15 Books That Will Teach You A Thing Or Two About Being An Adult
Warning: this is not your parents’ adulting. Or, at least, it’s not my parents’ adulting — I have no idea what your parents are like. Suffice it to say that according to these books on adulting, growing up and growing older isn’t what it used to be, and adulting definitely doesn’t look the same for everyone. (This is either a great thing, or the end of civilization, depending on who you ask.)
Whether you’ve been imagining your corner office and that 401K since your tweens or your definition of #adulting means your band is finally breaking even on tour, there’s a writer on this list who understands where you’re coming from. Maybe you’re officially ready to get out of credit card debt, deepen a romantic relationship you’ve been nursing for months (or years!), start your doctorate, about to take that giant leap into procreating, or some other totally grown up adventure. The great news is, adulting no longer means center-crease pants and a 9 to 5 (unless you want it to!) Pro tip: you really do need to be paying your own bills, though. From Patti Smith to Cheryl Strayed, these books about adulting will show you the way — the many ways — to adult in the world today.
Here are 15 books you should read on the theme of adulting — in its many diverse, messy, beautiful manifestations.
1. 'Just Kids' by Patti Smith
Sometimes we can get caught up in what adulting looks like: house, car, job, nice pants — rather than focusing on what adulting feels like: what you’ve learned in the last three (or five, or ten) years, who are you becoming and what is your life asking of you? Patti Smith’s memoir, Just Kids, is all about these ideas. Just Kids tells the story of the relationship that defined Smith’s 20s and informed the rest of her creative life — her friendship with the wild and bizarre photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, with whom Smith lived and loved and made art for years. From falling in love with New York and renting the smallest room in the Hotel Chelsea, to mingling among iconic figures like Andy Warhol and discovering where their own art was leading them, the duo supported each other through the difficult, amazing era of finding themselves and nurturing their passions.
2. 'I'll Tell You in Person' by Chloe Caldwell
Adulting doesn’t mean we have it all figured out; it just means we’re trying harder to figure out a little more: about ourselves, about the world, and about getting real when it comes to things we could probably do a little better. Author Chloe Caldwell’s memoir-through-essays, I’ll Tell You In Person, tells a story of emerging adulthood — what it’s like to be a 20-something woman: broke, inexperienced, trying to figure out your way in the world — and it serves as a great reminder that we all make similar mistakes as we’re learning to become ourselves. Caldwell’s voice is quirky and straightforward as she shares tales of failing at all the things adults fail at, falling in love, and turning addictive tendencies towards people, food, and drugs as she flounders through her twenties, as we all did and do.
3. 'Broke Millennial: Stop Scraping By and Get Your Financial Life Together' by Erin Lowry
Even though my version of adulting is heavily weighted in the internally-focused, as a usually-broke gal I know how important it is to get your finances in order early, handle any debt you might have racked up in your early 20s, and find ways to make your money go as far as possible. Broke Millennial: Stop Scraping By and Get Your Financial Life Together by Erin Lowry is super helpful, dealing with both practical money matters and the complex emotions that are deeply woven into personal finances. This step-by-step guide is filled with advice, anecdotes, and tons information to help you be as financially healthy as you can be.
4. 'Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar' by Cheryl Strayed
Part of adulting is owning your shit: the good, the bad, and the ugly—and no one is better to help you do that than author and advice-giver Cheryl Strayed. Filled with new and previously-published advice columns written for The Rumpus column Dear Sugar, Tiny, Beautiful Things offers heartfelt, straightforward advice about everything you could ever want advice on: sex and relationships, careers and money, infidelity and infertility and body image and parenting, substance abuse, grief, depression, and forgiveness — and tons of other stuff too. Consider this your guide to everything the adult you will ever need to know. Probably.
5. 'How to Be a Person in the World: Ask Polly's Guide Through the Paradoxes of Modern Life' by Heather Havrilesky
Another advice columnist we couldn’t live without, the writer behind the Ask Polly advice column, Heather Havrilesky, has compiled a collection of mostly-new (and a few classic great) responses to serious adulting questions about quitting your day job to follow your dreams, how to you rein in an overbearing mother, whether you’ll finally learn from your messy dating history, and are you ever going to procreate (and if so, why?) How to Be a Person in the World: Ask Polly's Guide Through the Paradoxes of Modern Life is hilarious, relatable, and a newly-adulting gal’s must-read.
6. 'Living a Feminist Life' by Sara Ahmed
One key to being an adult is not only handling your own stuff, it’s also knowing when to stop taking shit from everybody else. Feminist writer and activist Sarah Ahmed’s just-published book, Living a Feminist Life, begins by acknowledging that living a feminist life in a decidedly non-feminist world can be a real grind — but nobody said living your truth would be easy. Calling upon a diverse array of feminists across the history of feminist theory, Ahmed demonstrates that feminist lives begin with small, everyday actions — you don’t have to change the entire world all at once, you just have to work to balance your own space in it.
7. 'This Is How: Surviving What You Think You Can't' by Augusten Burroughs
Augusten Burroughs is not quite like any other writer (at least any other writer I read.) He’s blunt, straightforward, outrageous, and super funny. This Is How: Surviving What You Think You Can't is exactly what the title suggests: advice, wisdom, and humor on surviving everything you think you absolutely can’t (but will.) From problems at work to problems in relationships, parents and children, grief and death, shame and isolation, healing the wounds of your childhood, and so much more, Burroughs has got you covered.
8. 'Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year' by Anne Lamott
If part of your definition of adulting includes mothering, then Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year is not a book to be missed, offering readers an account of her first and only dive into motherhood. Written in Lamott’s classic style of blended irreverence, hilarity, and poignancy, the stories in Operating Instructions will have you cracking up (and maybe crying, just a little) in no time. You might even find a newfound, totally adult, reverence for your own mother… who knows?
9. 'You'll Grow Out of It' by Jessi Klein
Sometimes when we’re trying to adult, it helps to hear someone else’s story, right? Especially if that story is funny. Jessi Klein’s You’ll Grow Out of It is a hilarious and heartwarmingly relatable memoir about the comedian’s journey from girlhood to womanhood, during which she felt impossibly out-of-place in a world filled with often-absurd feminine rites of passage. Once a “tomboy” and “late-bloomer” Klein lived outside confusing gender norms to become the amazing, funny, relatable human she is today.
10. 'Dear Ijeawele, Or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions' by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Inspired by a letter the feminist author wrote to her friend in regards to how to raise a feminist daughter, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions reads like a to-do list for feminist mothers and all feminist women. Filled with suggestions like: “Teach her self-reliance,” “Measure her on a scale of being the best version of herself,” and “Give her a sense of identity,” this slim collection of advice is both funny and touching, illuminating and empowering — and you don’t need to be a mother to enjoy it. The “she” and “her” Adichie is talking about could just as easily be you.
11. 'Adulthood is a Myth: A Sarah's Scribbles Collection' by Sarah Andersen
Don’t let anyone tell you that graphic novels are for kids — Sarah Andersen’s is perfect for the begrudging adult in you. Adulthood is a Myth: A Sarah's Scribbles Collection is an adorable and way-too-relatable story about wasting an entire weekend on the internet, spending whole days (and yeah, dates) dreaming of nothing but going home and putting on pajamas, and the agony of romantic (or not) relationships in the modern world. This is my life, and it might be yours too.
12. 'Letters to a Young Poet' by Rainer Maria Rilke
Even if you’re not a young poet, this book speaks to anyone in the middle of reconciling what’s going on in the outside world with the conversations you have in the privacy of your own (busily adulting) heart and mind. Unfolding with the slow and deliberate care of a mindful writer and wisdom-sharer, Letters to a Young Poet is all about discovering oneself, finding one’s place in the world, and coming to peace with all of life’s unanswered questions. Totally adult, if you ask me.
13. 'I Thought It Was Just Me: Women Reclaiming Power and Courage in a Culture of Shame' by Brené Brown
Is there anything worse than shame? I really, really don’t think so. If you’re struggling with anything from shame about your life to stepping away from the flawless image you feel pressured to portray on social media, I Thought It Was Just Me: Women Reclaiming Power and Courage in a Culture of Shame by Brené Brown is definitely the book for you. Helping you to discover (and then share!) your most authentic, real, and down-to-earth self, this guide explores how a culture of shame reinforces our fears about not being “enough” of anything and will help you realize how completely enough you actually are.
14. 'The Opposite of Loneliness' by Marina Keegan
Okay, this one is definitely going to make you cry, I’m just letting you know now. Just weeks after graduating from Yale in 2012 Marina Keegan was producing a play at the New York International Fringe Festival and waiting for her new job at the New Yorker to start when, just five days after graduation, she was killed in a car crash. The Opposite of Loneliness is her posthumous collection of essays and stories that are so filled with hope and promise it will inspire you and break your heart. If you’ve ever felt like your generation just isn’t cut out for this adulting stuff, Keegan’s words will definitely change your mind and raise your spirits.
15. 'Why Not Me?' by Mindy Kaling
You can’t have a list of books about adulting without Mindy Kaling’s face (and book) appearing somewhere — she’s basically the model for the kind of adult I want (and probably couldn’t help being anyway) to be. Her memoir Why Not Me? shares the writer and actor’s journey to find herself throughout the course of her adult life. From unrequited romances to underwhelming weight loss endeavors, Kaling laughs at herself just as hard as she believes in herself, doesn’t take life too seriously, and will totally inspire you.