20 Books to Read in Your 20s

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When you're twenty-something, you're constantly changing, growing, and learning. You're setting a foundation for your life, and books are a great way to expand your horizons and learn even more about the world. The books on this list are great ways to experience different perspectives and learn about other cultures and history. These are books that will make you think.

These are 20 good books that will open your mind and change you during your 20s. There's something for everyone on this list, but first and foremost, an honorable mention goes to The Complete Works of Shakespeare – which didn't make the list because you all should be smart enough to read that without being told. I can't do everything for you guys! So, take a look at the 20 best books you should read in your twenties, then start reading! Time's a wastin'!

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    This book consists of two separate stories that intertwine together. One is set in the 14th century in Italy and Sicily and features Dante Alighieri. The other is set in Autumn 2001 and has a fictionalized version of Nick Tosches as the protagonist. The historical and modern stories alternate as Dante tries to finish writing his magnum opus and goes on a journey for mystical knowledge in Sicily. Meanwhile, Tosches, as something of a Dante expert, is called in by black market traders to attest to the authenticity of a manuscript of The Divine Comedy that was supposedly written by Dante himself.

    This book is so good and interesting, you'll find it hard to put down. Even if you know nothing about Dante, The Divine Comedy, or Tosches, this is a must-read. Even Johnny Depp has read it and supposedly purchased the rights in order to turn it into a film - so you know it's cool.

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    This is not just a book. In 1968, The New York Times called The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test "not simply the best book on hippies… [but also] the essential book." It's a work of literary journalism by Tom Wolfe, published in 1968. Using techniques from the genre of hysterical realism and pioneering new journalism, the "nonfiction novel" tells the story of Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters. The book follows the Pranksters across the country while driving in a psychedelic-painted school bus dubbed "Further" (called "Furthur" in the book due to an initial misspelling on the bus's placard) as they seek personal and collective revelations through the use of LSD and other psychedelic drugs. The book also describes the Acid Tests, early performances by The Grateful Dead, and Kesey's exile to Mexico.

    This book is a real trip, even if you're not a hippie, or have never done LSD. It takes you into the land of the Merry Pranksters, and as square as you feel reading it, you also feel like you maybe just got a little cooler. This film version of the book is supposedly in development with Gus Van Sant directing.

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    This book, Rand's first major literary success, brought her fame and financial success as more than 6.5 million copies were eventually sold worldwide. Ayn Rand was a strong, opinionated woman, and some call her the first feminist. Rand advocated reason as the only means of acquiring knowledge and rejected all forms of faith and religion. She supported rational egoism and rejected ethical altruism. In politics, she condemned the initiation of force as immoral and opposed all forms of collectivism and statism – instead supporting laissez-faire capitalism, which she believed was the only social system that protected individual rights. She promoted romantic realism in art. She was sharply critical of most other philosophers and philosophical traditions. In short, Ayn Rand was a badass. 

    The Fountainhead's protagonist, Howard Roark, is an individualistic young architect who chooses to struggle in obscurity rather than compromise his artistic and personal vision. The book follows his battle to practice what the public sees as modern architecture, which he believes to be superior, despite an establishment centered on tradition-worship. The ways other characters in the novel relate to Roark demonstrates Rand's various archetypes of human character, all of which are variants between Roark, the author's ideal man of independent-mindedness, and integrity, and what she described as the "second-handers." The complex relationships between Roark and the various kinds of individuals who assist or hinder his progress (or both) allow the novel to be at once a romantic drama and a philosophical work. Roark is Rand's embodiment of the human spirit, and his struggle represents the triumph of individualism over collectivism.

    The manuscript was rejected by twelve publishers before a young editor, Archibald Ogden at the Bobbs-Merrill Company, risked his job to get it published. Despite mixed reviews from the contemporary media, the book gained a following by word-of-mouth and became a bestseller. The novel was made into a Hollywood film in 1949 in which Rand wrote the screenplay, and Gary Cooper played Roark. It even made it on an episode of "The Simpsons."

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    Switters is a contradiction for all seasons: an anarchist who works for the government; a pacifist who carries a gun; a vegetarian who sops up ham gravy; a cyberwhiz who hates computers; a man who, though obsessed with the preservation of innocence, is aching to deflower his high-school-age stepsister (only to become equally enamored of a nun ten years his senior). Yet there is nothing remotely wishy-washy about Switters. He doesn’t merely pack a pistol. He is a pistol. And as we dog Switters’s strangely elevated heels across four continents, in and out of love and danger, discovering in the process the “true” Third Secret of Fatima, we experience Tom Robbins — that fearless storyteller, spiritual renegade, and verbal break dancer—at the top of his game. On one level this is a fast-paced CIA adventure story with comic overtones; on another it’s a serious novel of ideas that brings the Big Picture into unexpected focus; but perhaps more than anything else, Fierce Invalids is a sexy celebration of language and life.
    That's from the book jacket. What they leave out is Switters's affinity for the show-tune "Send In The Clowns" and the fact that he is confined to a wheelchair for a very specific and terrifying reason, but he isn't disabled. This book is hilarious, and though Robbins is better known for his novel Still Life with Woodpecker, I much prefer this book.

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    This book has one of the best opening lines in the history of the written word:

    I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
    dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
    angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
    It's so gorgeous, it's almost chocolatey. Bands have set these words to music, artists have painted to it, Hollywood and the media have been obsessed with it. This book has been controversial since it was written; it couldn't be published because it was found indecent, so it was snuck about in coffee houses and alleyways. A movie starring James Franco was released in 2010, and if you're too lazy to read the book yourself, I highly suggest you watch the film.

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    On the Road
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    It is a largely autobiographical work that was based on the spontaneous road trips of Kerouac and his friends across mid-century America. The team crisscrosses the country any number of times, picking up strays along the ways and learning of life and love. On the Road is often considered a defining work of the postwar Beat Generation that was inspired by jazz, poetry, and drug experiments. While many of the names and details of Kerouac's experiences are changed for the novel, hundreds of references in On the Road have real-world counterparts. There is an ongoing discussion of the true relationship between Kerouac's alter ego Sal Paradise and the lead hunk of the story, Dean Moriarty. Dean was based on a guy named Neal Cassady, and he's found in several Beat books and legends (including The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test). Some interpreters believe maybe this was more than a friendship, but I personally feel that while Kerouac clearly loved and admired Cassady, I don't know that the sexual line was ever really crossed other than silly cuddles and kisses. You'll have to read the book and decide for yourself. It was the '50s.



    People visit Kerouac's grave and leave shoes, smokes, wine, food – anything he may need on his trips. On the Road defined a generation and described the longing of that time. Kerouac wrote the original manuscript on a scroll, and his dog literally ate the ending. It was bought in 2001 by Jim Irsay (owner of the Indianapolis Colts) for $2.43 million and now tours the country.


    In 2012, the book was made into a film with horrid actors like Kristen Stewart and Kirsten Dunst. There are some saving graces such as Amy Adams and Steve Buscemi, but the leads are all pretty bad, so I highly recommend reading the book and skipping the film.



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    Easily one of the greatest books I've ever read, and the most beautifully written. The story is influenced by real events in the life of Gregory David Roberts. In 1978, Roberts was sentenced to a 19-year imprisonment in Australia after being convicted of a series of armed robberies of building society branches, credit unions, and shops. In July 1980, he escaped from Victoria’s Pentridge Prison in broad daylight, thereby becoming one of Australia's most wanted men for the next ten years. The book follows Roberts – using the false identity Lindsay Hood – through India, in which he creates a medical clinic in one of India's many slums and chases after a girl. The novel is commended by many for its vivid portrayal of tumultuous life in Bombay.

    The book is long, but so worth it; you will devour every word and even reread the novel.

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    House of Leaves
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    This is a book about a book about a movie that doesn't exist. It's incredible. The format and structure of the novel is unconventional, with unusual page layout and style. It has a lot footnotes, many of which contain footnotes themselves, and some of which reference other books that do not exist. The footnotes are from fictional editors and from one of the main characters. Sounds confusing, but trust me, it's not, and it's amazing. Some pages contain only a few words or lines of text, arranged in strange ways to mirror the events in the story, often creating both an agoraphobic and a claustrophobic effect. The novel is also distinctive for its multiple narrators, who interact with each other throughout the story in disorienting and elaborate ways.

    While some have attempted to describe the book as a horror story, many readers –as well as the author – would define the book as a love story (if forced to add such a label). Danielewski expands on this point in an interview: "I had one woman come up to me in a bookstore and say, 'You know, everyone told me it was a horror book, but when I finished it, I realized that it was a love story.' And she's absolutely right. In some ways, genre is a marketing tool."

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    There are at least half a dozen books by Haruki Murakami that should be on this list. But I'll use this one to represent them all.

    In a Tokyo suburb, a young man named Toru Okada searches for his wife's missing cat. Soon, he finds himself looking for his wife as well in a netherworld that lies beneath the placid surface of Tokyo. As these searches intersect, Okada encounters a bizarre group of allies and antagonists: a psychic prostitute, a malevolent yet mediagenic politician, a cheerfully morbid 16-year-old girl, and an aging war veteran who has been permanently changed by the hideous things he witnessed during Japan's forgotten campaign in Manchuria.

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    From the publishers: In this madcap journey, a bestselling journalist investigates psychopaths and the industry of doctors, scientists, and everyone else who studies them.

    The Psychopath Test is a fascinating journey through the minds of madness. Jon Ronson's exploration of a potential hoax being played on the world's top neurologists takes him, unexpectedly, into the heart of the madness industry. An influential psychologist who is convinced that many important CEOs and politicians are, in fact, psychopaths teaches Ronson how to spot these high-flying individuals by looking out for little telltale verbal and nonverbal clues. And so Ronson, armed with his new psychopath-spotting abilities, enters the corridors of power. He spends time with a death-squad leader institutionalized for mortgage fraud in Coxsackie, New York; a legendary CEO whose psychopathy has been speculated about in the press; and a patient in an asylum for the criminally insane who insists he's sane and certainly not a psychopath.

    Ronson not only solves the mystery of the hoax but also discovers, disturbingly, that sometimes the personalities at the helm of the madness industry are, with their drives and obsessions, as mad in their own way as those they study. And that relatively ordinary people are, more and more, defined by their maddest edges.Need I say more?

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    She's Come Undone
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    Yes, this was on Oprah's Book Club, but I won't hold that against it. This book is really good. It's more on the girly side of things but still guys should read it too, if only to get some tail.

    Meet Dolores Price. She's 13, wise-mouthed but wounded, having bid her childhood goodbye. Beached like a whale in front of her bedroom TV, she spends the next few years nourishing herself with the Mallmomars, potato chips, and Pepsi that her anxious mother supplies. When she finally rolls into young womanhood at 257 pounds, Dolores is no stronger and life is no kinder. But this time she's determined to rise to the occasion and give herself one more chance before really going belly up.

    In this extraordinary coming-of-age odyssey, Wally Lamb invites us to hitch a wild ride on a journey of love, pain, and renewal with the most heartbreakingly comical heroine to come along in years. At once a fragile girl and a hard-edged cynic, so tough to love yet so inimitably lovable, Dolores is as poignantly real as our own imperfections. She's Come Undone includes a promise: you will never forget Dolores Price.

    Dolores goes nuts, seriously like Precious but bad ass. She just rages against all the atrocities and goes completely nuts. That's always a fun read.

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    The Bell Jar
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    You could argue that this is just another crazy chick book, but this one is a classic. This was Sylvia Plath's only novel, and it was originally published under the pseudonym "Victoria Lucas" in 1963. The novel is semi-autobiographical with the names of places and people changed. The book is often regarded as a roman à clef, with the protagonist's descent into mental illness paralleling Plath's own experiences with what may have been clinical depression.

    Some could argue this was more of a journal than a novel, or her attempt to purge herself of her feeling, or a way to get people to understand what it's like to descend into such a deep depression.

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    My Mother told me to read this book when I was in my teens. It was one of the most moving and life-changing things I read. I had just wrapped up working at a school for mentally challenged students and I had always had a strong affinity for science and animals.

    Thie story of this book is told as a series of progress reports written by Charlie, the first human test subject for a surgery, to see if people's intelligence can be increased artificially. Charlie and Algernon, the laboratory mouse who has undergone the surgery, are measured against each other. This book touches upon many different ethical and moral themes, such as the treatment of the mentally disabled. It's a gut-wrenching story, and if you don't well up with tears or become depressed by this book, you just may not be human.

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    This is considered classic literature and you should've read it in high school but you probably didn't. The story of unfortunate lovers Heathcliff and Cathy who, despite a deep affection for one another, are forced by circumstance and prejudice to live their apart. Heathcliff and Cathy first meet as children when her father brings the abandoned boy to live with them. When the old man dies several years later Cathy's brother, now the master of the estate, turns Heathcliff out, forcing him to live with the servants and working as a stable boy. The barrier of class comes between them, and she eventually marries a rich neighbor, Mr. Edgar Linton, at which point Heathcliff disappears. He returns several years later, now a rich man, but little can be done to fix their star-crossed love.

    It's very much like Romeo and Julia, except that this story is good. There's a real love and torture to the story and it's heartbreaking. It's not just two kids who got hot at a party. It's a grown up story. There are have been dozens of film versions of this story, but if you're going to skip the book in favor of one, I suggest you go with the original 1939 version.

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    Me Talk Pretty One Day
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    David Sedaris is another author who could have any number of books on this list. But this book is a bestselling collection of essays by Sedaris. The book is separated into two parts. The first consists of essays about Sedaris’s life before his move to Normandy, France including his upbringing in suburban Raleigh, North Carolina, his time working odd jobs in New York City, and a visit to New York from a childhood friend and her rather bumpkinish girlfriend. The second section "Deux" tells of Sedaris’s move to Normandy with his partner Hugh, often drawing humor from his efforts to live in France without speaking the French language and his frustrated attempts to learn it.

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    The Wasp Factory
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    I recommend this book to everyone, and I dare them to figure out the twist before the end. It's such a crazy ending. The story is in a first-person perspective, told by sixteen-year-old eunuch Frank Cauldhame, describing his childhood and all that remains of it. Frank observes many shamanistic rituals of his own invention, and it is soon revealed that Frank was the perpetrator of three deaths within his family – all other children and all before he reached the age of ten. As the novel develops, his brother's escape from a mental hospital and impending return lead to a violent ending and a twist that undermines all that Frank believed about himself.

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    Don't Panic! This book is awesome. The movie is good too. The story is as follows: Sconds before the Earth is to be demolished by an alien construction crew, journeyman Arthur Dent is swept off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, and they hitchhike their way across the galaxy. Just read it.

    I love the dialogue. One of my favorite quotes: "In the beginning the Universe was created.This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move." I also enjoy the fact that humans are ranked as the third smartest beings with dolphins ahead of us. I totally agree.

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    Hunter S. Thompson is a God among writers. The man created a new form of journalism and was just so f**king cool. The reason I chose Hell's Angels and not Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas as the Hunter book to read in your 20's is the simple fact that Johnny Depp is so tightly wrapped up in Fear and Loathing that you'd be picturing him the whole time and not Hunter. In your 20's (and in my opinion even earlier) you should know Hunter. Hunter went underground and infiltrated the Hell's Angels and chronicles his time with them. He even got beat out when they found out he was a writer.

    The reason to know and love Hunter is his writing style, and I feel like in your 20's you'll really relate to it. It's a fun style and he has a way of getting you high off words. He's just sublime. You should also read this book because you will want to get a motorcycle, and your 20's is a proper time to do such a ridiculous thing. I love motorcycles and ride them quite often; I even love motorcycle gangs, but they are utterly reckless and silly things..which is also what being in your 20's is all about.

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    There hasn't been a movie made of The Catcher in the Rye and thank goodness for that. Some people say it's unfilmable, but the movie that comes closest to the story would be Igby Goes Down. If you don't want to read Catcher, first shame on you, second check out Igby and then you'll want to read the book.

    You should read this book for the first time in your early teens, and then re-read it every single year. It'll always hold true because that's what timeless writing does. The book has been challenged in the United States and other countries for its liberal use of profanity and portrayal of sexuality and teenage angst. It also deals with complex issues of identity, belonging, connection, and alienation. It's an accurate depiction on what it's like to be teen and the struggles of dealing with it. Holden Caulfield tells his tail in the first person and it's a perfect coming of age tale.

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    This movie was no where near as good as the book – the book was gutting. The book description is as follows: The unforgettable, heartbreaking story of the unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy and the son of his father's servant, The Kite Runner is a beautifully crafted novel set in a country that is in the process of being destroyed. It is about the power of reading, the price of betrayal, and the possibility of redemption, and it is also about the power of fathers over sons-their love, their sacrifices, their lies.

    No, it's not, I mean it is, but it's so much more. It's a story of redemption and struggle and forgiveness and love. All the twists and turns in the lives of these boys all the trauma and betrayal! The things that they've seen, said, done; it eats them up and destroys one of them and the other... well, just read the freaking book.

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