Here’s a list of some of my favorite books written by women that I’ve read throughout my life. It is by no means exhaustive, but I’ve tried to be comprehensive. I’ve listed them in chronological order because there’s no way I could rank these even if I tried.
A few years ago, I made the conscious decision to try to read more female authors. I have been and will continue to be open and honest about my path through sobriety, my path through life, and I greatly appreciate other women who are willing to do the same. It can be a very isolating thing, being female in America, if we don’t all share our stories and relate to one another. This is important work, not because it’s high brow, not because it’s all well-written, not because these women all take themselves too seriously (although, they all do take themselves as seriously as they should), it’s not even because all of it really means that much. It’s all important because it matters, listening to each other, telling our own stories, it all matters. Because we all matter, we all deserve to see ourselves reflected in the story of someone else. To be seen and to be heard is to be valued, to be appreciated, to be recognized. To be told of your inherent worth. To be loved and accepted. Together we are capable of incredible things, my loves.
WHO. EVEN. KNEW. Honestly, I’m still a little surprised how into sci-fi and feminism that I am. It’s probably good ol’ imposter syndrome, but I never ~really~ saw myself becoming the person I am. And then I look at all of the books I read as a small child and it all makes perfect sense. These books are WEIRD. Like, some of the weirdest, best, most out-there sci-fi I have ever read! And I read them when I was 12, tops.
Full disclosure: I read this for the sex. At summer camp in middle school, I heard the older girls talking about this sexy character in a book and was so in! I got about 3/4 of the way through this book before I realized how little sex there actually was, but I was pretty much hooked by that point. Girl knows how to WRITE! Plus, it’s great historical fiction centered around a strong female character, we tend to not get that when looking at prehistory.
One of the few books I’ve reread multiple times. I would read this book every other month if I didn’t have other things I wanted to read as well. Easily some of the most beautiful sentences I have ever read in my life.
If you haven’t read anything by Ursula K. LeGuin, I would like you to close this web page and run to your nearest (independently owned) bookstore or library and get your hands on literally anything this woman has written. She is a divine goddess. Intricate worldbuilding, captivating characters, beautiful plots. Really just masterful stuff, dear readers. The Left Hand of Darkness is the fourth in the series and was actually my introduction to her. It explores a world where the inhabitants don’t have fixed genders, and only have sex organs when it’s time to procreate. Super cool stuff that doesn’t feel like it was written in the 80s, even though it was.
This quiet tale of life in the Dust Bowl was supposed to be published in 1939 but was overlooked when John Steinbeck came out with The Grapes of Wrath. This is why I chose to read this novel, this is what I love about it. It tells the story of frontierswomen living their lives, the hardships and joys they face along the way. And, you know, it’s way better than Steinbeck.
Oh. My. God. I’ve read a lot of theoretical discourses on gender, sexuality, and queerness in my time but Judith Butler is in a whole different league. This is some dense stuff, it takes me an average of ten minutes to parse a paragraph but I always feel so accomplished when I finally understand. She is so intentional with every word she chooses, once you finally figure out what she means, there’s really no other way to take it. Brilliant.
If you’ve ever read The Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace (and if you haven’t, you should) this is like that crossed with the movie God Bless America. If none of that means anything to you, we probably wouldn’t be friends in real life. I kid, I kid. This one is weird, not quite sci-fi, not quite anything else either. It’s a giant criticism of capitalism and American consumerism, the deterioration of culture, with a healthy dash of eating disorders, cult membership, and mild slips into insanity. Did I make that sound appealing at all?
Reading this I really felt like, for the first time, it would be totally okay to be single for the rest of my life. Laing isn’t a sad, lonely cat lady looking for love to fill the hole in her life that can’t be satisfied with anything else. She’s a woman living on her own, learning to be comfortable in her solitude and exploring expressions of solitude by American artists in the 1960s-1980s. And yeah, she spends some time talking about my homeboy Andy Warhol, so that’s a plus. At the end of the day, though, she’s perfectly content living her life the way that it is; she really inspired me to leave my hometown and strike out on my own.
This is one of the first books I read in early sobriety, and it has played a major role in sustaining my sobriety. Eye opening, mildly terrifying, Ann Dowsett Johnston combines her own personal story with cold hard data in a way that will definitely get you questioning capitalism, at the very least. This book helped me see that there are other reasons to quit drinking that don’t frame it as a disease or in an “us-them” dichotomy.
Talk about female empowerment! Sady Doyle builds an extremely compelling case for loving and supporting our fellow women instead of buying in to the media lies that constantly try to break us down and pit us against each other. Instead of seeing these women as fatalistically tragic, strung-out whores with no self-respect, who are “psycho” and “crazy” and “insane,” Doyle asks us to see these women as real people, complete humans, who have been affected by the pressures of public life and ultimately end up not fitting the roles dictated for them.
It is TRAGIC that most women do not know this woman or her story. It is fundamental to the history of feminism in America, right alongside Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem. I came across Valerie Solanas in my thesis work on Andy Warhol because she SHOT HIM IN THE GUT TWICE. This is some hard, heavy, radical feminist literature and should be mandatory in every. single. intro to queer theory, women’s history, feminist lit, course in America.
Okay, I’m a huge word nerd. This book reminded me of that, it helped me re-fall in love with language. Stamper shares her passion for words unapologetically, even as she navigates the pitfalls and frustrations of her day-to-day responsibilities. There’s also a brilliant chapter on the inclusion of the word “bitch,” its history in American verncular and culture, that, along with Doyle’s Trainwreck, helps us see how pervasive misogyny is in everything, including our speech habits.
I feel like this almost goes without saying. You’d be hardpressed to find a list of feminist literature that excludes Sylvia Plath and to be honest, I was wary about reading her. It felt too… cliche. And then I read The Bell Jar. I honestly haven’t felt as heard and understood as I did while reading this. Truly a must-read for any woman (or man, no judgment here) who struggles with depression, feels excluded, can’t make herself fit in to the “norm.”