Women have been important to the literary canon since the dawn of time, so we’ve chosen to honor Women’s History Month by shining the spotlight on our favorite ladies in literature.
1. The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
My introduction to Sylvia Plath was in a poetry writing workshop during my sophomore year in college. Since then, Plath and Sexton—who also makes an appearance on our list—have been the only two poets whose works fed my inner Daria Morgendorffer. After “Mad Girl’s Love Song” and “Mirror,” I thought to myself, “Why am I just now reading these words?”
So you can imagine my embarrassment at being one of the last in my class to read The Bell Jar—Plath’s one testament to fiction—after graduation. It’s true what they say, though: timing is everything. Despite reading The Bell Jar during the slowest, sluggish, and most jobless period of my life it proffered so many lessons: grasping depression in all its gravity. After reading Esther’s intense, seemingly unbearable coming of age journey, it only made her resurgence, for lack of a better word, more powerful and completely necessary. — Paris
2. You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost), Felicia Day
You’re Never Weird on the Internet is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time but not for the reason you would expect. I have read a lot of books, many of them have been great. They’ve introduced me to new authors and interesting ideas. Just this year I have discovered great authors and decided on new books to be called favorites in the genres that I enjoy. Felicia Day’s memoir is different and it was able to motivate and inspire me more than anything else in a long time.
Written in a charming and witty voice, Day’s life journey is told in detail and includes even the most difficult of times. And instead of highlighting her achievements, she delves into the dark places that no one wants to talk about: mental health issues being one of her many testaments.
Through personal struggles and stories, Day opens up about insecurities, anxiety, and depression. Instead of bringing the reader down, her personal insight and strife serve to inspire and motivate. Day’s memoir lets those who struggle with mental health issues know that everything is going to be okay. It’s okay to be different. It’s okay to have goals and dreams. You aren’t going to meet them overnight and it might be hard to get to where you want to be, but you will get there eventually.
You’re Never Weird on the Internet is a wonderful blend of stories that will inspire you to be a better person. It’s a book that will make you laugh and cry that holds a message that will stay with you for a long time. It’s okay to be yourself. — Melissa
3. Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn
I’m not bluffing when I say, “Give me Gillian Flynn or give me death.” I don’t care what anyone says, Flynn is arguably one of the best (living?) contemporary writers of our time, and her most recent (hopefully not her last) novel, Gone Girl, is indicative of how masterpieces are made. At its nucleus, Gone Girl is, by definition, explosive. Flynn completely shatters domestic-public dichotomy in the most vicious, bloodiest of ways and I could not and would not put this book down for anything when I first read it years ago. Flynn’s writing in this breakneck psych-thriller is a heat seeker missile, constantly on your tail, and is coming straight for you.
I bend the knee to Flynn for creating Amy Dunne to strike fear in douchebags and dishonest bastards like Nick, which thankfully, are a dying breed. Some might argue Amy has no right to share a place on a list like this, that she’s “too hostile” or “not clean enough” to stand with our lineup of invigorating female leads, and I would readily tell those people to shut the fuck up. — Paris
4. The Tale of Genji, Murasaki Shikibu
The Tale of Genji is considered a classic in world literature for a reason. Not only does it describe Japanese imperial court life in extensive detail, but it is distinctly Japanese in tone and style, something very different from other works written during the period, which mimicked the Chinese style of writing. Considered by many to be the first novel, The Tale of Genji was written by Murasaki Shikibu for a female audience.
During the Heian Period (794-1185), writing was seen as a task only suited to men. At the time, Japan borrowed very heavily from China in terms of intellectual pursuits. Therefore, writing in Chinese and mimicking their style of literature was quite common among men. Writing (except for the occasional letter) was not seen as a womanly pursuit; women did not learn to use Chinese characters and used the early form of Japan’s phonetic script (Kana, more specifically, Hiragana). In addition to being the first novel, The Tale of Genji was the first to be written in Japanese.
The Tale of Genji is a novel that explores human passion and emotion. It’s a psychological novel that explores, in detail, the thoughts and motivations of the characters, particularly Prince Genji. Through his relationships with women, we learn about early Japanese aristocracy in exquisite detail. From bits of Japanese folklore to longstanding Shinto beliefs, The Tale of Genji is full of traditional elements of Japanese culture. It’s a beautiful and insightful read that will teach you a bit about traditional Japanese life. — Melissa
5. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), Mindy Kaling
Until just a few years ago, I hardly read memoirs. Partly because I didn’t like reading books about real people whose lives were better (or worse) than my own. Also because I was a despicable, boring troll of a person. From start to finish, the takeaways Mindy Kaling offers in her colloquial memoir Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)—half adolescent confessional, half growing pains manifesto—are priceless to the adulting experience.
From her little victories as a writer, to our mutual understandings of the irrefutable sex appeal of a man’s chest hair, to the sometimes-shitty childhood events that shape us whether we accept it or not, Kaling’s debut will crack you up, break your heart, and mend it back together all at once. — Paris
6. Brave Enough, Cheryl Strayed
Cheryl Strayed’s stimulating words in Brave Enough pulled me out of what could have snowballed into a nasty depression. Front to back, I devoured Strayed’s entire diary of timeless pick-me-ups: an autopsy on trust, self-love, and hope in all of an hour.
For anyone—and I mean, anyone—who feels like they’re crumbling under the weight of depression, anxiety, stress or defeat, treat yourself to this little memento. It just might save you. Take it to work on days you feel too worked out, keep it at your bedside so that you may wake up to it, or if you’re always on the go like me, leave it in your car so that it’s with you everywhere you go. As long as you have this little trinket by your side, Strayed’s voice will be with you. — Paris
7. Persuasion, Jane Austen
To be completely honest, I didn’t read any of Jane Austen’s works until four years ago. Despite how often her works are talked about, there was always a part of me what wondered whether they were actually that good. Believe it or not, they are. After reading Persuasion in one of my first classes on the novel, I realized that I loved Austen. (Interestingly enough, I realized during a seminar class on Jane Austen exclusively that Persuasion is at least favorite for many of her fans.) Regardless, there is something about Persuasion that will always hold a special place in my heart.
Persuasion was the first novel that I made extensive notes in. It is also a novel that I always find myself thinking of whenever I think of romance—my mind always wanders back to the love letter than Anne receives from Captain Wentworth and I get the urge to read it all over again. That letter in itself, it one of the most beautiful things that I have ever read. Austen accurately describes love in this novel. Love is something that never fades, and Austen captures the idea beautifully in the relationship between Anne and Captain Wentworth. Despite being forced apart, the two find each other again and rekindle their past relationship, even after betrayal (in some respects) and heartbreak.
Shortly after reading Persuasion, I read the rest of her works. While I love them all, nothing will come close to capturing what I feel when I read Persuasion. In addition to being a novel that I really enjoyed, it made me open up my mind to reading new things that I never thought I would like. — Melissa
8. The Complete Poems: Anne Sexton, Anne Sexton
When I think of female poets, I think of Anne Sexton. Just like Plath, I first read Sexton in a poetry writing workshop. This woman nearly brings me to the brink of tears every time I read her poems. For instance, “For My Lover Returning to His Wife” broke my fucking heart in ways I wasn’t emotionally prepared for. Sexton’s vault of unrequited love avowals is poignant and honestly written to no shame at all. It is the very reason I keep her poems on my nightstand today.
Sexton’s candid commentary on taxing subjects from adultery and sex to masturbation and addiction, set the bar for confessional verse, pushing the envelope where few women dared. Before surrendering herself to the universe in 1974, Sexton had already claimed the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1967 for Live or Die, carried on many great friendships with fellow poetic luminaries—including her dearest comrade, Sylvia Plath—and was remarked for having one of the most boundless voices in American poetry. — Paris
9. A Promise of Fire, Amanda Bouchet
In the past month, I have discovered a new favorite author, which is really unlikely for me. I have recently read a lot of great books, but it takes a lot for me to actually decide on favorites. A Promise of Fire ended up becoming my new favorite novel in the fantasy romance genre in less than three days (the amount of time it took me to read it).
Amanda Bouchet ended up blowing away all of my expectations when it comes to the fantasy romance genre. When it comes to an interesting and detailed love story, even in the fantasy romance genre, the romance is almost always in the background. The reader is never given much detail about the relationship; it exists somewhere in the background behind all of the magic and fantasy and war.
The fantasy romance category would be better if there was an even split. Of course, you want all of the good elements of fantasy – detailed world-building, magic, fighting, but you also want all of the elements of a good romance too – two characters with chemistry, affection, a growing relationship, sex. You don’t want the author to skim on the details either. You want everything. It’s not an easy feat.
Well, Bouchet gives you all that and more in A Promise of Fire. A strong and intriguing female lead, a different look at a warlord, a new take on what magic can do, extensive world-building that is unique, and a detailed look at romance is just a taste of what A Promise of Fire offers. Not to mention it’s rather long and a part of a series. I know I have talked about Bouchet a lot recently, but she’s that good. I haven’t looked forward to a series this much in a very long time. — Melissa
10. Single, Carefree, Mellow, Katherine Heiny
One random Goodreads scroll-through is what prompted me to pick up Katherine Heiny’s Single, Carefree, Mellow last year. In all of a month, I’d experienced métier meltdowns, melodramatic awakenings, and unbearable loneliness. It also didn’t help that I’d been binge-watching on every season of Girls at the time—or who knows, maybe it did?—but everything came to a halt after I started reading Heiny’s stories. It provided a much-needed pause, and for my own good. Or as I like to call it, it was my way of deploying the parachute.
The women in these stories are so conflicted, so much more fucked up than myself, that it made me want to fold into the pages and hug them all the more. Maybe cry a bit, feel accepted and understood. Reading this collection was like entering rehab for the heartbroken—it was the therapeutic wake-up call I never knew I needed in my life. — Paris
Which books written by women are you reading to celebrate Women’s History Month?
Leave some of your recommendations for us in the comments below!