13 Books For Your Feminist Book Club
When news of Emma Watson’s feminist book club, Our Shared Shelf, broke earlier this year, readers everywhere couldn’t wait to snag a copy of the club’s first read — My Life on the Road , by feminist icon Gloria Steinem — and get to posting on the Goodreads discussion forum. And with the U.N. Women Goodwill ambassador’s ever-climbing list of book club members (117,711 — fellow wordsmiths feel free to totally nerd out on the fact that that’s a palindrome — at time of publication) you might find yourself and your bookish friends feeling inspired to start your own wildly successful feminist book club as well. Although perhaps with a few less members, if you’re planning on providing your own wine and snacks.
Because let’s face it: While adding one feminist book a month (which is the current reading plan for Our Shared Shelf members) is an awesome addition to all your regularly scheduled reading, the average book lover will definitely want to supplement all that feminist, literary goodness with some of her own books picks as well. Here are 13 books to read if you want to have the best feminist book club ever — or one that’s at least on par with the fabulousness that is Emma Watson’s book club.
1. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Exploring one day in the life of a woman, Clarissa Dalloway, as she prepares her home for a party to be hosted that evening, you’ll quickly realize that Mrs. Dalloway is much more than an English society hostess — at least in her mind, she is. Readers of Mrs. Dalloway are shared her character’s every thought, curiosity, and reminiscence as she thinks about the man she married, the man she might have married, and the woman she would have preferred to spend her life with altogether.
2. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Offred lives in a world where women are valued only for their reproductive capabilities, are forbidden to read, and are allowed outside their homes only once a day to do the shopping — this is the setting of The Handmaid’s Tale , a dystopian novel about women’s repression and resistance, in which Offred exists at the center. Ruled by the Commander and his wife, Offred knows there was a time before such repression — but in her current totalitarian theocracy, equal rights, privileges and personal freedoms are a thing of the past. Then Offred discovers the Mayday resistance, an underground network working to restore life as Offred once knew it.
3. Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit
Inspired by a dinner party she’d previously attended, Rebecca Solnit’s title Men Explain Things to Me cuts right to the chase: Often, in conversations between men and women, men think they know all the things, and are entrusted with bestowing them upon (or not) women. This book, in addition to being simultaneously hilarious and infuriating, also addresses the serious issue of women being silenced all over the world — many times at the expense of their health, freedom, or life.
4. Yes Please by Amy Poehler
From her totally relatable personal stories to her advice on everything from love and sex to ambition and parenting, Amy Poehler’s Yes Please is a girl-power-friendly title your feminist book club is bound to love. Told with a voice that is equal parts Poehler’s recognizable wit and sage voice of wisdom, you’ll find yourself quoting her left and right after finishing this great read.
5. Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
Feminist writer and black lesbian poet Audre Lorde is a force to be reckoned with in her book, Sister Outsider , a collection of essays and speeches that speak out against issues like sexism, racism, economic injustices, homophobia, and gender violence. During her life Lorde somehow balanced three equally demanding careers of writer, activist, and mother, and this collection is not only a testament to her life, but a tribute to feminists everywhere who keep fighting the good fight.
6. I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai
You’re all quite familiar with Malala’s story by now, but if you haven’t yet had a chance to read her book, a feminist book club is a great place to do so. I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban tells the story of Malala — already an outspoken blogger who wrote about the realities of life for women in her Taliban-ruled country — who was shot at 15 years old while riding a bus home from school. She has since become a globally-recognized advocate of peace, women’s education, and women’s rights.
7. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
If you really want to get your feminist book club talking, assign Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist as your next group read. The collection of essays covers everything from reality television and competitive Scrabble, to gender violence in popular culture and racism. Not one to mince words when sharing her opinions — and that’s why we all love her — Roxane Gay’s no-holds-barred writing will make you think more deeply about your own opinions on all of the above. Well, maybe not competitive Scrabble… but you never know.
8. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
Published in 1899, Kate Chopin was certainly a writer ahead of her time. The Awakening is unique in the genre of Victorian romantic fiction, in that it deals candidly with female marital infidelity. The novel’s protagonist, Edna Pontellier, speaks to the experiences of a woman who feels trapped and suffocated in her marriage, and her decision to find solace, excitement, and connection in an intimate relationship outside of that legally binding union. Although women hardly need to discover their independent identifies via sexual relationships with men nowadays, back when Chopin was writing her message was pretty liberated.
9. Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
If you haven’t fallen in love with the utterly fabulous feminist tour de force that is Mindy Kaling, it’s about time you jumped on that bandwagon. In Why Not Me? Kaling asks the question her title poses: whether it be to Hollywood booking agents, potential romantic partners, or even in the event of meeting Bradley Cooper. A delightful, hilarious, and touching coming-of-age story for the post-twentysomething girl, Kaling’s collection of essays is one even the pickiest of book club readers is bound to enjoy.
10. The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan by Jenny Nordberg
Journalist Jenny Nordberg’s story about the "bacha posh" practice of dressing Afghan girls as boys so they can attend school, work outside the home, and travel through Afghanistan unaccompanied by a male family member, made the front page of the New York Times. Her subsequent book, The Underground Girls of Kabul is an extension of that same story — one of the young women who rebel and resist against the culture that tries to confine them, the women forced to leave the freedom of “bacha posh” and enter arranged marriages, and even others who dare — or are forced — to live in disguise for as long as they can.
11. How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
Caitlin Moran is a special kind of writer — one whose language is as appalling as it is refreshing, who will leave you both shocked and laughing out loud, and whose honest irreverence will have you nodding your head in agreement. In How to Be a Woman Moran covers everything from why people constantly ask you when you’re going to get around to procreating, to the unique torture that wearing a bra all day long really is. She’s fantastic.
12. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Not only is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie an outspoken advocate of powerful women everywhere, she’s also an entirely mesmerizing writer, who creates characters on the page so real you’ll feel as though you know them in your own life. Americanah tells the story of the Nigerian-born Ifemelu, who leaves her home to study in the United States, where she’s confronted head-on by issues of race that she’d never even thought of before.
13. In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor's Journey in the Saudi Kingdom by Qanta A. Ahmed
When British Muslim doctor Qanta Ahmed took an unplanned position as a doctor in Saudi Arabia, she plunged headfirst into the world of restricted women in a repressed society. In the Land of Invisible Women tells the story of Ahmed’s experiences as a female healthcare provider in a culture of veiled women. Caring for women who had spent most of their lives segregated from men, Ahmed found her understanding of a woman’s agency over her own body was altered forever. But when encouraged by her medical colleagues to dig more deeply into her Muslim faith, Ahmed realized that true Islamic teachings hardly connect with the widely-held ideas some radical Muslims have regarding a woman’s body, identity, and freedom.