Your job, your dating life, your friends, the plan you made — your existence seems overwhelming, totally wrong, and it scares the crap out of you. You have a thought: maybe you'll move to Tibet! You'll make a difference in the world. You'll live out of your backpack in a yurt. This all seems eminently plausible, until you realize it isn't exactly, and living in a yurt is... well, maybe not quite the answer.
What is going on with you? Don't look up your symptoms on WebMD — you won't find them there. You're in the midst of the dreaded quarter-life crisis. And you're sure as hell not alone.
It's no fun being in a funk. Even if you're helping yourself out with therapy, or talking things through with your friends, coworkers, and family, there are still moments when you, and only you, have to deal with that weight sitting on your chest. The anxiety you're feeling is totally normal, and what you need is some distraction. And there's nothing more distracting than a good book.
From books that teach you how to feel better, to ones that just make you thankful you're in a better spot than the characters, to those that'll make you LOL, the books on this list are helpful, cathartic, engaging, or must-read classics that can help get you through the quarter-life crisis blues. Read at least one before you decide to go live in a yurt.
Quarterlife Crisis: The Unique Challenges of Life in Your Twenties by Alexandra Robbins and Abby Wilner
Before you go any further, here's the proof that the QLC is real. It's not just a thing Millennials invented to make ourselves feel better. This book is full of testimonials from people just like you, and documents the difficulties of transitioning from youth to adulthood.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
If you pick up this book, you're not going to read about today's hipster coffee-shop Brooklyn — Francie isn't wearing flannel. In the early to mid-20th century, Francie (who's a little kid at the start of the novel) comes a long way. She overcomes hardship and sacrifices a lot and finds jobs and loses them and struggles with whether or not she can afford the education she wants. This is a curl-up-in-bed kind of comfort book to distract you from your stress and let you revel in some nostalgia while also identifying with Francie's very relateable struggles.
Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
What originally started as a comic strip and blog, Allie Brosh's graphic memoir will remind you that you're not alone. Feeling down? Brosh has been there, and she can make you laugh and cry and laugh again as you identify with her over and over again. Read, weep, identify, LOL.
The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling
When you're confused and down, it's really hard to recognize that people around you may be feeling the same way. In her first post-Harry Potter book, J. K. Rowling looks at all sides of every screwed up situation her small-town characters get into. Gain some perspective and sink into other people's problems. You never know: You might find some solutions to yours here, too.
Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson
If you're going through a QLC right now, chances are there's a lot of regret happening. Maybe you're going out every night and making choices you don't feel so great about the next morning, or maybe you're just not doing anything and feeling bad about that. Whichever it is, Jenny Lawson will make you laugh — at her, as well as yourself.
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
Girl, sometimes all you need to cheer you up is to remember that you're lucky enough to live in a society where you're allowed to have (and even *gasp* enjoy!) sex. Chopin's classic tells the story of one woman's discovery of her sexual desire, and the tragic ending she comes to when she realizes she's not supposed to be anything other than a wife and mother. That's not you. It's not a post-feminist society, but it's better than what it used to be.
What I Know Now: Letters to My Younger Self by Ellyn Spragins
From Macy Gray to Nora Roberts, 41 ladies write to their younger selves. Read along and take their advice. Or, if you can't or don't want to, take comfort in the fact that in 20 years, you'll be able to look back on yourself now with compassion and love.
Sula by Toni Morrison
A tale of friendship, moms, and coming back to your small town after living somewhere big and flashy, Sula is great for reminding yourself that long before you were around, women were having issues with their families, friends, desires, and what the hell to do in their 20s. Toni Morrison's characters are badass and crazy. So yes, you can be awesome even while you're feeling a little nuts.
Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life From Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
A collection of advice from Cheryl Strayed's Dear Sugar column, read this and giggle your way to a better mood. Everyone goes through lots of BS in their 20s; you're in good company. Sugar's got your back. And speaking of Cheryl Strayed...
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
You really can't mention Cheryl Strayed and quarter-life crises without this book. You may have already seen the movie, but the book is definitely worth reading, especially when you want to be alone with your feelings. Are you terrified of taking risks right now? That's OK. Live vicariously through Strayed's incredibly brave decision to get waaay out of her comfort zone.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
A timeless classic, Alcott's little women are based on herself and her sisters. They grow up together, get through grief and love and confusion and kids. Whole lifetimes are in this book, and Jo and Amy are especially good models for the QLC: they don't know what they want to do, how they want to live, and end up changing their minds more than once. And — spoiler alert! — they still get their happy ever afters.
F*ck! I'm in My Twenties by Emma Koenig
Not to be confused with Sarah Koenig of Serial, Emma Koenig's popular Tumblr about life in her 20s has been turned into a book. It's digestible, it's funny, and it'll remind you that seriously, really, truly, you're not alone with your frustrations, your obsessive googling of OkCupid dates, or your desire for fast food and a hot outfit at the same time.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
This books takes Greek life to a whole new level (minus actual frat houses). As bad as your QLC is, at least you're not a pretentious asshat with a desire to reenact Dionysian ceremonies in togas. Trust me, you're way better than any of these characters. Still, they're amusing, so join them in the madness and take your mind away from reality for a few hours.
Amanda Palmer is known for her fanbase and her career as a musician, and if you're a fan, you know she had a lot of angst in her 20s. And I mean, a LOT. It's all there, right in the book's title: we're bad at asking for help. But you know what? When you're going through some serious doubts and need someone to lean on, it really is OK to reach out. Take Palmer as an inspiration and get help when you need it, or even just when you want it.
The Portable Dorothy Parker edited by Marion Meade
"Men never make passes / at girls who wear glasses" is just one of Parker's more famous quip-poems. This collection is also full of her still super relevant stories (including one that is literally about waiting for your date to call). Parker's quarter-life crisis never really ended, but she still outlived all her boozing literati friends. Plus, she dealt with her feels through her tragicomic fiction and poetry. She was so self-aware that her stories are definitely going to give you a new perspective on things.
Bossypants by Tina Fey
Even Tina Fey had her downs. If you still haven't picked up this amazing book, you have to. Fey is a huge inspiration, and not just as a character or a Sarah Palin impersonator but as a person. She's been stuck right where you are too, and just like her, you can get out of the slump.
The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank
Bank's sense of girlhood, teen-hood and 20s-hood in her debut novel is uncanny. Read up on a beautiful fictional character trying to navigate her way through all of the things women need to struggle with: sex, love, work and how to balance them all together.
Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen
In her memoir of love, loss, friendship, marriage, and the general things women go through in life, Quindlen will give you another great reason to remember that you're going to get through this crisis and come out better on the other side. My mother always told me that the 20s are awful, and I'm starting to believe her. So instead of freaking out about the number candles on the cake, let's eat it and celebrate getting older and wiser instead.
The Magicians series by Lev Grossman
This isn't your average fantasy trilogy. It's Harry Potter for grownups. The angst is real, the confusion is worse, and the characters are all so much like you and everyone you know (trying too hard, not trying hard enough, fumbling and failing and succeeding) that the fact that there's magic involved is pretty much just an added bonus. Devour the whole series on a particularly bad week, and you'll be happy that a) you don't have to deal with having magical powers and that b) you've read these books.
Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps by Kelly Williams Brown
Literally a guidebook on how to adult. Probably useful for some middle-aged people, too (because some of us know we're going to be perpetually confused 20-somethings even when we're 45) but hey, if you're having a quarter-life crisis, here's a fun (and funny) checklist you can go through, step by step by step (all 468 of them).
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Admittedly, not the most cheerful book. BUT — and this is a "but" that merits all-caps — it is a book about confusion, about first times, about trying to conform and rebel at the same time and finding that this path leads to madness. But unlike Esther Greenwood, the book's heroine, you can turn up the self-awareness. Reach out to friends, family, anonymous online venues like Post Secret and talk it out. Don't bottle it in. Don't stay stuck in that bell jar forever.
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling
From the woman who brought us The Mindy Project, Kaling addresses what is possibly one of the most annoying parts of the QLC: worrying that you're going through it while everyone else is having fun without you. Kaling is both funny and dead-on when it comes to the stuff that gets to us, and she'll remind you that even famous people have problems.
Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding
We've all seen the movie, and it's awesome, but the book is worth a read on its own. Although Bridget is in her early 30s, she's definitely still in the midst of her QLC, and maybe if she'd read her own diary a few years earlier she would have felt better — because things do work out, even when you're awkward, obsessive and hilariously introspective. Hilarious, that is, to everyone but you. But at least Bridget can help you gain that perspective! And you know what they say: laughter is the best cure.
Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham
Whatever you think of Lena Dunham or Girls, there is no doubt that she's worked hard to get where she is. Her book is brave and resonates with many of us. Seeing her come through some incredibly tough situations will help you remember that you can get through them too, and that just like the Girls girls, there's always a way to get over or out of a sticky situation.
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
If none of the other books here strike a chord with you, remember this: as much as being in your 20s sucks, at least you're not living in a world where you're not allowed to read, not allowed to have a life, not allowed to do anything other than get pregnant for the good of your master's family. Count your blessings, and enjoy some moments of true terror. Take Offred's rebellion seriously, and remember that you can get out of this QLC and kick its butt.
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