Ephron. Didion. Morrison. Last names ever. First names greatest. It’s no surprise we take female authors seriously. Enter: the essential reading list you’ve been missing from your life. These are our favorite stories about women by women that stand the test of time. Add these to your library, read, rinse, repeat.
For when you’re feeling alone during a breakup...
“Heartburn” by Nora Ephron
Welcome to ground zero of the revenge novel. This one's a fictionalized version of Nora Ephron's marriage to Carl Bernstein (one of the journalists who broke Watergate). In it, she's a cookbook author who discovers that her husband's cheating on her. It reads like you’re out to dinner with your closest friend, eating good food, and plotting your ex's takedown.
For when you’re ready to interrogate what you think you know...
“Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Let Adichie be your leader. Her 2013 novel is built around the story of a Nigerian couple who leave their home and end up divided between the US and the UK. It’s a book about questioning identity, belonging, and what it means to find a home. It’s the perfect combination of a plotline you can get lost in, and a book that makes you think hard about yourself and your surroundings.
For when you’re mourning someone you love...
“Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion
Turn to this for help. This book is what happens when Grief meets one of America’s best modern writers. It’s based on one of the most relatable topics in the world yet is written in a way that feels uniquely personal. It specifically charts Didion’s mourning after the death of her husband. In this one, you’ll marvel at Didion’s sentences. Each word feels like it matters in a way few other writers are capable of.
For when you’re feeling competitive with your friends...
“Swing Time” by Zadie Smith
You might rethink that after this. Smith's fifth novel—which draws inspiration from Fred Astaire's "Swing Time"—tells the story of two childhood friends. They both dream of becoming dancers and spoiler alert: it doesn’t quite work out. Get ready for a master class in character and world building, plus a literary case study on the consequences of fame, poverty, and racial barriers.
For when a serious memoir is what the doctor called for…
“Prozac Nation” by Elizabeth Wurtzel
Add this iconic one to your list. Wurtzel wrote “Prozac Nation” when she was 27, reflecting on her dizzying college years at Harvard. The book made waves for its open dialogue about paralyzing depression and the wounds of prolific drug use. Her prose is raw and unapologetic and is one of those books you just can’t stop reading once you start. Wurtzel went on to be considered “a voice and a target for an anxious generation,” and a pioneer of the confessional memoir style. It’s a heavy, addictive read in the best way and is one that cleared the path for more open conversations about mental health and psychopharmacology.
For when you need to think critically about American history...
“Beloved” by Toni Morrison
Let Toni Morrison be your guide. "Beloved" will explain why she's considered one of America's greatest writers. It was first published in 1987 and won Morrison the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. Since then, it’s been repeatedly praised for expertly showing the horrors and trauma of slavery. Set in post-Civil War Ohio, it follows an escaped slave Sethe who has experienced the most wrenching circumstances and is haunted by her past. The book isn’t too long but each word packs its punch. Barack Obama called Morrison a “national treasure,” and we couldn't agree more.
For when you want a book that'll look good on your story...
“Conversations with Friends” by Sally Rooney
You can post this one on Instagram. But the prose is even better than its cover. In her debut, you'll meet two sometimes-more-than-friends at college in Dublin, who get mixed up in a love triangle with an older married couple. Come for the perfectly written sex scenes, stay for the precise interrogations of millennial womanhood.
For when you have one drink too many at office happy hour...
“Bridget Jones’s Diary” by Helen Fielding
Bridget Jones can relate. This best-selling British phenomenon turned Renee Zellweger movie is told through diary entries of a 30-something Brit looking for love. It gave us the phrase “singletons,” and hilariously illustrates the pressures of modern woman. Namely: being skinny but not too skinny, working hard but not too hard, being fun but not too fun, finding a partner but not because you need one. The list of complexities goes on and so does our enduring appreciation for Bridget (and Colin Firth in an ugly Christmas sweater).
For when you realize your mom had a life before you...
“The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan
Enter this. It’s an intimate look inside the lives of four Chinese mothers and their American-born daughters. It follows a group of women who routinely gather to gossip and play mah-jongg with each other in San Francisco. It’s a powerful meditation on the pasts our parents choose to tell us, and the parts they don’t. It’s become one of the seminal works of mother-daughter relationships and is the perfect book to read with the mother figure in your life. It was eventually turned into a movie, becoming the first studio film to star an all-Asian cast. The next one to do this was “Crazy Rich Asians.”
For when you’re ready to hold a microscope up to your friendships...
“The Neapolitan novels” by Elena Ferrante
You can hire Elena Ferrante as your chief investigator. We’re cheating here with this one...sort of. Because this pick is actually four different novels, all a part of the “Neapolitan novels” series. The saga portrays a tumultuous relationship between two childhood friends starting in postwar Naples. PS: Ferrante uses a pseudonym, which makes her success all the more intriguing.
For when you want a reminder to be a little reckless sometimes….
“Just Kids” by Patti Smith
Patti knows a thing or two about it. The legendary musician published her National Book Award Winning-memoir in 2010, recapping her time in NYC during the ‘60s and ‘70s. It’s a window into the old days of the city when rock, sex, art, and politics were colliding. It jumps from Smith’s innocent start in NYC to her not-so-innocent nights at the Hotel Chelsea and beyond. For any fan of music, counter culture, and old NY this one’s a must-read.
For when you’re looking for an example of resilience...
“Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston
This book will give you all the feels. An unofficial ode to black women, it's largely considered one of the the most important books of the century. In it, readers follow the granddaughter of a slave, Janie Crawford, through her life and multiple marriages (some of them toxic and complicated) to find true love. Hurston has been remembered for capturing the “essence of blackness” and gave us timeless books that endure long past their publication date (this one came out in 1937).
For when you've watched "Clueless" one too many times...
“Emma” by Jane Austen
Say hi to its loose-inspiration. Though Cher’s iconic outfits weren’t in Jane Austen’s 1815 classic, the major plotlines sort-of were. Austen’s original follows Emma Woodhouse, a rich, beautiful, manipulative single woman living with her father in England. She loves a good project, and spends all her time obsessing over the love lives of those around her. The catch? Her obsession with matchmaking earns our heroine some unexpected consequences. And if the book or its many adaptations isn’t enough for you, it just got turned into yet another buzzy new movie.
For when you need encouragement to be brave...
“She’s Not There” Jennifer Finney Boylan
Order a copy of this. Boylan's memoir became the first bestseller by a transgender American. It tells the story of the author's transition from James to Jennifer, touching on her family life, heavy sacrifices, and her role as a professor at a liberal arts college in Maine. It does all the things a good memoir does: bring you along through someone’s most intimate moments.
For when you’re figuring out what you stand for...
“Bad Feminist” by Roxane Gay
Try this out for taste. Gay, who writes with such insight and rigor simultaneously takes us along through her personal reflections as she makes observations about the pop-culture and politics happening around her. Her essays touch on everything from “Girls,” and “The Help,” to what it means to be a good or bad feminist. It’s political, sharp, and the ultimate contemporary portrait of American womanhood.
PS: These are editorially selected, but if you purchase it, theSkimm may get something in return. Thanks.
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