It’s a strange decade, one’s 30’s. To start with, there’s the looming of that first year when you step from one camp into another: from the relatively carefree, “I have all the time in the world” mentality of your 20’s, into the next age bracket, when all the puzzle pieces of your life are supposed to start slotting into place. Or so we’re led to believe.
But how many of us actually get our lives sorted by our 30’s? Indeed, many women who passed that temporal landmark years ago will tell you that it’s all a lie: rather, our 40’s are when we’re supposed to be fully formed and happy humans. Our 30’s, instead, are a hiatus in which to reassess the path we’re on and make adjustments as necessary.
If you can’t quite believe it (given, perhaps, the sheer volume of individuals in your social circuit getting promotions or becoming couples and families instead of singular beings), then here are 21 books that will make you reassess your current situation and appreciate where you’re at. They offer a whole spectrum of emotions and experiences with which to compare and contrast, and from which to glean some wisdom for the years ahead.
1. Bossypants by Tina Fey
Dubbed a “comedic celebrity feminist text for the new millennium,” Bossypants saves itself from becoming just another celebrity memoir with Fey’s particular brand of humor, and the sage advice that you’re no-one until you’ve been called bossy.
2. I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman by Nora Ephron
This collection of essays will have you crying with laughter. Some pearls of wisdom include: “Don’t marry a man you wouldn’t want to be divorced from”; “When your children are teenagers, it’s important to have a dog so that someone is happy to see you”; and (my personal favorite) “Anything you think is wrong with your body at the age of thirty-five you will be nostalgic for at the age of forty-five.”
3. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
This is one of those classics that makes every reading list. A vast novel, it will take time to consume, but with its magical realism to buoy particularly dense passages of prose, the tale of seven generations of the Buendía family (a microcosm of humanity) and their town Macondo (of Latin America) will keep you hooked. Just remember, there isn’t really an encoded book out there to tell you the secret to life.
4. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
The protagonist of Ellison’s debut is invisible “simply because people refuse to see me.” Published in 1952, this classic novel (which took seven years to complete) follows an unnamed black man struggling to find a place in the world. John Callahan saw “invisible” as a single word to encapsulate Ellison’s “extraordinary imaginative leap” in discerning the human condition of the twentieth century. We all need find our place in the world.
5. Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion
Didion’s collection of essays brilliantly conveys sixties California and, by extension, America at large. The people portrayed are, as Dan Wakefield described, “alive and botched and often mournfully beautiful.” Didion presented “the disorientation of a country shredding itself apart with social change” through the evidence of its citizens (draw comparisons as you will).
6. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
An 800-page western, on the face of it this title might seem misplaced, but it is, simply, beautiful. A Pullitzer Prize winner, this epic explores all throes of humanity in the American West.
7. Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Nancy Milford
An inspiring read about the Jazz Age poet who made her life her own by flouting pretty much all conventions of the time, Edna St. Vincent Millay was quite literally a “New Woman.” Her life being oftentimes more dramatic than her art, this biography will put things in perspective for most readers.
8. The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
From amidst the Existentialists came this: a groundbreaking Feminist tract before Feminism had properly taken off – de Beauvoir’s look at sexuality, identity, and independence as a woman is never more apt to be read than in one’s 30’s.
9. Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay
In short, this collection of essays charts the evolution of a woman of color in today’s times. Humorous and with a predilection for all things pink, Gay’s relatable essays are wholly suited to the mindset of women in their 30’s.
10. Hard Choices by Hillary Clinton
With Clinton on the cusp of potentially becoming the first female president of the United States (admittedly, there’s a way to go yet), it seems an obvious choice to discover more about the woman behind the campaign mask.
11. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi
A pick of Emma Watson’s Our Shared Shelf Feminist book club, Satrapi’s graphic novel/memoir is about a girl growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. This was a childhood lived with very adult emotions indeed. Tragic, yet humorous, you might be interested to know that Satrapi is the daughter of radical Marxists and the great-granddaughter of Iran’s last emperor.
12. The World According to Garp by John Irving
A strange read, but endearing. Irving presents love in all its guises and reminds us how much there is to learn in life – even in your 30’s. Garp, the bastard son of a Feminist leader, comes to realize “we are all terminal cases.”
13. Mistakes I Made at Work by Jessica Bacal
Recorded interviews with 25 successful women, including Cheryl Strayed and Kim Gordon, Bacal’s book will remind you that everything will be alright.
14. Beloved by Toni Morrison
This novel has just about been on every college literature syllabus out there, so you should already have read this way back; if not, do so now. Sethe’s tale, and the question of the nature of freedom after slavery, is beyond haunting.
15. Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
This doesn’t really need an introduction, but if you don’t punch through that glass ceiling this decade, likelihood is you never will. Feel empowered and fight for that raise/promotion after reading Sandberg’s manifesto.
16. Bad Behavior: Stories by Mary Gaitskill
Gaitskill’s debut collection, Bad Behavior, presents tales of “dislocation, longing, and desire which depict a disenchanted and rebellious urban fringe generation that is searching for human connection.” An erotically charged must read for this decade.
17. The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner
For those in a rut, Kushner’s acclaimed novel, set in 70’s New York and Milan, explores the nature of femininity, fakery, and fear.
18. #GirlBoss by Sophia Amoruso
Lean In turned punk, Amoruso charts her journey to success. Founder and Executive Chairman of Nasty Gal, Amoruso was a high school dropout who, in ten years, has become one of the fastest growing retailers around. Inspiring.
19. It’s Called a Break-Up Because it’s Broken by Greg Behrendt and Amiira Ruotola-Behrendt
More apt than He’s Just Not That Into You, this is a tough-love read from a husband and wife writing team. The title phrase comes from an episode of Sex and the City. You get the picture.
20. Fear of Flying by Erica Jong
A modern classic, Jong explores the nature of sex in a tale of a married woman who tries to feel anything in her life, running from her second husband and falling into an affair with a psychotherapist. Sensational.
21. Self-Help by Lorrie Moore
A collection of nine stories, this isn’t really a self-help book. These are tales exploring the idiosyncrasy of female existence, guiding and providing margin notes. Of all of these books, this one must be read by 35.
Which books would you suggest for this complicated-yet-awesome decade?
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