No offense to your 20s, but your 30s are pretty rad. You’re older, wiser and more sure of who you are and where your life is going. From non-cheesy self-help books to novels with deeply relatable protagonists, here are the 30 best books to read in your 30s.
30 Books Every Woman Should Read in Her 30s
1. Ghosts by Dolly Alderton
In Ghosts, British podcaster and author Dolly Alderton has written a millennial-driven story that’s actually deeply relatable, instead of insulting. Nina is a 32-year-old food writer living in north London. All but one of her closest friends are either married with children, married and planning to have children soon or in committed relationships. When she downloads a Tinder-esque dating app and meets ruggedly handsome Max, the two hit it off immediately and begin an intense relationship in which Max tells Nina that he loves and sees a future with her. But suddenly, in a turn that many a millennial will relate to, Max ghosts Nina out of nowhere. From here, Alderton examines the act of ghosting and the impact that being ghosted has on your psyche.
2. Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
Strayed’s popular advice column (and subsequent podcast) Dear Sugar is officially retired, but her sweet words live on in Tiny Beautiful Things, a collection her best, most heartfelt wisdom. Strayed’s patient, sympathetic guidance is like a hug from your best friend. (Well, if your BFF were extremely smart and absolutely incredible with words.)
3. Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott
Lamott (Hallelujah Anyway) was 35 and single when she had her son in 1989. From finding out that baby is a boy to finding out that her support system, her best friend, Pam, had cancer, she chronicles—with candor and self-deprecating humor—her first year as a mom and the friends, neighbors and strangers who helped her survive those challenging 12 months.
4. 30 Things I Love About Myself by Radhika Sanghani
Thirtieth birthdays are supposed to be about parties and cake and loved ones. Nina's thirtieth birthday has…none of those things. She’s hit rock bottom: Recently broken up with her fiancé, she’s forced to move back into her childhood home to live with her depressed older brother and their uptight, traditional Indian mother. Her career isn't going in the direction she wants, and all her friends are too busy being successful to hang out with her. Then, she discovers a book called How to Fix Your Shitty Life by Loving Yourself and assumes it’s fate. With nothing else to lose, Nina makes a life-changing decision to embark on a self-love journey, promising herself that, by her next birthday, she's going to find thirty things she loves about herself.
5. Happy for You by Claire Stanford
Four years into writing her still-unfinished philosophy dissertation, and anticipating a marriage proposal from her long-term boyfriend, Evelyn is wrestling with big questions about life: How can she do meaningful work in the world? Is she ready for marriage and motherhood? Swallowing her doubts, Evelyn makes a leap, leaving academia for a job as a researcher at a popular internet company, where her team is tasked with developing an app that will help users quantify and augment their happiness. As a biracial person, an Asian American and someone who doesn't know how to perform social media's vision of womanhood, she struggles to belong. But as her misgivings mount, Evelyn embarks on a journey in her 30s toward an authentic happiness all her own.
6. Beloved by Toni Morrison
Inspired by a true story, this haunting novel follows a woman named Sethe and her daughter after they escape from slavery and run to Ohio. As we find out about Sethe’s deceased daughter, Beloved, we discover exactly how fiercely Sethe has had to fight to protect her children. Maternal love with a powerful message of perseverance—from one of America’s best writers. Though you probably read it in high school, pick it up again in your 30s for a clearer perspective.
7. We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby
Simply put, this book will make you cackle. In this collection of essays, one of the funniest writers of our time covers how her difficult childhood led to a problem in making "adult" budgets, a disastrous pilgrimage-slash-romantic-vacation to Nashville to scatter her estranged father's ashes, how to navigate late 30s friendships with former drinking buddies who are now suburban moms and more.
8. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
This daring novel about a woman trapped in a marriage essentially ended Chopin’s career and was the last thing she published before her death in 1904. Still, it has become a landmark work for its frank commentary on the psychology of infidelity and honest depictions of female sexual desire. Though it certainly won’t shock you the way it shocked readers in the early 20th century, you’ll definitely appreciate Chopin’s willingness to cover territory previously uncharted…especially by a woman. *Faux gasp*
9. One Italian Summer by Rebecca Serle
Carol wasn’t just Katy's mother; she was her best friend and first phone call. Now, when Katy needs her the most, she is gone. Even worse, the trip the two had planned to Positano is quickly approaching. Katy has been waiting years to go with her mom, and now she’s faced with embarking on the adventure alone. But as soon as she steps foot on the Amalfi Coast, Katy feels her mother's spirit, and in turn feels herself coming back to life. And then Carol appears as she did at 32. Over the course of one Italian summer, Katy gets to know Carol, not as her mother, but as the young woman before her.
10. The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
Stella Lane is a math whiz who's crushing it at her job. Her love life? Not so much. She's 30 years old and French kissing reminds her of a shark getting its teeth cleaned by pilot fish. She decides her best bet for practicing is to hire an escort, Michael. Before long, Stella comes to crave all of the things he's making her feel. Equal parts sexy and sweet, The Kiss Quotient proves that all the data in the world can't help you make sense of what your heart wants.
11. Autumn: A Novel by Ali Smith
Widely regarded as the first "post-Brexit novel," Autumn centers on the friendship between a centenarian and a 30-something in the U.K. in the aftermath of the E.U. membership referendum. It's a creative meditation on aging, art, love and affection.
12. Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
This bestseller tells the story of Alix Chamberlain, a mid-30s white woman, and Emira Tucker, her black babysitter, who gets racially profiled at a grocery store while watching Alix’s daughter one night. As the story unfolds, questions around race, white privilege and tokenism emerge as the two women grapple with their identities and their relationship to one another. A must-read for anyone in that “new motherhood” phase.
13. 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.
14. My Dark Vanessa: A Novel by Kate Elizabeth Russell
When 30-something Vanessa discovers that her high school English teacher has been publicly accused of sexual assault by a former student, she’s horrified: She, too, had a sexual relationship with the teacher when she was a teenager. But she’s sure it wasn’t abuse—it was love. Alternating between Vanessa’s past and her present, Russell covers memory, trauma and a teenage girl discovering the power her own body can wield.
15. The Year of the Horses: A Memoir by Courtney Maum
Novelist Maum (I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You) was 37 when she got back on a horse after 30 years. Now, after suffering from years of depression, she figures her childhood passion of horseback riding could be a way to recover the joy and fearlessness she once felt as a young girl. As documented in her first memoir, as she finds her way, she becomes reacquainted with herself not only as a rider but as a mother, wife, daughter, writer and woman.
16. Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation by Anne Helen Petersen
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.
17. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
The first installation in Ferrante’s enthralling Neapolitan Quartet, My Brilliant Friend begins to document the decades-long friendship between two girls, Lila and Lenu, in post-war Naples. It takes an oft-discussed topic—growing up—and injects it with such immense minutiae that you get totally sucked into their world. Though Lila and Lenu don't reach their 30s until later in the series, starting with My Brilliant Friend is essential. Plus, though not entirely relatable, Ferrante’s vivid descriptions of friendship will have you reaching for your phone to call your oldest pal.
18. This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub
Alice is about to turn 40, and her life isn't terrible. She likes her job, she's happy with her apartment, her romantic status, her independence and she adores her lifelong best friend. But something is missing—namely, her father, the single parent who raised her, who’s now ailing and out of reach. When Alice wakes up the next morning somehow back in 1996, it isn't her 16-year-old body that is the biggest shock, it's her dad: the charming, 49-year-old version of her father with whom she is reunited. Armed with a new perspective on her own life and his, she’s forced to wonder whether there’s anything she should do differently this time around. If you’ve loved any of Straub’s other novels (The Vacationers, All Adults Here), this is a no-brainer.
19. The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy
When 38-year-old New Yorker journalist Ariel Levy took an assignment in Mongolia, she was married, pregnant and happy. A month later, she was none of those things. She turned her heartbreaking ordeal into an award-winning New Yorker piece, and then into this poignant memoir about picking up the pieces of a broken life.
20. Broke Millennial: Stop Scraping By and Get Your Financial Life Together by Erin Lowry
Part of a three-book series counselling millennials on how to make the best financial decisions, Broke Millennial is catered to those 20 to 30-something-year-olds who are constantly cash-strapped and can’t figure out how to make their money work for them. Broke Millennials also outlines how to deal with IRL awkward scenarios—i.e. what to do when you can’t afford to split a fancy dinner bill evenly—that many millennials face.
21. All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg
Andrea is 39 years old, single and child-free. She has a great job in advertising, cool friends and a close family. So what’s the problem? It’s not that she wants the whole husband and kids thing, she just doesn’t want to feel like an outcast for not having them. Above all, she’s real: This is a no-frills protagonist you’ll feel you’ve known forever.
22. This Is Big: How the Founder of Weight Watchers Changed the World—and Me by Marisa Meltzer
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.
23. Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett
This story, set in and around the family taxidermy shop, begins with a suicide. But it’s not all a downer: The book follows 30-something Jessa, her mother and her brother as they reconnect after tragedy in ways that are sometimes funny, sometimes sad and often surprising. (Seriously, it includes NSFW taxidermy art.)
24. Untamed by Glennon Doyle
The latest book from bestselling author, mom and speaker Doyle is equal parts intimate memoir and wake-up call. It’s the story of how one woman learned that a responsible mother is not one who slowly dies for her children, but one who shows them how to fully live. Doyle writes about navigating divorce, forming a new blended family, and learning to trust ourselves enough to set boundaries and unleash our truest, wildest selves. Great introspection for anyone entering (or leaving) their most exciting decade to date.
25. Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo
Set in modern-day Nigeria, this unforgettable novel is the story of a young couple tested by their inability to conceive a child. It’s a no-holds-barred look at the fragility of married love, the nature of grief and the all-consuming bonds of motherhood.
26. Looking for Miss America by Margot Mifflin
From its start in 1921 to its current incarnation as a scholarship competition, the Miss America pageant has been shaped by war, evangelism, the rise of reality TV and by contestants who confounded expectations, including Vanessa Williams, the event’s first black winner, who received death threats and was protected by sharpshooters in her hometown parade. This history of the pageant is a fascinating look at how Miss America has struggled to stay relevant in the 21st century, and is sure to appeal to anyone who looks back skeptically at the superficiality of their 20s.
27. Twice a Quinceañera by Yamile Saied Méndez
Happily ever after is proving elusive for Nadia, who, a month short of her wedding day and 30th birthday, finds herself standing up to her cheating fiancé for the first time. Frustratingly, that same courage doesn't translate to breaking the news to her Argentinian family. That is, until she finds an article about a Latina woman celebrating herself with a second quinceañera, or Sweet 15. With a wedding venue already paid for and family from all over the world with plane tickets, Nadia decides she'll celebrate her treintañera, her double quinces, in an attempt to become her own biggest fan and hopefully realize her dreams of a second chance at love.
28. Seven Days in June by Tia Williams
Eva is a single mom and bestselling erotica writer in her 30s. Ditto for Shane, a reclusive, enigmatic, award-winning novelist, who, to everyone's surprise, shows up in New York, where Eva lives. When the two meet unexpectedly at a literary event, sparks fly, raising the eyebrows of the Black literati. What no one knows is that 15 years earlier, teenage Eva and Shane spent one crazy, torrid week madly in love. Over the next seven days, amidst a steamy summer, Eva and Shane reconnect, but will it be forever this time?
29. Crying in the Bathroom: A Memoir by Erika L. Sánchez
Growing up as the daughter of Mexican immigrants in Chicago in the 90s, Erika Sánchez was a self-described pariah, misfit and disappointment. Twenty-five years later, she's an award-winning novelist, poet and essayist. In this memoir-in-essays, she writes about everything from sex to white feminism to debilitating depression. At turns raunchy, insightful and brutally honest, Crying in the Bathroom feels like talking to your best—and funniest—friend.
30. Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding
Some women in their 30s are happily married with two-and-a-half children and a house with a white picket fence. Other women are Bridget Jones. Fielding's delightful 1996 novel introduced the world to an endearingly messy protagonist—and served as a reminder that it's OK not to have it all figured out yet.