7 Books That Shaped My 20s

Read them before you turn 30 to make the most of the most productive years of your life.

7 Books That Shaped My 20s
Anangsha Alammyan on Instagram (Featuring my baby, Lucy-fur)

Read them before you turn 30 to make the most of the most productive years of your life.

Your 20s are a weird part of your life.

You feel there’s so much left to achieve and that you’re constantly running out of time. At the same time, you feel invincible, like there’s nothing you can’t do.

As someone chasing her 30s, I have lived through some pretty amazing and turbulent times in my 20s. These seven books have shaped me, helped me become more ambitious, and been with me through some dark times.

In this post, I’ve listed the seven books that impacted me the most, and I’m sure they will be useful to any person in their 20s, no matter what background they come from and where they want to be in the next few years.

These books will help you achieve all-around personality development and make you a better person. Read on, and if you spot your favorite book on the list, let me know in the comments.

(Note: The links mentioned in this article are affiliate links. If you choose to purchase these books through these links, it will help me earn a small amount of money — at no extra cost to you. Thanks!)

1. Malazan Book of the Fallen

Author: Steven Erikson
Genre: High fantasy

Image: Goodreads

Where shall I even begin to describe the sheer brilliance of this series? There’s a reason this stands at the #1 position on my list — yes, it’s that amazing.

I couldn’t tell you the whole premise even if I tried, because the plot is amazingly layered and delightfully convoluted. But I can tell you where the first book in the series begins.

A thirteen-year-old Paran looks on the capital of the Malazan empire from the palace roofs as two veteran soldiers talk to each other about the impending coup and assassination of the Emperor. Paran confesses that he aims to join the Malazan army someday, but the soldiers try to dissuade him.

Some years later, Paran is recruited into the Malazan army. His first assignment takes him to a far-off country where a mysterious sorcerer with an army of ravens in a flying rock has waged war. They decimated the entire city, and Paran comes back to find a half-dead woman and a talking puppet.

Together, they embark on a plan that will not only rewire the history of the Malazan Empire but of the known world as a whole.

How these books helped me

I love this series because it came at one of the hardest times of my life and gave me hope to cling on. It taught me empathy and compassion and left me wondering about the extent of kindness and cruelty in humans.

The magic is mind-bending and the magic system is very satisfactorily laid out. There are some badass dragons and scheming, plotting Gods who are taken down by mortals.

If you love high fantasy and have the patience to read ten 1000-page books, definitely pick this one up. If the first book seems too tough to go through, this read-along on Tor might help. I was lost without this, and trust me, it will make the reading experience 100x better.

Get the book here.

2. 21 Lessons for the 21st Century

Author: Yuval Noah Harari
Genre: Speculative non-fiction.

Image: Goodreads

As the blurb claims, this book is “a probing and visionary investigation into today’s most urgent issues as we move into the uncharted territory of the future.”

The author raises some big questions on topics like work, war, religion, immigration, nationalism, education, and 15 other weighty subjects.

If you’ve read Sapiens and Homo Deus, you’re already aware of Harari’s unique ability to make sense of where we’ve come from and where we’re going. In this book, his words will force you to consider your values, purpose, and focus in today’s world full of noise and uncertainty.

“Questions you cannot answer are usually far better for you than answers you cannot question.”

How this book helped me

There are several concrete lessons scattered throughout the book. But more than the lessons, Harari forced me to think by presenting the terms of the discussion with context to historical and philosophical perspectives.

“We are now living in an age of information explosion … the last thing people need is more information. What they really need is somebody to arrange all of the bits of information into a meaningful picture — and this is what I try to do.” — Yuval Noah Harari

This isn’t an easy book to read, as it will force you to rewire a huge part of your current mindset. Once you’re done reading, you’ll see the world in a different way.

If I met someone from the future and they asked me why our world is the way it is, I’d recommend this book to them.

Get the book here.

3. Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder

Author: Nassim Taleb
Genre: Non-fiction/psychology

Image: Goodreads

If you’d wanted to know how to gain from disorder and chaos while being protected from fragilities and adverse events, this is the perfect book for you.

The author discusses the concept of resilience as the ability to withstand difficulties without breaking.

The book introduces the term antifragile as the ability of a person not just to resist shocks but to use them as a launchpad to become a better, more robust version of themselves.

You can become antifragile when you learn to turn a catastrophe into an opportunity for personal growth.

Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.”

How this book helped me

Taleb discusses a three-step strategy to turn every misfortune into an opportunity. His approach has helped me rethink some of my worst personal failings and visualize them as chances to make myself better. I’ve written about this in detail here.

Get the book here.

4. How to Be a Movie Star

Author: TJ Klune
Genre: Contemporary fiction. Queer romance.

Image: Goodreads

Josiah Erickson wants to be a movie star. The only problem is that the competition is too high, and he never seems to get past the string of rejections.

Things change when a series of coincidences lead him to the book-reading sessions of the insanely popular author, Q-bert, on whom Josiah develops a “friend crush.”

Being demisexual, this scares him because he’s never felt this attraction for a stranger before. Josey has no clue what to do.

What follows is a series of events that ultimately lead to a crazy night where Josy gets high and ends up with a boyfriend, a movie deal, and a glorious Golden Globe nomination.

How this book helped me

This book is like a tight hug you deserve on dark days. This book is light and fluff. It is cozy blankets and safe spaces. This book is LOVE.

I listened to the audiobook performed by the insanely talented Michael Lesley. The characters were SO endearing and the romance was breath-taking (classic TJ Klune-style). The depiction of mental health in this book was delicate and powerful. It made me feel less alone and that no matter how dark things may seem now, they won’t be the same forever. I don’t have to win every battle as long as I don’t give up fighting the way.

“Sometimes you need to hide away from the rest of the world. And it’s okay to do that. Just as long as you know the world is waiting for you when you’re done.”

Get this book here.

5. What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About

Author: Multiple authors
Genre: Non-fiction/Personal essay

Image: Goodreads

A collection of bold, brave, unabashed stories from sons and daughters recounting their relationships with their mothers. This book is filled with anecdotes that will touch, leave you in awe, and make you wonder how people from two separate corners of the world can lead such different lives, and yet, share these similar emotions.

If you ever feel conflicted about not loving your parents enough, this is the book you should read. Listen to the audiobook. The performances make it worth the time invested. 100% would recommend.

How this book helped me

As someone who’s lived away from home since her early teens, I always had a conflicted relationship with my parents, especially my mother. There were some expectations she didn’t fulfill and there were many ways I wish I was a better daughter.

This book helped me realize that no matter how many times my mother disappoints me, she’s still a human, and like everyone else, she’s allowed to make mistakes. If I can’t be perfect myself, how can I expect perfection from her?

It’s strange and wonderful that stories from fifteen strangers living in radically different circumstances helped salvage my relationship with my mother. I want every young person who’s ever felt let down by their parents to read this book.

Get this book here.

6. The Courage to be Disliked

Author: Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga
Genre: Psychology

Image: Goodreads

Before we begin, let me make it clear that The Courage To Be Disliked is not a self-help book. Rather, it tells us that we do not need to rely on external sources of happiness when everything we need to be happy lies within our own hearts. Happiness is an inherent choice one needs to make every day.

The book is told in the form of a conversation between a youth and a philosopher. It outlines some important tenets of the psychology of the Austrian psychiatrist Alfred Adler and explains them in a way that is not only relatable but also applicable in our day-to-day lives.

How this book helped me

Here are 7 of the most important lessons I learned from this book and how they helped make my life better-

  1. Past trauma can impact our lives only as much as we let them. In other words, life isn’t something that is given to us. It is what WE make of what all we have.
  2. Anger is a fabricated construct. If we remain clear-headed, we can communicate whatever emotions we are feeling without the use of anger.
  3. We like to tell ourselves “life-lie”s so that we don’t have to face whatever it is we are trying to run from. For example, a person who isn’t very interested in familial responsibilities will tell themselves the lie that they are a workaholic.
  4. Horizontal relationships (where everyone is walking on equal ground, only their pace is different) should be cultivated with all the people around us, and not vertical relationships (akin to a ladder where one has to pull the ones ahead on them down so they can climb up).
  5. As long as one feels one is contributing to society, one will have a solid sense of self-worth.
  6. Separation of tasks is important. If we understand clearly what is our task and what is someone else’s, it will save us a lot of time and energy we would have otherwise spent trying to teach them how to do their job better.
  7. True freedom is when a person no longer cares what others think of them. In other words, true freedom lies in the courage to be disliked.

Get this book here.

7. Zero to One

Author: Peter Thiel
Genre: Entrepreneurship.

Image: Goodreads

This book changed my mindset about entrepreneurship. The core idea is that if you copy the already successful people, you’re effectively repeating what the world already knows.

In essence, you’re taking them from 1 to n, i.e., adding more of something familiar. However, if you create something completely new, you’re taking the world from o to 1. You’re establishing something no one had thought of before. This can be a product, a service, or your own niche in the field you’re working on. Going from 0 to 1 is the guaranteed way to make your business succeed. This book teaches you how to do that.

“The most valuable businesses of coming decades will be built by entrepreneurs who seek to empower people rather than try to make them obsolete.”

How this book helped me

Peter Thiel encouraged me to have unorthodox ideas and not be afraid of holding on to them. If I do what everyone else is doing, there’s no way I’ll succeed.

But if I innovate and think out of the box, I’ll be the queen — a pioneer — in my category.

Get this book here

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