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17 books to read on International Women’s Day 2017

Mar. 9, 2017
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17 books to read on International Women’s Day 2017

Okay, okay—you don’t have to read these books today. But International Women’s Day is as good an excuse as any to spotlight 17 badass books published by and about women throughout history. Craving fiction? Nonfiction? Or something in between? Whatever you’re looking for, we’ve got a suggestion right here!

The Mothers by Brit Bennett

In a strong year for new fiction, The Mothers—Brit Bennett’s meditation on motherhood and female friendship—stole the show. Calling to mind titanic writers like James Baldwin and Toni Morrison with her lyrical prose, the debut novelist has made a killer first impression. And to top it all off? She’s only 26.

Redefining Realness by Janet Mock

When she came out as trans in 2011, Janet Mock was catapulted to the forefront of the then-nascent movement for trans visibility. Redefining Realness, her long-awaited memoir, was finally released in 2014—and instantly became a bestseller thanks to its frank and compassionate outlook on transgender identity and the importance of being true to oneself.

The Amputee’s Guide to Sex by Jillian Weise

An unprecedented work on the nature of desire and disability, Weise’s glimmering debut lives somewhere in the space between fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.

This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color edited by Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa 

This Bridge Called My Back is one of those books every feminist should read. With essays from contributors like Audre Lorde, Nellie Wong, and editor Anzaldúa, this collection is a vital compendium on intersectional thought—published years before Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term.

Kindred by Octavia Butler

What if you were thrown back in time and forced to save your ancestor’s life or else disappear from existence? Seems like a no-brainer, right? Well—what if you were a black woman and the ancestor whose life you had to save was a slaveowner? This sci-fi classic is a gripping and thought-provoking examination of what it means to be African-American.

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Before Americanah—and before the feminist TED talk heard round the world (thanks, Beyonce!)—Adichie wrote Half of a Yellow Sun, a heartrending novel about two sisters and their loved ones as they navigate the chaos of the Nigerian Civil War.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Plath’s semi-autobiographical novel about depression—the only novel she would ever write—quickly became regarded as a classic in women’s literature, and it’s not hard to understand why: to this day, The Bell Jar remains one of the most vivid and honest narratives ever published about the experience of being a young woman.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

In case you ever thought science couldn’t be racist, you might want to check out this book about the true story of Henrietta Lacks, an African-American woman whose cervical cancer cells—harvested and cultured without her knowledge or consent after a biopsy—were cultured to create one of the most important cell lines ever discovered in medical research.

The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith

Originally published under a pseudonym, this groundbreaking lesbian romance novel is widely beloved to this day—but you might know the story by another title: Carol, the 2015 movie directed by Todd Haines, racked up accolades for screenwriter Phyllis Nagy’s adaptation of Highsmith’s book.

The Diary of Anaïs Nin

Bohemian writer Anaïs Nin originally achieved acclaim for her erotica—she was one of the defining female writers in the genre—but now she’s best known for her diaries. The seven heavily-censored “official” volumes of her diary offer tremendous insight into the mind of a brilliant, unusual woman who surrounded herself with fascinating people. If you want the real dirt you should look for the unexpurgated volumes (among them Henry and June and House of Incest)—Nin broke ground with her unabashedly feminine descriptions of love, lust, and sex.

A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

When Woolf wrote A Room of One’s Own, female writers were seldom heard of—and even more rarely taken seriously. So Woolf decided to do something about it. Her seminal essay about the plight of literary women remains relevant to this day.

The Oblivion Seekers by Isabelle Eberhardt

Ever heard of D.H. Lawrence? Probably, thanks to Lawrence of Arabia. Ever heard of Isabelle Eberhardt? No? Start with this collection of short stories by the woman who spent her life traveling and writing about the Middle East—often under a male identity.

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

Perhaps a turn-of-the-20th-century novel about suicide and infidelity isn’t the best choice for a reader who wants to relax and unwind, but this one is worth making an exception for: often recognized as one of the first novels to portray women’s issues with empathy instead of condescension, The Awakening is widely considered a feminist classic.

Beloved by Toni Morrison

A blistering, eerie story about a black woman in Cincinnati who struggles to hang onto the home she made for her family after escaping a life of enslavement in the South, Beloved is a critical book about the legacy of slavery in America.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Moody and sharp, the classic Gothic novel broke ground in its depiction of an independent woman determined to make her own way.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

This might initially seem like an odd choice for an International Women’s Day book list, but consider this: by publishing Frankenstein in 1818, Mary Shelley more or less single-handedly invented science fiction. Oh, and she was 20 years old at the time. How’s that for girl power?

The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu

Remember how Mary Shelley invented science fiction in 1818? Well, in the early 11th century, Japanese noblewoman Murasaki Shikibu invented the novel. Beat that, Shelley!