In the new book Twentysomething: Why Do Young Adults Seem Stuck?, the mother-daughter team of Robin Marantz Henig and Samantha Henig explores the difficulties facing young people in today's society--including identity exploration, instability, and self-focus. Do yourself a favor and pick up the book, as well as some of these 10 books, selected by the Henigs, which will help get the twentysomething in your life on the right track.
The most uplifting news we've read recently about Millennials, the one that counters all the negative stereotypes about them as lazy, entitled, narcissistic, and shallow, is that they love books. In fact, a survey reported last summer noted that Millennials buy more books than Baby Boomers (30% of total sales for Millennials versus 24% for Boomers). The future of civilization is assured.
And in their typically self-obsessed way -- one generalization that's probably true, because it's developmentally appropriate to spend time thinking about yourself at a stage in life when your main task is figuring yourself out -- Millennials are probably buying books about other twentysomethings, the more disaffected the better. If they're not, they should be, because what better way to get through a period of uncertainty and shifting enthusiasms than to read great literature about characters doing pretty much the same thing?
Here are 10 of our favorites.
1. Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris - One thing about the twenties is how much you want to be part of a group, even when the group consists of a random hodgepodge of the people you work with. This smart office tragicomedy is narrated in first person plural throughout, and yet Ferris manages not to make it feel like a gimmick. The result is a richer understanding of the culture of work.
2. The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe - If Ferris’s novel is the precursor to “The Office,” then Jaffe's is the forerunner of “Mad Men” -- with a hint of “Sex and the City” thrown in. Three young women (an Ivy Leaguer, a country beauty, and a troubled actress) try to make it in New York in 1958, struggling with the typical twentysomething woes of heartache and career laments as well as the oppressive glass ceiling of the era.
3. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath - And speaking of work, this autobiographical novel about Plath's summer as a magazine intern is almost a cliché to mention here -- except that it perfectly captures the feeling of being young and at a crossroads. So perfectly, in fact, that we actually used an excerpt from The Bell Jar as the epigraph for our book Twentysomething. In that passage, Plath writes about imagining herself sitting in the crotch of a fig tree, surrounded by juicy figs that represent all her options as writer, traveler, wife, mother, athlete, lover, dozens of different paths her life could take. Leave it to Plath to capture the essential quandary: "choosing one meant losing all the rest."
4. Free Food for Millionaires by Min Jin Lee - Choices about work, school, and romance are at the heart of this juicy novel about a group of young people in Manhattan and their families, many of whom are Korean immigrants. Lee (who happens to be a close friend of ours) captures their struggles, uncertainty, and heartache in vivid detail; sometimes the characters feel so real you want to shake them to make them realize how badly they're screwing up.
5. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen - This is a sprawling family novel, dealing with crises across the age range, but the turmoil of one character in particular, the younger sister Denise, are worth the price of admission. Franzen details Denise's evolution from slacker to restaurateur, from straight to bi, in a way that captures all the struggles inherent in the "quarterlife crisis" of someone who worries that she's made all the wrong choices and is living someone else's life.