We've collated the favourite books of a bunch of twenty-somethings to bring you what is (in our opinion) the best reads for those of us who are struggling with the fact that we are neither here nor there when it comes to being an adult and we still need to look to fictional characters or personal memoirs for a little bit of guidance.
1. Dress Memory by Lorelai Vashti
This book is an absolute must read for anyone in their 20s. Vashti chronicles her 20s through the different outfits that she sported during her wild years. What could sound like a superficial, wishy-wash fashion journal is actually an extremely poignant recount of mental illness, transitional grief and personal growth. Vashi turns herself inside out, exposing both raw personal struggles and flamboyant taffeta ruffled ensembles all in which encapsulate her Dress Memory.
2. Just Kids by Patti Smith
I mean how can you not love Patti Smith? Just Kids is a narrative written so beautifully, you'd think it was a series of poems. The book untangles the lives of two of the most interesting artists in an era of self-questioning, war and poverty. A biopic based on the book is in the making so this is definitely a must read!
3. You'll be Sorry When I'm Dead by Marieke Hardy
You'll come for the laughs but you'll stay for the memories. Hardy digs deep into her pockets of wild and wacky tales and takes us on a tumultuous joy ride through her life. From hiring a escort with her boyfriend, dealing with the loss of a friend to cancer and harking back to her school girl AFL crush, there is really never a dull moment throughout this book and I'm sure we really will be sorry when she's dead. Which hopefully isn't for a very, very long time.
4. Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson
Furiously Happy deals with the rapid pulse of mental illness and its affects on every day people going through their every day lives. Lawson suffers from a cocktail of mental disorders (she kind of collects them) and decided to share her love of taxidermy squirrels and voodoo vaginas with the world as a means of exposing (and normalising) the stigmas attached to mental health issues. Her book is funny, you will laugh, but be warned you will also be exhausted due to Lawson's stream of consciousness style of writing, which at times can weigh you down a little. It's one to read a chapter at a time, over a long period of time, but definitely worth a read.
5. Gaysia by Benjamin Law
Following his first novel, The Family Law, comes the wonderful Gaysia- adventures in the Queer East. Law takes us on a journey throughout the various gay cultures in Asia and experiences the incredible variance in the ways in which certain Asain countries, often boarding countries, differ in their acceptance of gay people. Whether they are trying to pray away the gay in India or shitting on your chest in Japan, you are bound to be suprised by the tales and people in each chapter of Law's encapsualting book.
6. Naked by David Sedaris
Honestly, any of Sedaris's books that you pick up will be extremely satisfying to the book worm within. Naked is just one of the many goodens to emerge from this genius brain. His collection of essays delve into the intricacies of a dysfunctional family and the incredible desire for independence that many twenty-somethings will experience when they first fly the coop. Sedaris’s words are strong and considered, pointed towards that little part inside us all that wishes that things would be just a little bit different.
7. Island Beneath the Sea by Isabelle Allende
This novel traces the stories of those on the island of Haiti, when it was a slave plantation island just before the French Revolution. The main character Tete is sold to Maurice, a french plantation owner. It has a number of strong female characters, and draws attention to how women used both their bodies and their skills to gain power in a time when they were chattels to the men in their lives. It is a passionate tale of survival through trauma, grief, death and love.
8. Stoner by John Williams
A novel about choices, life, passion and love. Stoner is initially depicted as a quiet and un-noteworthy individual and during the opening pages of this novel we discover that our protagonist was viewed as a truly unexceptional man and remembered by very few - but what is revealed in the subsequent pages of the novel is nothing short of remarkable. Only once or twice in my life has a book gripped me so completely and so utterly as this. Poetic and moving, Stoner stands out as one of my most memorable experiences of reading. Beautifully written with all the humour, banality and tragedy of experience, this is a must read for your 20s and a reminder to appreciate the extraordinary within the seemingly ordinary.Find a quiet spot and sit down for this one.
9. Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond
It all began with Yali, a New Guinea politician who asked Diamond why white people set off and colonised places like New Guinea and not vice versa. From this Diamond expounds a polymathic treatise on the rise of humans, from the emergence of genetically distinct Homo sapiens to modern globalised society.
Diamond refutes the once popular assertion that Eurasian cultures are dominant by way of intellect or genetics. Diamond argues that the rise of Eurasian hegemony is due to environmental factors. In essence this is a form of the nature-nurture debate, and Diamond falls heavily in the nurture camp. At the end of the day we’re all products of our environment. This goes a long way in explaining the current state of our world.
10. How The World Works by Noam Chomsky
The title says it all really. This four-part book compiles some of Chomsky’s most influential essays, speeches and interviews on the rise of the American empire. By examining the United States’ foreign policy and national (see: corporate) interests Chomsky gives a compelling account of the Post-war geopolitical landscape. While its content is a little dated this book provides an enlightening and almost revelatory insight into how the world works and what Uncle Sam really wants.
11. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
At a glance, Station Eleven is your usual dystopian novel. The world as we know it is destroyed, people go nutso, there’s some murder, and a little bit of religious fanaticism. Only, Station Eleven is unique, jumping between times, twenty years forward and back, seamlessly going from one POV to another, in an effort to explore the poetry of mundane human existence. At its core,Station Eleven is about memories, childhood, adulthood, change, art, and the lingering limbo people experience between stages of life, periods of history, or between places, while we sit and wait for our flights to board.
12. Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton
So, you’re lonely and you drink too much, the girl you’re madly in love with treats you like crap, your entire circle of “friends” is dominated by people who do nothing but drink and make you feel like an idiot, and you sometimes fantasise about how to murder them all. Sound familiar? That sucks. But it’s also the story of George Harvey Bone, set in a gloomy London shrouded by the omnipresent dread of the oncoming Second World War. Patrick Hamilton’s 1941 iconic dark comedy about personality disorders, alcoholism, and murder-suicide might not sound like a romp through a field of daisies, but it’ll get a few wry chuckles and, at the absolute least, make you feel a whole lot better about your own life.
13. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Often hailed as one of the greatest coming-of-age “campus” novels ever written, this novel follows a Classics student through his time at college. Richard (that’s the student) becomes friends with a small group of other classicists. He cares about the following: lying, books, Greek, and also lying. Needless to say his lying gets him in hot water (or, more like the opposite – he almost dies of hypothermia, but whatever). Also, and this might be worth a mention, there’s a little bit of murder. If there are lessons to be taken from The Secret History, and there are, they’re that human relationships are messy, you should never trust Classics students, happiness can be fleeting, and that you should be careful what you sacrifice in pursuit of The Aesthetic.
14. Adulting by Kelly Williams Brown
This is the most helpful book I have read to date. It’s basically a self-help book on how to be a real life adult, in ‘468 easy(ish) steps’. Advice ranges from how to ace a job interview, efficiently move house, change oil in your car, mend your broken heart and even provides numerous recipes to help you avoid death caused by a sole diet of weetbix. Her writing style is charming and hilarious, which makes following her recommendations even easier. It’s a must-read for any young person who feels they’re unqualified for grownup land, sure to steer you in the direction of success.
15. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Frankenstein is an oldie but an absolute goodie. Written in 1818, the gothic masterpiece tells the story of a science obsessed student who faces the consequences of his experimenting going very wrong. It’s a cautionary tale of the dangers of playing God and taking creation upon yourself, but also tells a story about the dark nature of humanity. This novel is still as relevant as ever due to the longevity of the messages told within - unveiling the importance of responsibility, compassion and the potentially disastrous outcomes of abandonment. It is not a one day read, but it is completely worth it, sure to be a book that will stay with you forever.
16. I Capture a Castle by Dodie Smith
The word delightful comes to mind when I think of Dodie Smiths whimsical, introverted, homely character, 17 year old Cassandra. Through Cassandras quirky yet quaint coming of age style journal entries we steal glimpses of her life in the rolling hillsides of 1930’s England. Cassandras father, an eccentric author (played in the film adaptation by Bill Nighy, need I say more?) signed a 40 year lease on a castle when he came into a brief bout of fame. Now, crippled with writers block and penniless, Cassandra is left to her own devices. With a voice that resonates with such familiarity Cassandra brings us a world of emotion, love, jealously and adventure that could well have you laughing and crying at the same time.
17. I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb
This novel chronicles the empowering story of one teenage girl’s courage and passion in the fight for women’s education, and the father that inspired and supported her. From the bare concrete classrooms of her remote Pakistan Valley to brushing shoulders with the likes of Barack Obama and Her Majesty herself, Malala’s extraordinary display of dedication will leave you feeling both humbled and inspired. Malala, refusing to be silenced by the political turmoil that infiltrated her homeland in the early 21st century, was shot in the head by the Taliban. Despite her injuries and the forced exile of her entire family, Malala’s dedication and ceaseless spirit remained unscathed. At just sixteen years old Malala has become the youngest Nobel Peace Prize Laureate the world has ever seen. This book is nothing short of remarkable and worthy of the praise it’s received.
18. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
This is one of the most wonderfully told tales I have ever come across. It follows the lives of three generations of a Greek-American family during the 20th century, their connections to each other and the past rendering unexpected and controversial storylines. Eugenides is a brilliant writer and the depth in which he explores the life of his main character's struggles with who they are and why are both utterly poignant and surprisingly relatable.
19. How to build a girl by Caitlin Moran
This one made me wee a little bit on an aeroplane. She tells the semi-autobiographical tale of a teenager in the English Midlands (Australians: think Dubbo) who wants desperately to get out of her wacky, council house family home and make it in London. Moran is perhaps the funniest writer out there at the moment and it will have you in hysterics from start to finish, all the while developing a fierce protectiveness of her narrator. Read alone for the paragraph about her struggles to wank on the top bunk of the children's shared bedroom.
20. I believe this by John Marsden
This unique book complies the views of 100 eminent Australians who answer one of life’s most pondered and perhaps contentious questions, what do you believe and why do you believe in it?
During your twenties those questions seem to attract more thought in comparison to your younger years. As your flick towards each chapter with perspectives ranging from those of Muslim leaders, academics, authors, dancers, film makers and naturopaths you start to feel positive and perhaps reassured that not everybody has firm ‘beliefs’ at certain age and this is perfectly acceptable. The read is beautiful, engaging and oozes of real life experiences, a must if you are at the twenty something stage and want to read something organic and breathtakingly honest.