As you might know, March is Women’s History Month which is all about “commemorating and encouraging the study, observance and celebration of the vital role of women in American history.” The majority of the books I read are by and about women. That hasn’t been a conscious choice; I’m just naturally drawn to stories about female empowerment and experiences. With that in mind, today I want to share ten books I’d recommend if you want more women in your reading life.
American Jezebel: The Uncommon Life of Anne Hutchinson, the Woman Who Defied the Puritans by Eve LaPlante
I first heard about Anne Hutchinson in one of my college history courses. My professor talked about her with great respect, so when I saw this biography on the library shelf, I knew I had to read it. Hutchinson was a woman who stood up to men who wanted her silenced. She vocalized her religious and political opinions in a time when women’s voices were not welcome in the public sphere. Hutchinson’s story would be an inspiring one if it happened today, but her life is made even more amazing considering the time in which she lived.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
In the 1700s, half-sisters Effia and Esi are born in Ghana. Their lives take different paths, and Homegoing is the story of them and their descendants until the modern day. This novel reaffirms the horror of slavery, explores the pain of mothers who have lost their children, and shows how racism still runs rampant even in modern America. Despite the dense subject matter, Homegoing contains sweet, tender, and joyous moments, too. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It’s stunning.
Me, My Hair, and I: Twenty-seven Women Untangle an Obsession edited by Elizabeth Benedict
This book is a collection of essays about hair. That might sound weird or boring, but I assure you it’s neither. Most of the women I know (myself included) genuinely care about their hair. It’s easy to assume that’s because of vanity, but a lot of times there are broader issues at play, including cultural expectations, hair loss due to illness, attachment to hair that feels like a shield, or messy feelings about self-worth. There’s no denying that women are expected to look a certain way, and this book does a good job exploring that pressure.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
This novel focuses on two women, Elena and Mia. Elena Richardson is a longtime resident of Shaker Heights, Ohio, a wealthy, nearly perfect town where she and her husband raise their four children. Elena rents out an apartment to mysterious Mia and her daughter Pearl. Mia is an artist who never tends to stay in the same place for long. She’s raising Mia on her own and trying to make ends meet. As the novel progresses, Elena and Mia end up in the middle of a custody battle. Elena’s friend (who’s white, of course) is trying to adopt a Chinese-American baby, but Mia questions to whom the child truly belongs. A lot is happening in this book, yet Ng’s pacing and storytelling never falter. Little Fires Everywhere is an outstanding novel that digs deep into what it means to be a mother, sister, and friend.
Educated by Tara Westover
I can’t stop talking about this book. In case you’re unfamiliar with it, Educated is Tara Westover’s story of being raised off the grid by a fundamentalist Mormon family. Her survivalist father didn’t believe in doctors and certainly didn’t believe in public education. She grew up isolated from the world and was forced to educate herself, eventually ending up at Harvard and Cambridge. Westover beautifully depicts resilience and how far education can take a person in their quest for a different life.
All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg
Andrea Bern is living an ordinary life. She’s in her late 30s, unmarried, childless, and is working a dead-end job for which she has no passion. Andrea’s not yearning for a husband or baby, though. She treats herself to quality things. Life is progressing normally until her world is shaken up when her niece becomes ill. Andrea sees the cracks in her brother and sister-in-law’s marriage for the first time and watches her mother grow fully obsessed with the baby’s needs. Like all of us, Andrea is complicated. I love this novel because it dares to have a complex woman at its center who is both occasionally unlikable (gasp!) and entirely relatable. All Grown Up is an utter delight.
We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This brief book is an essay adapted from Adichie’s TED talk. This is an excellent primer for anyone interested in feminism who might be wondering what it means and what it looks like in the modern world.
What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton
Whether you love her or hate her, there’s no denying that Hillary Clinton is one of the most important political figures in modern American history. In What Happened, she talks about the 2016 election and addresses what it was like running against Trump, how her campaign stumbled, and what life is like after a massive defeat. If you feel as if you’ve never honestly gotten to know Clinton, this book is worth your time.
A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master” by Rachel Held Evans
Like the title suggests, Rachel Held Evans decided to spend one year following the Bible’s words about women as literally as she could. This premise could have easily turned into a joke, but Evans’ work is based on her deep love and respect for Scripture. There’s certainly a lot of humor in this book, but Evans is extremely intelligent and she uses her knowledge of the Bible to discuss some of its most difficult passages. Whether you’re a believer or not, I think you’ll find this book eye-opening and entertaining.
I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman
by Nora Ephron
Most of the books on this list are addressing serious topics, so here’s a book that’s hilarious and fun. I adore Nora Ephron and think her wit shines in this essay collection about aging and navigating womanhood in life’s later years.
I thought long and hard about this list. There are so many other titles that could have appeared here, but these are the ten I feel most strongly about right at this moment. Have you read any of these? What books would make your list?