“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor…”The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
During my twenties, I read so many incredible books. As I started this website in my late teens, I also recommended hundreds of books here on Tolstoy Therapy.
After turning thirty this year, my reading stack isn’t all that different than before. But the books that stay with me and leave a mark are slightly different.
Among other things, I’ve been thinking about – and reading about – how to slow down and enjoy the little things, whether or not to have kids, and how to continue pivoting my work to focus more on this blog.
I’ve also been reading more books with main characters in their thirties – and increasingly realising, huh, I guess I’m an adult like them now.
I’ll emphasise now that the best books to read in your 30s are the books you enjoy reading.
But to help you along your way – and to complement my collection of the best books for women to read in their 20s – read on for my top picks of comforting, inspiring, and life-changing books for your 30s.
Including positive coming-of-age stories, memoirs of changing direction in life, and philosophical guides to living well, I hope you enjoy the recommendations.
The best books for women to read in their 30s (fiction + non-fiction)
Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center
Read Happiness for Beginners for… a heart-warming and nourishing read about the solace of wild places, the power of getting lost, and how to get back up after things fall apart.
Newly divorced at thirty-two, Helen Carpenter needs a fresh start. And she hopes that her brother’s suggestion of a wilderness survival course in the backwoods of Wyoming is just that.
Instead, it’s a disaster – but it turns out that sometimes disaster can be exactly what you need to find your strength, courage, and way forwards.
If you love the book, you can also enjoy the wonderfully escapist Netflix movie adaptation of Happiness for Beginners soon (it’s due for release on July 27).
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
Read Girl, Woman, Other for… a Booker Prize-winning must-read about the lives of multiple black British characters, including some in their 30s, and their longings, loves, and losses.
In this richly textured novel, the voices of twelve central characters intermingle to tell a story of identity, differences, and connection.
Amma is an acclaimed playwright; her old friend Shirley is a teacher in a funding-deprived school; Carole, one of Shirley’s former students, is a thriving investment banker; Carole’s mother works as a cleaner and worries about her daughter’s lack of rootedness.
These are just some of the voices in Bernardine Evaristo’s wonderful book, showing a side of Britain that’s often hidden and perspectives that are frequently overlooked.
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
Read The Midnight Library for… one of the best books to read if you feel lost, directionless, or overwhelmed. The main character is a 35-year-old woman, so it’s a great choice if you want to read about characters in their 30s.
In this bestseller and BookTok favourite that’s perfect for anyone with existential questions, 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 the other lives she might have lived. Which leaves her with one big question: what is the best way to live?
Lean Out: A Meditation on the Madness of Modern Life by Tara Henley
Read Lean Out for… one woman’s meditation on the madness of modern life – and an exploration of the alternatives.
If you’re yearning for an escape from the 9-5 grind, try reading Lean Out. In this memoir, Tara Henley, a Canadian journalist, shares the story of her burnout and time off from the frantic newsroom to experience different ways of living.
Follow Tara’s story as she explores the worlds of self-sufficiency, homesteading, and FIRE (financial independence, retire early) as options for a slower, simpler way of life.
Circe by Madeline Miller
Read Circe for… one of the very best mythological retellings of the last few years and a spellbindingly beautiful story of love, loss, and reinvention.
Not only is Circe one of my all-time favourite books about strong women, but I also think it’s a perfect book for women in their 30s to read.
This is Madeline Miller’s magnificently defiant reimagining of the daughter of Helios and the ocean nymph Perse, known in myth as perhaps the most dangerous woman a man could come across.
How to Survive the Modern World by The School of Life
Read How to Survive the Modern World for… a reassuring and insightful guide to making sense of and finding calm in unsteady times, described as a hopeful guide to living well in the 21st century.
The School of Life publishes some of the best books about self-knowledge and growth, offering a perfect destination if you’re stuck in a rut, struggling with big questions, or not sure what to do with life.
How to Survive the Modern World is an excellent literary antidote to despair and agitation, tackling our relationship to the news, our careers, and our identities – as well as our suspicion of quiet, solitude, and introspection.
I’d also recommend their crash course in being a human (in book form), The School of Life: An Emotional Education.
Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver
Read Prodigal Summer for… one of my all-time favourite books about changing direction, finding your own way after loss, and remembering the power of community.
Prodigal Summer is one of my most treasured books, about a single summer by the Appalachian Mountains. As new life and the sensuality of nature blossom, we’re swept into three different yet interconnected lives.
Deanna is a local girl turned biologist turned forest ranger, living reclusively in a cabin in the woods. Lusa is a city girl turned entomologist turned farmer’s wife. And Garnett is a grumpy old man, fed up with his eccentric neighbour Nannie Rawley.
Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes
Read Evvie Drake Starts Over for… a fun and light romance book about fresh starts, described by Taylor Jenkins Reid as “a quirky, sweet, and splendid story of a woman coming into her own.”
In this romantic comedy, it’s been a year since Evvie Drake’s husband died, but she still can’t leave the house.
Meanwhile, sports star Dean Tenney is now a former sports star who can’t understand why he’s lost his ability to throw a ball better than anyone else.
When Dean moves into the apartment at the back of Evvie’s house, the pair grow closer together and realise that facing the past is their way forward.
The Good Enough Job: Reclaiming Life from Work by Simone Stolzoff
Read The Good Enough Job for… a compelling challenge to the myths that keep us chained to our jobs, working long hours, and putting work ahead of life.
What would it take to reframe work as a part of life, rather than the centre of existence? What could we gain if we strive for a “good enough” job? That’s what Simone Stolzoff asks in this new non-fiction book for 2023.
In its pages, he looks closely at Wall Street bankers, overwhelmed teachers, Michelin star chefs, and others to expose what we lose when we expect work to be more than a job – and to show how things can be different.
Rooted: Life at the Crossroads of Science, Nature, and Spirit by Lyanda Lynn Haupt
Read Rooted for… a wonderfully wise book to remind you of the beauty and connectedness of life, described by Robin Wall Kimmerer describes as “a path to the place where science and spirit meet”.
If you loved reading Braiding Sweetgrass – or you adore the natural world – this gorgeous book blends cutting-edge science with a truth that poets, artists, mystics, and earth-based cultures have proclaimed over millennia: that life is radically interconnected.
With personal reflections about her own life close to nature, Lyanda Lynn Haupt invokes the concept of rootedness: a way of being in concert with the wilderness – and wildness – that sustains humans and all of life.
Come as You Are by Emily Nagoski, Ph.D.
Read Come as You Are for… one of the most life-changing books for women to read in their thirties (or twenties, or any other decade in adulthood).
Why is this book worth reading? Because it talks about all the things we should know – but often don’t – about sex.
This bestseller by Emily Nagoski is a fantastic read for women – and their partners – to understand the inner workings of their brain and body.
The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
Read The Signature of All Things for… a stunning book about one woman’s life, love, and self-discovery as a botanist, a big chunk of which takes place when the main character is over 30.
The novel follows Alma Whittaker, the daughter of a poor-born Englishman who makes a great fortune in the South American quinine trade.
After Alma inherits her father’s money as well as his mind, she becomes a botanist of considerable gifts. The story that follows, woven beautifully by Elizabeth Gilbert, travels both the globe and the atlas of human emotion.
The Baby Decision: How to Make The Most Important Choice of Your Life by Merle Bombardieri
Read The Baby Decision for… a book that’s full of insightful questions and exercises to help you decide if you want kids.
If you’re a woman in your thirties, you might be sure of your stance on babies. Maybe you’re firmly against the idea, perhaps you’re planning on it, or you might already have kids.
But if you’re not sure? You’re definitely not the only one (this book was very necessary for me). Written by psychotherapist and coach Merle Bombardieri, The Baby Decision is one of the best books to help you decide if you want children.
It’s wonderfully impartial, doesn’t criticise being childfree, and is one of the most popular book recommendations on the r/fencesitter community on Reddit.
The Sun is a Compass by Caroline Van Hemert
Read The Sun is a Compass for… a wonderfully adventurous, inspiring, and wise book about the beauty of nature and the power of following your courage and curiosity.
If you love life-changing memoirs like Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, try reading The Sun is a Compass.
This is Caroline Van Hemert’s memoir of the 4000-mile, human-powered journey she undertook with her partner, Pat, when she was unsure whether to stay in academia or pursue other callings.
It’s a beautifully written and inspiring book – and one of the rare reads to really speak to my love for adventure, boldness, and the world’s wild places. It’s also perfect to read when you’re feeling lost and directionless in life.
Atomic Habits by James Clear
If you’re anything like me, now that you’re in your thirties you probably have a much better idea of who you are compared to in your twenties. You might also have more thoughts on where you want to go.
But how to get there? With the right habits – and the thoughts and systems that ensure these happen consistently. Atomic Habits is so popular for a reason: it’s a fantastic book to transform your life through daily habits.
For more of the best book recommendations for women in their 30s, you might also like…