood faith, even as she grapples with the church in which she was raised.

You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero

I needed to read this self-improvement 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.

For more of the best books to read in your twenties, you might also like my collections of…

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments