Have you ever been stuck in an awful conversation where someone brings up a classic you’ve never read? And then proceeds to tell you that you should read classics if you want your opinion on literature to be taken seriously? This happens surprisingly often and we say SCREW THAT. Everyone’s literary tastes are different and maybe you won’t enjoy every classic under the sun. So instead of initiating that conversation again, we’ve made a list of 23 awesome and varied books we think every woman should read. You know, if you want.
1. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The United States of America has been replaced with a theocratic military dictatorship named the Republic of Gilead. The Constitution has been suspended and women have been stripped of their rights, finances, identities and even their right to read the written word. With birth rates declining, some women are forced to work as handmaids (a polite term for a concubine) to boost the population.
The worst – and best – thing about The Handmaid’s Tale is that some of it hits far too close to home. This is a future that could still exist for us if everything goes seriously wrong. And this was written 30 years ago. In our opinion, this isn’t just a book you should read; it’s something you need to read.
2. Dietland by Sarai Walker
This book was only published this year (and it’s a debut novel) so we’ll forgive you if you haven’t heard anything about it. Though its name might invoke thoughts of a light-hearted story, Dietland is so much more than that. Part feminist manifesto and part self-discovery journey, this book is awesome on so many levels.
Have you ever wondered what life would be like if women all over the world suddenly rebelled against rape culture? Have you ever wondered what it would be like to love yourself unconditionally? This book is for you. This is Lauren Weisberger meets Margaret Atwood and it’s fricking amazing.
MEMOIR AND AUTOBIOGRAPHY
3. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
THAT’S RIGHT. WE WENT THERE. Eat, Pray, Love has suffered a huge backlash from people who thought it was narcissistic or silly. Personally, we don’t think it’s silly for a woman to employ any means necessary to put herself back together after a breakdown. This is, after all, a memoir. Who are we to judge what helps someone feel whole?
Elizabeth Gilbert’s writing has a delicate and enchanting ease that makes you understand everything she’s going through and maybe even realise that you deserve more happiness in your life.
4. Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
Every human should read this. We probably don’t need to elaborate but we will anyway. Anne Frank wrote this diary while in hiding for two years during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. Unfortunately, her father, Otto Frank, was her family’s only survivor and he ensured that Anne’s diary was shared with the world. Since its initial publication, Diary of a Young Girl has never been out of print and stands as a reminder of the atrocities committed during World War II.
5. Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan
Brain on Fire toes the line between memoir and investigative reporting as it details New York Post writer Susannah Cahalan’s struggle with a rare autoimmune disease after waking up in a hospital with a month-long gap in her memory. She was diagnosed with everything from “partying too much” to a schizoaffective disorder before finding out that she had a form of encephalitis that had only been discovered some three years earlier.
6. Mao’s Last Dancer by Li Cunxin
Li Cunxin was plucked from extreme poverty at the age of 11 and brought to Beijing to study ballet. What follows is a story of incredible courage, determination and endurance. Despite knowing that China is a communist country, the truth of its poverty and hardship can be shocking to read about. Even if you’ve seen the movie adaptation of Mao’s Last Dancer, this inspiring story is still well worth a read.
7. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
The first in a series of books, this autobiography details the life of writer and poet Maya Angelo between the ages of three and 15 years. Maya transforms herself from victim to victor as she becomes one of the most prominent and important female figures in recent history.
8. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
How many times have you torn apart your house in a desperate attempt to declutter? You keep clothes hoping that you’ll fit into them again. You get rid of stuff but it doesn’t make you any happier. Marie Kondo will make you rethink the things you keep or throw with one simply question: does it bring you joy?
If the answer is yes, then keep it. If the answer is no, chuck it away and don’t think about it again. This is about decluttering negative energy from your life. And there are also some excellent tips and tricks that, no joke, make your folded clothes about a thousand times easier to sort through.
9. Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton
We’re all encouraged to climb the social ladder but it’s not necessarily an enjoyable task. We constantly worry that we’re being judged in a black and white scenario: success or failure, winner or loser. Alain de Botton turns to philosophers, artists and writers to examine the origins of this status anxiety and shows you ways to overcome these understandable worries as you strive for happiness.
10. The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace by Gary Chapman and Paul White
Are you stuck in a workplace rife with complaining, sarcasm and overall negativity? It’s easy to be sucked into that way of thinking. You end up wanting to praise your team members for their good work but can no longer find words that seem genuine or even encouraging. This book will help you rediscover how to communicate with the people in your workplace to make sure everyone feels valued and you don’t feel like you’re being swallowed up by a black hole of workplace despair.
11. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
This book is sneakily good. So many people talk about Atticus Finch and Boo Radley but they fail to mention how engaging Scout’s narrative voice can be. To Kill a Mockingbird will make you think, make you laugh, and might even make you cry. It’s a beautiful piece of literature and it’s no surprise that this is an enduring classic.
12. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Some of you have probably always associated this with romance and decided it’s far too girly for someone like you. And yeah, it’s a romance book. But it’s also filled with witty dialogue, strong characters and a keen eye for social commentary. Plus, you’ll be treated to some of the sickest burns in literary history. Like this one:
13. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
“I am a princess. All girls are. Even if they live in tiny old attics. Even if they dress in rages, even if they aren’t pretty, or smart, or young. They’re still princesses.” If you don’t fancy yourself a princess, maybe replace the word with “important”. Or “worthy of love”. For anyone who has suffered a fall from grace, or is going through a hard time in life, it’s important to remember that there are people out there who care about you. We can’t all be plucked from hardship by extreme wealth and good fortune but Frances Hodgson Burnett reminds us that kindness and courage are precious commodities not to be underestimated.
14. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Sisterly affection is something special and Little Women has it in spades; the relationship between Jo and Beth is full of such tender love it’s hard not to cry. As an unmarried woman herself, Louisa May Alcott wrote in her journal, “Girls write to ask who the little women marry, as if that was the only aim and end of a woman’s life. I won’t marry Jo to Laurie to please anyone.” There’s something wonderful about this book that defies description. And if you ever have a chance to see the musical version, then please DO because songs like Some Things Were Meant to Be and Astonishing will rip your heart out and stomp all over it. In a good way.
YOUNG AT HEART
15. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
This much-loved book recently celebrated its 150th anniversary. The magic down the rabbit hole, the rhymes and riddles of Wonderland, and anthropomorphic creatures have all contributed to this story’s lasting value in literature. It may be classed as literary nonsense by some, but reading this with older, wiser eyes, you’ll definitely start to catch all those drug references you missed as a kid.
16. Matilda by Roald Dahl
If you’re going to read one Roald Dahl book in your life, make it Matilda. While the 90s movie was a classic, Roald Dahl’s writing is laugh-out-loud funny and the perfect mix of humour and social commentary.
17. The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins
As if you would ever read a Young Adult dystopian trilogy that has been made into a blockbuster movie franchise. HOW CONTRIVED. And how wrong you are for dismissing this story. You probably already know the concept: every year, a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18 are selected to compete in The Hunger Games as punishment for their Districts rebelling against the Capitol. These poverty-stricken youths are thrown into a whirlwind of pageantry culminating in a televised fight to the death.
If you have to kill 23 other children to survive and live happily ever after, rich and secure, you might do it. But could you live with the things that you did to survive? Throughout the course of this trilogy, heroine Katniss Everdeen develops post-traumatic stress disorder and must continue to confront her horrifying past as a bigger game begins: a revolution that will free her people once and for all.
18. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
We’re not even joking when we say that these books are a literary masterpiece. They start off young and innocent and develop into a beautiful example of intertextuality, with disturbing and wonderful parallels being drawn between a magical society and the religious persecution of World War II. J.K. Rowling has invoked everything from linguistic studies to Greek mythology to create a world and a story that will live forever in the hearts of its readers. Oh, yeah. There’s also some cool magic stuff and kids get to play sport on flying broomsticks. Just as a side note.
19. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
If you ever put this book down thinking, “Ugh, not another World War II book” then you need to PICK IT RIGHT BACK UP AND START READING. The Book Thief is much, much more than that. Death tells the story of an incredible girl living in terrible times. Death’s view on humanity’s beauty and its destructive nature is constantly full of surprising and heartbreaking quotes.
You will cry. You may even hug it to your chest and not want to let it go for about an hour. But whatever you do, you should read this book. It will tell you more about human nature than you ever expected and make you fall in love with this world again.
20. Still Alice by Lisa Genova
If, like many others, your life has been touched by dementia or Alzheimer’s, you have to read this book. The portrayal Alice’s loss of memory and self will hit home in the most breathtakingly real way. Lisa Genova’s writing flows so well that you’ll sometimes find yourself flicking through pages, trying to find out if it’s Alice’s memory that’s failing or your own.
21. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
In this epistolary novel, Celie, the protagonist and narrator, writes letter after letter to God. Why? Because her father beats and rapes her. In fact, most of Celie’s life is downright awful. As an African-American girl in rural Georgia in the 1930s, Celie somehow manages to endure despite being trapped in a loveless marriage, beaten, raped, cheated on, and separated from her family. We’re not going to spoil it for you but Celie’s personal journey is impressive to say the least. She’s a character that every woman should meet.
22. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
If “douchebag man creates questionnaire to find perfect woman worthy of him” doesn’t seem like your thing, then that’s totally fine. Because, despite the blurb, that’s not what The Rosie Project is about. OK, sure, that’s the basis of the novel. But Don Tillman, the main character, is (unbeknownst to him) on the autism spectrum so this ridiculous concept doesn’t come across as rude or demeaning. His narrative voice is light, engaging and laugh-out-loud funny. Combine all that with a strong female character who isn’t reduced to Manic Pixie Dream Girl status and you’ve got pure gold.
23. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
We can’t spoil this book for you. We just can’t. The power of its telling comes from not knowing what you’re in for. Trust us on this: it’s a tale of lost innocence, young love, and a future that could very well be our own. It’s not a happy book, but what it says about human nature and the world we live in can be beautiful. Just pick it up and start reading.