As a woman rapidly approaching 23, I am absorbing every single “what to do in your twenties” list Buzzfeed can offer me.
I’m not even a quarter of a century old and I am having a midlife crisis. What should I be doing in my twenties? I can tell you what these articles think I should be doing and that’s going travelling.
Now, when I finished college/sixth form, I wanted to move out of my small town in Norfolk Asap. I didn’t care for travelling; I just wanted to reinvent myself. So I moved to London for university and began working and studying. Sadly, from that point on there was never an opportunity for me to go travelling. And the brutal reality of post-grad life when you’re from a working-class family is unless you have the savings account of Tommy Wiseau, you’re not going anywhere.
So as all book-lovers, I have substituted my lack of travelling ability for books, thus the art of travelling in my mind. To be fair, if I hadn’t spent all my money on buying books I might have been able to afford a weekend in Europe… but alas, maybe I can go when Brexit has evolved into the state of Gilead and made me a wife…
Upon these “travels” I have discovered the books one really needs to read in their twenties. These are the kind of books that shape you as a person, that leaves some deep impact on you. And whilst Carrie Bradshaw knows shoes, I know books. So these recommendations are pretty spot on.
These aren’t the classics that your English teacher bleated on about in GCSE Literature. Neither are these the books that Richard and Judy would recommend in their book club. But these are books that will make you feel something profound.
Tipping the Velvet,
By Sarah Waters
Ideal for: those in need of some LGBTQ love.
Everyone has heard of Tipping the Velvet. It is the Harry Potter of Lesbian Fiction. Even your Nan has heard of it. But for those of you who haven’t indulged in all things gay, Waters is the queen of lesbian fiction. It’s not all scissoring and undercuts as most stereotypes of “lesbian” will have you believe.
Tipping the Velvet is set in Victorian England and tells the story of showgirl Kitty and her biggest fan, Nan King. Without any spoilers, it is about their passionate love affair and all those that follow.
Why have I added this to my list? Firstly, I am a bisexual woman. Being able to explore my sexuality through literature is the best place to start. Secondly, it’s the 21st Century, whether your an “ally” to the LGBTQ+ community, or a member or maybe just curious. Tipping the Velvet is a perfect novel for any woman wanting to explore sex.
Fun fact: Tipping the velvet means cunnilingus. \:p/
How to Be a Woman,
By Caitlin Moran
Ideal for: those who need a manual to womanhood.
Caitlin Moran is an Irish journalist and feminist. As a strident feminist, she has been featured on Our Shared Shelf, the feminist book club run by Emma Watson. Whenever I discuss feminist literature I always feel obliged to state that it is NOT stuffy, academic, guilt trip inducing, man-hating propaganda that we often associate feminism with. On the contrary, it is quite the opposite.
Feminist literature is uplifting, inspiring and relatable. Every single feminist book I have read to date has never made me feel guilty nor fuelled my dislike for men. Men have done that successfully by themselves. Caitlin Moran’s autobiography is no different. Each chapter is based on a different moment that every woman will experience. From your first period to discovering fingering, to shaving your legs with your dad’s razor, all the way to leaving home and being an adult. Moran fills the pages with hilarious stories of her growing up into a woman. Honestly, it made me laugh on the London Underground. That’s how good it is.
Why have I included this? Because girls, in our twenties we become “women”. Most of us have experienced independence through leaving home, going to work, having relationships and essentially being our own boss. If we don’t know how to be women now, when will we? Plus this book covers all aspects of womanhood that you don’t quite feel like discussing with your mum.
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race,
By Reni Eddo-Lodge
Ideal for; White People, especially those who do not think they are racist.
Chapters and pages; Seven chapters and 247 pages.
So this is the Our Shared Shelf book of January/February 2018. In 2014, Lodge wrote a blog post detailing why she was no longer talking about race to white people. The blog blew up, thousands of people took offence, calling her racists for her assumptions on white peoples racism, whilst others begged her not to give up on white people, and to tell them how to make it better. So, this book was born.
Why I’m No Longer… discusses the systematic racism in our society. From black history to white feminism, to issues of class and white privilege, it shows how Racism is a white identity. It shows how racism is so ingrained in our lives that short of the N-word being shouted, most white people won’t notice it. This is the most eye-opening read I have ever experienced. Like a lot of “progressive” white millennials, I like to think I “don’t see colour” and that to not talk about race or even acknowledge it, is the best method. As Lodge clearly points out, this childish plugging of the ears and screwing of the eyes is making me a bystander. So whilst I won’t be opening most conversations with the topic of racism, I will no longer be afraid to talk about it. Oh and, if this title did offend you, you really do need to read it.
Why have I included this? Because we are the next generation, we are duty bound to make the future a better one. Most of us are going to end up in positions of power in some shape or form. Whether that is in a management hierarchy, government, school, family, we are responsible for what comes next. It is our job to learn about racism and how to improve the future, not just for ourselves but for EVERYONE.
I Call Myself A Feminist; The View From Twenty-Five Women Under Thirty
Ideal for: Women under the age of 30 who need to know they are not alone.
So this book is essentially the bible of being a millennial feminist. I know, because I am one! As much as I adore and admire feminists who have lived it and seen it all, I need someone within my age group to relate to. As I’m sure many of you will agree, there are some things that people who aren’t our age just don’t get. And I’m not talking about our £6 cups of coffee or our avocado on toast, more our relationship to the feminist movement. It is vital that we understand the importance of our own voices. We will be the old ones one day and until that time where the wisdom that only age can bring kicks in, we have to fight. Our twenties are for fighting for our rights, our lives, everything that we care for.
In short, this book is exactly what it says it is; a selection of women under 30 discussing why they are a feminist. Each chapter is short and sweet and rather reads like a magazine column. There is nothing intimidating or guilt-tripping about this collection of voices, if anything, it’s oddly comforting being able to find solace in the experiences of these women.
Why have I included this? Because our voices matter, and as such, we need to listen to each other and understand one another.
It is also one of the best books to read if you are still unsure about the F word.
The Bloody Chamber,
By Angela Carter
Ideal for: Lovers of fairy tales, the gothic and femme fatales.
Ange. Angie Carter. Angela Fucking Carter. Girls, this woman is your fairy godmother. But instead of being motherly she’s more your Morticia Adams with wings. In case GCSE English Literature missed her out, Angela Carter is your Goth queen of fairy tales and feminism. Why should you read these in your twenties? Because this is the time to embrace your sexuality, not hide from it as they stories previously taught us.
The Bloody Chamber is a selection of 10 short fairy tales adapted from previous well-known classics. From The Snow Queen to Puss in Boots all the way to Little Red Riding Hood, these stories are sexy, scandalous and can be damn weird.
Why have I included this? Because fairy tales taught us when we were children; they taught us morals and rights and wrongs. Yet they were often crooked and played to an agenda that we no longer care for. So it’s time we had some new tales, fairy or not, The Bloody Chamber is the answer.
I hope you can navigate your twenties better than I have done. I have seven years left and my mental age is probably around 35 whilst I have the face of a 16-year-old. So by the law of averages, I am still in my twenties.
Regardless, I hope that these books and authors shape you and give you the perspective we often need at this time in our life, even if that makes you into someone slightly neurotic, passionate, narcissistic and extra. That’s fine.
Never apologise for being a woman. Whether you’re a cis-ster or sister, anyone who identifies as a woman should be proud to do so and should be given the freedom to do so.
Here is my bonus list of authors you should really read in and out of your twenties. They are a mixture of Fantasy, Contemporary, Poetry, Essays and just damn good literature.
- Robin Hobb
- Deborah Harkness
- Marissa Meyer
- S J Maas
- Naomi Novik
- Carrie Fisher
- Stella Duffy
- Eve Ensler
- Hilary Mantel
- Kate Millet
- Roxane Gay
- Marjane Satrapi
- Patricia Highsmith
- JK Rowling
- Audre Lorde
- Octavia Butler
- Margaret Atwood
- Malinda Lo
- Mary Beard
- Rin Chupero
- Holly Black
- Virginia Woolf
(Header artwork by @thepoopculture)