It would be great if someone wrote a personalized guide to your 20s called Figure Out What You Want and Get Your Shit Together Finally. Until that happens, literature can actually be a great source of “self help.” By seeing the lives of characters in depth, we get ideas about how to navigate being young. Or maybe just feel better about ourselves in comparison.
Until someone writes a literal guidebook for surviving your 20s, read these novels instead.
Here are 4 novels written by 20-somethings that 20-somethings will totally get.
Carson McCullers was only 23 when she wrote The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. The novel explores how a deaf man named John Singer changes the lives of people in a small Georgia town. Since Singer doesn’t speak, the townspeople project their own personalities and desires onto him. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter will appeal to anyone who’s felt out-of-place or bewildered by their own emotions and the internal lives of others. (So, every 20-something ever.)
Zadie Smith finished White Teeth when she was a senior at Cambridge. White Teeth is funny and firmly rooted in the globalized modern world. The story centers around the family and friends of Archie, a middle-aged Englishman whose botched suicide launches the novel. White Teeth consistently defies the reader’s expectations for how the diverse cast of characters will behave. Despite having some larger-than-life people and circumstances, White Teeth feels thoroughly real and captures what it’s like to live at a cultural crossroads.
Everything is Illuminated began as Jonathan Safran Foer’s college thesis. The novel weaves autobiography with magic realism and history. Everything is Illuminated recounts the author’s journey to Trachimbrod, Ukraine, where a woman named Augustine saved his grandfather from Nazi extermination. In Jonathan’s quest to find Augustine, the reader witnesses how the history builds individual identity. What we don’t know about our past–and our family’s past–can resonate through our lives nonetheless.
You probably read Wuthering Heights in high school. You also probably hated it. Now that you’re older and wiser, you need to give it another shot. Emily Bronte wrote Wuthering Heights at the age of 27. Catherine and Heathcliff’s transcendent, self-destructive love will make you feel better about your own dating life. Wuthering Heights doesn’t provide much in the way of comic relief or touching romance. However, it does explore the strongest emotions in everyone’s life: love and hate. Even if you don’t feel good about the story, you’ll come away understanding a little more about human nature.
To learn more about National Read Across America Day, check out the National Education Association website. Happy reading!