Let's start out with some full disclosure: I recently hit my 30th birthday milestone, and though it came with trepidation, nostalgia, and a little anxiety about WTF I was doing with my life, in the end, I've found it to be fantastic. But I certainly could have used a little extra help along the way. And because of my little book-nerd heart, that help should've probably come from some writers who have been there and done that and have insight on this whole aging to a grown-up woman thing.
But let me be clear: These are not books about how being 30 means you are late to settling down and having 1.5 children and a house in the suburbs. On the contrary. They're about all the different ways we can grow up and grow into ourselves, sometimes though the foibles we make along the way that lead to a little understanding. (If only a little, it's not like we're turning 100 or anything.)
Thirty is a time of vibrancy and lots of life changes, but also loads of expectations from society (about that 401(k) and marriage and kids thing, right?). These nine writers, whether through their own life experiences or their characters', can help you hit 30 with a little grace and understanding. And lots of fun, too. So scoop up these books right as 30 is coming into that sightline, because they'll mean so much to you right at that moment in your life. Get prepared for some serious smarts to get dropped on you right about now.
Oh, and happy birthday.
How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
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How to Be a Woman is the relatable feminist manifesto all us grown-up women need. Caitlin Moran is hilarious and you're going to want to grab a gin and tonic with her at the local bar, but that doesn't mean she can't whip out the insight of a philosopher. Using personal anecdotes for color, Moran answers some of the biggest (and smallest) questions facing the modern woman.
Self-Help by Lorrie Moore
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Lorrie Moore's wry collection of short stories follow women across various stages of their adult lives, from one woman who is learning how to have an affair to another on her deathbed. It's the moments that will strike you in Self-Help , and just how clearly Moore paints in the picture in few words. And though the feelings of love and loss are palpable, it's also incredible sharp and even funny.
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
If you somehow made it through high school and college without reading Their Eyes Were Watching God , on the cusp of 30 seems like the perfect time to sit with it and a cup of tea. Get comfortable, because you're not going to want to move once you start. Zora Neale Hurston's classic follows teenage Janie Crawford as she matures through her own life circumstances from a teenage girl to a grown woman who knows the power of her own voice. And it's so lyrical and beautiful that you'll probably want to read it aloud.
NW by Zadie Smith
NW 's Leah, Natalie, Felix, and Nathan are trying to figure out how to be adults in northwest London, away from the community of their childhood. London really is the star in Zadie Smith's epic, but it's also about the bonds of friendships as each of these four people try to find their own identity and place not just in the city, but in the world.
The Liars' Club by Mary Karr
The Liars' Club isn't about Mary Karr's adulthood (that's Lit ), but it's the perfect book to read when you're about to hit a birthday milestone like 30, because it's an opportunity to look back at your own childhood. Karr's first memoir follows her own childhood growing up in an east Texas oil town with her hard drinking father and his storytelling best friends, her constantly marrying mother, and her older-than-her years sister. It's hysterical and raw, like only Karr can balance.
The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion by Meghan Daum
Meaghan Daum openly and poignantly addresses so many of the issues that often start to pummel you when you reach your 30s—death of a parent, the decision whether to have children, and you know, playing charades at a celebrity's house in LA. I mean just take this passage and it should be enough to sway you:
I am nostalgic for my twenties … but I can tell you for sure that they weren’t as great as I now crack them up to be. I was always broke, I was often lonely, and I had some really terrible clothes. But my life was shiny and unblemished. Everything was ahead of me. I walked around with an abiding feeling that, at any given time, anything could go in any direction.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy all grew up in an exclusive boarding school and they knew exactly what their futures would hold because it's the same future for all students of this school. (No spoilers!) But now that they're actually staring down the barrel of the gun, looking their future straight in the eye, they can't bear it. Hopefully this isn't what you're facing in your life (*fingers crossed), but anyone on the cusp of 30 can relate to the brief feeling that something about your youth is disappearing forever.
Sula by Toni Morrison
If your BFF is also turning 30, go ahead and get her a copy of Sula , too. In Toni Morrison's novel, Nel Wright and Sula Peace have grown up side-by-side in a small town in Ohio, facing down bullies and helping each other through everyday struggles. But when their adulthood pits them against each other, one as a leader in the black community and the other as an outcast, they have to come to an understanding about life, growing up, and friendship.
Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
We all could use a little advice from Cheryl Strayed, aka "Sugar," but especially on the verge of 30. Tiny Beautiful Things is chock full of honest, powerful, and witty advice from the formerly anonymous columnist of The Rumpus. A line that should be framed on every twenty- and thirtysomething's office or bedroom wall: "The best thing you can possibly do with your life is to tackle the motherfucking shit out of it."
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