Reading has always been a substantial part of my life; some of my most treasured memories from my childhood are the nights when I struggled to keep my eyes open into the wee hours of the night so I could read one more chapter. Books have taught me so much about navigating the world and emotions, but more than anything books have given me the gift of a vivid imagination.
When I went to Florida State University and started studying english I was excited to experience literature on a deeper level. It was there at FSU in a brightly lit classroom with all the chairs pushed into a circle that my eyes were opened to the complex history between women and reading/writing.
As a woman in the 21st century I am lucky to have the liberty of reading and writing whenever I please, and to enjoy the works of women who had to fight to do the same. Like most things in this world, I believe that when books are made for women by women they are all the more meaningful and impactful.
So today I’m sharing some books that I believe every woman should read at some point in their lives. If you’re not a woman don’t fret; these books are timeless and captivating and should be enjoyed by anyone regardless of their gender. But all you ladies out there, don’t sleep on these titles.
Mother Daughter Relationships
Beloved // Toni Morrison
Everything Toni Morrison writes is a work of art, and Beloved is no exception. The story uses the life of Sethe, a former slave, and her family to tell a haunting tale of motherhood, community, and how slavery disrupts identity. Symbolism runs thick within this book, so much so that every time I return to it I discover something new. I highly recommend it.
The Valley of Amazement // Amy Tan
This book is such a wonderful commitment; I felt like I lived several lifetimes over the course of the 600+ pages, but in the best possible way. Amy Tan’s novel is centered around Violet, a young girl who is sold to a courtesan house in China, and follows her life as she grows up and encounters love and loss. A review that I read on Goodreads captures the essence of the book, stating that there are themes of mother-daughter relationships, “family lineage and the internal identity conflicts that come with being an Asian American, the search for self-affirmation through love, and finding one’s place in the family, community, and world.”
The Mothers // Brit Bennett
When I started reading The Mothers by Brit Bennett I was surprised by the lack of actual moms in the novel. The two female main characters don’t have relationships with their mothers, either due to death or estrangement, and the main character undergoes an “unmothering” when she decides to terminate her pregnancy. That being said Bennett’s book is full of unconventional maternal figures; fathers, old church ladies, and sisters. I love the way Bennett incorporates absence as a theme that guides the actions of many of the characters, and changes how we define motherhood from an act of having to the burden of losing.
Coming of Age
The Scorpio Races // Maggie Stiefvater
This book has a very, very special place in my heart. I can still remember the first time I read it in early high school, and my complete and total fascination and adoration has not wavered one bit over the years. The Scorpio Races tells the story of an island’s deadly tradition and how far the two main characters, Kate and Sean, will go to hold onto the things they love. This book is beautifully written with a slowness that makes you feel like you are rooted in the island of Thisby, standing in the sand and smelling the sea. If I could pick a book to live inside forever, it would be this one.
The Secret Life of Bees // Sue Kidd
I remember my mom giving me this book when I was a little girl and me promptly stuffing it to the back of my bookshelf because it didn’t have dragons or wizards in it. In college I had to watch Gina Prince-Bythewood’s interpretation of The Secret Life of Bees for one of my film classes, and the next time I went to my parents house I ran straight to my bookshelf and dug out the book so I could read it right away. The story makes me cry every time I read or watch it, and the character development Lily goes through is truly inspiring. Sue Kidd truly outdid herself when she wrote this one.
The Power // Naomi Alderman
One day the world changes forever when a dormant power is awakened in fifteen year old girls – the power to strike lightning from their hands. When the young girls rouse the power in older women it marks the beginning of a shift in the hierarchy of society. The Power by Naomi Alderman follows the story of four interconnected characters as they adjust to the new order and make changes of their own. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, even though at first the narratives were a little tricky to follow, and it was extremely interesting to watch Naomi subtly reverse gender roles and stereotypes throughout the novel. I don’t want to give too much away but the ending was incredible. Shoot me a message when you finish this book so we can freak out about it together, okay?
Tell the Wolves I’m Home // Carol Brunt
Carol Brunt’s debut novel Tell the Wolves I’m Home is a little strange, but is still worth the read despite of that – or maybe because of that. The main character June is struggling to accept the death of her beloved uncle Finn, who died of AIDs shortly after completing a portrait of June and her older sister Greta. June navigates the loss with the help of her uncle’s old partner, who is despised by her family for “causing” Finn’s death. This coming of age tale is told in a weird and wonderful way, and deals with sibling tension, inappropriate love, and familial ties that can withstand anything.
Exploration / Discovery
Swell // Liz Clark
I found out about this book from my dear friend Alaina, and it did not disappoint. I love this excerpt from the description, “In true stories overflowing with wild waves and constant challenges, at the whim of the weather, of relationships sweet and sour, of nature’s marvels and colorful cultures, Liz captures her voyage in gripping detail in this memoir, sharing tales of sailing in high seas, of solitude and surprises, of finding connection to the earth and commitment to living in harmony with it.”
Wild // Cheryl Strayed
I decided to read Wild after watching the movie adaptation. Despite my love of the outdoors I find it hard to read books by thru-hikers because they end up too repetitive or cliche, but Cheryl Strayed wrote a story unlike any I had ever heard before. Her transformation along the PCT shines a light on the healing that can be found in nature, and I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of reading about it.
Waymaking // Helen Mort et al.
Waymaking is a beautiful anthology of art, poetry, and adventure writing by 57 women. I originally found out about this book via it’s kickstarter campaign and I was hooked from the start. The editors created the book to address the gender-imbalance that is present in the outdoor community, and they vow to donate 100% of the royalties to the John Muir Trust and Rape Crisis to “conserve our wild places and raise awareness of the problem of sexual violence in our society and others.” I fully supported the project before I even opened the book, and when I finally got my hands on it I fell even more in love.
Educated // Tara Westover
In her debut memoir Educated, Tara Westover recounts her experience growing up in a Mormon survivalist family in the mountains of Idaho. I got this book for Christmas and finally had time to pick it up near the end of January, and once I started reading it it was impossible to put it down. There were often moments when I simply couldn’t believe that the beautifully crafted sentences and analogies were written by someone who didn’t go to school until the age of seventeen. As I read about what Tara and her six older siblings endured as they worked as scrappers in their father’s junkyard it was often difficult to believe that they were able to survive without modern medicine or healthcare. Educated showcases how strong the human will can be when someone wants to change their situation, and discusses what it takes to leave home and when you should find your way back to it.
Annihilation // Jeff Vandermeer
This is the only book in this post that isn’t written by a woman, which should give you a good indication of how much I like it. This sci-fi thriller follows the exhibition of four female scientists and researchers into Area X, a bleak wasteland that has taken the lives or sanity of the 11 previous expedition members. Annihilation is suspenseful, mysterious, and at times downright strange, which is why I like it.
A Room of One’s Own // Virginia Woolf
If you are interested in learning about what women had to go through in order to take up the pen then this book is a must read. While it may be a little hard to get through at first A Room of One’s Own is a staple in every feminist’s bookshelf, and was a huge inspiration for me when I first toyed with the idea of being a writer. My favorite quote from the book is, “So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.”
Bad Feminist // Roxane Gay
Coming from someone who has read a lot of deep, introspective, heavy books on feminist theory and analyzing them at length with twenty other women in a classroom setting, Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist was a breath of fresh air. I read this book after I took my first women in literature class, and compared to the symbolism and theory-rich texts I read over the semester this book was lighthearted and downright funny. Roxane uses pop-culture and her own life experiences to talk about how there is no “correct” way to be a feminist. Her collection of essays is easy and fun to read, and while I wouldn’t consider it essential feminist literature it does offer some good insight.
Girl Code // Cara Leyba
I am not a fan of self-help books – no matter how hard I try I just can’t get into them – but as a female entrepreneur with my own independent business this book was very inspiring. Girl Code is all about how to make it as a woman in business which is something I can get behind any day, but some parts of the book were too cliche and motivational for me (I know that sounds strange but what can I say, I really don’t like self-help books). What I really got out of this book was the message of “women supporting women” and how female entrepreneurs should embrace the community of successful women around them instead of shying away from it out of jealousy or fear of competition.
Have you read some of these books before? If so, what were your thoughts? Let me know in the comments, or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. All photos in this post were taken by me.