I don’t know about you, but my 20s (and I’ve only got a couple more of ‘em left) have been kind of a trip — and when I say “kind of a trip” I’m talking full-on, Ken Kesey and the Further Bus-level mayhem. There have been highs and lows, chaos and calm, educational experiences inside the classroom and out, journeys around the world and back home, loves and loves lost and loves that still haven’t called me back (you know who you are). And through it all I’ve had books to guide me, and books to sympathize with me, and books that are so out there they make me realize how average my own crazy story is — books like the ones on this list of 11 memoirs to read before you’re 30.
Not for nothing, the women in my life make turning 30 look good . While our 20s have been all about making messes, forging for new identities, drinking a tad too much, and racking up a whole lotta debt, stepping across that great threshold of one’s 30th birthday seems to mark a time of making easier-to-manage messes, celebrating our identities, eating a tad too much chocolate, and buying the exact same number of new shoes as ever — at least, that’s what I gather from watching my BFFs. Clearly, there’s a lot to look forward to. But in the meantime, here are 11 memoirs to read before you turn 30.
1. The Only Pirate at the Party by Lindsey Stirling
If the title alone doesn’t make you want to run out and pick up this book immediately, then Lindsey Stirling’s job certainly will. The dancing violinist didn’t let her elimination from America’s Got Talent stop her — instead she became a social media sensation, and produced not one, but two full-length albums of her music. In The Only Pirate at the Party , Stirling tells the story of her true-to-her-millennial-self, out-of-the-box life, from personal struggles to professional successes, and everything in between.
2. So Sad Today: Personal Essays by Melissa Broder
If you’ve been wondering about the personality behind Twitter's @sosadtoday account, Melissa Broder’s So Sad Today will answer all your lingering questions. A memoir told through essays, So Sad Today illuminates Broder’s experience with anxiety and panic attacks, and delves into the emotional landscape behind her tweets. From concerns about love and death, to meditations on addiction and life’s unanswered questions, this essay collection takes a long look at the pressures that come with living in our modern world.
3. Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay
To be released this June (so be sure to get your pre-orders in now) Hunger is the latest brilliant, striking, and unflinchingly honest book from Roxane Gay. Through exploring what it means to be hungry — not just physically, but emotionally, socially, and intellectually as well — Gay digs deep into her past: experiences with body image and self-care, indulgence and denial, and the violence that altered her young life. This is bound to be a cannot-miss memoir.
4. I Don't Care About Your Band by Julie Klausner
Even if you’re the kind of twenty-something who always cares about the band (can’t fault you there, girl) you’ll love this hilarious, touching, and no-holds-barred story of finding love, losing love, and confusing love. In I Don’t Care About Your Band Julie Klausner, a gal who wholly believes in finding true love, weeds through one “Mr.-Right-Now” after another, in her journey to learn that "Mr. Right" may not be anything like you’d imagined.
5. No Baggage: A Minimalist Tale of Love and Wandering by Clara Bensen
You never know where that OKCupid connection will lead. After just a handful of Internet exchanges and a few days, the digitally-matched Clara Bensen and Jeff Wilson embark upon a round-the-globe journey together — from Istanbul to London — with nothing but the clothes on their backs, a toothbrush a-piece, and their credit cards. Talk about packing light. But though the pair are material-baggage-free, they discover they’ve brought along enough emotional flotsam to last a lifetime. No Baggage is a story of love and adventure, letting go and packing only what you can carry.
6. Just Kids by Patti Smith
If anyone can make the lean years of your 20s look totally appealing, it’s Patti Smith. Just Kids is a memoir of the friendship that defined Smith’s 20s — with the wildly, creatively bizarre photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, with whom Smith lived and loved and made art for years. From renting the smallest room in the Hotel Chelsea to associating with iconic figures like Andy Warhol, the two supported each other through the difficult, amazing era of finding themselves and discovering their artistic passions.
7. Lust & Wonder by Augusten Burroughs
There doesn’t seem to be anyone else quite like Augusten Burroughs — at least, not on my bookshelves. With an ability to tell stories that are equally horrifying as they are hilarious, his words will quickly make you realize there are lives in this world even stranger than your own. In Lust & Wonder , the third of Augusten’s memoirs, he writes all about the relationships in his life that have ended. Everyone who has experienced the end of a romantic relationship — or even just a friendship — will find this title totally relatable.
8. Cherry by Mary Karr
Credited with spearheading the explosion of the modern memoir (and we readers seriously thank you so much for that) no collection of memoirs is complete without the inclusion of Mary Karr. Cherry is the story of Karr’s tumultuous adolescence — from rebellion to romance, and every rite of passage in between. Anyone still nursing a bit of a teen-angst hangover (aren’t we all?) will totally sympathize.
9. One Thousand Wells by Jena Lee Nardella
Like many recently graduated twenty-somethings, Jena Lee Nardella was going to change the world. With little more than an idea and a thousand dollars, Nardella set off for Africa, where she planned to bring water to people who desperately needed it — by building a thousand wells. One Thousand Wells tells the story of this adventure: the highs and lows, the surprises and successes, and everything that went into founding the now globally-recognized nonprofit Blood:Water.
10. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
At 22 years old, after both his parents passed away within months of each other, Dave Eggers found himself the single parent to his 8-year-old brother, Christopher. Well-meaning and a tad paranoid, Eggers’ parenting tactics prove to be just a little off-beat. At the same time, he’s still just a twenty-something, looking to make his way in a world that feels a little too-large, and a lot cooler than him. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is both a memoir of growing up slowly, finding oneself, and creating one’s art, while also navigating the realms of loss, grief, and unexpected parenting. It might even make you start to see your own life as a heartbreaking work of staggering genius too.
11. Mexican Enough: My Life between the Borderlines by Stephanie Elizondo Griest
After growing up in a racially split South Texas community, writer Stephanie Elizondo Griest was unsure how to navigate her half-Mexican heritage. But upon her 30th birthday, she decided to do some soul searching. Mexican Enough tells the story of Griest’s journey to her mother’s homeland in Mexico, where she traveled to the roots of her identity — and had some crazy adventures along the way. From sneaking into a Mexican jail to visiting the families of undocumented friends from her home in Texas, Griest seemingly manages to do just about anything you can think of, and finds a bit of herself in the process as well.