Yes, there are already so many books on your must-read list. Yes, it could take you the rest of your life just to get through the classics. But let’s think outside the box for a second, ladies. While going through your own list, you’ve probably been reading a lot of work by dudes, just because of (yucky) publishing practices, and you may have missed the work of some of the most prolific female authors.
It’s not easy being a woman, but I promise that these 30 books can be used as a guide. They’ll make you laugh, cry, and feel like you’ve found your tribe. These books are so good that they will knock your socks off , and you’ll want to share them with everyone you know — including other lady friends, guys, and aliens. These gals are so downright good at telling a story that you might, just for a minute, believe that they truly know you. Get to know these 30 women, and their epic books that are meant to be devoured and remembered forever. Open your mind and dive right in.
Images: Eugenio Marongiu/Fotolia
‘Men Explain Things to Me’ by Rebecca Solnit
Having a serious case of “he said, she said”? Utterly confused by assumptions made by men? In this comic and dark collection, Rebbecca Solnit attempts to figure out why men and women often have a hard time communicating. And on a serious note, Solnit explores the crisis of men silencing women. This book will have you cheering and crying.
‘The Handmaid's Tale’ by Margaret Atwood
A thrilling sci-fi tale of the future of women’s bodies, The Handmaid’s Tale is a forever classic. Handmaids are only valued if their ovaries are viable, and strangely, this book doesn’t always feel like fantasy. This satire will have you horrified and convinced. There’s just no way to put it down.
‘We Should All Be Feminists’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
OK, you probably think you know all about feminism. Maybe you even identify as a feminist. But I encourage you to dive a little deeper. We Should All Be Feminists was written after Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talked candidly about feminism at a super inspiring TEDx talk. Now, you can read her thoughts on 21st-century feminism. This book will make you think about what it means to be a woman, a feminist, and a person of the world.
‘Girl in a Band: A Memoir’ by Kim Gordon
Maybe you aren’t a Sonic Youth fan, but did you know that they paved the way for bands like Nirvana, Hole, and Smashing Pumpkins? More notably, Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth is not just an artist, but a total badass. In this moving memoir, she writes about her life of art, music, marriage, and motherhood. It’s a deeply moving story about what it means to be a woman, a person with many roles in her life, and to pursue her own independence.
‘The Awakening’ by Kate Chopin
You think women have it bad now? There was once a time when contemplating marriage and motherhood wasn’t even an option. Published in 1899, The Awakening is about just that — a woman who must resolve her unorthodox views of femininity in the American South and abide by social standards. It’s an enlightening read, considered an early work of feminist literature. I bet you’ll discover that, though this book was written over a hundred years ago, you might very well be awakened.
‘Bossypants’ by Tina Fey
Yes, we all aspire to be Tina Fey and/or Liz Lemon. In this super-inspiring story, Tina Fey says that you haven’t made it until someone calls you bossy. She tells a rich story of growing up and struggling for physical beauty and career success. It’s inspiring to read her journey, and she offers a guiding light for women struggling to have it all. It’s honest and funny, just as I imagine Fey to be. But full disclaimer: Bossypants will make you eager to follow your dreams.
‘Bluets’ by Maggie Nelson
Sometimes the truth hurts. If you haven’t found Maggie Nelson yet, do yourself a favor and get to know her. Her nonfiction is hauntingly honest and profound. Bluets is the exploration of a woman in love, a woman who knows suffering. Nelson proves she’s one of the most lyrical essayists of all time, and surely you don’t want to miss out on that.
‘Near to the Wild Heart’ by Clarice Lispector
Sometimes it’s enough to be honest and true to yourself. Near to the Wild Heart follows a woman’s life from her childhood through an unhappy marriage and its aftermath. It’s written with speed and force that will make you feel like you’ve lived it, too. It’s a beautiful and honest tale about love and freedom, and certainly a book you will keep forever.
‘A Room of One's Own’ by Virginia Woolf
Did you know that men still get paid more than women? Still! While we’ve all made strides to a more equal world, we haven’t conquered the beast yet. Virginia Woolf recalls her own personal experiences of a man’s privilege against the shadow of her own. In this long essay, published decades ago, you might be shocked at how relatable it is to modern day. Woolf argues that a woman must have her own intellectual freedom — a room of one’s own — to achieve success. Think about it.
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‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ by Zora Neal Hurston
Can you believe this (amazing) book was rejected and out of print for almost 30 years because it featured a strong black female protagonist? Now it is regarded as one of the most important books of all time, because it’s simply one of the best books around. A love story about a woman who knows (and sometimes doesn’t know) what she wants, Their Eyes Were Watching God will stick with you forever. It’s a must-read no matter who you are.
‘The Bell Jar’ by Sylvia Plath
Maybe you remember reading The Bell Jar in
high school, amidst puberty and teenage angst. Yes, that was the best time to
find Ms. Plath, but it’s worth rereading this wonderfully stunning gem of a
Bell Jar is a classic tale that explores the inside of the mind and the
attempts to recover sanity and love. You won’t be sorry for going back to this
‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ by Jean Rhys
Are you a fan of Jane Eyre? Of course you are. Wide Sargasso Sea is the dazzling and heartbreaking tale of the madwoman in the attic from Bronte’s original story. A beautiful and sensual young woman is sold into marriage in the Caribbean, a society driven by hatred, sexual misconduct, and racism. It’s enough to slowly make her lose her mind.
‘The House of the Spirits’ by Isabel Allende
‘Yes Please’ by Amy Poheler
Need some inspiration? Amy Poheler’s debut book, Yes Please, has it all. Yes, of course it’s funny, with stories, lists, pictures, and witty poems. But this book also offers some sound advice and mantras to keep you going. It’s honest and personal, two things you’d expect from someone as cool as Poheler.
‘The Lowland’ by Jhumpa Lahiri
Sure, it’s hard to escape the past, but no one captures the brutal truth of a woman haunted by her past more than Jhumpa Lahiri. This Pulitzer-Prize-winning author tells a moving tale of a family saga that has a rich, fierce woman leading the charge. This book will give you all the feels.
‘Bad Feminist’ by Roxane Gay
It’s okay to be a bad feminist, says Roxane Gay. She examines her own role as a woman in the world, and comments on women today in this beautifully-written collection of critical essays. Also, it’s really funny, and compares current issues with pop culture and politics. Her witty essays even discuss Mean Girls and Sweet Valley High, so obviously this is a worthy read.
‘Friendship’ by Emily Gould
Sometimes, I forget how hard it is to be a best friend – the fear of growing apart is so scary. That’s just what Emily Gould’s Friendship is all about. Two best friends are growing up and growing apart — but with a little soul searching, they might just find their way back to each other. You’ll text your bestie all the heart emojis after this brilliant read.
‘Tiny Beautiful Things’ by Cheryl Strayed
Seriously, life can be rough. There’s grief, love, loss, job stress, and obviously, a lot of serious cases of the Mondays. But Cheryl Strayed is here to save the day. This wildly honest book is full of real advice columns that will fix you up in no time. Or at least, it will remind you that you aren’t alone.
‘Just Kids’ by Patti Smith
Legendary rock star, Patti Smith tells an honest and heartbreaking tale of love in her first memoir. It’s a moving story about love and friendship as told by a baller lady, and it’s just as lovely as her music and art. It’s a true experience to read it.
‘Feminism is for Everybody’ by bell hooks
‘Bad Behavior’ by Mary Gaitskill
Mary Gaitskill is the kind of writer that makes you forget you are reading fiction. Her voice is so powerful that you can feel longing and desire depicted in this collection of stories. She writes about sex, desire, hate, and the basic human connection as if she’s a true voyeur. You might be surprised by how much you relate.
‘Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Stories’ by Alice Munro
If the (perfect) title doesn’t already have you intrigued, I don’t know what will. This Nobel-Prize-winning author captures the complicated truth of life in this collection of short fiction. More importantly, Munro is a stellar observer, and offers a real glimpse into the many pieces of being a woman.
‘The Age of Grief’ by Jane Smiley
‘I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman’ by Nora Ephron
Genius lady Nora Ephron deciphers life and womanhood in this humorous and witty book. She is candid about menopause, womanhood, and the truth. But trust me, this is not just for your mom — it’s for every woman.
‘The Color Master’ by Aimee Bender
If you’re not inspired yet, check out The Color Master. This collection of short stories is full of interesting women — their stories and journeys as sisters, wives, daughters, and mothers — all worth every word on the page. Bender is master with language, and captures the spirit of the human experience.
‘Love Medicine’ by Louise Erdrich
‘Bastard Out of Carolina’ by Dorothy Allison
Dorothy Allison is
a master of language and story. If you’re not crying and shouting while reading Bastard Out of Carolina, I’d guess there’s something wrong with you. The
story follows a poor white family in the South. The young woman
protagonist, Bone, endures abuse and discovers what it means to become a
woman through turmoil and regret. It’s a page-turner, a tearjerker, and a tiny glimpse of the struggles many women face.
‘Save Me the Waltz’ by Zelda Fitzgerald
What’s that saying? “Behind every good man, there’s a good woman”? No duh. That’s why you should read Zelda Fitzgerald’s (wife of The Great Gatbsy writer F. Scott Fitzgerald) vivid novel. And just like the dazzle of Gatbsy, this book has a woman’s touch — a story of a doomed glamour girl living through the Roaring Twenties.
‘Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)’ by Mindy Kaling
Funny gal Mindy Kaling tells all in her (hilarious) book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns). She talks about what makes a great guy, a best friend, and fame. She’s so funny, in fact, that you will actually laugh out loud. You may also be motivated to love yourself, and hey, that ain’t so bad.
‘The Joy Luck Club’ by Amy Tan
The relationships between mothers and daughters aren’t always perfect, am I right? That’s just what the epic tale, The Joy Luck Club tackles. Four Chinese-American women weave their stories together to reveal the highs and lows of being a woman, a mother, a daughter, and a friend. It’s a heartbreaking and triumphant novel that will make your heart full. And hey, you’ll probably want to call your mom.