30 Books Every Woman Should Tick Off Her Reading List Before Turning 30

The marie claire Australia team share their picks.

Different books come into your life at different points, offering a chance to laugh, cry, learn or just escape from the world entirely. The beautiful thing about books is that you can read the same one multiple times throughout your life and take away something different each time. The book hasn’t changed, but you have. 

Reading can be a highly personal thing (let’s be real, there’s a reason book clubs exist) — because the entire experience of reading a book is dramatically improved when we share with one another. In taking a recommendation from a friend or stranger, or being gifted a book you would never have considered reading, we open ourselves up to a new way of thinking entirely, which can come in handy at certain life stages. 

Your twenties are a chaotic, messy life chapter that’ll see you making major decisions, suffering through heartbreak, laughing until your sides hurt and making memories that’ll define who you are. Given the aforementioned messiness, it’s also a time where you’ll likely question everything, so it doesn’t hurt to have a stack of books in your arsenal that can act like a guiding light. 

In that spirit, the marie claire Australia team put their heads together to brainstorm 30 books we’ve loved that we would recommend someone read before they turn 30. From hard-hitting non-fiction to fiction that’ll make you laugh and cry, there’s a wide range in here that everyone (no matter your taste) can enjoy. 

Below, 30 books you should read before you turn 30. 

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

‘The Kite Runer’, by Khaled Hosseini.

You know those books that seem like they’re about one thing, but they’re actually about something else entirely? This is one of those. With a huge twist in the middle and a heart-wrenching undercurrent that runs throughout, it’s one of those books that will stay with you long after you’ve read it. Following the lives of two young Afghani boys named Amir and Hassan, one event changes the course of their lives entirely, before they majorly intersect in a shocking way. I’ve revisited this book a few times over the years and each time I take away something different. It covers everything from racism to classism, friendship and falling outs, somehow managing to find beauty in the most painful of things Lucy Cocoran, Digital Lifestyle Editor

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Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman

‘Call Me By Your Name’, by Andre Aciman.

A potent and heart wrenching story of love, lust and all the microscopic particles in between set against the backdrop of North Italy in the early 1980s. Equally erotic as it despairing, this modern queer classic is incredibly addictive. It gobbles you up in one mouthful, chews you up and spits you right back out all the while reminding you that there is nothing more powerful than young love — Ava Gilchrist, Digital Fashion Writer. 

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My Body Keeps Your Secrets by Lucia Osborne-Crawley

‘My Body Keeps Your Secrets’, by Lucia Osborne-Crowley.

This book is a searing, heart-shattering and gripping recount about how the female and non-binary body is impacted by trauma, and the run-on long-term implications it can catalyse. In her first memoir, I Choose Elena, Australian writer Lucia Osborne-Crawley recounted her own experience of being violently raped as a teenager and the devastating impact it had on her physical and mental health, and in My Body Keeps Your Secrets, she expands on these themes by interviewing more than 100 people who recount their own experiences of violence and prejudice. She seamlessly collates their stories with her own, ultimately revealing how the pain we internalise and leave unsaid—whether that’s because of shame, fear or unjustified societal stigma—can rewrite our biology. It made me cry, it made me laugh, it opened my eyes to new and important perspectives, and it also proved that there’s a different and incredibly important kind of power in reclaiming painful moments that we might otherwise try to forget. I could not recommend this book enough Jess Pullar, Digital Culture Editor

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A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

‘A Man Called Ove’, by Fredik Backman.

I lent this book to my mother and she then proceeded to lend it to everyone she’s ever met. Her boss currently has it and I don’t anticipate receiving it back for a long while, but that’s okay because I’m spreading the message of A Man Called Ove. The only way I can describe this book is to say it’s about “life.” But that is not descriptive at all, so I’ll say it’s about a cranky, yet loveable, old man called Ove and the bubbly young family that move in next door in his small Swedish town. Plus, Tom Hanks is adapting the novel into a film and it’s guaranteed to be a hit – but the book, as with all adaptations, will always be better  Tina Burke, Social Media Editor. 

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The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

‘The Little Prince’, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

One of the best selling novels of all time, this French novel is as heartbreaking as it is profound. Transcending the test of time, this book is guaranteed to evoke a different emotion and tug at different heartstrings upon each read. Rereading this book as an adult will not only have you grieving your loss of innocence but will equally give you hope for the future Ava Gilchrist, Digital Fashion Writer.

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The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath 

‘The Bell Jar’, by Sylvia Plath.

An undisputable part of the feminist canon, this book is still widely talked about and likely will be until the end of time. There’s a reason it continues to remain relevant despite the world changing at a rapid pace, and it’s because it nails the still deeply-stigmatised, misunderstood topic of mental health, particularly for women.

19-year-old Esther wins a writing stint at New York Magazine and believes it’ll be the start of her dream life, but instead, finds herself unravelling as she grapples with who she really is versus who society wants her to be Lucy Cocoran, Digital Lifestyle Editor

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The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

‘The Great Gatsby’, by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Yes, it’s one of those books many of us were “forced” to read in high school, but I’m not mad about it at all. Set in 1920s NYC, The Great Gatsby looks at wealth, class and the realities of love—particularly pertaining to that of Long Island millionaire Jay Gatsby. His lavish parties and grand gestures were as aspirational as it could get, but there’s a whole lot more to the so-called American Dream than that—and Fitzgerald cracks the illusion like no one else. Huge bonus that Baz Luhrmann made a whole film out of it Jess Pullar, Digital Culture Editor

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The Panic Years by Nell Frizzell

‘The Panic Years’, by Nell Frizzell.

This is the book I tell every single one of my girlfriends who’s asking herself if she should have kids to read. British journalist Nell Frizzell articulates every thought, fear, anxiety and hope I’ve ever had about having children, as well as a few I hadn’t thought of before. Even the phrase “the panic years” is the perfect way to describe that time in your 20s and 30s where every decision is undercut by “well, do I want a baby? And will I be able to have one?” — not to mention the rarely spoken of grief when you find out other people are expecting. It’s brilliant, perfect, and every woman should read. Alex Bruce-Smith, Digital Managing Editor

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Heartburn by Nora Ephron 

‘Heartburn’, by Nora Ephron.

Before Dolly Alderton, there was Nora Ephron. With the unique ability to mesh her own life with fiction and the kind of voice that makes every experience feel universal, she’s one of those authors that will always be treasured. Sure, she may be writing about her divorce from her second husband and I’ve never been married, but somehow every thing she says feels relatable. It’ll make you laugh and think and do all those good things, but it’s a must-read for anyone who has ever loved and lost Lucy Cocoran, Digital Lifestyle Editor

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Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton

‘Everything I Know About Love’, by Dolly Alderton.

It should come as no surprise Dolly Alderton’s hit novel, Everything I Know About Love, has made this list. It seems every woman and their bestie has read, recommended, and adored this read—for good reason. Relatable in a way that fiction never truly can be, but with the story-telling lure of a page-turning novel, Dolly recounts the pain, joy and everything in between that comes with navigating love, heartbreak, friendship, work and sex in your 20s  Maddison Hockey, Shopping & Partnerships Editor

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The Secret History by Donna Tartt

‘The Secret History’, by Donna Tartt.

Donna Tartt’s acclaimed novel about a group of classics students at a New England liberal arts college (fictional, but loosely based on Tartt’s own alma mater Bennington College) is one of my favourite books of all time. It’s a twist on the classic murder whodunnit, because we learn who dies and who is responsible right from the opening pages; the real question is why. It’s a novel about class, love, obsession and dysfunction that I’ve read and reread, and is always my first answer when people ask “what should I read”. (It’s slightly controversial, because half my book club hated this one, but unfortunately their opinions are wrong.) Alex Bruce-Smith, Digital Managing Editor

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My Year Of Rest And Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

‘My Year of Rest and Relaxation’, by Ottessa Moshfegh.

Ottessa Moshfegh satirically examines the pitfalls of excessive consumption, loss and materialism in Y2K New York. The narrator, who is unbearably unlikeable as she is relatable, and her plight to succumb to a pseudo-depression by sleeping away her issues is hair-raising and thrilling story of the lengths we go to assimilate, isolate and self-destruct in the pursuit of tending to our ‘sad girl’ desires Ava Gilchrist, Digital Fashion Writer.

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Between Two Kingdoms by Suleika Jaouad 

‘Between Two Kingdoms’, by Suleika Jaouad.

They say that the only certain thing in life is uncertainty, and this is something that nails that concept on the head perfectly. Suleika was diagnosed with leukemia at age 22 and spent the next five years inside hospital walls, undergoing invasive treatments and wondering if it was all even worth it. By the time she went into remission at age 27, she’d forgotten what it felt like to actually live her life. While most of us can’t relate to that degree, feeling directionless (especially in your twenties) is something we can all understand. As Suleika speaks to other people who have beaten death and managed not only to just exist but to really live, you won’t be able to help but draw inspiration from their bravery — Lucy Cocoran, Digital Lifestyle Editor

Read here. 

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

‘High Fidelity’, by Nick Hornby

Based on a 30-something guy who owns a record store, this isn’t the kind of story you’d expect a woman in her early 20s to relate to… except I did. Nick Hornby has a brilliant way of making even the most simple human interactions seem significant, as well as putting things into neat perspective. After the main character Rob finds himself single, he unintentionally ends up on a journey of self-discovery by revisiting each of his past relationships and ultimately coming to understand what’s behind his fear of commitment. It’s one of those books that’ll make you laugh out loud at the ridiculousness of life, while also pointing out the genuine, unabashed joy in the mundane. I’ll reread this for years to come Jess Pullar, Digital Culture Editor.

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1984 by George Orwell

‘1984’, by George Orwell.

This quintessential dystopian thriller is a required read. Exploring themes of surveillance, rebellion, control, totalitarianism and censorship, this book becomes more and more relevant and poignant as you get older and become aware how inextricably linked the role of government, technology and secrecy has in our everyday lives. Given the novel was published during post-war Europe, the book’s message is incredibly powerful when you read it in the context of its time. This book will teach you to think critically and question everything: an important lesson for everyone to learn Ava Gilchrist, Digital Fashion Writer.

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Burnout by Emily and Amelia Nagoski 

‘Burnout’, by Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski

I always joke that I’m in my tired-girl era but honestly, I’m bloody tired. While the term ‘burnout‘ has been around since the 70s, it’s only recently that we’ve truly begun to understand what it is and how it can impact us, especially women. The amount of head noise we’re forced to endure around our bodies, careers and everything in-between can feel overwhelming at times, and this book breaks it all down in an easily digestible, helpful way, with tools to help. Honestly, I wish I’d read it years ago Lucy Cocoran, Digital Lifestyle Editor

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An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

‘An American Marriage’, by Tayari Jones

I discovered this book on Obama’s 2018 Reading List and devoured it while holidaying in Croatia one summer. The book dissects the effects of a wrongful conviction on a young African-American couple, thoughtfully capturing the slow dissolution of a relationship over 12 years Harriet Sim, Print Features Writer. 

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Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

‘Three Women’, by Lisa Taddeo.

It’s rare that a work of non-fiction reads like fiction, but in this case, it does. This one follows the lives of three very different women as they navigate everything from love and sex to careers and health. Lina, Maggie and Sloane don’t have much in common, but they’re bound by a very universal experience — pain. It’s a book that’ll affect you even if you don’t draw any parallels between yourself and any of the characters involved, because it makes you feel a lot less alone in a world that can sometimes feel cruel and unrelenting. Trust me, this is one worth picking up Lucy Cocoran, Digital Lifestyle Editor

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The Barefoot Investor by Scott Pape

‘The Barefoot Investor’, by Scott Pape.

Really, I’d recommend any personal finance book here — but The Barefoot Investor is the one I read (although Victoria Devine’s She’s On The Money is on my list). Understanding and taking control of your finances is so, so important, and your 20s is the best time to do it, before mortgages, kids, and while you can maximise the most out of your super. The Barefoot Investor isn’t a perfect book — there’s a few references I raised an eyebrow at — but it’s practical, easy-to-understand advice on taking control of your money Alex Bruce-Smith, Digital Managing Editor

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Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez

‘Invisible Women’, by Carolien Criado Perez.

This isn’t a book I would normally pick up as I don’t love things that are filled with facts and figures, but given the subject matter I was immediately intrigued. Basically, it outlines all the major sectors (from health and media to government and the workplace) where women are disadvantaged and the way that it impacts us, even in ways we might not expect. A really important piece of work that every woman would benefit from reading Lucy Cocoran, Digital Lifestyle Editor

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Catch And Kill by Ronan Farrow

‘Catch and Kill’, by Ronan Farrow.

An eye-opening account of the investigation and eventual exposure of Harvey Weinstein’s alleged rape and sexual assault of multiple women, journalist Ronan Farrow takes you behind the scenes of one of the biggest breaking stories in recent history in Catch And Kill. He provides a confronting insight into the surveillance, deception and intimidation tactics that silenced victims and stamped out any chance of media coverage, eventually revealing how the story finally came to be published. It’s a disturbing, but important read not only about how Weinstein’s behavior was kept quiet for decades, but also how publishing houses can catch and kill stories just as quickly — Jess Pullar, Digital Culture Editor. 

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Eggshell Skull by Bri Lee

‘Eggshell Skull’, by Bri Lee.

We’re all aware that Australia has major problems in the prosecution of sexual assault, but unfortunately, it’s far from an easy one to fix. This is one of those books that people should be reading regardless of how deep your interest in said problem is, because it’s something that affects us all. Bri Lee has the unique ability to speak about unspeakable trauma in a way that doesn’t feel all-consuming while still making a very powerful point. Weaving in her own reckoning with something that happened to her during childhood, she navigates Australia’s legal system from the outside (as a victim) and from the inside (as a judge’s associate). Her story will stick with you Lucy Cocoran, Digital Lifestyle Editor

Read here. 

Lord Of The Flies by William Golding

‘Lord of the Flies’, by William Golding.

Written in 1954, this book explores the innate instincts ingrained in humanity against the backdrop of a group of school boys marooned on an island. The boys descent into savagery while questioning their morality, or lack of, is a haunting and introspective read that will have you returning to again and again Ava Gilchrist, Digital Fashion Writer.

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Men Who Hate Women: The Truth about Extreme Misogyny and How It Affects Us All by Laura Bates

‘Men Who Hate Women’, by Laura Bates.

Whenever someone walks into my room, this is almost always the book that catches their eye based on the title alone. It’s pretty confronting but that’s the entire point — it’s designed to start discourse and debate around a very real, very important topic. It looks at how society is conditioning young teenage boys, how secret communities are waging a war against women and how misogyny (extreme or otherwise) can manifest in a myriad of dangerous ways. The author talks to experts, former members of these terrifying groups and the people actively fighting against them to paint a holistic picture of the problem, along with practical ways we can stop it Lucy Cocoran, Digital Lifestyle Editor

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Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

‘Northhanger Abbey’, by Jane Austen.

You guys…. Jane Austen is funny. That was the lesson I learned reading Northanger Abbey in high school and I’ve been obsessed with it ever since. Much like Jane’s other classic reads, Northanger Abbey is a coming-of-age novel centred around a leading lady navigating society – in this case, the naiive Catherine Morland is trying to find her way in the world. But it’s also a satire, poking fun at gothic novels and the female protagonists who star in them. Not to mention, there’s a cute leading man (and unlike Mr Darcy he doesn’t try to flirt with her by yelling about her inferiority if birth)  Tina Burke, Social Media Editor. 

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The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

‘The Great Believers’, by Rebecca Makkai.

Set between 1980s Chicago and modern-day Paris, The Great Believers follows a group of friends navigating the 1980s AIDS crisis, and the impact it continued to have on survivors decades later. It delves into the trauma it caused, while tracking the human strength—and great love—that rose up to meet it. It was one of those books that took a brief second to get my head around, but by the time it was, I was deeply, wholeheartedly emotionally invested, so much so that by the time I turned the last page I was a tear-soaked mess (and I’m not usually a book / movie / TV show crier!). This book is so worthy of a read  Jess Pullar, Digital Culture Editor

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What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About by Michele Filgate 

What My Mother And I Don’t Talk About, edited by Michele Filgate.

“Our mothers are our first homes, and that’s why we’re always trying to return to them.”

No matter your relationship, everyone on earth has a mother. This book is great for people who get bored easily and enjoy a different tone of voice throughout one book, because fifteen writers have contributed their own stories and experiences with their mothers into the mix. These anecdotes range from people who are estranged from their mothers to people whose mothers tell them far too much. No matter your relationship with your own, there’s something to be taken from each one of these stories Lucy Cocoran, Digital Lifestyle Editor

Read here. 

How To Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell

‘How To Murder Your Life’, by Cat Marnell.

Admittedly, a lot of my interest in this book comes from the fact that I work in media, but I’ve recommended it to non-industry friends who have loved it just as much. Marnell’s memoir covers her time working as a beauty editor at one of America’s biggest magazines, her struggle with addiction and an eating disorder, her complicated family and love life and basically, how everything fell apart. Big trigger warning as there are a lot of heavy themes throughout, but she never makes you feel suffocated by it. It’s a really great read, especially for women in media Lucy Cocoran, Digital Lifestyle Editor

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Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding

‘Bridget Jones’ Diary’, by Helen Fielding

Obviously the movie is a classic, but you know what else is a classic? The book. (I’m very smart.) It’s a wild read in 2022, what with all the references to smoking, the outdated technology, and the fact that Bridget spends most of it in a tizzy about her weight because she’s not Kate Moss-levels of skinny. (Seriously, if you struggle with disordered eating, then Bridget Jones needs a major content warning.) But it’s some of the most exceptionally funny writing that has ever been or will ever be published. Helen Fielding is a god. Bridget Jones was the blueprint for early 30s women getting through life and f–king it up a little bit, and that reason alone is enough to add this one to your reading list Alex Bruce-Smith, Digital Managing Editor

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The New Me by Halle Butler 

‘The New Me’, by Halle Butler.

I picked up this book because it was described by someone on Goodreads as great for ‘taking comfort in the absurd misery of someone else’s life.’ While that sounds incredibly dark, it’s about the relatability of a female character who has no clue what she’s doing and whose life is, at times, comically bad. It follows the life of Millie, a depressed 33-year-old who hates her temp job, before being offered a full-time job that promises to change her life. 

The characters are mostly female and it nails the feelings of malaise that office life can bring for many of us, but, as with all good books, there’s a twist. It’s not a happy read, but it’s an intriguing one Lucy Cocoran, Digital Lifestyle Editor

Read here. 

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