32 Books Every Woman Should Read In Their 30s

From memoirs to novels to essay collections, these books will help you navigate your third decade.

by The Editors
Originally Published: 
A selection of books that women in their 30s will enjoy.
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Your 30s: It’s a decade filled with new life experiences, and there’s nothing like literature to help you make sense of it. These 32 books, both fiction and non-fiction, can help to expand your ideas of what it means to be in your third decade.

These books include memoirs, contemporary fiction, essay collections and more. There are stories about families and immigration, stories about love lost and found, and stories about friendship, work and selfhood. In these books, readers are sure to find both highly relatable perspectives and entirely different world views— all of which will deepen your experience of moving through your 30s.

The Years by Annie Ernaux, translated by Alison Strayer

The Years covers decades of the French memoirist’s life — from 1941 to 2006 — which makes it an absorbing, enlightening study of how an individual changes, stays the same, and becomes themselves. Ernaux strings together sharp, extremely memorable fragments, composing one mesmerizing narrative about a life taking shape.

The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicenio

Part memoir, part investigation into the contemporary American immigration system, Karla Cornejo Villavicenio’s The Undocumented Americans covers topics including DREAMERs, labor, environmental justice, and activism, offering striking insights and sharp analysis.

A Year Without a Name by Cyrus Dunham

In his memoir, Cyrus Dunham searches for a name as he asks questions about trans identity, objectification, self-branding, and pursuit of meaning. He writes with lyrical, clear-eyed prose and displays a particularly keen eye for character descriptions.

What We Don't Talk About When We Talk About Fat by Aubrey Gordon

This collection of essays is a necessary work of activism about bodies. As Gordon puts it: “I did not come to body positivity for self-esteem. I came to it for social justice.” Throughout the book, she analyzes how anti-fat cultural biases inform systematic oppression — an oppression that affects all people, regardless of their body type.

Goodbye Vitamin by Rachel Khong

Goodbye, Vitamin is a novel about a woman in her 30th year, whose life hasn’t turned out quite the way she imagined. The book starts with Ruth returning home to take care of her father, who’s newly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and follows as Ruth figures out how to care for the person who’s cared for her It’s by turns funny, painful, and heart-wrenching.

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

Carmen Maria Machado’s formally inventive memoir leverages the wisdom and insight she gained in her 30s to tell the story of an abusive relationship she experienced in her 20s. It’s a book full of tender discernment and clear-eyed analysis.

Days of Afrekete by Asali Solomon

In this modern take on Mrs. Dalloway, Liselle Belmont’s husband has just lost an election for state legislature, but Liselle still needs to host a dinner party for his big supporters — an event that offers her the chance to dive down memory lane and reminisce about her big college love, Selena Octave. It’s a book about the passage of time, and how the business we left unfinished in our youth continues to haunt us.

I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron

Nora Ephron’s hilarious, touching, and very honest book of essays discusses every strange and specific aspect of aging, from going through menopause and emptying the nest, to hair dyeing grays and (as the title suggests) dealing with a wrinkly neck. Unsurprisingly, the writer behind When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, You've Got Mail, and Bewitched gets to the heart of older womanhood.

Bossypants by Tina Fey

Fey’s memoir has long been considered a modern classic. There’s a reason why her book continues to get the “must-read” label over a decade after publication: Her essays and advice about crying (or not) at work, female friendships, career, love, and breastfeeding are universal, and she delivers her life story with humor, vigor, and openness.

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

This National Book Award winner is one of the most important books of the last century. It’s a tale about an unnamed Black man struggling to find a place in the world, and its themes of feeling lost, finding direction, and trying to carve out a place in the world are all common 30-something anxieties.

Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud by Anne Helen Petersen

What do Serena Williams, Kim Kardashian, and Hillary Clinton have in common? On the surface, the answer might be not much, but culture writing extraordinaire Anne Helen Petersen makes the argument that they’re all part of a cabal of women who’ve succeeded despite — and also perhaps because of — their unruliness.

Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers

Newly minted astronomy PhD graduate Grace Porter is on the cusp of 30 and couldn’t feel more lost: She’s unemployed, dealing with increasing anxiety, handling microaggressions in her field, and juggling a difficult relationship with her dad. So, she does what any bewildered Millennial would: She marries a stranger in Vegas. But when she wakes up in the morning and realizes that wedding the mysterious Yuki Yamamoto hasn’t solved any of her problems, Grace goes on a journey of self-discovery filled with ups, downs, and plenty of astrological ruminations.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion

Didion is one of the best writers of her (or any) generation. She mixes the personal and the political, the intimate and the sensational, and the results are always stunning. Her 1968 essay collection Slouching Towards Bethlehem is no different. These stories on her upbringing in California and her coming-of-age during a time of so much social upheaval are timeless, like all of her work.

The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

Beauvoir’s 1949 manifesto about women’s role in society was way ahead of its time, to put it mildly. Feminism was on some women’s (and a few men’s) minds, but the movement was definitely not where it is today. Still, The Second Sex is a powerful look at sexuality, identity, and independence — all topics that are top of mind for every generation.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb

One would think a therapist would have it all together, but when shrink Lori Gottlieb’s long-term boyfriend dumps her with no warning, the ordeal launches her into a period of self-discovery with the help of her new therapist, Wendell. Interwoven with chapters detailing her dealings with several of her own patients, Gottlieb’s book reminds us that maybe we all should, in fact, talk to someone.

Sabrina & Corina by Kali Fajardo-Anstine

Fajardo-Anstine’s 2019 book Sabrina & Corina may be short at just 224 pages, but it packs a punch as she traces the struggles and joys of Latinas and Indigenous women in the American West. Her stories blend together sisterhood, generational trauma, the complexities of mother-daughter relationships, the stress that builds when coming of age, and so much more.

How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell

Despite the irony of reading a book called How to Do Nothing, author, artist, and educator Jenny Odell has a point: We live in a society full of technology, constant distractions, and nonstop #content and have completely forgotten how to just be. Are Millennials too far gone to be saved from themselves and their smartphones? Odell has endless thoughts on the subject.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Any work by Roxane Gay is considered a must-read at this point, but Gay’s essays in her beloved book Bad Feminist cover everything from the color pink to Sweet Valley High. She’s funny, sharp, and relatable, and the questions the book raises provide more than enough fodder for what feminism looks like as the times change.

Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid

In Taylor Jenkins Reid’s earlier novel Maybe in Another Life, 29-year-old Hannah returns to Los Angeles after many years away and heads to a bar to celebrate her move with a few friends. At the end of the evening, she’s at a crossroads: She can either call it a night and head home, or she stay out with her former flame Ethan. Told in chapters that alternate between the two timelines that emerge, Jenkins Reid asks the question of how one seemingly insignificant choice creates a ripple effect of repercussions.

Big Friendship by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman

Why does our society prioritize every other kind of relationship above friendship, despite the fact that it’s a foundational part of so many people’s lives? Writers, podcasters, and cultural commentators Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman sought to find out. Using the trajectory of their own Big Friendship as the backdrop and armed with plenty of research, the duo explore what it means to be a friend — and also when to know if it’s time to walk away.

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes

Recently widowed Evvie Drake has lived her life mostly on pause since the death of her husband a year prior, never talking about her grief or the difficult marriage she endured behind its shiny veneer. But after former professional baseball player Dean Tenney comes to town and moves into Evvie’s spare apartment , the two strike up an odd friendship, and Evvie’s finally forced to confront her past. Can these two work through their issues to come together, or will they strike out?

Mistakes I Made at Work by Jessica Bacal

In Mistakes I Made at Work, Jessica Bacal interviews 25 successful women about their biggest screw-ups. Cheryl Strayed, Kim Gordon, and Jezebel founding editor Anna Holmes all reveal their most embarrassing and ridiculous professional moments, reminding all of us that we’re not alone and that there’s more to life than what happens at the office.

Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill

Mary Gaitskill’s Bad Behavior has become a classic over the years, and her stories of desire, longing, and obsession are terrifying and beautiful at the same time. Erotic, thought-provoking, and raw, they’re a great naughty read. Plus, its meaning changes through the decades, making it a fantastic reread.

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle

Dannie Kohan is an attorney who’s checked every box. She’s got her dream job, the perfect boyfriend, and the ultimate New York City apartment. But one night Dannie goes to sleep and wakes up five years into the future — and realizes nothing about that world resembles her present life. After spending an hour in this strange new universe before returning to her old life, Dannie becomes hellbent on changing her fate. But how much control does she really have over destiny?

How to Fail at Flirting by Denise Williams

After 30-something college professor Naya finds out that her job is in jeopardy and her abusive ex might have something to do with it, she decides to step outside of her comfort zone one night to unwind and meets a charming, handsome stranger named Jake in the process. Soon she finds herself on the cusp of something serious with Jake, but she wonders if she’s really ready to step outside of her comfort zone and try something new.

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Andrew Sean Greer’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel may be centered of a 50-year-old man, but it’s as relevant as ever to 30-somethings. Floundering writer Arthur Less receives a wedding invitation from his former boyfriend of nine years, so he does something entirely sensical: He flees on a worldwide excursion to avoid the nuptials. Despite his best efforts, he soon discovers during a globe-traversing trip to Mexico, Morocco, India, and beyond that he can’t quite run away from his feelings — or his ex.

You Me Everything by Catherine Isaac

After dealing with a sick parenting and receiving devastating personal news, 30-something Jess decides to spend the summer with her 10-year-old son William and his father, her former boyfriend Adam, at a French chateau he owns. But as the two exes begin slowing unpacking their past in the present, Jess realizes she needs to make more than a few important decisions about her future.

We’re Going to Need More Wine by Gabrielle Union

Actress Gabrielle Union passionately breaks down her own coming-of-age story in her memoir We’re Going to Need More Wine, where she tackles everything from petty high school drama to becoming an outspoken activist for racial equality, feminism, and an end to sexual violence. One thing’s for sure: This wasn’t the path Union saw herself taking.

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman

Bookstore employee Nina Hill’s life is neat and tidy as can be: She writes in her planner every day, goes to work, and partakes in regular games of trivia. One day, however, she learns that she has a family she never knew existed, and her trivia enemy begins suddenly flirting with her. Virtually overnight, Nina has to decide if she wants to stay within the confines of her perfectly planned but predictable life or take a leap of faith.

We Have Always Been Here by Samra Habib

No member of the LGBTQ+ community has a linear coming out story, and Samra Habib’s is especially winding. After immigrating to Canada with her family as Pakistani refugees, Habib overcomes xenophobia, an arranged marriage, and poverty on her path to self-discovery and reclamation of her queerness as she gets older.

Dear Girls by Ali Wong

Written as a long-form letter to her two young daughters, comedian Ali Wong doesn’t hold back in her memoir Dear Girls, where she recounts hairy body parts, gory births, bad sex, and everything in between. There’s sweetness in between the baudy jokes and biting remarks, however, as Wong reflects on the mistakes of her teens, twenties, and early thirties.

If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane

Thirty-six-year-old attorney Laurie is left reeling after her partner of 18 years dumps her out of the blue. Her situation is made worse by the fact that she and her ex work in the same office and his new girlfriend is pregnant. Determined to take matters into her own hands, Laurie strikes a deal with office playboy Jamie to start a fake relationship online and get her gossipy co-workers off of her back. But after a certain point, it becomes obvious to both Laurie and Jamie that they’re not just doing it for the ‘gram.

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