I’m a vehement proponent that everything you need to know about life, you can find in a book. Now, that doesn’t mean sitting at home with your nose in Lord of the Rings is a substitute for good, ol’ fashioned experience. No, there are some things you just can’t learn from a book. But there’s something powerful and useful about learning from fictional people’s mistakes.
We all know adulting is hard, and entering the “real world” after your college graduation is possibly the most daunting thing you’ve faced in your life thus far. Decisions must be made about your career, your love life, where you’re going to live, and that big question: what the hell you’re going to do with the rest of your life, and how you’re going to do it. These books can help you along.
They’re filled with characters who grew up in big ways, characters who faced diversity and had to figure out who they were, and fast. They’re also filled with some beautiful, sparkling quotes you can keep in mind to boost your morale whenever adulting gets too hard. These books, and the people in them, can make that transition into true adulthood just a little bit smoother.
1. I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith
This is a coming-of-age story about Cassandra, a young woman living in a moldering castle in 1930s England. She falls in love with her sister’s fiance and must face both bitter heartbreak and immense life changes at a young age. Going through a difficult post-grad breakup or moving to an entirely new city? Cassandra’s charming naivete and startling wisdom will be balm for your adult soul.
Favorite Quote: “Even a broken heart doesn’t warrant a waste of good paper.”
2. Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
Say what you want about the infamous Scarlett O’Hara, but this girl did not back down. The lesson here is that if the Civil War and the Reconstruction are getting you down, you have nothing else to rely on but yourself. Scarlett went through the ultimate in adversity, and even though she was helped along by friends, she could only build back what she had with her own two hands. Scarlett’s tenacity, stubbornness, and ruthlessness are strangely very inspiring. You can overcome anything with strength.
Favorite Quote: “Burdens are for shoulders strong enough to carry them.”
3. A Room With a View, E.M. Forster
Lucy Churchill of A Room With a View knows how hard it is to compromise societal expectations with what your heart wants. Lucy falls in love with an “inappriopriate” man at the turn of the century but convinces herself she’s not just to suit her family’s wishes. This is a perfect book to make you ignore what other people think about your life choices, as we all know dat twenty-something life is filled with people just waiting for judge you for your decisions.
Favorite Quote: “Let yourself go. Pull out from the depths those thoughts that you do not understand, and spread them out in the sunlight and know the meaning of them.”
4. On the Road, Jack Kerouac
On the Road is the ultimate in rebellious fiction. Sorry, Jack. Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady travel through North America trying to get away from society, culture and responsibility. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with life and having to make important life decisions, On the Road is both a great escape and a way to put your life in focus and perspective. You have the power to change things.
Favorite Quote: “Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.”
5. The Marriage Plot, Jeffrey Eugenides
LOVE IS HARD, GUYS. Jeffrey Eugenides knows that. Read this book when your love life is complicated or nonexistent. It will teach you that everyone has it exactly this hard. It’ll also teach you how to figure out what you’re feeling: are you in love or just comfortable? Is your S.O. treating you poorly and you’re too sotted to leave? Madeleine Hanna knows.
Favorite Quote: “He remained heartbroken, which meant one of two things: either his love was pure and true and earthshakingly significant; or he was addicted to feeling forlorn, he liked being heartbroken.”
6. This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald’s semi-autobiographical first novel is neither as glossy or as glitzy as everyone’s fave Gatsby, but there’s some crazy and scary truisms here about growing up and figuring out who you are and who you’ll be. Amory Blaine falls in love again and again, deals with his parents, friends and tragedies, and comes out stronger, wiser, and a little less childish.
Favorite Quote: “It is not life that’s complicated, it’s the struggle to guide and control life.”
7. Very Good Lives, JK Rowling
Very Good Lives is actually the bound version of JK Rowling’s 2008 commencement address at Harvard. If you feel like you’re just a complete failure at work/life/adulthood, read this for some major uplifting. She talks about how her experience of epic failure was the cornerstone on which she built her life back up. The lesson here is that failure is never the end. Have the courage to believe it’s just another beginning.
Favorite Quote: “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”
8. Bartleby the Scrivener, Herman Melville
Bartleby is your hero on those days you just cannot deal with that cubicle life. Melville’s famous hero Bartleby “would prefer not to” and we can’t help but wish we could do the same thing to our bosses: just refuse to work and see what happens! Live vicariously through Bartleby, though. I don’t suggest you just stop working and live in your office’s hallway and then waste away. Probably won’t be good for your career.
Favorite Quote: “I would prefer not to.” Obviously. Get a work mug with this saying printed on it for bonus points at your office.
9. Les Miserables, Victor Hugo
The timeless classic Les Mis is even more amazing in its novel form. If you’re prepared to skip whole chapters of political rambling that is. Despite the length, Les Mis is an incredible human story about kindness, compassion and selflessly caring for others, even your bitter enemies. Let Jean Valjean’s horrible life teach you that everyone should be treated with kindness, if only to save your own soul.
Favorite Quote: “To love or have loved, that is enough. Ask nothing further. There is no other pearl to be found in the dark folds of life.”
10. The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
Have a dream that you’re too scared to chase? Read The Alchemist, if you haven’t already. This fable-like novel is the story of Santiago, a poor shepherd who is sent on a mission to Egypt to find treasure. Santiago is pulled along by fate and faith, and ends up finding something completely unexpected. Coelho’s simple and enchanting story makes it obvious that nothing is impossible to achieve if you have faith and work hard.
Favorite Quote: “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”