Quarter Life Crisis — My List of Most Influential Books

(that helped me through)

In your twenties, a lot of things change. But even more than that, your perception changes. For some, this leads to frustration, angst or a full-blown identity crisis. Over the past few years, social media has helped classify this popular phenomenon under the term Quarter Life Crisis:

The quarter-life crisis is a period of life ranging from twenties to thirties, in which a person begins to feel doubtful about their own lives, brought on by the stress of becoming an adult.

Wondering if you’re experiencing this? Check here. Pretty sure this sounds familiar? Read on to find out what books I’ve found most impactful in this period of my life.

“I’m sick of just liking people. I wish to God I could meet somebody I could respect.”

Before anybody had thought-up the term Quarter Life Crisis, there was a shy American writer who wrote a book about teenage angst. The Catcher in the Rye still is one of the internationally most-read novels of all time and hits the spot for many teenagers. However, there is a pendant for grumpy twenty-somethings as well: Salinger’s Franny and Zooey. This short book mainly consists of dialogues between the two main characters, that are somewhat both living through a critical time in the process of growing up. Even though the story was written over half a century ago, it’s incredibly relatable for everyone that is questioning their purpose and existence.

J. D. Salinger

“It was nice standing out in the darkness, in the damp grass, with spring coming on and a feeling in my heart of imminent disaster.”

I wrote a review of Chabon’s Wonder Boys on my blog a few months ago but felt the need to mention it again in this context. Even though the book deals with characters beyond their twenties, it has a unique way of questioning life’s purpose, creativity, and personal development. The story emphasizes the importance of having the right people around you, supporting you in order to achieve, grow, and be happy — an obvious truth that I see both myself and other fellow twenty-somethings often struggle with.

“It’s never the changes we want that change everything.”

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is a brutal book touching upon many different topics. There are hundreds of ways to interpret this book. For me, however, it was mainly about how the way people deal with childhood traumas influences their entire life. Even though the book deals with very serious issues (e.g. rape and murder), I believe that every small trauma can have a huge impact on personality and hence decision making, something that I find myself reflecting upon more and more during my twenties.

I found this book to be somewhat a reminder to deal with painful things and to acknowledge where you’re coming from and why you feel the way you feel. On another note, why hasn’t this been turned into a movie yet? It’s perfect material.

“Youth ends when egotism does; maturity begins when one lives for others.”

Now, Herman Hesse is probably my favorite German author. He’s the top reason I’d recommend anyone to learn German, as his lyrical language is out of this world. He devoted the majority of his work to questioning purpose and dealing with existential crisis — and honestly, any of his novels and short stories will make you feel fuzzy and warm if you’re experiencing any form of personal development pain.

I’ve recently (re-)read Gertrude (on a plane to Paris) and found myself sighing and nodding approvingly more than just a few times. Again, the main character finds himself struggling with becoming an adult. Besides questioning his own decisions and creative ability, he deals with his lack of confidence and other personal shortcomings. As the book follows his life over many years, the character development is very tangible and somewhat comforting. A quick and touching read.

“I exaggerate a lot and I get fiction and reality mixed up, but I don’t actually ever lie.”

Lucia Berlin is an inspirational female author as it is and I recommend reading her work no matter how old you are. Her Manual for Cleaning Women was a very painful but rewarding read during the past months. In this collection of short stories, her characters experience both normal and abnormal situations, always told from Lucia’s unique, emotional perspective. I found this book very empowering. Some of her stories will stick with you for a long time. I believe one of Lucia’s stories and 20 minutes in a bathtub can give any mind the rest it needs.

“He was 10 years old and he was so slow, he couldn’t catch a ball.”

The Discovery of Slowness was a tough read for me because as the title suggests, the book is a slow read. However, I was able to take away important learnings by following the life of the main character. The story has been an inspiration for me to be more patient and not put myself under too much pressure. As the pressure I put on myself is the main pain point in my personal Quarter Life Crisis, this was a very important book for me to read and I highly recommend sticking with it until the end for anyone struggling with similar feelings of not being fast enough.

“Sometimes you climb out of bed in the morning and you think, I’m not going to make it, but you laugh inside — remembering all the times you’ve felt that way.”

To conclude this list — are you into poetry? Well even if you aren’t, Bukowski helps me feel understood in any kind of crisis. I often catch myself grabbing The Pleasures of the Damned from my bedside table when I’m having a rough night. The only person I find getting close to him in terms of relatability is the dear Rupi Kaur — her Milk and Honey being a must-read for twenty-something poetry lovers.

Other books worth mentioning:

  • Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan (short, sweet & tragic)
  • The Physicists by Friedrich Dürrenmatt (smart!)
  • Stoner by John Edward Williams (“the greatest American novel you’ve never heard of”)
  • Faust I and II by Johan Wolfgang von Goethe (masterpiece, read no matter what crisis you’re having)
  • My Struggle Series by Karl Ove Knausgaard (long, difficult books full of beauty; a life-long coming of age story)

I’m Nicole, a writer and marketer based in Stockholm. I grew up in the U.S. with German parents and 3 younger sisters. Now I have 2 french bulldogs and work for Hyper Island.

Read more by me here on medium. You can also read my poetry here. Want me to write for you? Click here.