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15 Books All 20 Somethings Should Read To Know More About The World

15 Books All 20 Somethings Should Read To Know More About The World

Fresh shoots tentatively probe the air while their roots have yet to find purchase. The more firmly they are rooted, the more boldly they stretch their new leaves toward the sun. So it is with the intellect of youth. As yet unburdened by the life-weary prejudices of their seniors, their powerful imaginations and desire for knowledge are unguided by the wisdom which can only be attained with experience.

Books are a short cut to experience. Books merge centuries together, granting the wisdom of ages to those with the strength of will to grasp it. People in their twenties can bring meaning and direction to their lives by learning through literature, how others have coped with this difficult time of life.

These 15 books will help you transcend the your experiences and gain a deeper understanding of human nature – and who you want to be:

1. Hamlet – William Shakespeare

hamlet

    Don’t be put off by the fact that this is Shakespeare’s longest play. For hundreds of years, actors, writers and critics have celebrated this as one of the greatest works in human history. Four centuries years after it was written and Hamlet remains as relevant to young people as it ever was. By setting the play in Denmark about 1000 years before he was born, Shakespeare ensured that it remains eternal, belonging to the ages.

    Prince Hamlet has been an inspirational figure for generations; a brilliant young man, tortured by indecision, existential angst and the frustration of a humiliating fate.

    The skill with which Shakespeare depicts psychological themes such as madness, vengeance, love, suicide, duty and emotional torment are timeless. If ever you have felt it hard to describe the internal strife of youth, then you will find a kindred spirit in Prince Hamlet of Denmark.

    2. The Odyssey – Homer

    homer

      Like Hamlet, The Odyssey depicts a noble young man missing his Father and lamenting the fact that he is too young to defend his family’s honour. The young Telemachus laments the death of his heroic father Odysseus, who is in fact living in captivity on a faraway island. In his absence, Telemachus must fend off a horde of suitors who, hoping to win his Mother’s affections, have taken up residence in their home and are driving him to poverty with their appetite for food and wine.
      The ancient poem was composed about 2800 years ago and along with The Iliad, represents the beginning of the Western canon. It is amazing to think that all Western literature began with this book, and that the themes remain so compelling to this day. Sex, war and gods are all enjoyable subjects but the deep emotions and noble motivations of the human characters leave a more lasting impression.

      3. Patriotism – Yukio Mishima

      mishima patriot

        A short but powerful Japanese story which presents a dramatically different attitude to love and death than most people in their twenties are accustomed to. Lieutenant Shinji Takeyama and his 23 year old wife, Reiko, both commit ritualistic suicide in response to a mutiny against the Imperial Army. Shinji is implicated by association and out of love for both his emperor and his comrades, chooses to commit seppuku. His devoted and adoring young wife is immediately resolved to join him in death.

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        The short story uses evocative, poetic language to paint a picture of the mundanity of their apartment and the weather outside in contrast to the deeply noble ideals which the couple seek to embody in their extraordinary actions. They make love one final time before death. A scene in which Mishima beautifully portrays the depth of their emotions without compromising the refined dignity of the traditional Japanese culture.

        4. A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole

        confederacyofdunces

          This hilarious, insightful but tragic novel wasn’t published until 11 years after the author, who was convinced he was a failure, had committed suicide. Walker Percy, another great Southern writer of the 20th century, said that the protagonist is “in violent revolt against the entire modern age.”

          The plot revolves around Ignatius J Reilly; a highly articulate and intelligent man at the end of his twenties who, due to his slothful disposition and awkward social habits, is unemployed and living with his Mother in New Orleans. He is a man whose lofty ideals, aristocratic bearing and love of medieval philosophy render him an absurd anomaly in a tacky world in which he is reduced to selling hot dogs on the streets.

          Despite being partially autobiographical, the author pokes fun at Ignatius’ provincial outlook, repressed sexuality and fear of change. This is done in an affectionate way, for the real object of scorn in the novel is not Ignatius, but the society which fails to accommodate him. A must read for any twenty-something who feels trapped in the wrong era.

          5. Notes from Underground – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

          notesfrom

            If ever you have felt socially awkward, introverted or unable to properly assert yourself, then you will sympathize with the protagonist of this famous Russian novella. The existentialist theme and the unnamed protagonist’s inability to act are reminiscent of Hamlet. He is a retired civil servant, paralyzed by his own paranoia, ennui and laziness. It is his own quest for virtue which prevents him from acting and renders him impotent in this sense. He resents self interested altruism and represents rebellion against the cultural dysfunction one inherits with adulthood.

            His obsessive hatred of society and those he sees as representative of it reduce him to a pitiful wretch, incapable of making a difference to the lives of those around him. This short story serves as a warning to those in their twenties who are at times overwhelmed by their dissatisfaction with society. It is better to direct such feelings to practical ends, or else be consumed by them.

            6. A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess

            clockworkorange

              The streets in the dystopian future of this prophetic novel are ruled by gangs of youths for whom rape and theft are a form of entertainment. Time magazine listed it as one of the top 100 novels in the English language. It is particularly relevant to those in their twenties, as it shows not only how the young can be seduced by the allure of drugs, violence and criminality but also that they can find redemption. The book is written from the point of view of Alex, the vicious leader of a gang of rapists, who is also an intelligent and somehow likeable young man.

              His rehabilitation is seized by rival politicians as a means to defame each other. In the end, it is neither social programs nor scientific tests that transform Alex into a functioning member of society, but simply his desire to be good.

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              7. Beyond Good and Evil – Friedrich Nietzsche

              beyondgood

                Reading Nietzsche is one of the best ways that people in their twenties can have their views challenged because he deliberately opposes and attacks all the most deeply held moral convictions of Western society. Whatever your beliefs may be, you are unlikely to agree with everything in this book, but that is the point.

                Nietzsche reveals his vision of the philosopher of the future as the most imaginative, bold and willful type. Abandoning Christianity and denying the existence of any universal morality, he argues that what is good is what gives power to man and raises him up. His work totally revolutionizes philosophy and is therefore particularly attractive for twenty somethings, who looking boldly to the future, wish to dispense with the baggage of convention and falsehood that Western culture has inherited.

                8. The Rum Diary – Hunter S. Thompson

                rumdiary

                  The famously hedonistic journalist, Hunter Thompson, wrote The Rum Diary when he was only 22. Despite his youth, the novel shows his concern with growing old. Semi-autobiographical, the narrative follows a writer named Paul Kemp as he moves from New York to Puerto Rico to work for an expat sports paper.

                  Heavily influenced by Ernest Hemingway, the story reveals the devastating consequences of unrestrained lust and alcoholism. This is particularly poignant when you consider that Thompson remained an addict for his entire life until he committed suicide at the age of 68.

                  9. The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway

                  hemingway

                    Like The Rum Diary, this novel is about alcoholic expats and was written while the author was in his twenties. Set in Paris and Spain during the roaring twenties, it is regarded as one of the first modernist novels and a classic of American literature.

                    The story follows a group of young American and British friends, all heavy drinkers, during their visit to Spain to watch bullfights and the running of the bulls. Twenty somethings will sympathize with the tempestuous relationships that Hemingway portrays between the characters, which were all based on people he knew.

                    10. The Outsider – Colin Wilson

                    outsider

                      At the age of 24, the philosopher Colin Wilson was sleeping rough in London while writing this book in the reading rooms of the British Museum. Wilson identified with “outsider” protagonists from existentialist novels by authors such as Dostoevsky, Camus and Sartre and thought they may hold the key to a new way of thinking.

                      The book is an attempt to construct a new, more positive existentialist philosophy for the modern age by examining literary characters which are somehow above or outside the society in which they emerge. Many old academics were furious that a brilliant young man had written a hugely popular book which so succinctly identifies the problem of human alienation, even going so far as to posit a spiritual solution. Wilson approaches all art and philosophy not through critical theory or any other tired academic convention, but by asking what it says about the meaning of existence.

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                      11. Tropic of Cancer – Henry Miller

                      millercancer

                        This hugely controversial American novel, first published in France in 1934, was banned in the USA until 1964. Despite sex scenes so explicit that they verge on the pornographic, the book is regarded as a masterpiece of 20th century literature.

                        The semi auto-biographical novel is based on New York born Miller’s time living in Paris. The struggling writer faces homelessness, loneliness and despair over his recent separation from his wife. But there also many positive themes, as Miller illuminates the beauty of experience in his writing. Whether on the subject of sex or food, Miller celebrates physical sensation with an almost religious fervor. This unquenchable thirst for life is extraordinarily valuable to anyone in their twenties.

                        12. 1984 – George Orwell

                        1984

                          Since its publication in 1949, this classic novel has seriously altered the way we talk about politics and government. The dystopian story presents a future in which the entire Western world is ruled by a brutal totalitarian socialist government under which all of history is rewritten to support party policy. Even thoughts against the state are deemed criminal.

                          Twenty somethings should read this book, not only because it is so influential in popular culture, but because it depicts a horrible future which could become a reality. It is important for people in their twenties to be conscious of the value and fragility of their hard won freedoms so that a “1984” state can be prevented.

                          13. The Canterbury Tales – Geoffrey Chaucer

                          canterbury tales

                            You may wonder what relevance 14th century literature has to the lives of twenty somethings today. Give it a chance! The Canterbury Tales is a collection of stories, each one told by a different fictional character whilst on a pilgrimage from London to Canterbury in Kent, England.

                            Each of the charming stories demonstrates the different perceptions of reality held by the very different kinds of characters; from the noble knight to the drunken miller. Each story is a sort of morality tale or fable with a message about sex, love, religion, class or other pressing topics. The issues with which the characters are concerned are often as relevant now as they ever were, proving that some things never change.

                            14. The Descent of Man – Charles Darwin

                            darwin

                              Long gone are the days when everybody believed in Adam and Eve and the seven days of creation. But even though many claim to be scientifically minded, few bother to actually read Darwin’s theory on the origin of mankind. Published 12 years after his extremely controversial “On the Origin of Species”, this is the book that actually answers the question of how the human species came to exist.

                              Nearly a century and a half after it was published, we have discovered DNA, mapped the human genome and made many other scientific discoveries, some of which have rendered parts of Darwin’s book redundant. But the core theory of Darwin’s work; that mankind evolved through natural selection and sexual selection from another apelike organism, remains incontestable.

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                              15. The Divine and the Decay – Bill Hopkins

                              hopkins

                                Described by the author’s friend Colin Wilson as one of the most important novels of the 21st century, The Divine and the Decay is sadly neglected because the publisher recalled all known copies and had them destroyed in response to the hysteria of critics.

                                No other novel in recent times has dared look so honestly at the human condition and suggest the herculean will power required to change it. It tells the story of a young English politician who, having arranged the murder of a rival within his party, takes a trip to a tiny island in the English Channel as an alibi. The characters he encounters on the island each symbolize the different types of people with whom he must contend in the world at large. His conflicts with the islanders serve as a critique of the problems of modern Western culture. The protagonist wrestles with self doubt but ultimately overcomes his own weakness in a spectacular and uplifting finale. This novel will raise the spirits of readers in their twenties, filling them with hope and courage as they embark on the journey of life before them.

                                (Please note that this particular book doesn’t come cheap – having not been republished since 1957. Publishers are attempting to get it reprinted but this is a long, slow process.)

                                If you enjoyed this article, check out this similar post on 15 Books For Everyone to Better Their Writing Skills.

                                What are some other books you think that people in their twenties should read? Let us know in the comments.

                                Love this article? Share it with your friends on Facebook.

                                Featured photo credit: wikicommons – Joe Crawford from Moorpark, California, USA via commons.wikimedia.org

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                                Last Updated on March 30, 2020

                                What Does Self-Conscious Mean? (And How to Stop Being It)

                                What Does Self-Conscious Mean? (And How to Stop Being It)

                                Have you ever walked into a room and felt like your nerves simply couldn’t handle it? Your heart beats fast, you start to sweat, and you feel like all eyes are on you (even if they’re really not). This is just one of the many ways that being self-conscious can rear its ugly head.

                                You may not even realize you’re self-conscious, and you may be wondering, “What does self-conscious mean?” That’s a good place to start.

                                This article will define self-consciousness, show how practically everyone has faced it at one point or another, and give you tips to avoid it.

                                What Does Self-Conscious Mean?

                                According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, self-conscious is defined as “conscious of one’s own acts or states as belonging to or originating in oneself.”[1]

                                Not so bad, right? There’s another definition, though — one that speaks more to what you’re going through: “feeling uncomfortably conscious of oneself as an object of the observation of others.” For those of us who regularly deal with extreme self-consciousness, that second definition sounds about right.

                                There are many different ways self-consciousness can spring up. You may feel self-conscious around people you know, like your family members or closest friends. You may feel self-conscious at work, even though you spend hours every week around your co-workers. Or you may feel self-conscious when out in public and surrounded by strangers. However, you probably don’t feel self-conscious when you’re home alone.

                                How to Stop Being Too Self-Conscious

                                When you’re in the throes of self-consciousness, it’s nearly impossible to remember how to stop feeling that way. That’s why it’s so important to prepare ahead of time, when you’re feeling ready to tackle the problem instead of succumbing to it.

                                Here are a variety of ways to feel better about yourself and stop thinking about how others see you.

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                                1. Ask Yourself, “So What?”

                                One way to banish negative, self-conscious thoughts is to do just that: banish them.

                                The next time you walk into a room and feel your face getting red, think to yourself, “So what?” How much does it really matter if people don’t like how you look or act? What’s the worst that could happen?

                                Most of the time, you’ll find that you don’t have a good answer to this question. Then, you can immediately start assigning such thoughts less importance. With self-awareness, you can acknowledge that your negative thoughts are present and realize that you don’t agree with them.[2] They’re just thoughts, after all.

                                2. Be Honest

                                A lie that self-consciousness might tell is that there’s one way to act or feel. Honestly, though, everyone else is just figuring life out as well. There isn’t a preferred way to show up to an event, gathering, or public place. What you can do is be honest with your feelings and thoughts.[3]

                                If you feel offended by something someone says, you don’t have to smile to be polite or laugh to fit in with the crowd. Instead, you can politely say why you disagree or excuse yourself and find a group of people who you relate to better. If you’re nervous, don’t overcompensate by trying to look relaxed and casual — it’ll be obvious you’re putting on a front. Instead, nothing is more endearing than saying, “I’m a little nervous!” to a room of people who probably feel the exact same way.

                                On the same note, if you don’t understand why someone wants you to do something, question it. You can do this at work, at home, or even with people you don’t know well. Nobody should force you to do something you don’t want to do.

                                Also, even if you’re willing to do what’s asked of you, there’s nothing wrong with asking for more clarification. People will realize that you’re not a person to be bossed around.

                                3. Understand Why You’re Struggling at Work

                                Being self-conscious at work can get in the way of your daily responsibilities, your relationships with co-workers, and even your career as a whole. If you’re facing some sort of conflict but you’re too nervous to speak up, you may be at the whim of what happens to you instead of taking some control.

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                                If you’re usually confident at work, you may be wondering where this new self-consciousness is coming from. It’s possible that you’re dealing with burnout.[4] Common signs are anxiety, fatigue and distraction, all of which can leave you feeling under-confident.

                                4. Succeed at Something

                                When you create success in your life, it’s easier to feel confident[5] and less self-conscious. If you feel self-conscious at work, finish the project that’s been looming over your head. If you feel self-conscious in the gym, complete an advanced workout class.

                                Exposing yourself to what you’re scared of and then succeeding at it in some way (even just by finishing it) can do wonders for your self-esteem. The more confidence you build, the more likely you are to have more success in the future, which will create a cycle of confidence-building.

                                5. Treat All of You — Not Just Your Self-Consciousness

                                Trying to solve your self-consciousness alone may not treat the root of the problem. Instead, take a well-rounded approach to lower your self-consciousness and build confidence in areas where you may struggle.

                                Even professional counselors are embracing this holistic type of treatment[6] because they feel that the health of the mind and body are inextricably linked. This approach combines physical, spiritual, and psychological components. Common activities and treatments include meditation, yoga, massage, and healthy changes to diet and exercise.

                                If much of this is new to you, it will pay to give it a try. You never know how it will impact you.

                                If you’re feeling self-conscious about how your body looks, a massage that makes you feel great could boost your confidence. If you try a new workout, you could have something exciting to talk about the next time you’re in a group setting.

                                Putting yourself in a new situation and learning that you can get through it with grace can give you the confidence to get through all sorts of events and nerve-wracking moments.

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                                6. Make the Changes That Are Within Your Control

                                Let’s say you walk into a room and you’re self-conscious about how you look. However, you may have put a lot of time and effort into your outfit. Even though it may stand out, this is how you have chosen to express yourself.

                                You have to work on your internal confidence, not your external appearance. There’s nothing to change other than your outlook.

                                On the other hand, maybe there’s something that you don’t like about yourself that you can change. For example, maybe you hate how a birthmark on your face looks or have varicose veins that you think are unsightly. If you can do something about these things, do it! There’s nothing wrong with changing your appearance (or skills, education, etc.) if it’s going to make you more confident.

                                You don’t have to accept your current situation for acceptance’s sake. There’s no award for putting up with something you hate. Confidence is also required to make changes that are scary, even if they’re for the better. Plus, it may be an easier fix than you thought. For example, treating varicose veins doesn’t have to involve surgery — sometimes simple compression stockings will take care of the problem.[7]

                                7. Realize That Everyone Has Awkward Moments

                                Everyone has said something awkward to someone else and lived to tell the tale. We’ve all forgotten somebody’s name or said, “You too!” when the concession stand girl says to enjoy our movie. Not only are these things uber-common, but they’re not nearly as embarrassing as you feel they are.

                                Think about how you react when someone else does something awkward. Do you think, “Wow, that person’s such a loser!” or do you think, “What a relief, I’m not the only one who does that.” Chances are good that’s the same reaction others have to you when you stumble.

                                Remember, self-consciousness is a state of mind that you have control over. You don’t have to feel this way. Do what you need to in order to build your confidence, put your self-consciousness in perspective, and start exercising your “I feel awesome about myself” muscle. It’ll get easier with time.

                                When Is Being Self-Conscious a Good Thing?

                                Self-consciousness can sometimes be a good thing[8], but you have to take the awkwardness and nerves out of it.

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                                In this case, “self-aware” is a much better term. Knowing how you come off to people is an excellent trait; you’ll be able to read a room and understand how what you do and say affects others. These are fantastic skills for people work and personal relationships.

                                Self-awareness helps you dress appropriately for the occasion, tells you that you’re talking too loud or not loud enough, and guides a conversation so you don’t offend or bore anyone.

                                It’s not about being someone you’re not — that can actually have adverse effects, just like self-consciousness. Instead, it’s about turning up certain aspects of yourself to perform well in the situation.

                                Final Thoughts

                                When you’re self-conscious, you’re constantly battling with yourself in an effort to control how other people view you. You try to change yourself to suit what you think other people want to see.

                                The truth, though, is that you can’t actually control how other people view you — and you may not even be correct about how they view you in the first place.

                                Being confident doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, it happens in small steps as you slowly build your confidence and say “no” to your self-consciousness. It also requires accepting that you’re going to feel self-conscious sometimes, and that’s okay.

                                Sometimes worrying that there is a problem can be more stressful than the problem itself. Feeling bad for feeling self-conscious can be more troublesome than simply feeling it and getting on with the day.

                                Forgive yourself for being human and make the small changes that will lead to better confidence in the future.

                                More Tips for Improving Your Self-Esteem

                                Featured photo credit: Cata via unsplash.com

                                Reference

                                [1] Merriam-Webster: Self-conscious
                                [2] Bustle: 7 Tips On How To Stop Feeling Self-Conscious
                                [3] Marc and Angel: 10 Things to Remember When You Feel Unsure of Yourself
                                [4] Bostitch: How to Protect Small Businesses From Burnout
                                [5] Psychology Today: Self-conscious? Get Over It
                                [6] Wake Forest University: Embracing Holistic Medicine
                                [7] Center for Vein Restoration: What Causes Venous Ulcers, and How Are They Treated?
                                [8] Scientific American: The Pros and Cons of Being Self-Aware

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