Millennials—like members of any other generation—are far from perfect, but the hate thrown our way can border on ridiculous. Folks born between 1981 and 1996 are seen as lazy and entitled by older generations and deeply uncool—cheugy, even—by younger generations. But this article isn’t for those older or younger generations: It’s a list of eight books that millennials should read to feel seen and validated—even if our boomer parents would positively cringe.
8 Books Every Millennial Needs to Read
Ready to have your life affirmed, millennial? In Ok Boomer, Let’s Talk, author and millennial Filipovic (The H-Spot) talks to gig workers, economists, policy makers and dozens of struggling millennials to paint a shocking and nuanced portrait of those born between 1981 and 1996. (Including, yes, that millennials are far from “the avocado-toast-eating snowflakes of Boomer outrage fantasies”).
2. Childfree By Choice: The Movement Redefining Family & Creating A New Independence by Dr. Amy Blackstone
To have or not to have children: That’s the question millennials and boomers can’t seem to agree on. Consider this: In 1980, the average age of a first time mother was 22.7; Today it is 26. By the time they reached age 38, 69 percent of boomers lived with a spouse and at least one child, but only 55 percent of millennials do. According to the Pew Research Center, “Previous research has shown that women are waiting longer to give birth, with many becoming first-time mothers in their 40s.” Millennials will likely be particularly interested then, in the work of sociology professor and researcher Dr. Amy Blackstone. Her fascinating 2019 book is an investigation into the history and current growing movement of adults choosing to forgo parenthood, including what it means for our society, economy, perceived gender roles, and legacies, and how understanding and supporting all types of families can lead to positive outcomes for parents, non-parents and children alike.
Over the past few years, Irish writer Sally Rooney has become something of a poster child for millennials. All of her novels (Conversations with Friends, Beautiful World, Where Are You) nail the kinds of relationships, triumphs and struggles so many millennials are familiar with, but we’re partial to 2018’s smash-hit Normal People. Set in Dublin in the early 2010s, it traces complex friendship and romantic relationship of Connell and Marianne, who first meet in grade school. On its surface, it’s a classic will they-won’t they romance. Dig a little deeper, though, and it’s a fascinating examination of class differences and shifting power dynamics.
In January 2019, culture writer and former academic Anne Helen Petersen wrote a hugely viral piece for BuzzFeed about millennial burnout, which Peterson argues has been “born out of distrust in the institutions that have failed us, the unrealistic expectations of the modern workplace and a sharp uptick in anxiety and hopelessness exacerbated by the constant pressure to ‘perform’ our lives online.” Using a combination of sociohistorical framework, original interviews and detailed analysis, Can’t Even examines how millennials have arrived at this point—and where we go from here.
Here’s the thing: For all the crap millennials get for needing participation trophies (which were given to us by our boomer parents, by the way), there’s no shame in appreciating the power of a little positive reinforcement. This debut book by artist and poet Cleo Wade, who’s been called “the millennial Oprah,” features more than 120 original poems, mantras and affirmations, all of which amount to a kind of daily pep talk. Boomers might roll their eyes at what they deem hippie-dippy nonsense, but pay them no mind.
Raise your hand if you’re a millennial whose mother’s precarious relationship with food and her own self-image trickled into your own psyche. This book is for you. Writer Meltzer (The Cut, The New Yorker, The New York Times) went on her first diet at 5 years old. Nearly 40 years later, she came across an obituary for Jean Nidetch, the housewife who founded Weight Watchers in 1963. Here, she goes compare Nidetch’s path towards becoming a weight-loss maven with her own journey through Weight Watchers, along the way examining each woman’s decades-long efforts to lose weight and keep it off.
As we’ve established, millennials and burnout go together like peanut butter and jelly. Basically, we need a break, which is just what the unnamed protagonist of Moshfegh’s 2018 novel does—though she takes it a little further than we might. Still emotionally stunted by the deaths of her parents while she was in college, the elder millennial decides to live off of the trust fund they left her and take a yearlong hibernation. As the year progresses, we meet very few secondary characters—really just her best (and only) friend, and her awful sometimes boyfriend, a Wall Street-type. If it sounds like there isn’t much of a plot, that’s because there isn’t. But it works. It’s dark and funny and weird and Moshfegh’s characters might not do much, but they’re undeniably watchable (and might inspire a much-needed self-care year day).
Millennials are often bombarded with clichés about our generation, making it easy to lose sight of the realities, namely that we’re the most educated generation in American history, we’ve been taught to consider working for free (internships, etc.) a privilege and we are poorer and more precariously employed than our parents and grandparents—with less of a social safety net to boot. In Kids These Days, early Wall Street occupier (and millennial) Harris examines trends like absurd student debt, the rise of the intern, mass incarceration, social media and more to paint a portrait of what it means to be a member of the unfairly maligned generation.