Despite the fact that with the combined amount of internships and jobs we’ve held, we’re a poor representation of the rest of the employed and unemployed America, we’re still all entitled to quarter-life crises. Let’s be honest: We all secretly and completely relate to those BuzzFeed posts pondering our 20s and the encroaching and unwelcome post-grad years.

And whether you’re determined to become the next president of the United States, the writer of the next great American novel or an internationally renowned economist, we’re all allowed our moments of holy-guacamole-I’m-officially-approaching-adulthood blues. There’s the worry of getting sucked down an easier, if less groundbreaking or individual, path, or making it close to your goals, only to fail.

Luckily for us, books aren’t there to just look pretty or be arm candy for a Starbucks run — they’re kind enough to provide some much-needed escapism from our looming entrance into real life and make mistakes for us so we can watch and learn, instead of doing and regretting them.

Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture by Douglas Coupland is a funny little work. It’s not your traditional novel in any sense, which is kind of great, because no one’s growing up is ever traditional and it’s nice to be reminded of that. Its columns are riddled with definitions of supposedly trendy phrases embodying the titular generation. There are some cartoons, too, just in case you feel more like looking at pictures than constantly reading. It is narrated by those almost-frustrating protagonists who observe more than they do and who serve to tell us a story rather than be actors in it. The story itself is strange as well: A trio of friends lives in a small condo complex in the desert and tells each other fantastical tales that are guises for their individual fears. It’s about people who are scared of big things — like bombs going off and the world ending — which is great, because these people are not unlike us. Maybe they’re separated by a decade of differences and the fact that our generation knows how to use iPhones while theirs doesn’t, but we all have in common a fear of grand, illustrious threats. And sometimes we let those threats permeate our lives, even when they’re more science fiction than fact. And sometimes we use those threats as excuses not to do the things we’re capable of doing, just like saying we’re never going to visit London in fear of Voldemort attacking.

The Emperor’s Children, the most well-known book from novelist Claire Messud, is a dense, meaty piece. It’s about a lot of things and a lot of people. You’ll meet a prestigious journalist and his daughter, who’s almost incapable of accomplishing anything for fear of not meeting her celebrated father’s expectations. There’s a college drop-out convinced he’s destined for great, earth-shattering things. (Then again, don’t we all believe we are?) There’s a smart, little producer who’s feeling the too-sharp worry of being single with no career or relationship prospects and nearing 30.

Character-wise, the book is nothing new. We’ve known these people from past novels, but what differentiates them now is how fleshed out they are. Messud makes sure we know every idiosyncrasy, every quirk, even their daily schedules. (She loves detail, and although this may make it difficult to wade into the novel initially, you’ll appreciate it later on). And by knowing how and why and what of their decisions and mistakes are, you start to see your own. You start to see how easy it is to get trapped in a role that is cliche enough that your lines and director’s directions are made specifically for you: the charismatic journalist turned stay-at-home, resentful boyfriend; the fearful young woman masquerading as an up-and-coming writer living at home with her parents; the other woman who really, really loves the guy, whose marriage is obviously not that great and he’s definitely going to leave his wife soon.

Perhaps the most poignant connection these two books share is their sense of entitlement, something that is very easy to possess  nowadays but often goes unnoticed. They’re a reminder that no matter how smart, wealthy, talented, outgoing or driven you may be, you aren’t going to have the things you want spill out neatly in front of you. Giving up makes you average. Perseverance through the bad times is what makes you the kind of person who makes a name for him or herself, no matter what generation you’re in.

Kim Bussing is a sophomore in the College. TOP SHELF appears every other Friday in the guide.

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