If you’re anything like me, your TBR pile probably stretches from floor-to-ceiling, with your overflow titles stacked randomly all over your apartment. You know, there's stuff beneath end tables, under the bed, and filling that sagging bottom drawer of your dresser. And although you probably really do want to read every single title in your pile, some books are just kind of begging to be read more than others. (And then a few just seem impossibly ambitious — yeah, I’m talking about you, Anna Karenina.) This is where the book bucket list comes in.
After all, there’s no reason why bucket lists should be reserved for things like “places I want to travel” and “people I want to have coffee with.” Your books are equally deserving of their own checklist — and the only feeling better than crossing off their titles when you've finished is the feeling of having just read a really great story.
I'm here to get you started. I've compiled a list of 16 books: some classic, some contemporary, some fairytale, some memoir, and all books that are totally bucket-list-worthy. These are the books you're going to want to move to the top of your queue, stat.
Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks
One of the many qualities that make bell hooks' discussion of feminism just wonderful is the fact that it is so matter of fact: she presents her feminist analysis of issues like violence, reproductive rights, race, economics, and employability with a tone that seems to say "this is how life should be, and why haven't you caught up yet?" Feminism is for Everybody reads like a call to action for anyone who cares about an equal and just community for all.
Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
Wife-and-husband journalists Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas D. Kristof teamed up to write about what they consider the most egregious human rights violation facing our world today: the oppression of women and girls. Focusing on issues like health care during pregnancy and childbirth, sex trafficking, and education, WuDunn and Kristof demonstrate how generating positive opportunities for women is the key to economic success for every country in the world.
The Princess Bride by William Goldman
Sure, we've all seen the movie, but if you haven't actually read The Princess Bride, you must add it to your bucket list immediately. Filled with all the romance, comedy, and fantasy contained in everyone's favorite sleepover party film, The Princess Bride is even more ridiculously enjoyable on the page.
Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year by Anne Lamott
Whether you are a mother, have thought about becoming a mother, or vow to remain a member of Club Auntie for life, this memoir is definitely worthy of any woman's book bucket list. Operating Instructions is new-mother Anne Lamott's journal of the first year of her son Sam's life, and is filled with stories of all the struggle, success, and hilarity of first-time mommyhood.
The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan
When no one would publish Betty Friedan's article about housewives who were desperate for more meaning, adventure, and independence in their lives she turned it into a book instead. The Feminine Mystique is a feminist classic, chronicling the lives of several 1950s-era housewives, and their dissatisfaction with marriage and general housewifery. Although "desperate housewives" may be more television sitcom fodder than systemic issue in America today,The Feminine Mystique is still a must-read, at least once in every woman's lifetime.
One Thousand and One Nights by Hanan Al-Shaykh
Thanks to Disney, we're all familiar with Aladdin and his magic lamp, but do you know the story of Scheherazade? Aladdin and his fellow fantasy characters are only part of a much larger work of Arabic folk tales called One Thousand And One Nights, of which the scrappy, creative Scheherazade is the ultimate heroine. After King Shahryar discovers that his wife has been unfaithful in their marriage, he orders her killed, and proceeds to marry again and again, day after day, only to kill his new brides at sunset. Yeesh. But then Scheherazade arrives. Her plan? To tell the king a story every day, ending on a cliffhanger just before nightfall. If he wants to hear the end he'll be forced to keep her alive until morning. Which he does for 1,001 nights of brilliant storytelling. At the end of 1,001 nights? You'll just have to read and see.
Without A Map by Meredith Hall
This gritty woman-on-a-'round-the-world-journey memoir will put your own survival instincts into overdrive. After becoming pregnant at 16, being kicked out of her home, and putting her baby up for adoption, Meredith Hall flees '60s-era America for the Middle East — which she traverses on foot, surviving by selling her belongings, clothing, and when faced with true desperation, blood. You won't be able to put this emotional tale down.
Complete Stories by Dorothy Parker
This complete collection of Dorothy Parker's short stories is filled with all the humor, sarcasm, and unrelenting wit you'd expect from a lady who was a member of both the famous Algonquin Round Table and first board of editors of The New Yorker. Parker takes all kinds of everyday stories about average people and turns them into something extraordinary.
This Is the Story of A Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
For anyone who has ever been a daughter, best friend, wife, and/or mother, Ann Patchett's This Is the Story of A Happy Marriage will read like a conversation with your BFF. A combination of fiction and memoir, this book takes readers through all sorts of milestones in a woman's life — romance and heartbreak, business ventures and family struggles, and everything in between.
Emma by Jane Austen
Emma Woodhouse is that girl you wanted to be friends with your whole life — as long as you didn't become the subject of one of her outlandish schemes. One of my absolute favorites of all Jane Austen's characters, Emma fancies herself a successful matchmaker who knows what's best for everyone around her. Well-intentioned, with just a tad too much arrogance, Emma causes mayhem and hilarity for everyone around her. Give Pride and Prejudice a little break and pick up Emma for a change.
Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey by Jane Goodall
From the woman best known for communing with chimpanzees in the forests of Tanzania — and conducting research that would change human relationships with nature and ourselves — comes this memoir that blends the scientific with the soulful, and memoir with academic study. Taking a close look at what human behavior has done to destroy the natural world that Goodall knows and loves, she still encourages hopefulness in her readers. This book will make you want to increase your efforts to "go green" tenfold.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
OK, so this book doesn't have the happiest of endings — but getting there is such a rollercoaster of masterful storytelling that you just can't not read this book. This book is The Scarlet Letter of 19th century Russia, with way more passion and a lot fewer Puritans. Anna is a heroine you can't help but fall in love with: a woman before her time who refuses to live a loveless, unexciting life just because that's what society expects of her. Don't let the heft of this novel (or all the Russian names that are difficult to keep track of) intimidate you — this story is totally worth it.
How To Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
I absolutely love Caitlin Moran — her brash, hilarious, say-anything personality translates fluidly from screen (she's an English broadcaster and TV critic) to page (who also writes books and satirical newspaper columns.) How To Be a Woman is part-memoir, part-feminist-manifesto, and you'll want to take Moran out for whiskey shots when you're finished.
Beloved by Toni Morrison
If you haven't read Beloved yet, you were not taking the right college lit classes — so now is the time to add this one to your bucket list! Inspired by a true story, Beloved is about an escaped slave named Sethe who is found by her former owner and forced to make an unbearable choice in order to protect her children from returning to slavery. What she decides will haunt her, literally, for the remainder of the book.
A World Made New by Mary Ann Glendon
Between World War II and the Cold War President Truman asked the unparalleled Eleanor Roosevelt to lead a new United Nations commission, drafting what would ultimately become the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. With her outspoken, unintimidated demeanor, Roosevelt was essential to the production of the document that has been the foundation of the modern human rights movement. You go girl.
A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf
Based on a series of lectures presented at Cambridge University's women's colleges in the late 1920s, A Room of One's Own is a feminist essay about the things a woman requires — and should demand of her life — in order to produce creative work. Although Woolf is speaking specifically about women writers, her advocacy for the independent, economically sustained woman really applies to any woman, in any profession. Read it.