Books by female authors are increasingly recognized as the dominant force in the contemporary literary landscape. We certainly don’t need an occasion to recognize and recommend them; but as March is the designated month to celebrate the work of women (though really, it should be a year-round practice), we put together a list of incredible books by female authors. Although the list of literary classics by women includes thousands of options, we have listed a few of the must read books by female authors.
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
This is a beautifully woven coming of age tale interspersed with some historical fiction that just captures your attention from the get go. Vivian, the narrator and main character, is sharp, witty, interesting, and significant.
In 1940, Nineteen-year-old Vivian Morris had just flunked out of Vassar College during her freshman year. Her wealthy parents don’t know what to do with her, so they send her to Manhattan to live with her Aunt Peg, who owns a crumbling midtown theater called the Lily Playhouse.
There Vivian is introduced to many unconventional and charismatic characters from the beautiful showgirls, to a sexy male actor, a grand-dame actress, and a no-nonsense stage manager. Vivian’s only skill is sewing, so she becomes the de facto costume designer for the Playhouse. But when Vivian makes a huge personal mistake that results in a professional scandal, it turns her world upside down in ways that will take years for her to fully understand.
Now, 95-years old Vivian is telling her story. She recalls how the events of those years altered the course of her life, and leads to her finding the love of her life.
The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins
London, circa 1820, and servant Frannie Langton is on trial accused of murdering her Master and Mistress. The problem is that she can’t remember anything about that fateful night, however, she can’t believe that she’d murder her mistress, she loved her too much to hurt her, didn’t she?
This is a well written historical whodunnit that brings early 19th century London deliciously to life. The characters were quite complex, none more so than Frannie. She’s many women in one form. The narrative was compelling – playing on one’s curiosity to discover where this journey was going and more importantly who was responsible for the murders. Murders that place Frannie Langton very much in the frame. But did she do it or did she not? This is one of the most wonderful mystery books by female authors.
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
Lessons in Chemistry by the acclaimed author Bonnie Garmus is a testament to her skill at crafting brilliant feminist stories. As one of the top female authors currently working, Garmus shines a light on the experiences of strong, independent women through her debut novel.
Set in 1960s America, it follows the path of Elizabeth Zott – one of the few female chemists who faces blatant sexism in the workplace. Forced out of her career, she finds an unexpected new calling on television that allows her to share her scientific knowledge while retaining her identity.
Garmus explores the social mores of the period through her ingenious main character with striking nuance, empathy and wit. The book soared up bestseller lists on the merit of Garmus’ talent for crafting an emotionally resonant page-turner. Lessons in Chemistry establishes Garmus as a force in modern fiction and underlines why she stands out as one of today’s leading female storytellers. She breathes life into complex female protagonists in a way that educates and inspires readers.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Little Fires Everywhere is a remarkable, sensitive, insightful and beautifully told story that shines a light on parenthood, class, race and familial relationships.
This story follows two very different women and their families over the course of a year. Mia and her daughter Pearl rent an apartment from Mrs. Richardson who lives in the affluent and perfectly planned neighborhood of Shaker Heights. We soon learn how different their lives and backgrounds are from one another by how they raise their children and how different their relationships are that they have with their children.
Mia is artistic and a free spirit who makes art and not money who is always moving from place to place while Mrs. Richardson is comfortably stable. We think both women had good intentions for their actions and we think you could see by the way they grew up how that influenced their principles and decisions. Little Fires Everywhere is one of the most complex multi-layered rich family drama books by female authors.
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
This is the story of a family who has emigrated from Cameroon. Jende and Neni Jonga, along with their young son, come to New York in 2007 in search of the American Dream. She enrolls in college, with the expectation that she can eventually become a pharmacist; he secures a job as the chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. This position gives him a unique view of the Edwards family, themselves a very fractured take on the American Dream.
Lehman brothers is teetering on the brink, and the stress is weighing heavily not just on Clark but also on his wife Cindy and their two sons: would-be hippie twenty-something Vince and wide-eyed nine-year-old Mighty. Jende is privy to much of that stress and he has to try to keep it from reaching into his own family, whose status in this country is far from certain.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
A Little Life is one of the most powerful, disturbing books by female authors. It’s full of pain, desperation, and a sense of isolating sadness that sucks the reader into some very dark places.
A Little Life is the story of four friends: Jude, the intelligent lawyer with a past that constantly threatens his present; Willem, an aspiring actor with a kindness that knows no bounds; Malcolm, who builds tiny houses and likes the control and creativity that architecture requires; and finally JB, the artist with a personality that dominates any room.
The book generally takes place in New York City. When it begins, our main characters have recently graduated college and are struggling to make their way in the world. For the rest of the novel we follow their lives over the next 30+ years. We observe friendships strengthen and weaken, romantic relationships begin and end, and the trajectory of their professional careers. This book is about their lives and as you read it, you feel like you’re experiencing your own little life.
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
What constitutes a successful union between two people who love each other? The ability to have the courage to mend the cracks that appear in an alarming speed as the years go by. Now, in the marriage of Lotto and Mathilde, the cracks are there from the beginning. But Lauren Groff’s novel is completely devoid of cracks or any other fault for that matter. In fact, it is plain and simple, one of the most interesting, daring and honest books by female authors I’ve ever had the pleasure to read.
Fates and Furies represents two sides- Lauren Groff tackles the complicated world of relationships and marriage, through dual perspectives.
The first half is Lotto’s perspective- a struggling actor finds his strength in writing plays. Mathilde (his gorgeous wife) is his muse. He seemingly gives up friends and family for his relationship with her.
The second half take us through Mathilde’s perspective. Equally in love with Lotto, she gives up her career for this relationship. The book ties together the two halves, weaving together the interpretations of events in a brilliant fashion.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
The Hate U Give is an important and necessary portrait of culture and community, as well as a much needed inspection of the injustice of racism and violence. It’s a hard-hitting story about a difficult subject which spares no courtesy in regards to the readers feelings. this book will make you uncomfortable and angry and sorrowful. It will make you re-evaluate how you see the world, others, and yourself.
While attending a Spring Break party, high schooler, Starr Carter, runs into her childhood best friend, Khalil. They haven’t seen each other in a while and Starr is happy to catch up with him. They used to be real close but drifted apart once Starr started attending a private school out of their neighborhood.
After a violent incident erupts, Khalil offers to give Starr a ride home, which she accepts. On the way, they get pulled over. A nightmarish scene then plays out in front of Starr’s eyes. Khalil removed from the car and ultimately gunned down in the street by a police officer.
The rest of the book follows Starr in the aftermath of this killing; what she, her family and her community go through. This one is one of the most compelling books by female authors I’ve read so far.
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
The stories in Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties vibrate with originality, queerness, sensuality and the strange. Her voracious imagination and extraordinary voice beautifully bind these stories about fading women and the end of the world and men who want more when they’ve been given everything and bodies, so many human bodies taking up space and straining the seams of skin in impossible, imperfect, unforgettable ways.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Homegoing is an incredible and horrific look at history, colonialism and slavery in Ghana and America, across 250 years. How the author managed to create such rich characters, cover so much history, and tell such a complex, but compelling story in only 300 pages, I do not know.
Homegoing is one of the best debut novel by female authors I have read this year. In this semi autobiographical tale, Yaa Gyasi follows the family histories of two half sisters, Effia the beauty and Esi to reveal how their families end up. Each chapter is a vignette focusing on a family member in subsequent generations, alternating between Effia and Esi’s families until we reach present day.
It’s hard to believe that this is Yaa Gyasi’s debut novel, she writes with such clarity, bringing the many characters to life, both in terms of their feelings, and the situations that they had to face, and it’s such a powerful piece of social history.
The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy
This book is a sneaky one, the type of read you find enjoyable at the time but then find your mind drifting back to, fondly recalling and then bringing up passionately in daily conversation to the poor victim that is forced to hear you gush.
The Rules Don’t Apply is an autobiography of Ariel Levy and the circumstances leading up to her losing her child, spouse, and home within a month time span and the choices she made prior to, that led up to her devastation.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This is a book about Africa and the African diasporic experience in the USA and England, a backdrop for the love story between Ifemelu and Obinze, teenagers attending a Nigerian university who have to leave the country because of the university strikes in Nigeria. Ifemelu moves to the States, where she attends an American university and starts a blog dealing with race issues in America, while Obinze moves to England and ends up becoming an illegal immigrant.
The book examines the intricacies of race, especially in the USA, as well as the issue of immigration. It talks about the difference between being black in Africa and being black in the States. Adichie is seamless as she goes from country to country, from American to Nigerian, to Francophone African and English. She is a brilliant writer who gifts us with an entertaining story and introduces us to very real characters. This is one of the most compelling books by female authors that touches racial issues.
Blood in the Water by Heather Ann Thompson
This book has won numerous awards, including the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for History. It tells the story of the Attica Prison uprising in 1971, when a riot led to a group of prisoners taking several hostages and resulting in a tense standoff, with negotiations going on for days.
The author is at pains to explain that much evidence has been kept secret since the events occurred; leading to family members of those involved having unanswered questions for many years. She claims to have interviewed everyone she could trace who were involved in the situation, and spent years unearthing stories from that time. This is one of the most influential books by female authors.
Redefining Realness by Janet Mock
A beautifully written memoir, achingly honest story of one woman’s struggle to understand, achieve, and own her truth. Redefining Realness starts with an Author’s Note, an Introduction, and finally an untitled preface of New York City, 2009, and her decision to share her past with a boyfriend who has become very close.
As she takes a deep breath into disclosure, the narrative dives into her past, transitioning to Part One, Honolulu, first grade 1989. Having been born with male genitals, Janet was named ‘Charles’ after her father, but recalls feeling female gendered since her earliest years. She relates a story where a childhood friend, Marilyn, dared her to put on a dress hanging on the clothesline. It became a Big Deal, with Grandma catching her, her sister tattling and her mom having a Conversation.
The anecdote becomes a point to begin educating the reader about the process of gender definition, the cultural norms that assign items as gendered (hair, clothes, walk, etc.) and how they are reinforced through our daily acts. The juxtaposition of the intellectual deconstruction with her life events foreshadows a pattern continued through her narrative.
Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
The protagonist, Eileen, is a deeply insecure young woman living in a sleepy town in New England during the 1960’s. She works at a juvenile detention center for boys, and she lives with her alcoholic father, a retired policeman struggling with reality. But towards the beginning we’re let in on the fact that these moments are all leading up to her escape from this life, a life she despises.
While this book is technically a mystery, it’s more of a deep character study of one person with severe insecurities and resentments. Eileen is obsessed with her body and disgusted with herself to a point of extreme I’ve never seen portrayed before. And it’s in these insecurities, layered on top of her filthy surroundings, that ultimately build a horrifyingly bleak reality.
You will want to withdraw from Eileen’s reality, yet looking away is hard, for at the same time she can be strangely relatable in her contradictions and fears. Watching this character unravel will leave you unsettled. This is one of the most interesting books by female authors.
The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez
This is a quiet novel, powerful in its simplicity, it’s about the experience of coming to America and ultimately about love—between a man and a woman, parents for their children, community and country. This is not a dogmatic treatise on the immigrant debate nor does it romanticize or sentimentalize their lives, it’s about a journey ‘born of necessity or of longing.’
Told in alternating voices and providing insights into the immigrant experience, I found their stories genuinely moving.
Citizen by Claudia Rankine
A piercing and perceptive book of poetry about being black in America. With rightful anger and sadness Claudia Rankine details the racism she has experienced in the United States, as well as the racism that surrounds popular black people in the media like Serena Williams, Barack Obama, and Trayvon Martin and James Craig Anderson.
As Michelle Alexander writes in The New Jim Crow , we like to think that we live in a colorblind society, when in reality that false belief just blinds us to the ways we let racism grow and fester. Claudia Rankine puts the emotional and physical impact of this racism into eloquent, intelligent language. This is one of the best books by female authors on racism.
Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit
This collection of essays is a relatively quick read at 130 pages. And no, it’s not just 130 pages of funny anecdotes depicting unwitting men explaining things to Solnit that she already knows. In fact, after the introductory essay, there’s no further mention of such behavior.
What follows is what I would call a crash-course in why feminism was so important in the past and also why there’s still a critical need for its existence today.
So prepare yourself before diving into this. Solnit’s knack for dropping bombs is unforgiving and unrelenting. She brings up stats and facts that are going to make a lot of readers uncomfortable. Especially those who are unfamiliar with world news, are new to feminism, or somehow managed to miss just how pervasive violence against women is in nearly every world culture. This is one of the most interesting essay books by female authors.
Marlena by Julie Buntin
Cat and her brother Jimmy relocate with their mother to a rural town in Northern Michigan. With her parents recent divorce she is no longer able to attend her private boarding school. She feels very isolated living away from the support of her father and friends.
After the move, a friendship develops between Cat and her new neighbor Marlena. Cat is fifteen, impressionable and has lived a sheltered life. Marlena is streetwise and was raised by her drug dealing father and brother. Marlena’s environment has had a negative effect leading to pill addiction and school truancy. Cat is influenced by Marlena’s free spirit and she starts to copy her bad traits. She experiments with drinking, smoking, and cutting school while her mother copes with her own problems. Their lives become intertwined until Marlena’s sudden death.
This is one of the wonderful debut books by female authors. It is a gritty and emotional story of a deep friendship formed during adolescence. The author brings back all the overwhelming feelings developed in our teens.
The Mothers by Brit Bennett
In her elegant debut novel, Brit Bennett explores the concept of motherhood in its many forms, centered around a complicated friendship between two teenage girls.
Still grieving after her mother’s suicide, 17-year-old Nadia Turner develops a tenuous relationship with Luke, the local pastor’s son. Their relationship ends abruptly, leaving them with a painful secret that that will burden them both for years to come. Around this same time, Nadia befriends a quiet girl named Aubrey whose mother is out of the picture, and the two of them bond over that mutual hole in their lives.
The Mothers follows these three characters through high school, college and into adulthood, where the choices they made as teenagers will come back to haunt them. This is one of those books by female authors which will haunt you forever.
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
This is one of the hauntingly ambitious historical novel of the sea and New York, set during the Depression era and the Second World War. It is impeccably researched in its period details and well plotted. Anna Kerrigan is 11 years old, with her beloved father, Eddie, as they make their way to Manhatton Beach, and the opulent home of nightclub owner Dexter Styles, a man with ties to the mob. The family are barely getting by, Eddie is a bagman for the union and he wants a job with Dexter. He needs money for his disabled daughter, Lydia, towards whom he has ambivalent feelings.
One day Eddie fails to return home, leaving behind a devastated Anna who never gets over this event. There are three disparate and fragmentary storylines in the narrative, shifting in time and place, yet interconnected to reveal the mystery behind Eddie’s disappearance. This is a story of the impact of war on women and the opportunities that open up whilst the men are away, class, crime, loss, tragedy and the relationship between fathers and daughters. This is one of the most significant books by female authors.
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Eleanor Oliphant lives a fairly secluded life due to her lack of social graces and crippling self esteem and anxiety issues. She works at a graphic design firm in the finance department and spends the rest of her time at home, usually drinking. Her social life consists of a phone call with her mummy every week.
Then one day she goes to a concert, for which she won tickets in a raffle, and falls in love at first sight with a musician. Eleanor decides to make some changes to herself as part of a plan to get her dream man.
Meanwhile a new hire in the IT department of her company, Raymond, strikes up a friendship with Eleanor. As things change for Eleanor she is forced to confront the past and confront the real reason for her recent desire for more. It’s one of the most beautiful books by female authors.
Swing Time by Zadie Smith
Brilliantly written, this novel from Zadie Smith is a mishmash of modern culture and timeless themes. Ideas about female friendship, family, and identity are interwoven with music and dance from pop and musical to African and hip hop.
In Zadie Smith’s opening to her Swing Time, the narrator (never named) is sitting in London’s Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank of the Thames, having walked aimlessly from the apartment she’s been hiding out in, opposite Lord’s Cricket Ground in St John’s Wood into the city, crossed the river and spontaneously bought a ticket to an event.
During this “conversation with an Austrian film director” they show this clip, which she is very familiar with from her own childhood obsession, and watching it now, she realizes how much she has been a shadow in the lives of others, never taking center stage in her own life, despite the strong passion for music and dance she has had within her all along. This is one of the beautifully written books by female authors.
The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison
Sharp and incisive, Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams charts the boundaries of pain and feeling. The collection consists of eleven fast-paced essays, each of which explores different existential, ethical, and aesthetic questions surrounding empathy.
Whether considering the affective power of saccharine art or reflecting on the uses of women’s sadness, Jamison is consistently engaging and witty, and her observations on empathy are clever and attentive. The collection seamlessly interweaves personal experience, journalism, and cultural history, and it offers a fresh perspective on a well-worn subject.
The Dark Dark by Samantha Hunt
A fascinating and sometimes disturbing collection of short stories. Samantha Hunt blends magical realism with more conventional literary form to showcase issues of dangerous desire, technology gone awry, and relationships that reveal secrets both sinister and important.
Across these stories runs a theme of dissatisfied suburban women who transform in some way, which lends itself to interesting feminist analysis. This is one of the best short story books by female authors.
Hunger by Roxane Gay
Hunger focuses on Roxane Gay’s fatness, how being fat has affected her life in so many negative and unfair ways, and the rape she experienced as a twelve-year-old that precipitated her weight gain.
She has an enormous talent for confronting complex, ugly truths in her writing and for injecting nuance into difficult subjects that we would rather see as simple. There are no clear victories or easy solutions in Hunger. Instead of cookie-cutter niceties, Roxane Gay offers a harrowing and honest account of her suffering, as well as the painful, slow, and necessary steps she has taken to heal.
The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud
Nora Eldridge is a primary school teacher who at forty-two has sacrificed her dream to become an artist to live in the numbing comfort of economic stability and independence, a woman who perfectly fits the role attached to her gender: dutiful daughter, involved professional, reliable friend, model citizen.
But she is also the woman upstairs, the person everybody forgets the moment she turns around the corner, the agreeable teacher who dotes on her students because she doesn’t have children of her own, the middle-aged woman who is content in her resigned singleness. Deep down, underneath the artificial mask of clownish kindness, she is boiling with anger for her mundane life, humiliated by the way people take her for granted, indignant at the way life has cheated on her. This is one of the most compelling books by female authors.
Arthur Leander is a famous actor who suffers a heart attack and dies on stage just before a deadly version of the swine flu kills most of humanity. Station Eleven then uses Arthur as the center of a web of connections that we learn from the people in his life before, during and after the disease wipes out the world as we know it.
Kirsten sees Arthur die as a child actor, and years later she’s part of the Traveling Symphony that tours the small towns of the post-apocalyptic landscape. Jeevan is an ex-paparazzo turned paramedic who once stalked Arthur, but he is in the audience when the actor keels over and tries to save his life. Miranda is Arthur’s first wife who could never adjust to the spotlight his fame brought and wrote a comic book about a space station as a hobby. Clark was one of Arthur’s best friends who gets stranded far from home when things really start to fall apart.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
This is a historical family saga set in Korea and Japan throughout the 20th century. It follows four generations of a Korean family through the political turmoil of Japanese colonization, the hardship of wartimes, seeking a new and better life in Japan, and witnessing the home they left become divided into two countries they hardly recognize.
As someone who knows very little about Korean history, this book was absolutely fascinating. Rich, detailed characterization draws us into the lives of these people and, at least for me, teaches us a chapter of modern history we might not have been aware of. This is one of the most wonderful books by female authors.
God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
God of the Small Things is a wonderful, image-rich novel told over several generations of a family in India. The central event is the death of a young girl, and how racism, and petty, CYA politics, results in the death of an innocent for a crime that was never committed.
The central character is a girl/woman, a twin, with an almost surreal connection to her other. Their family life is told. There is much here on Indian history, the caste system and how that continues to manifest in the modern world. It won the Booker prize.
Mrs Funnybones by Twinkle Khanna
Mrs.Funnybones is a quick, witty read that humanizes celebrity Life. Twinkle Khanna matches her tv show persona in her book with tongue in cheek remarks and colourful opinions.
When you are married for a certain period of time, you’ve heard the themes of each chapter be it a crib about forced fast in the name of your longevity or captured in a FB post in your least flattering dress or how the man of the house is sometimes as useful as a coin collection. This book is written in a way every wife/mom empathizes and every husband/dad reminisces.
The additional commentary at the beginning of each chapter in the form of scribbles on a notepad are funny reading. She refers to her hubby as ‘Man of the house’ and her inquisitive son as ‘the prodigal son’. Not without some amount of sarcasm.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice is an excellent social commentary delving into the tenuous economic positions women in the 19th century held. When Elizabeth Bennet first meets eligible bachelor Fitzwilliam Darcy, she thinks him arrogant and conceited; he is indifferent to her good looks and lively mind. When she later discovers that Darcy has involved himself in the troubled relationship between his friend Bingley and her beloved sister Jane, she is determined to dislike him more than ever.
In the sparkling comedy of manners that follows, Jane Austen shows the folly of judging by first impressions and superbly evokes the friendships, gossip and snobberies of provincial middle-class life. One of the real strengths of this book is how well it balances out the romance and the satirical humour of the situation with the real reality of the situation. This is one of those classic books by female authors which you will never forget.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
It’s difficult to believe that this gothic fiction story was written in 1818 by Mary Shelley when she was only eighteen Years old and while the writing style is formal and literary the story is so engaging and thought provoking.
Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus is a novel written by English author Mary Shelley (1797–1851) that tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist who creates a grotesque, sapient creature in an unorthodox scientific experiment. Shelley started writing the story when she was 18, and the first edition of the novel was published anonymously in London on 1 January 1818, when she was 20. Her name first appeared on the second edition, published in France in 1823.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Jane Eyre is the quintessential Victorian novel. It literally has everything that was typical of the period, but, unlike other novels, it has all the elements in one story. At the centre is the romance between Jane and Rochester, which is enhanced by Gothic elements such as the uncanniness of the doppelganger and the spectre like qualities of Bertha.
In addition, it is also a governess novel; these were an incredibly popular type of storytelling in the age and for it to be combined with Gothic elements, which are interposed with a dualistic relationship between realism and romance, is really quite unique. The correct term for this is a hybrid, in which no genre voice is dominant; they exist alongside each other creating one rather special book. It is one of the most loved books by female authors.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
In 1801, Lockwood, a wealthy young man from the south of England, who is seeking peace and recuperation, rents Thrushcross Grange in Yorkshire. He visits his landlord, Heathcliff, who lives in a remote moorland farmhouse, Wuthering Heights. There Lockwood finds an odd assemblage: Heathcliff, who seems to be a gentleman, but whose manners are uncouth; the reserved mistress of the house, who is in her mid-teens; and a young man, who seems to be a member of the family, yet dresses and speaks as if he is a servant.
Wuthering Heights is Emily Brontë’s only novel. Written between October 1845 and June 1846, Wuthering Heights was published in 1847 under the pseudonym “Ellis Bell”; Brontë died the following year, aged 30. Wuthering Heights and Anne Brontë’s Agnes Grey were accepted by publisher Thomas Newby before the success of their sister Charlotte’s novel Jane Eyre. After Emily’s death, Charlotte edited the manuscript of Wuthering Heights and arranged for the edited version to be published as a posthumous second edition in 1850.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Little Women is a novel by American author Louisa May Alcott (1832–1888), which was originally published in two volumes in 1868 and 1869. Alcott wrote the books over several months at the request of her publisher. Following the lives of the four March sisters—Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy—the novel details their passage from childhood to womanhood and is loosely based on the author and her three sisters.
At its core a story about the attempt to respond to time’s passing, To the Lighthouse brings into tension two days a decade apart from each other. Both days take place on the Isle of Skye in the early decades of the twentieth century, and focus on the social life of the Ramsay family and the small circle of friends that they bring with them to their summer home.
The novel’s second main part ceaselessly echoes and recalls the first, while its short interlude glides over the depths of the many things that change between the two days. A catastrophic war erupts, the summer home deteriorates, loved ones die. Throughout short novel, though, Woolf’s prose is iridescent, her narrative intricate, her characterization multifaceted; each experience of the text is bound to clash with past readings, expanding your understanding of the book.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
In Rebecca, the man is the haunted, moody Maxim de Winter who has married a never-named young woman–a naive paid companion–whom he has met during a recent stay in Monte Carlo. The two return to Maxim’s ancestral estate of Manderley, but the new wife soon finds the old house and grounds–as well as the mind of her increasingly melancholy husband–dominated by the spirit of Rebecca, his dead first wife.
The author’s simplifying genius resides in the fact that in Rebecca the spirit of the dead woman animates the house and the landscape and obsesses the man. Consequently, every attempt of the new Mrs. de Winter–the narrator–to adjust to the house and staff (including the daunting housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers), to explore the house and grounds, or to comprehend the past events that interfere with her present happiness are part of the novel’s central struggle and its secret history.
Ayn Rand follows the lives of society’s movers and shakers (first-handers, in her words, and business men, scientists, inventors, and artists in her novel) as they resist the societal pull to become second-handers and to remain true to themselves and their live’s work. Meanwhile, something is happening that is shaking the very foundation of society.
In Atlas Shrugged, she shares her philosophy which she calls Objectivism, which in a word is a system of justice. In a few other words, Rand is an advocate of reason, logic, accountability, production, capitalism, agency, human ability, and she believes that working for one’s happiness is essential and each person’s personal responsibility. She is against pity, mediocrity, taxation, seizing wealth and production from those who produce to redistribute to those who are unwilling to work hard. In the story, she illustrates what would happen to the world if incentive to produce is removed from the intelligent and able – the motor of the world would stop. This is one of the best philosophy books by female authors.
Shirley Jackson was a masterful storyteller, using a minimalistic approach and a terse, almost journalistic narrative, she creates a mood and sense of expectancy and mystery that grips the reader slowly and completely and lasts until the very end.
And unlike other ghost stories that struggle with an ending, Jackson’s haunted house tale brilliantly ends with the same mystery and psychological tension as the narrative held throughout, she leaves the reader without a falsely satisfying conclusion.
To Kill a Mockingbird is a novel by Harper Lee published in 1960. It was immediately successful, winning the Pulitzer Prize, and has become a classic of modern American literature. The plot and characters are loosely based on Lee’s observations of her family, her neighbors and an event that occurred near her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, in 1936, when she was 10 years old. The story is told by the six-year-old Jean Louise Finch.
The story is told from the point of view of Scout (Jean-Louise Finch), a six year old girl, through various events that happen in the town of Maycomb and in particular, the court case of Tom Robinson as her father Atticus Finch acts as Tom’s defence lawyer. Tom, a black man who has been accused of raping a young white woman, has to endure multiple racial attacks. Atticus, widely described as the “most enduring fictional image of racial heroism”, describes the events to Scout so that she sees that all people should be treated equally.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
A Wrinkle in Time is a science fantasy novel written by American writer Madeleine L’Engle, first published in 1962. It is the first book in L’Engle’s Time Quintet series, which follows the Murry and O’Keefe families. The book spawned two film adaptations, both by Disney: a 2003 television film directed by John Kent Harrison, and a 2018 theatrical film directed by Ava DuVernay.
Play It as It Lays by Joan Didion
The book is about a 30-year old mother, Maria Wyeth who lives in the 60’s America as a struggling actress. She meets all sorts of men – straight and bisexual – and makes love with them. Like how Capote pictured show-business in that era, the characters in this book seem to be living in another planet or maybe the plain-looking me is not born to be aware of how that world operates. Aside from sleeping around, they love to use drugs, drink booze, live “empty” lives, believe in nothing including themselves and see nothing in or dream nothing good about their future.
So, Maria gets pregnant and even when she is already a mother, she still lives an empty life. She seems to abhor it and at several points, you can see that she struggles to set her life straight but she seems to have been engulfed by the world that she lives in.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
The Color Purple is an absolute masterpiece about love and redemption. Shug, Celie, Sofia, and Nellie are some of the strongest women characters in American fiction.
There is so much to unpack here as Alice Walker deals holistically with the fate of African Americans from the perspective of Africa and the tribes who sold their kinsman to white slavers, the devastation of Africa by European colonizers particularly after WWI leading to WWII, the violence of in the South particularly aimed towards women, female sexuality…There is an infinite depth in this book that can reveal itself more and more with each successive read.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is a tale of terror as well as a warning. The dystopian future she describes in “Gilead” which appears to be centered in Boston (due to the reference to Mass Ave and the town of Salem) is chillingly misogynistic where women are reduced to strict categories.
It is beautifully written with lots of flashbacks of “Offred”, the protagonist’s name, of how things devolved into the horrors of her present. It is disturbing because it exposes the politics of reproduction and male sexuality taken to extremes of violence that are shocking and, yet, probably seemed one possible future during the Reaganite 80s when she wrote the book and now feel like the world of which Michael Pence in particular and perhaps Paul Ryan but most definitely Steve Bannon must dream. This is one of the compelling books by female authors that depicts dystopian future.
There are reasons why Toni Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. Beloved may be the biggest one. The structure is a ghost story about a woman who killed her own children rather than see them be dragged back from freedom to live a life of slavery, and how the guilt of that act comes back to haunt her. But the real payload here is a portrayal of the slave existence, how it seeps into every pore, affects every emotion, defines one’s world view, how one values education, how willing one can be to love another human being. It is a triumph, a masterwork by one of the world’s great writers, working so well at several levels.
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
In 2000 Jhumpa Lahiri became the first Indian American to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for her short story collection The Interpreter of Maladies. In these nine poignant stories, Lahiri relates the Indian immigrant experience, connecting the tales and creating one voice for them. The stories shared a sadness of being separated from one’s family by thousands of miles, yet also offered a glimmer of hope for their lives in India or the United States.
The story is about two people, the time traveler and his wife. On the surface, they are like any two people who love each other in modern times, except for the fact that he travels through time. You’d think that fact would make this science fiction, but this is more a romance — actually, more a great love story than anything. A love that transcends time.
Hilarious autobiography that touches upon the highs and lows of Tina Fey’s life and career. If you’re a fan of her humor you’ll be a fan of Bossypants. It’s not an in depth, gut-wrenching tell-all memoir. For instance, she only glosses over the incident when she got the facial scar. But if you’re familiar with Fey’s brand of humor then the lightheartedness of it shouldn’t surprise you. She’s the sort of average, nice person that has her own strong opinions, but doesn’t think that they always have to be heard at the expense of others. She’s more apt to poke fun at herself, dissecting her own issues with razor-sharp wit.
Tina Fey very good about never bludgeoning the reader with microscopic analysis. She highlights key life moments, considering them briefly while avoiding ponderous reflections. Some might say the book stays too surface-level. I say going any deeper would not be the point of Bossypants.
Gillian Flynn takes the common marital concerns about money, in-laws, and parenthood, and turns them into toxic waste in the case of Nick and Amy Dunne. Amy is revealed through her diaries, and Nick narrates his experiences as he follows the clues in the anniversary treasure hunt laid out by his wife before she disappeared. Did Nick kill Amy? A lot of people think so, but her body hasn’t been found. Is Amy still alive? What was lurking beneath the surface of their marriage?
Gone Girl is a thriller, but it’s a slow burn. Flynn strings you along. She doles out just enough information to make you think you’ve figured things out before she hits you with another “GOTCHA!” revelation that changes everything. And she saves the biggest gotcha of all for the end, which is shocking in its subtlety. The way it ends puts the final seal on what a truly sick relationship Nick and Amy had.
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
Twelve men meet at the Crown Hotel in Hokitika, New Zealand, in January, 1866. A thirteenth, Walter Moody, an educated man from Edinburgh who has come here to find his fortune in gold, walks in. As it unfolds, the interlocking stories and shifting narrative perspectives of the twelve–now thirteen–men bring forth a mystery that all are trying to solve, including Walter Moody, who has just gotten off the Godspeed ship with secrets of his own that intertwine with the other men’s concerns.
All the Bright Places is the story of how Theodore Finch and Violet are brought together by death–which would be gloomy, except the two personalities bloom, becoming something beautiful, as their wondrous adventures bring them closer together. Jennifer Niven takes a girl meets boy story, sets it in the dull landscape of Indiana, and turns it into a Seussical wonderworld with these extraordinarily conflicted characters.
For the past 10 months Anna has been trapped inside the four walls she calls home. She can’t bring herself to take a single step outside. No grocery shopping, no walks through the park, not even to pick a package from the front stoop. Anna is an agoraphobic. Her days are filled with pills to control her anxiety and other ailments followed by a bottle or two (sometimes more) of wine to wash it all down. Her life outside her home is only viewed through her Nikon camera, where she watches her neighbors’ daily routines.
When she witnesses an attack in the home across the street no one will believe her. Not the home owners, not even the police! Anna begins to question if it’s a side effect of her medication, or is there a reason no one wants to believe her.
In this novel we learn the story of Rachel Watson, a young English woman, divorced and part time alcoholic. Everyday she travels by train, enjoying its harmonic pace, its unhurried sounds and the everyday regular people that she already feels she knows, but, above everything, she loves to watch the house number fifteen on Blenheim street, where lives her imaginary perfect couple, Jess and Jason.
Until one day her dreamy beautiful couple, for reasons we are not going to spoil, ceases to be. Something happens and nothing will ever be the same. Something happens and her already problematic life will change forever; her future, and the past she once thought she knew.
Circe is part beautifully-written literary fantasy and part divine Greek soap opera. This strange combination makes for a book that is extremely quotable, rich in description and detail, and also a page-turner. It moves seamlessly between the broader scope of the world and its many gods and monsters, to the more narrow focus of the nymph-turned-witch, Circe, and her daily life before and after she is exiled to the island Aeaea.
Circe becomes a powerful witch, but the strength of her story is in all her relatable flaws and weaknesses. We follow her as a naive lesser nymph, longing to be accepted and loved. We stay with her as she believes the lies of others and, later, becomes hardened against such deceivers. Her compassion constantly battles with her rage. Understandably.
In this novel we learn the story of two little odd birds. “Eleanor”, fire redhead, awkwardly dressed, wide. “Park”, weird, silent, asian. Two little school misfits slowly getting to know each other during the everyday bus ride to school. From an annoyed greeting insult, to an incomprehensible unconditional love.
Beautiful YA novel, bestseller, moderately short. A pretty safe bet for anyone who enjoys the Young Adult genre. A lot of beautiful endearing moments to remember, and some very funny bits too, with a special sarcastic humor. A novel that brings the remembrance of youth and the miracle of that first love, and all the fears and emotions that it carried.
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
A group of people are all individually invited to an island for a summer holiday in Devon. None of them 100% sure who their mysterious host is. Things become even more peculiar when their host isn’t there when they arrive, and doesn’t show themselves at all.
One by one the guests are killed, picked off, leaving the others terrified and paranoid. It was a fantastic mystery throughout. As tension becomes hysteria, the guests wonder who will be next, who is responsible for these murders and why? This is one of the best mystery books by female authors ever written.
An unsettling but gripping novel, based on the true story of Lale, a Slovakian Jew caught up in the horrors of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp during WW2. He speaks several languages, so soon finds himself employed in the camp as the tattooist, the man responsible for inscribing prisoners numbers on their arms. He soon meets and falls in love with Gita, a fellow inmate., but can their love survive the horrors of life inside a concentration camp?
This is a beautifully told tale, Heather Morris captures the essence of the camp well. One can only speculate at the deranged minds of those that caused such suffering.
The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai
An aged judge lives in the highlands of north India. As political and ethnic tensions stretch through the mountain air, he reconsiders his origins, his education, his career, his opportunities, both taken and missed. He has a granddaughter, orphaned in most unlikely circumstances, as her parents trained for a Russian space programme. But what circumstances that create orphans are ever likely? She is growing up, accompanied by most of what that entails.
The Inheritance Of Loss by Kiran Desai is a magnificent, impressive novel. The book’s language, scenarios and juxtapositions are funny, threatening, vivid and tender all at the same time. The comic element, always riven through with irony, is most often to the fore, as characters grapple with a world much bigger than themselves, a world that only ever seems to admit them partially, and rarely on their own terms.
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys is a masterpiece. It takes place during WW2 and follows 4 characters as they are seeking freedom on the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety to all. The writing in the book was so phenomenal. The way that Ruta laid out the story through her writing was so just beautiful. There were these sentences that she would lace throughout the different points-of-view to connect them that I just thought was so brilliant.
Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel
The sequel to Hilary Mantel’s international bestseller and Man Booker Prize winner Wolf Hall explores one of the most mystifying and frightening episodes in English history: the downfall of Anne Boleyn.
While Wolf Hall focused on the rise of Anne Boleyn and how she became Queen of England, Bring Up the Bodies is about how the King decides to leave Anne when she can’t give him a son, and her subsequent downfall and execution. The story of her trial and beheading has been told many times, but I loved how Mantel chose to show us the scenes from Cromwell’s perspective, and how he helped manipulate the proceedings. Cromwell even maneuvered to help the King find his next wife, Jane Seymour.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
A twenty-chapter novel based on Plath’s own experience of breakdown in college, The Bell Jar charts the deterioration of protagonist Esther Greenwood’s mental stability while interning for a fast-paced fashion magazine one summer in New York City. The first-person retrospective narration juxtaposes ironic detachment and impassioned lyricism: Esther swings from cooly assessing the insurmountable adversity she faces as a woman living in a sexist society to recounting the fits of existential despair she suffered the year she lost control over her life. The narrative is tightly structured, the descriptions moving, the characterization nuanced.
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Celestial and Roy, a young couple from Atlanta, have been married for just over a year when Roy is arrested and sentenced to 12 years in jail. Will their marriage survive their separation or will they be able to withstand Roy’s incarceration? The bulk of the story focuses on a love triangle between Roy, Celestial, and Celestial’s childhood friend, Andre. In addition to romantic love and marriage, themes of motherhood and fatherhood, race, class, and tradition also play prominent roles.
Gone with the Wind is a novel by American writer Margaret Mitchell, first published in 1936. The story is set in Clayton County and Atlanta, both in Georgia, during the American Civil War and Reconstruction Era.
Written from the perspective of the slaveholder, Gone with the Wind is Southern plantation fiction. Its portrayal of slavery and African Americans has been considered controversial, especially by succeeding generations, as well as its use of a racial epithet and ethnic slurs common to the period. However, the novel has become a reference point for subsequent writers about the South, both black and white. Scholars at American universities refer to, interpret, and study it in their writings.
The novel has been absorbed into American popular culture. Mitchell received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for the book in 1937. It was adapted into a 1939 American film. Gone with the Wind is the only novel by Mitchell published during her lifetime. This is one of the best romance books by female authors ever written.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Celia and Marco are two young magicians who were chosen to take part in a competition by her father and his trainer. They don’t know each other as they grow up, but they know that they are training for this competition. They also don’t know much about the competition at all, they just train on and do what they’re told. As they grow up they learn more each day, and meet each other while working at the circus which is the venue for the competition.
Becoming is a memoir of a famous person, Michelle Obama, the first black First Lady in the United States who lived with her husband, President Barack Obama, and their two daughters, Malia and Sacha in the White House for eight years. During that time, alongside taking care of her family, Michelle Obama managed to accomplish four major initiatives as First Lady to help improve peoples lives and well-being.
How many books from this list have you read so far?