March 8 is International Women’s Day.
Women have fought hard (and are still punching and kicking) to find their rightful place in the literary world. There is no list that can encapsulate the contributions they have made with their works and narratives; no words to thank them for their efforts to immortalize stories that have brought us to a more favorable 2022. What I can do is pick another book that celebrates strong women.
Growing up, I have had the good fortune of reading unique voices such as that of Jane Austen, Margaret Atwood, and Jhumpa Lahiri, and as much as I like to read still, I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface when it comes to masterpieces written by women and/or about women. With this list, I’m bringing a variety of genres (modern essays, classics, fiction) and diverse books that will challenge you, speak to you, make you think, or simply entertain you.
Top Picks for You
'The End of Men'
A contagious, deadly virus is killing men around the world. Just men. Women are the carriers and very few men are immune. The End of Men by Christina Sweeney-Baird hits close to home after all we’ve been through the past two years, so please consider this a trigger warning before you get your hands on this thriller.
There is so much pain in this book as women scramble to protect their fathers, partners, kids, and then learn to live without them. What’s both terrifying and interesting is how society, politics, and the definitions of family and equality change as this virus takes over and a majority of the male population is wiped out. Our resilience and ability to adapt—such as we’ve seen after the pandemic—is mirrored in this novel that also features lockdowns, scientific discovery, vaccines, loss and grief, political turmoil, and, eventually, hope.
Can you imagine the coincidence that this was drafted before the pandemic?
'We Should All Be Feminists'
In this personal and eloquent essay, Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie expresses her desire for a more equal world. She describes gender roles and expectations, and shares anecdotes from her life, asking the world to raise kids differently to make happier men and women.
This pocket-sized manifesto was adapted from her popular TEDx Talk and it’s still an important read. Her ideas on the fragility of the male ego and the concept of “hard man” and the systematic oppression and invisibility of women will hit the mark. To talk about gender is difficult, especially when people still don’t understand the different experiences men and women have in the world—Adichie highlights this very well.
Adichie has also written Americanah, a novel about a young Nigerian girl who moves to America and learns what it means to be Black. Another must-read on your list!
'Men Explain Things to Me'
This collection of essays by Rebecca Solnit challenges patriarchy with facts and wit. In the first essay, Solnit recounts how a man once asked her if she had read a very important book without realizing he was talking to its author: her. Male arrogance and the silencing of women have major consequences, and women have to keep proving their credibility. That’s just the first essay—she goes on to talk about sexual violence and rape, same-sex marriages and marriage equality, and Virginia Woolf’s influence on her life.
'The Palace of Illusions'
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni wrote this book in 2008, and it’s one of my favorites. The Palace of Illusions reimagines the Indian epic Mahabharata—something that Indians my age have grown up watching on TV. This book, however, reimagines it and narrates it from the perspective of a strong-willed woman, Panchali, in a man’s world.
I have watched many adaptations of Mahabharata, and most have focused on men. But this mythological tale of warriors, kingdoms, wars, and politics is told entirely from her point of view. Banerjee’s novel was a refreshing change as well as a commentary on patriarchy and misogyny. Panchali is at the heart of the story. It’s her story of friendship with Krishna, life as a wife to five husbands, and her version of public insult and assault, and her vow of vengeance.
'The Diary of a Young Girl'
On her 13th birthday, a Jewish girl in the Netherlands received a diary as a present. Soon, her family went into hiding from the Nazis and she continued writing. For two years, they lived behind a bookcase, fearing for their life, and when they were discovered, eight of them (including four others who had joined them), they were sent to concentration camps. Only Anne Frank’s father Otto survived, who published the diary. Since then, it has been translated into more than 70 languages (it was written in Dutch) and it’s an international bestseller.
The Diary of a Young Girl is a difficult read. You fear for the girl and her family. You feel inspired by her spirit—Anne Frank is perceptive even as a 13- and 14-year-old and tries to find joy in little things. Your heart contracts because you know it’s not going to end well for the family. You feel despair when you reach the point when her writings stop—the family has been discovered.
Seven decades after publishing, it’s an important read. We can’t forget or erase history, and the young girl who wanted to be a journalist wouldn’t have wanted her words to be written in vain after everything she, and millions of others, endured.
Novelist Louisa May Alcott published this coming-of-age book in 1868. Little Women was the story of the four March sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. Familial love is a running theme, as is the sisters’ desire to be better versions of themselves. We see them fight for their independence and strive for personal growth, while navigating through tough times such as poverty, illness, loneliness, and war. It’s easy to relate with Jo, who doesn’t want to lead a conventional life and challenges gender roles. With so many strong-willed women, including their mother, the book responds to the different wants and needs of its characters, who have their own ideas about what life should be.
One of the most prominent writers of the 20th century, Virginia Woolf inked feminist ideas in her novels and essays. A Room of One’s Own is a remarkable essay that challenged how women writers were seen in the literary world dominated by patriarchy. Her novels Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse are still regarded as some of the best works of modernist literature.
Liberty is a collection of essays and excerpts from her books that offer a peep into Woolf’s head. This is a pocket-sized book that brings you her writings from A Room of One’s Own, Street Haunting & Other Essays, and The Waves. Virginia Woolf’s writing is not the easiest to get into, so this little collection will be a positive start. For another taste, get Mrs. Dalloway, which is a 1925 novel about a high-society woman.
'My Sister’s Keeper'
In her book My Sister’s Keeper, Jodi Picoult tells the story of 13-year-old Anna who wants medical emancipation from her parents and sues them for it. Anna was conceived to save her older sister Kate, who has leukemia. Throughout her life, Anna donates bits of her body to her sister, but at 13, she decides to make her own choices.
The book, also adapted into a movie with many changes, tugs at your heartstrings. There are neglected Jesse, sick Kate, and donor Anna, who are struggling in their own ways, and their parents who are trying to do their best for their children. There is love in the pages of this book, but there’s gut-wrenching sorrow too, so be prepared for a ride.
'The Women I Could Be'
Sangita Jogi, the author and artist of The Women I Could Be, is married into a patriarchal family of farm laborers and lives with her husband, children, in-laws, and their children in rural Rajasthan. Jogi has had very little formal education and fewer resources than you can imagine, and her daily life revolves around taking care of the family and doing countless chores, just like millions of other people. But she does one thing for herself: Jogi draws possibilities on paper.
This book is an incredible story of her dreams, for herself, for her daughter, for women everywhere. “A modern woman is someone who thinks differently,” the text says in this colorful, positive, and extraordinary book about resilient women who are inspirational, fun, and modern. You can read about her journey from an artist to a published author here.
'New Daughters of Africa'
This anthology by Margaret Busby is a sequel to her original, Daughters of Africa, and features works of over 200 women of African descent in the last 25 years. With this book, you will be introduced to a new generation of voices from 50 countries, including Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Nawal El Saadawi, Tanella Boni, and Taiye Selasi.
Through letters, essays, speeches, and poetry, this collection covers a range of subjects: feminism, migration, marginalization, discrimination, slavery, and sisterhood. It’s a precious gift for yourself and for people in your life—something to remember and honor the contributions Black women have made through the years and acknowledge the struggles they still face.