In honor of International Women’s Day, I’ve decided to quickly round up some of my favorite books that have been written by women. In high school, almost every book I was assigned to read ever was written by a man. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of reading about the same old, self-inserted, disenchanted white dude that has flooded literature for centuries. Let’s mix it up. Here are my suggestions.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This novel follows Ifemelu and Obinze and their relationship with America, Africa and each other. Very rarely does a book manage to be both educational and entertaining while telling it’s story, but Americanah does both in spades. The characters are complex and rich and beautiful and I loved every moment I got to spend with them. By the end of the book they felt like people I had known for a very long time.
Adichie writes honestly about race and the immigrant experience and it really helped me to see the world I live in from a perspective I’ll never actually get to see firsthand. Her prose is clean and inviting and I had a hard time putting this book down.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
This one has become frighteningly more relevant as the years have passed, which should be frightening to us all as this was written as simply speculative, near-future fiction. The United States is ruled by a Totalitarian Theocracy (that had successfully overthrown the established democracy, mind you) and now entire classes of women are being kept as vessels for childbearing and nothing else. Offred is a fascinating protagonist that I think many women can identify with, although the writing style can be off-putting to some.
Hulu is airing a mini-series based on it this year and it is devastatingly timely, so I recommend picking this up at your local bookshop and diving right in.
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Though this is one of the most beloved romance novels of all time, do not think this will be a fluffy, sexy, little intellectual break compared to the previous books on this list. This behemoth of a book has about 900 pages filled with mystery, romance, horror and history. There’s literally something for everyone here. I felt like an expert on the history of Scotland when I was done with this book but all the learning was done without me even noticing. I actually recommend the audiobook version of this more than I do actually reading it yourself because Davina Porter gives an excellent performance and her accents are truly incredible.
Gabaldon clearly researched like mad for this and I’ve never read anyone who writes as sensual or as achingly heartsick as she does. You’ll fall in love reading this book.
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
This book grabbed me by the shoulders, looked me directly in the eyes and did not break contact until I understood exactly what it was trying to tell me. If this has never happened to you while reading a great book, I feel sorry for you and I recommend you keep reading to find that experience. This novel explores the realities of what it’s like for Indian-Americans to feel trapped between two cultures and how they reconcile their new lives with their old lives. The Ganguli family are at the center of this story and we see how the parents came to be together, how they struggle to raise their son in America and he struggles to come of age with immigrant parents. It’s honest, it’s heartfelt and I couldn’t put it down.
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
This sweeping, Civil War epic is much more than a romance novel. In fact, I’m utterly shocked it’s considered a romance at all. This book is about the folly of the Southern society before and during and after the Civil War and how one woman, Scarlett O’Hara managed to survive despite her gentile upbringing. It’s a funny, frustrating and tragic story. If you’re looking for a bodice-ripping, heart-aching love story, I recommend you go back and read Outlander. The romance in Gone with the Wind, while famous, is secondary to growth and development of Scarlett. I’ve never seen a protagonist quite like her. She’s silly, vapid and selfish, but her hunger for survival is ruthless and somehow all these negative attributes make her likable. You’re rooting for her, instead of against her and if you had told me I’d feel that way about her when I first started reading, I would have thought you were insane. I’ll be honest, I’m only about 60% done reading this book but the experience so far has been so incredible, I have to recommend it.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
How could I call myself a feminist bookworm if I didn’t include The Bell Jar on a list of women authored recommendations? Sylvia Plath often gets over shadowed by her dramatic and untimely suicide but her writing really is extraordinary. This semi-autobiographical novel really does show a dark glimpse into a woman’s decent into depression. The character of Esther Greenwood is often described as a female Holden Caulfield and I really disagree. They might have some things in common but Esther is her own character and she’s vibrant and complicated in her own right. This is a sad one but it’s really at the top of it’s craft.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
If you’ve ever read the Hunger Games or watched Star Wars and loved it, you can thank Mary Shelley. At nineteen years old, Mary Shelley INVENTED science fiction with Frankenstein. You probably think you know the story of Frankenstein, but you’re also probably wrong. Is the real monster the man made of the bodies of corpses or the scientist who made him and abandoned him?
A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith
This is a quiet coming of age novel about a second-generation Irish-American girl set in Brooklyn during the early 20th century. Francie is a sweet girl but impoverished and lonely and this book follows her awkward journey to womanhood. Despite the lack of high stakes drama and action, this book has stuck with me for over a decade. It’s the kind of book that is tender and affectionate and you’ll be sad when it’s over. Honestly, it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read and I think you’ll love it too.
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
This sweet YA romance is probably my favorite Rainbow Rowell books and thus probably one of my favorite books of all time! Eleanor is an overweight, redheaded new girl in town and Park is a half-Korean, comic book nerd but the bond their form transcends both their differences and their similarities. This book touches on both poverty and race with a deft hand while also grappling with some darker, more troubling topics. It’s set in the 80’s so you get a lot of fun pop culture references to songs and comic books. Just writing about it right now makes me want to drop everything and go read it again. It’ll charm the pants off of you.
Harry Potter series by JK Rowling
Did you really think I’d make a whole list and not include the masterpiece that is the Harry Potter series? This book series changed my life. I would not be the person I am today if it hadn’t been for these books. I owe JK Rowling basically everything. This series taught me about the importance of friendship and bravery and standing up for what one believes in. This series taught me to stand up to bullies and demagogues alike. This series taught me to see magic in the world and in myself. JK Rowling wrote the first book while on government assistance and by the time the series was done she was even wealthier than the Queen of England. She’s a remarkable woman and this is a remarkable series and I’d be a fool not to recommend, you know, in case one of you just got out of a twenty year coma and missed it.
Did I miss your favorites? Let me know in the comments.