From the iconoclast To Kill a Mockingbird to the Harry Potter young adultseries, these books by female authors need to be on your reading list this year:
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The one-and-only novel published by young female writer Harper Lee (until the prequel Go Set a Watchman was released in 2015), To Kill a Mockingbird has been called (and even voted in many surveys) the best novel of all time. Iconic lawyer Atticus Finch defends a black man accused of assaulting a white woman. Setting: the Deep South. Time: the Depression. Result: so much electric charge, sparks fly off the pages. This is a truly riveting story about the battle between good and evil.
In a quote: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This somber Nigerian love story will most likely take you out of your comfort zone, which is a damn good thing. Doused with themes of prejudice, justice, loss, and love, Americanah tracks the relationship between Ifemelu and Obinze from their teenage affections in Nigeria to their turbulent post 9/11 lives abroad. The do-they-don’t-they question tugs at your guts and is magnificently gloomy in tone, yet punched enough to keep hope alive. While the premise is quick and simple to understand, we wouldn’t sacrifice a single page from the 500-plus novel.
In a quote: “If you don’t understand, ask questions. If you’re uncomfortable about asking questions, say you are uncomfortable about asking questions and then ask anyway.”
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
A book that needs no introduction — Frankenstein might be one of the most recognizable and everlasting stories of all time. Victor Frankenstein, a promising young doctor, brings a monster back from the dead. Google what inspired her to write it … at age 18.
In a quote: “Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful.”
And Still I Rise by Maya Angelou
For anyone who has ever felt beaten down by prejudice, circumstance, people, jobs, or hardship, Maya Angelou’s third book of poetry will fill your blood with lead and makes you indomitable.
In a quote: “You may write me down in history. With your bitter twisted lies. You may tread me in the very dirt. But still like dust I’ll rise.”
Ariel by Sylvia Plath
I’ll be bold and say, don’t bother with Ted Hughes (Sylvia Plath’s writer/poet husband). Plath is much better. Ariel is one of those few books that can be forever re-read and still felt fresh like a smack on the face. This 1965 poetry collection is dark, visceral, and brings to life the small corners of ordinary home life. Plus, you’ll never look at a “housewife” the same way again.
In a quote: “I didn’t want any flowers, I only wanted to lie with my hands turned up and be utterly empty. How free it is, you have no idea how free.”
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
When a book of short stories wins both the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award in the same year, you better read that freaking book. Such was the case for Jhumpa Lahiri’s collection of nine short stories, Interpreter of Maladies, which tracks the friction Indians and Indian Americans feel when transitioning into the “New World” while staying connected to their cultural roots. These stories are filled with humanity and relatability, leaving you smiling and content after closing the book. Plus, we love how simple yet powerful the language and storytelling is. No fluff. For any man who has felt torn between two parts of his identity, read this now.
In a quote: “He learned not to mind the silences.”
Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion
Truman Capote praised Didion’s first nonfiction collection that looks specifically at the counter-culture around the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco and other California cities as pure art with some of the best prose ever written. A taste of one essay: a pre-school aged child is given LSD by her parents.
In a quote: “Character — the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life — is the source from which self-respect springs. Self-respect is something that our grandparents, whether or not they had it, knew all about. They had instilled in them, young, a certain discipline, the sense that one lives by doing things one does not particularly want to do, by putting fears and doubts to one side, by weighing immediate comforts against the possibility of larger, even intangible, comforts.”
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
This classic dystopian novel was adapted into an award-winning television series, but the book (as usual) trumps the screen rendition. Atwood creates a ghastly and captivating tale of the handmaid Offred, who has been forced into a servant caste and tasked with bearing children for elite couples after a totalitarian government takes power in New England. Atwood’s unique cadence of writing is like running down a hill unable to stop.
In a quote: “A rat in a maze is free to go anywhere, as long as it stays inside the maze.”
The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
In this psychological thriller, the young Tom Ripley, a small-time scam artist trying to survive in New York City, is tasked with bringing a shipping magnate’s son, Dickie, back home from his escapades in Italy. Ripley develops an infatuation with Dickie, eventually killing him and taking his identity. That’s all I’ll say, but if you’ve seen the movie, you’ll know this novel is pure excitement in all the right ways.
In a quote: “I’m going to enjoy what I’ve got as long as it lasts.”
Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon
Rock goddess Kim Gordon, the former singer, songwriter, and bass player of Sonic Youth, plugs in the mic for her autobiography, Girl in a Band. Brutally honest and wildly fun to read, Gordon reminds us without any hubris that she was one of the founding women of rock. This book will inspire you to be creative and dive into your passions. It’s a quick read, so have Patti Smith’s Just Kids book on hand when you’re done and slip into the lyricism of another great.
In a quote: “People pay money to see others believe in themselves.”
A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O’Connor
No writer, I mean nobody, can capture the build-up, action, and wake of violence as the likes of Flannery O’Connor. You’ll tremble from her short story collection set to the backdrop of American Gothic, including the classic “A Good Man is Hard to Find.”
In a quote: “You can do one thing or you can do another, kill a man or take a tire off his car, because sooner or later you’re going to forget what it was you done and just be punished for it.”
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
This is a coming-of-age story of Esperanza Cordero, a Latina girl growing up in inner-city Chicago. All at once hilarious and rough, the novel touches on the power of place in our definition of self, along with the desire to escape circumstances of our upbringing. Esperanza notes her environmental and cultural surroundings, where neighboring impoverished Puerto Ricans and Chicanos build their lives. In essence: a perspective previously lacking and very much essential.
In a quote: “No, this isn’t my house I say and shake my head as if shaking could undo the year I’ve lived here. I don’t belong. I don’t ever want to come from here.”
Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
Hah! You thought we’d forget this seven-book series that was probably the first 100-plus page book you ever read. For so many people, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter wizarding series got them into the joy of reading. (Remember that feeling when you just couldn’t put the new book down!?) Re-read all the books. They’ll make you laugh and cry as hard as your pre-pubescent, if not harder.
In a quote: “You’re a wizard, Harry!”
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