If you told my 22-year-old self that she’d someday be researching the best books to read in your 30s, she probably would have made a little joke about crypts. Of course, 10 years later, I realize just how silly that is. In some ways, I feel younger now than I did at 25. Gathering a little life experience and perspective will do that.

That life experience has also led me back to craving books the way I did when I was a kid. Before bed, while traveling, and whenever I’m in need of a little rest on a quiet afternoon, I find myself reaching for books more and more. I know from talking to friends that I’m not alone in this. Maybe some of us just need a little time away to remember how magical it is to read a truly good story.

Now, back to those books to read in your 30s… I promise you won’t find anything about crypts ahead. I’ve broken this list out by the types of books I’ve found myself reaching for most (and my friends, too). There are life-shifting essay books (so many!), inspiring memoirs, eternally good fiction stories, and brand-new works that have become instant must-reads.

So grab a cozy blanket, pour a cup of tea (or wine), and settle in with a book that teaches, challenges, or entertains in insightful new ways. No matter which book you choose below, I can promise one thing: you’ll never be sorry you picked it up.

image above by Riley Blanks Reed

Image by Claire Huntsberger

The 20 Best Books to Read in Your 30s

Memoirs and Essays

The key to a great memoir or essay book is feeling trust and a connection with the author. With that in mind, the following collections were penned by wise, compassionate, and witty women who are impossible not to fall for.

A Manual for Cleaning Women—Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin

Berlin’s slightly autobiographical collection of stories went largely unnoticed in the literary world until years after her passing. It’s hard to believe, given how much her insights into the lives of everyday women (from nurses and struggling mothers to upper-class Bay Area housewives) demand your attention.


Aftershocks — A Memoir by Nadia Owusu

The newest book on our list (published in 2021) is naturally suited to our times, but it’s a story Owusu has worked on for a lifetime.


Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

In addition to being a fantastic Twitter follow, Gay penned the seminal work for anyone who—despite yearning for equality—has felt like a less than perfect feminist.


Bossypants by Tina Fey

Celebrity memoirs tend to burn bright for a moment, then fade into the paperback bargain bin in favor of the next big thing. Fey’s Bossypants is an exception—and deservedly so.


I Feel Bad About My Neck—And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman by Nora Ephron

Ephron wrote this collection of witty, crackling sharp essays in her 60s, but the famous filmmaker’s work resonates at any age.


Maybe You Should Talk To Someone—A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb

Sociological storytelling that occasionally reads like a soap opera—what’s not to love?


Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion

If you’re just getting acquainted with the iconic American essayist’s work, Slouching Towards Bethlehem is arguably her most famous book, making it the perfect place to begin your love affair.


Image by Belathée Photography

Self-Help Books

I’m glad we’re done pretending that searching for a self-help book is something to be embarrassed about. Especially when it comes to discovering impactful books to read in your 30s, a pivotal decade for dining your worldview. The following works come from bright minds that shine a little light on the world—both internally and all around.

All About Love—New Visions by Bell Hooks

An absolute must-read for modern romantics ready to reassess the way they think about love and partnerships.

Plus, once you’re a Hooks initiate, you can follow the brilliant Instagram account @SavedByTheBellHooks.


Attached—Are You Anxious, Avoidant or Secure? by Dr. Amir Levine and Rachel S.F. Heller, M.A.

Don’t let the Buzzfeed quiz-like nature of its title throw you off. This book is like therapy—perhaps better.


Big Friendship — How We Keep Each Other Close by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman

We focus so much of our energy on romantic relationships that friendship often gets left behind when we reach adulthood. The funny, openhearted writers of Big Friendship make a strong case for nurturing the latter.


Daring Greatly — How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown

Brown is one of the women who makes me proud to call Texas home. Filled with warmth and wisdom, the thought leader preaches the power of vulnerability.


Grit—The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth

The term “grit” is so much more than a descriptor for the women of Steel Magnolias. And for Duckworth, it’s more powerful than any talent.


How to Do Nothing—Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell

It’s not an anti-tech creed or a back-to-nature manifesto. Odell’s book is simply an invitation to think outside the capitalist narratives of productivity and protect one of the most valuable assets we own: our attention.


Image by Riley Reed

Nonfiction Must-Reads

Wading into the world of nonfiction can be daunting, but the following picks are more than worth your time—promise.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Published in 2015, Coates’ love letter to his Black teenage son is as poignant and relevant as ever.


How to Kill a City—Gentrification, Inequality, and the Fight for the Neighborhood by P.E. Moskowitz

A profound look at gentrification and the culture that’s often displaced in the name of “revitalization.”


Julie and Julia—365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen by Julie Powell

Did you ever expect to see Julie and Julia in a roundup with How to Kill a City? Probably not! But the tale of a woman grappling with identity as she enters her 30s is filled with relatable lessons for anyone who’s spent time in the decade.


Image by Joann Pai

Classics Worth Revisiting

Chances are, these books found their way onto your required reading list at some point. Now well into your adult life, a reread could unearth more meaning and nuance in these well-loved tomes.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

A modern classic with universal appeal, the allegorical novel about following your dreams is inspiring at any age.


The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Morrison’s Nobel Prize-winning first novel, set during the Great Depression, is a heartbreaking contemplation on internalized racism and the importance we place on the nuclear family.


Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Not to pit the Austen girls against the Brontë stans, but when it comes to revisiting brooding romances in your 30s, Jane Eyre and its rich look at a woman’s inner life was truly ahead of its time.


The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

This mother-daughter story for the ages is worth a visit at any point in adulthood.


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Comments (2)
  1. 1
    Michelle July 28, 2022 at 9:21 am

    Nice list but Ta-Nehisi Coates is a man. You referred to him as “her” in your blurb.

    Reply
    • Isabelle Eyman August 3, 2022 at 2:54 pm

      Thank you, Michelle! We’ve updated the post.

      Reply