12 Essay Collections By Women To Get You Through Your 20s

During "the defining decade," it's nice to have some literary commiserators.

Supposedly, your third decade of life (that is, ages 20–30) is one of your most crucial. During that time, it feels like you’re generally supposed to figure out your career, your outlook on life, your love situation, your family plans — no pressure.

Luckily, if you’re in the midst of doing more flailing than to-do-list-checking during these years, there are plenty of people who’ve come before to commiserate, elucidate or simply provide a few laughs through the churning waters of young adulthood.

Behold, 12 great essay collections by women that are perfect for the 20-something in your life (which may be, well, you).

Scaachi Koul, "One Day We'll All Be Dead And None Of This Will Matter"
Scaachi Koul — a BuzzFeed writer who also played a part in the endearing and odd social-experiment CBC podcast "Sleepover" — has an irreverent, hilarious and searing view on life, encapsulated in her debut essay collection. From her experiences as the child of Indian immigrant parents in Canada, to the very real realities of being a woman harassed online, her prose is illuminating, smart and a good encapsulation of what it means to be young and female in the early 21st century.

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Audre Lorde, "Sister Outsider"
Crossing Press
Consider Sister Outsider the cornerstone of your personal feminist theory; Lorde's nonfiction writing on the topic was groundbreaking and influential to today's modern movements when it was published in 1984. Her focus on intersectionality — and her position as both an ally and an outsider by virtue of her race, sexuality, gender and motherhood offer a wide-ranging scope of ideas to chew on.

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Sloane Crosley, "I Was Told There'd Be Cake"
Nowadays, the title of this essay collection feels like it could be slapped on a T-shirt and make a killing at Forever 21, but when Crosley published this confessional, witty collection on what it was like to be young and fallible in the big city in 2008, it felt totally new. Crosley's observations about life are wry and poignant; feel a tear in your eye and wonder if it was from mirth or just from feeling heard.

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Roxane Gay, "Bad Feminist"
If you've yet to encounter Roxane Gay's illuminating, funny and thoughtful writing, now is the time. In this best-selling collection, the author ruminates on the modern state of feminism and her experiences as a woman of color in a voice that is both learned and accessible.

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Chloe Caldwell, "I'll Tell You in Person"
Coffee House Press
Sometimes you don't need a book to tell you about how to live your life, but instead to pull the curtain back on all of its messiness. Caldwell writes candidly and confessionally, covering the ebb and flow of close friendships, addictions, obsessions and professions. Reading this feels as though you're poring through the emails of a close confidant, one you hope will keep letting slip secrets about growing up.

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Leslie Jamison, "The Empathy Exams"
How should we care about each other? It's a question Jamison asks over and over again in her varied essay collection, covering experiences like endurance races and diseases of dubious legitimacy, as well as her own emotional landscape. This is the kind of book that will make you feel like a better person for reading it, and quickly press your copy into the first friend you see once it's done.

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Rebecca Solnit, "A Field Guide to Getting Lost"
"Lost" is essentially how you feel after the pomp of graduation fades away; summer passes, there's no school to return to and now the semi-arduous, often circuitous process of becoming oneself must begin. Allow Solnit to guide you through the various modes of being lost, wandering from topic to topic with a philosophical eye and a diarist's attention to detail.

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Alana Massey, "All the Lives I Want"
Grand Central Publishing
In our 20s, whether at college or in the hazy years thereafter, we have an opportunity to try on different personas: who to be, how to comport our lives. Massey takes this notion and filters it through a pop culture lens, turning the phenomenon surrounding celebrities who often grace Us Weekly and the like into thoughtful musing on public selves, choice and notoriety.

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Issa Rae, "The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl"
If you've recently spent time bingeing HBO's Insecure, you'll be delighted to know there's plenty of Issa Rae's brilliance in book form, too. In her essay collection, Rae expands on her experience being, well, awkward and black, peppering her hilarious tales of early cybersex or eating out alone with razor-sharp insights on self-acceptance.

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Chelsea Martin, "Caca Dolce"
Soft Skull Press
Martin, a writer who's earned a cult following with her books Mickey and Even Though I Don't Miss You, turns to nonfiction in her debut essay collection, bringing her irreverent voice to tales of childhood, crushes, art school and the California town she grew up in where people just can't seem to leave. "I stopped using spoons one day," Martin writes in an essay about high school. "I was becoming weird, I knew. And it didn't seem like the good kind of weird, like the eccentric arty weird that could be appreciated by other people." If you can relate, pick this one up.

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Durga Chew-Bose, "Too Much and Not the Mood"
Chew-Bose begins her collection of thoughtful, poetic internet-era observations with a rumination about a never-used emoji, spinning a throwaway piece of modern communication into a resonant perspective on the act of being alive, one that extends for nearly half of her book. The rest of her essays contain the same hypnotic prose she uses to speak about growing up, having her name misheard by Starbucks baristas and new acquaintances alike, living in the city, and the ever-present compulsion to document life.

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Joan Didion, "Slouching Towards Bethlehem"
It seems that Joan Didion should go without mentioning, but it'd also be tragic to leave her off this list.In Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Didion chronicles America in the 1960s, homing in on California. Inside, there's also the landmark essay "Goodbye to All That," a must-read for anyone who's imagined crashing into a new city like a wave only to slowly recede from its view once again.

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