8 Books I’ll Always Remember Reading in My 20s

December 29 2021
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Now that a new year is upon us, I wanted to look back on several favorite books that made a notable impact on me. I’m officially more than a year out of my 20s, and so this is the perfect time to think about all the books I read during my last decade and reflect on how they shaped my life, and take the opportunity to share some of the fantastic books that I’ve enjoyed!

Beowulf
by Anonymous

We’re going way back with this one. No, not to the eighth century, when this was likely written, but back to my early twenties when I was in university. I read BEOWULF as part of my Old English class, which I thought was going to be about Old English books, but it turns out we learned to read and speak Old English and then translate texts directly! I did not expect any book from this class to be a fantasy action adventure, but this surprised me, and it’s stayed in my mind ever since. BEOWULF is a classic tale, complete with a hero rushing to save the kingdom from a horrible monster. While reading this you can see how it inspired the Lord of the Rings series—it gives you the same feelings of epic adventure and fantasy monsters.

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Beowulf
Anonymous

The story of one man's triumph over a legendary monster, Beowulf marks the beginning of Anglo-Saxon literature as we know it today.
This Enriched Classic includes:
• A concise introduction that gives readers important background information
• A timeline of significant events that provides the book's historical context
• An outline of key themes and plot points to help readers form their own interpretations
• Detailed explanatory notes
• Critical analysis and modern perspectives on the work
• Discussion questions to promote lively classroom and book group interaction
• A list of recommended related books and films to broaden the reader's experience
Enriched Classics offer readers affordable editions of great works of literature enhanced by helpful notes and insightful commentary. The scholarship provided in Enriched Classics enables readers to appreciate, understand, and enjoy the world's finest books to their full potential.
Series edited by Cynthia Brantley Johnson

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The Shadow of the Wind
by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

I first read this when I was twenty-four, during a summer break from university. I was looking for something cozy to sink into and picked this up randomly, based on the cover and description. I already knew I liked historical fiction, but hadn’t delved into magical realism, or really any books translated from Spanish. This book captivated me immediately and I couldn’t put it down. It starts in a bookstore, includes a secret library, and features a mysterious book within the book—that’s already a 10/10 for me. It’s so beautifully written, I want to savor every sentence. If I were the type of person to highlight book pages, I would cover these in yellow.

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The Shadow of the Wind
Carlos Ruiz Zafón

As Barcelona slowly heals in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, Daniel, an antiquarian book dealer’s son, finds solace in what he finds in the “Cemetery of Forgotten Books”: a mysterious book entitled The Shadow of the Wind, by one Julián Carax. But when he sets out to find the author’s other works, his seemingly innocent quest opens a door into one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets—an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love.

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The Bear
by Claire Cameron

I read THE BEAR when I was twenty-five; I had just finished university and was applying to work in book publishing. Since I live in Canada, and the job was based there as well, part of my application included writing a report about a Canadian book, and I chose this one. Like ROOM by Emma Donoghue, THE BEAR is told in the voice of a young child and is similarly emotionally gripping as she and her younger brother run from the site of the attack and try to survive on their own. Reading Canadian books wasn’t something I had prioritized much before that point, but this one was set in a camping area that I’m familiar with and it wasn’t until then that I realized how much a familiar setting can add to the enjoyment of a story. That said, the bear attack in Canadian wilderness was even more frightening when I could picture the trees and lakes nearby so clearly.

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The Bear
Claire Cameron

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All the Missing Girls
by Megan Miranda

Picture this: I’m twenty-six-years old, looking for another riveting thriller to read and someone puts ALL THE MISSING GIRLS in my hands and forgets to tell me how unique the narrative structure is! And of course, I’m so excited for the recommendation that I don’t even read the back, so it’s not until I sit down to read it that I discover this book is told in reverse! ALL THE MISSING GIRLS absolutely reignited my excitement for thrillers and the genius ways authors reveal things. Nicolette returns home after years of being away only to find the case of her best friend’s disappearance has been reopened after someone else goes missing. There are so many twists and reveals in this book, I couldn’t predict how it would end—or begin.

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All the Missing Girls
Megan Miranda

A spellbinding psychological thriller told in reverse, Megan Miranda’s first novel for adult readers is about the connected disappearances of two young women ten years apart in the same small town. Miranda has an uncanny talent for suspense. Megan Miranda’s new novel, THE PERFECT STRANGER, is just out.

Read a review of the book Megan Miranda can’t stop recommending.

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I'm Thinking of Ending Things
by Iain Reid

I was still twenty-six when I read this book, but I was on a total binge of thrillers after reading ALL THE MISSING GIRLS! I read I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS while housesitting for a friend, and let me tell you, that was a mistake. I scared myself over and over again reading this in a big old house with a cat wandering around making noises at night that I couldn’t identify. This book is short, but it’s so eerie. Its horror mixed with a psychological thriller. It will haunt you, both while you read it and for a long time after while you think about what you just read and how that happened.

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I'm Thinking of Ending Things
Iain Reid

Now a Netflix original movie, this deeply scary and intensely unnerving novel follows a couple in the midst of a twisted unraveling of the darkest unease. You will be scared. But you won’t know why…

I’m thinking of ending things. Once this thought arrives, it stays. It sticks. It lingers. It’s always there. Always.

Jake once said, “Sometimes a thought is closer to truth, to reality, than an action. You can say anything, you can do anything, but you can’t fake a thought.”

And here’s what I’m thinking: I don’t want to be here.

In this smart and intense literary suspense novel, Iain Reid explores the depths of the human psyche, questioning consciousness, free will, the value of relationships, fear, and the limitations of solitude. Reminiscent of Jose Saramago’s early work, Michel Faber’s cult classic Under the Skin, and Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk about Kevin, your dread and unease will mount with every passing page” (Entertainment Weekly) of this edgy, haunting debut. Tense, gripping, and atmospheric, I’m Thinking of Ending Things pulls you in from the very first page…and never lets you go.

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Educated
by Tara Westover

Until I was twenty-eight, most of my nonfiction reads were celebrity memoirs or short self-help books, so EDUCATED was a new type of book for me. My coworkers were all talking about this book and how good it was, and they were often sharing their own educational histories. Of course, I had FOMO and wanted to see if the book lived up to the hype—and it absolutely does. Tara Westover’s memoir about her childhood and education on its own is already a fascinating story of survivalist parents and a mistrust in the educational system. For a lot of people, the idea of not going to school is absurd. But for me, I was shocked to find a lot to connect with; largely because I was also homeschooled and from a big family! But even for those who went to school, this look at how Westover’s family life impacted her education and ability to move throughout the world is totally enthralling.

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Educated
Tara Westover

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This Is How You Lose the Time War
by Amal El-Mohtar

I am honestly surprised that this is the only sci-fi/fantasy book on my list! I read a lot in that genre, but this book, which I read when I was twenty-nine, stands out the most for me. Of course, the cover alone is stunning; I have this book face-out on my shelf because I love the mixture of nature and the glitchy tech. I have already reread this book three times, because I find something new in those pages whenever I go back to it. THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE THE TIME WAR follows two agents time traveling around the past and popping into each other’s lives in inconvenient ways. The agents taunt each other through letters, both trying to affect history to push the world toward the future they’re from. It’s a slow-burn queer romance that is rich and lyrical and unlike anything I’ve read.

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This Is How You Lose the Time War
Amal El-Mohtar

“[An] exquisitely crafted tale...Part epistolary romance, part mind-blowing science fiction adventure, this dazzling story unfolds bit by bit, revealing layers of meaning as it plays with cause and effect, wildly imaginative technologies, and increasingly intricate wordplay...This short novel warrants multiple readings to fully unlock its complexities.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review).

From award-winning authors Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone comes an enthralling, romantic novel spanning time and space about two time-traveling rivals who fall in love and must change the past to ensure their future.

Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandment finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading.

Thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, becomes something more. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future.

Except the discovery of their bond would mean the death of each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win. That’s how war works, right?

Cowritten by two beloved and award-winning sci-fi writers, This Is How You Lose the Time War is an epic love story spanning time and space.

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Three Women
by Lisa Taddeo

The final book of my twenties! This came out a month before I turned thirty, and it gripped me from page one. This book follows three women’s sex lives with a real respect and nuance. It made me think about power dynamics and how our society is structured, and how conversations about desire are framed. I read this hoping to learn about three specific women but came out of it feeling like I read about my small hometown, and the women I grew up with and know. Women’s sexuality is still often a taboo subject, and this book dives right in as a thoughtful and insightful read.

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Three Women
Lisa Taddeo

The instant #1 New York Times bestseller and one of the most talked-about books of the year, Lisa Taddeo’s Three Women is “the most in-depth look at the female sex drive that’s been published in decades” (New York) and a “groundbreaking...breathtaking…staggeringly intimate” (Entertainment Weekly) look at the sex lives of three real American women—based on nearly a decade of reporting.

Hailed as “a dazzling achievement” (Los Angeles Times) and “riveting page-turner that explores desire, heartbreak, and infatuation in all its messy, complicated nuance” (The Washington Post), Lisa Taddeo’s Three Women has captivated readers, booksellers, and critics—and topped bestseller lists—worldwide.

Declared “the best book of the year” by Elizabeth Gilbert and “a breathtaking and important book” by Cheryl Strayed, Three Women has won praise everywhere from Columbia Journalism Review (“deeply reported, elegantly written, almost uncomfortably intimate”) to Refinery29 (“the hype for Three Women is real; in fact, it’s insufficient”), from Esquire (“a heartbreaking, gripping, astonishing masterpiece”) to Time (“Three Women is a battle cry…For anyone who thinks they know what women want, this book is an alarm, and its volume is turned all the way up.”) In the words of The New Statesman, “This is an unusual, startling, and gripping debut. It feels to me like the kind of bold, timely, once-in-a-generation book that every house should have a copy of, and probably will before too long.”

In suburban Indiana we meet Lina, the homemaker and mother of two whose marriage, after a decade, has lost its passion. Starved for affection, Lina battles daily panic attacks and, after reconnecting with an old flame through social media, embarks on an affair that quickly becomes all-consuming. In North Dakota we meet Maggie, the seventeen-year-old high school student who allegedly has a clandestine physical relationship with her handsome, married English teacher; the ensuing criminal trial will turn their quiet community upside down. Finally, in the northeast we meet Sloane, the successful, refined restaurant owner whose husband enjoys watching her have sex with other men and women.

Based on years of immersive reporting and told with astonishing frankness and immediacy, Three Women is both a feat of journalism and a triumph of storytelling, brimming with nuance and empathy. “A work of deep observation, long conversations, and a kind of journalistic alchemy” (Kate Tuttle, NPR), Three Women introduces us to three unforgettable women—and one remarkable writer—whose experiences remind us that we are not alone.

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Photo credit: iStock / nikkimeel

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