English novelist Mary Shelley once said, “Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful.” And books written by women writers have always been such — with fearless and candid expressions of desire, they display a powerful intent and refusal to flinch under the male gaze. And with International Women’s Day 2023 just around the corner, there’s no better time to take a look at books that make for the best women’s day read.
Be it Pride and Prejudice (1813) author Jane Austen using the pseudonym ‘A Lady’ to fight patriarchy, Canadian novelist and literary critic Margaret Atwood portraying hegemonic masculinity through remarkable women characters in her dystopian science fiction The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) or American memoirist and activist Maya Angelou making her poems an influential voice amidst female oppression, women writers have introduced the zeitgeist of feminism in their works to create their own space in a male-dominated literary society.
Additionally, female writers have been creating incredible narratives on personal struggles, mental health, sexuality, motherhood and womanhood. Thus, book lovers must not miss out on these voices of women. However, between constant recommendations of uplifting feminist memoirs, short stories and long lists of novels, choosing your next read can seem like a task. So, we are here to help you with a list of amazing titles that you can add to your kindle or bookshelf.
Best books to read this Women’s Day
(Main and featured image: Courtesy Giulia Bertelli/Unsplash)
Jump To / Table of Contents
- 'A Room of One's Own' by Virginia Woolf
- 'French Lover' by Taslima Nasrin
- 'The Handmaid's Tale' by Margaret Atwood
- 'Fire on the Mountain' by Anita Desai
- 'We Should All Be Feminists' by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
- 'The Bluest Eye' by Toni Morrison
- 'Please Look After Mom' by Shin Kyung-sook
- 'The Golden Notebook' by Doris Lessing
- 'The Color Purple' by Alice Walker
- 'Home Fire' by Kamila Shamsie
- 'Breasts and Eggs' by Mieko Kawakami
- 'Habit of a Foreign Sky' by Xu Xi
- 'Sparks Like Stars' by Nadia Hashimi
- 'Cinnamon' by Samar Yazbek
- 'Hend and the Soldiers' by Badriah Albeshr
- The Second Sex Simone de Beauvoir
First published in 1929, this landmark feminist essay by famous English writer Virginia Woolf, through the secret history of her narrator Judith (Shakespeare’s fictional sister), explores women both as writers and characters in fiction. The book urges for a literal and figural space for women writers within a literary tradition dominated by patriarchy.
The book is based on two lectures written in 1928 by Woolf for the women-only Cambridge colleges of Girton and Newnham.
(Image: Courtesy A Room of One’s Own/Amazon)
Bangladeshi-Swedish writer Taslima Nasrin, who won the 2017 National Award For Gender Justice, gave the literary world one of the most influential feminist books in the form of French Lover. Published in 2001, the novel charts the story of a young woman called Nilanjana whose marriage to an insensitive and domineering husband reduces her to being a cook and bed-warmer in their Parisian home. However, the protagonist soon falls in love with a Frenchman and finally embarks on a journey of self-discovery and independence.
(Image: Courtesy French Lover/Amazon)
This acclaimed dystopian science fiction by Margaret Atwood was published in 1985 and is set in a patriarchal and totalitarian near-future state known as the Republic of Gilead. Offred, the central character and one of the handmaids in the story, narrates how the state kicked women out of employment and forbade them from reading to restore order. They were made handmaids and were forcibly assigned to produce children for the commanders, who became the ruling class after Gilead overthrew the United States government.
A #1 New York Times bestseller, the book was adapted into a Hulu series of the same name starring Elizabeth Moss.
(Image: Courtesy The Handmaid’s Tale/Amazon)
The story revolves around widow Nanda Kaul who leaves her children behind in the busier world and chooses to spend her last years alone in a secluded bungalow called Carignano in the mountains in Kasauli. However, the arrival of her great-granddaughter Raka one summer disrupts her peaceful solitude and brings to the surface all her suppressed insecurities and past wounds.
Published in 1977 by Booker prize-nominated author, Fire on the Mountain is one of the few Indian literary classics that went ahead to win the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award (1978).
(Image: Courtesy Fire on the Mountain/Amazon)
This is a powerful and personal essay by the bestselling author of Half of a Yellow Sun (2006). Adapted from the much-admired 2012 TEDx talk of the same name, the book, published in 2014, offers readers a unique definition of feminism — one laden with the realities of sexual politics. Nigerian writer Adichie, through her own experiences, explores what it means to be a woman in today’s world.
(Image: Courtesy We Should All Be Feminists/Amazon)
Published in 1970, the debut novel by the Nobel Prize-winning American author deals with 1940s Ohio where an eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove is seen dealing with xenophobia. Eventually, the internalised racism leads to deep insecurities, and Pecola ends up praying for the bluest eyes every night so that she can have something in common with the blue-eyed American children.
An American classic, Morrison’s book was applauded by The New Yorker for having black women as the protagonists of the story.
(Image: Courtesy The Bluest Eye/Amazon)
This hard-hitting contemporary fiction by the South Korean writer and the first woman to win the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2011 is about sacrifice, guilt and a mother’s love. It became a literary sensation in no time, with 1.5 million copies of the book being sold in Korea after its publication in 2008.
Translated into English by Kim Chi-young, the heartbreaking story follows the disappearance of protagonist So-nyo from a train station in Seoul. Eventually, the family’s search for their missing mother leads to the discovery of the desires and heartaches they never realised a mother can harbour within.
(Image: Courtesy Please Look After Mom/Amazon)
The Nobel prize-winning British-Zimbabwean writer excels in exploring communism and female liberation through the main protagonist Anna Wulf in her novel The Golden Notebook. Published in 1962, the book revolves around the crisis of a woman novelist Wulf in dealing with writer’s block. As the story progresses, the readers finally get introduced to Wulf’s golden notebook, a compilation of four notebooks — black, blue, yellow and red, each denoting a phase of the protagonist’s life.
(Image: Courtesy The Golden Notebook/Amazon)
The Color Purple (1982) is one of the best Pulitzer prize-winning books to be ever written on Black Feminism. It revolves around protagonist Celie, who is sexually exploited by a man who she calls ‘father’. As the story progresses, she gets separated from her sister Nettie after being trapped in an unpleasant marriage and ends up losing her only two children, too. Eventually, Celie meets an independent singer Shug Avery and learns to discover the strength of her own self. Will Celie be able to reconnect with her loved ones and free herself from the shackles of her traumatic past?
(Image: Courtesy The Color Purple/Amazon)
The Pakistani-British writer’s Home Fire opens with Isma, a Muslim woman, who leaves her siblings Aneeka and Parvaiz and moves to America for graduation. Soon Isma falls for Eamonn, who comes from a strong political family and doesn’t give his religion much value. Rather, he is sexually drawn to Isma, and she, being devout to her God, realises what life is like for Muslim women in the West today.
Published in 2017, the book was shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award and is loosely based on Antigone by Sophocles.
(Image: Courtesy Home Fire/Amazon)
The prominent Japanese author Mieko Kawakami’s magnum opus Breasts and Eggs (2020) opens with three women — 30-year-old Natsuko, ageing hostess Makiko and her teenage daughter Midoriko, struggling with their body and relationship insecurities in Tokyo. The story delves deeper into gender roles and beauty standards with Makiko being desperate to undergo surgery to physically enhance her body, Midoriko dealing with her changing body in silence and Natsuko coming to terms with her past and an uncertain future.
Deemed breathtaking by Norwegian Wood (1987) author Haruki Murakami, this internationally bestselling novel was one of Time’s ‘Best 10 Fiction Books of 2020’.
(Image: Courtesy Breasts and Eggs/Amazon)
This scintillating cosmopolitan novel by the Indonesian Chinese writer tells the story of Gail Szeto, a career woman who travels between Hong Kong and New York. Her life’s upheavals — losing her mother in an accident just two years after the demise of her young son — break Gail. Will the protagonist be able to deal with despair?
Published in 2010, the novel was shortlisted for the inaugural Man Asian Literary Prize at the Asia Society New York the same year.
(Image: Courtesy Habit of a Foreign Sky/Amazon)
The author of the bestselling 2014 book, The Pearl That Broke Its Shell, brings to readers a gripping tale of Sitara Zamani in the form of Sparks Like Stars (2021). The story revolves around young Sitara who has survived a brutal coup in Kabul’s presidential palace and was smuggled out to America by a guard named Shair. Sitara changes her name to Aryana Shepherd and becomes a successful surgeon after being adopted by a female American diplomat. However, Aryana (Sitara) is unable to leave behind her past and is seen travelling back to Kabul thirty years later in hopes of finally getting closure.
(Image: Courtesy Sparks Like Stars/Amazon)
Set in Damascus, the book tells the story of two women Hanan and Aliyah, whose intermingled fates put them at odds with each other. From Hannan discovering her husband’s affair with their maid Aliyah and the latter dealing with the guilt of betraying her mistress to both women coming to terms with their unpleasant childhood memories, the novel is a beautiful portrayal of women’s search for love, security and mental peace.
Published in 2007, Cinnamon by Syrian writer and journalist Yazbek was translated from Arabic to English by Emily Danby in 2013.
(Image: Courtesy Cinnamon/Amazon)
The award-winning Saudi Arabian novelist’s evocative book Hend and the Soldiers (2006) translated into English by Sanna Dhahir revolves around Hend – a woman fighting soldiers in a patriarchal society. After a failed marriage to an army officer menaces her from all sides, Hend attempts to battle her way to independence by establishing herself as a writer and choosing her own path in love.
(Image: Courtesy Hend and the Soldiers/Amazon)
This intriguing work on women by French existentialist philosopher and author Simone de Beauvoir was published in Paris in 1949 and presents a raw and compelling analysis of the Western notion of women — one that is loaded with inequality and misogyny. With her powerful statements, the author urges readers to realise that “One is not born, but rather becomes, woman.”
The book was first started by Beauvoir as an autobiographical essay and later went on to become a foundational tract of contemporary feminism.
(Image: Courtesy The Second Sex/Amazon)
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Answer: Some of the good books for women include names like 'Jane Eyre' by Charlotte Brontë, 'Wuthering Heights' by Emily Brontë, 'Little Women' by Louisa May Alcott, 'Before the Coffee Gets Cold' by Toshikazu Kawaguchi, 'A Touch of Eternity' by Durjoy Datta, 'Never Let Me Go' by Kazuo Ishiguro and 'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings' by Maya Angelou.
Answer: Some of the books that every woman should read include 'Milk and honey' by Rupi Kaur, 'A Room of One's Own' by Virginia Woolf, 'We Should All Be Feminists' by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 'Please Look After Mom' by Shin Kyung-sook, 'The Golden Notebook' by Doris Lessing, 'The Color Purple' by Alice Walker and 'Home Fire' by Kamila Shamsie.
Answer: Some of the best books by female writers include 'The God of Small Things' by Arundhati Roy, 'Cinnamon' by Samar Yazbek, 'Mrs Dalloway' by Virginia Woolf, 'Habit of A Foreign Sky' by writer Xu Xi, 'The Handmaid's Tale' by Margaret Atwood and 'French Lover' by Taslima Nasrin.