30 Books Every Woman Should Read

Photo: Courtesy of Knopf.
Let’s be real: You should be reading books, and books by women, every month of the year. But, since March is Women’s History Month, you have a built-in excuse to check out a few titles by some of our greatest female writers. That women have contributed just as much to our literary culture as men doesn't even need to be said. But, even in 2015, there are noticeable gender gaps in the kind of work that gets noticed and reviewed by the media.

Ahead, you'll find 30 suggestions for books written by women to crack open this month — from essays, memoirs, and fiction, to all-time classics and brand-new stunners.
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Photo: Courtesy of New Directions.
Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector

What: A feverish, Joycean first novel that flicks back and forth through the life and memories of an irrepressibly wild and mostly amoral young woman named Joana.

Why: Lispector burst onto the Brazilian literary scene at a mere 23 years old with this incendiary novel, which earned her the title "Hurricane Clarice." It remains one of the most important modernist works ever written, full of shuddering power and unfiltered emotion.
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Photo: Courtesy of Vintage.
Krik? Krak! by Edwidge Danticat

What: MacArthur Genius Grant winner Edwidge Danticat's first collection of short stories, mostly set in Haiti.

Why: In these stories, Danticat investigates the relationships women create — particularly those between mothers and daughters — and the struggles her characters face as they attempt to reconcile their pasts with their futures. Her prose is warm and inviting, even as she describes extreme suffering. The result is something uncommonly effective, no matter who you are.
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Photo: Courtesy of Vintage.
Dear Life by Alice Munro

What: The most recent collection of short stories by one of the greatest living practitioners of the craft.

Why: Munro has a rare talent that gives every one of her short stories the weight and punch of a novel, investigating the lives and loves of everyday people in a way that never fails to captivate. Plus, the lady won the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature — and for someone who only writes in the short form, that's an even more impressive feat.
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Photo: Courtesy of Penguin.
A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf

What: Woolf's famous 1929 book-length essay that investigates the plight of the female artist.

Why: Because Woolf is one of the greatest writers of all time, and because her essay, which argues for both physical and psychological space for women to create art, is still important today.
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Photo: Courtesy of Vintage.
Beloved by Toni Morrison

What: A Pulitzer Prize-winning novel that tells the story of Sethe, an escaped slave, complete with ghosts of all kinds.

Why: Toni Morrison is a giant of American letters, and this book is her searing, striving, terrifying best.
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Photo: Courtesy of Wave Books.
Bluets by Maggie Nelson

What: Technically a lyric essay, this luminous little book is a deeply felt love letter to the color blue.

Why: This book is unlike anything else you'll ever read, investigating life, love, philosophy, suffering — and yes, all things blue — in short, eloquent paragraphs. It reads like an extended prose poem that will rock you to the core.
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Photo: Courtesy of Little, Brown and Company.
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

What: A dazzling, vivacious novel set during the New Zealand gold rush and revolving around a set of mysterious happenings.

Why: Catton has quickly become one of the most celebrated young writers working today, winning the Man Booker Prize at 28, making her the youngest recipient ever. All hype aside, this book, a monster at 864 pages, will lure you in and keep you hostage for hours.
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Photo: Courtesy of Vintage.
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

What: Didion's intimate memoir about the death of her husband and her daughter's illness.

Why: No list of recommendations for books by women — or indeed, any books — would be complete without a volume by Didion, our doyenne of the written word, a living legend. But, be warned: You won't get out of this book without at least one good cry.
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Photo: Courtesy of Penguin Books.
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

What: A complex novel that centers on the diary of a Japanese teenage girl who decides that the only way to cure her angst is to end her own life — but not before she documents the life story of her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun.

Why: Not only is Ozeki's novel a great piece of storytelling, it also investigates the way stories shape and affect us — not to mention what it's like to be a woman, a storyteller, and part of a family in every stage of life.
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Photo: Courtesy of NYRB Classics.
Sleepless Nights by Elizabeth Hardwick

What: Part memoir, part novel, part scrapbook — all vivid sensory exploration of memory, personality, and experience.

Why: Hardwick was one of the most important critics and theorists of her time, and her most famous novel is still a unique creation — a piece of art that elevates quality of mind and language above all else.
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Photo: Courtesy of Scribner.
Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman

What: Bergman's collection features fictional stories based on 13 real-life "almost famous" women — from dancer Butterfly McQueen to Allegra Byron, Lord Byron's daughter out of wedlock, to a pair of conjoined twins in Hollywood.

Why: Because what better time is there for celebrating the lesser-known heroines of our history, and reading some vibrant, generous short stories in the process?
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Photo: Courtesy of Penguin.
The Liars' Club by Mary Karr

What: Memoirist and poet Mary Karr's first book tells the story of her roughshod childhood in a scummy Texas oil town, and is both hilarious and devastating.

Why: Karr's voice is like no other, and this year marks the 20th anniversary of this incendiary first memoir — so, if you've been dragging your feet, why? This book will knock you off them immediately.
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Photo: Courtesy of Europa Editions.
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

What: A portrait of two girls growing up together in a small town in Italy, from one of that country's most acclaimed writers.

Why: This is one of the best books about female friendship in recent memory — so what better book to read during Women's History Month? After all, we all get by with a little help from our lady friends.
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Photo: Courtesy of Vintage.
I Feel Bad About My Neck: and Other Thoughts on Being a Woman by Nora Ephron

What: The hilarious Nora Ephron's slim book of essays about aging, and particularly, the plight of the aging woman.

Why: This book is solidarity, wit, and wisdom you can fit in right your pocket — no matter how old you are.
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Photo: Courtesy of Riverhead Books.
Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

What: A compulsively readable novel about the Victorian-era music hall girls, in all their gender-bending, sapphic, passionate glory.

Why: It's a historical novel with plenty of seduction and sex and pretty much zero men — which can feel like a breath of fresh air in our male-dominated cultural landscape.
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Photo: Courtesy of Scribner.
The Wife by Meg Wolitzer

What: In this novel's opening passages, the wife of a famous New York novelist decides to leave him. We find out, over the course of the novel, just exactly why.

Why: With this book, both a hilarious work of satire and a compelling novel in its own right, prepare to delight in Wolitzer's dry wit and keen sense of humanity, as well as consider the plight of the "literary wife" — or indeed, any wife.
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Photo: Courtesy of Bloomsbury USA.
Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

What: Over a mere four years in Jesmyn Ward's life, five men close to her died — from accident, from overdose, from suicide — and spurred this memoir, which investigates the reasons behind the tragedies.

Why: The book is about family, poverty, hopelessness and hope, men and women, but also an essential read about race in America from one of our brightest young writers.
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Photo: Courtesy of Coffee House Press.
A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride

What: A strange, beautiful work of contemporary modernism that won the 2014 Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction.

Why: Too often, narratives by and about women that are both emotionally raw and formally inventive are ignored. This one, about a girl's relationship with her brother, was one of the best, and most difficult, books of last year — don't ignore it.
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Photo: Courtesy of Dey Street Books.
Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon

What: The brand-new memoir from Sonic Youth founder and front woman Kim Gordon.

Why: Kim Gordon is a living piece of kick-ass women's history, and she's written a book about how she got there. Need we say more?
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Photo: Courtesy of Picador.
The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston

What: An innovative memoir that blends Kingston's experiences with traditional Chinese folktales.

Why: Kingston's book examines the nature of oppression, womanhood, and both American and Chinese identities. She writes: “There is a Chinese word for the female I — which is ‘slave.’ Break the women with their own tongues!"

So the young Kingston revolted against her gender: “I refused to cook. When I had to wash dishes, I would crack one or two. ‘Bad girl,’ my mother yelled, and sometimes that made me gloat rather than cry. Isn’t a bad girl almost a boy?”
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Photo: Courtesy of Hawthorne Books.
Dora: a Headcase by Lidia Yuknavitch

What: A novel that centers on 17-year-old Ida, a fictionalized version of Freud's famous case study of "hysterical" bisexual Dora.

Why: Because Ida takes back the term "hysterical," and because we need more out-there portrayals of femininity in popular culture — for Women's History Month and every other. “I want to create new girl myths,” Yuknavitch said of her writing. Let's have lots more where this came from.
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Photo: Courtesy of Vintage.
The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

What: An essential feminist text that asks its readers to examine gender — and our preconceptions of it.

Why: When better than Women's History Month to investigate the nature of woman-ness, particularly as its been constructed in our culture? Plus, if you've never read this ur-text of feminism, it's about time.
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Photo: Courtesy of Semiotext(e).
Heroines by Kate Zambreno

What: An urgent, insightful book about “the mad wives of modernism,” both historical and fictional, “who died in the asylum. Locked away, rendered safe. Forgotten, erased, or rewritten.”

Why: For reading in opposition to suppression of all kinds.
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Photo: Courtesy of Vintage.
The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

What: Sexy, feminist retellings of classic fairy tales.

Why: Did you read the "what"?
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Photo: Courtesy of Harper Perennial Modern Classics.
The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

What: Lessing's influential postmodern masterpiece follows writer Anna Wulf, who keeps an account of each strand of her life in a separate notebook — "a black notebook which is to do with Anna Wulf the writer; a red notebook concerned with politics; a yellow notebook, in which I make stories out of my experience; and a blue notebook which tries to be a diary." — and weaves these in with another separate fictional account of Anna.

Why: Because this book is an antisocial, feminist touchstone, and Doris Lessing was a complete badass. Also, it will make you smarter.
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Photo: Courtesy of Haymarket Books.
Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

What: A slim book that takes on female self-doubt and our cultural gender gap via the all-too-prevalent trend of men explaining things to women that they assume — wrongly — women don’t understand.

Why: Women’s history includes the history of mansplaining. Solnit will help you battle it.
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Photo: Courtesy of W. W. Norton & Company.
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

What: Rhys’ famous postcolonial prequel to Jane Eyre investigates race, cultural displacement, and the trope of the “madwoman in the attic.”

Why: History is full of madwomen in attics, in all their various permutations, but any investigation of the concept’s literary scope has to start here.
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Photo: Courtesy of Knopf.
The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore

What: A book exploring the complex origin and history of the most popular female superhero ever invented.

Why: Because even fictional women deserve to be remembered during Women’s History Month — especially if that fictional woman is as badass and ubiquitous as Wonder Woman.
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Photo: Courtesy of Anchor.
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

What: Atwood’s vision of a future, religion-dominated America in which women are relegated to status symbols or slaves for procreation.

Why: Because the first step in keeping anything like this from happening is to start thinking about it. Also, because this book is incredible.
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Photo: Courtesy of Anchor.
We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

What: A rallying cry of an essay (and the one sampled by Beyoncé) with a message true to its title.

Why: Because we really should.
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