The Seven Books Every Woman Must Read

Must-reads that have paved new roads, broken glass ceilings, and redefined female sexuality.

Need a new book to dive into? What about these formative reads that were written by—and about—kick-butt women? As readers, it’s important to consider the women in literature who have had made such an impact, that their life and literary work has become the essential and enlightening work to change the way women view themselves and consider what came before them today. Here are just a few must-reads that have paved new roads, broken glass ceilings, revealed power struggles, prejudice, and redefined female sexuality for us today.

How many have you read? What would be on your list? Let us know in the comments below.

 


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About Gianna Antolos

Gianna Antolos

GIANNA ANTOLOS is a graduate of Pace University and owner of a very dusty Master of Arts in English Literature. In pursuit of a career in publishing, she put down the pen and found her niche in marketing. She is excited to re-unite with her pen in an effort to share her passion for the books she falls in love with every day. She resides in New York with her Croatian husband and his eighty-five relatives that live next door, across the street, and in the apartment above. You can follow her on Instagram @giannasantolos.

  • Pamela Hansen

    Have only read one of these — The Handmaid’s Tale — and only because my children were reading it in AP English. How about The Lovely Bones?

    • Patricia Bechtle

      The Women’s Room! How could you have ignored this masterpiece of feminism?

      • Stephanie Gasior Danz

        Truly! Significant impact on me! Recently re-read it.

  • Carol

    I have read all of these books but one, Reading Lolita in Tehran, and it is on my list. Perhaps it is a generational thing (I am 64), but I believe formative reads for women about strong women should start with Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Tangentially, see how far women have come by reading Unmentionable by Therese Oneill.

    • Scout Finch

      Good point – Little Women.

    • Joyce Elaine Dauby

      Yes, yes, on Little Women!

    • Connie McElyea

      I also enjoyed the lesser known Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom.

      • Carol

        I have also enjoyed those books. Different from the Little Women and Little Men series but excellent reads. Perhaps I should have included Invincible Louisa by Cornelia Meigs, since she was the ultimate strong woman behind these books.

  • Laura

    The defining book for me, was ‘The Gate To Women’s Country’ by Sherri Tepper. A post-apocolypse read about how our choices, as women, determine the society that we have. It should be required reading for every woman. The ending is a real eye-opener!

  • Laura

    The defining book for me, was ‘The Gate To Women’s Country’ by Sherri Tepper. A post-apocolypse read about how our choices, as women, determine the society that we have. It should be required reading for every woman. The ending is a real eye-opener!

    • Marsha Catilla

      Completely agree.

    • Fantastic suggestion.

  • Beth gargan

    Formative books for me (I am 65) were Little Women and Pride and Prejudice.

    • Anne Therese Calkins

      Yes!! Strong characters!!

  • Bonnie Amesquita

    The Women’s Room and Sula woke me up.

  • kkerr

    Recommend: Lab Girl by Hope Jahren.

  • khrystle

    The Book of Ruth by Jane Hamilton is absolutely necessary reading for every young woman. And Gone With the Wind.

    • Kayci Rose Rush

      Why should women read Gone with the Wind? I’m curious.

      • khrystle

        I believe GWTW is a must read for several reasons. Scarlet O’Hara is one of the first strong American women characters written. The book also does a good job of explaining the thinking of the Southern plantation owners, without the negative judgment that usually comes from more modern authors. And it’s an epic story!! Forget about all the social aspects and the historical information. She is a character that is memorable. And her story is told brilliantly in the book in ways that the movie didn’t have time to do. I read it every summer from age 9 through 20. Just read it again recently. Did you disagree with me? It’s ok if you did– I think we’re all allowed our opinions about the expressions of creativity we’re exposed to.
        A note about Book of Ruth. Please, please read it. It’s so good.

  • Sandy Brown

    I think “The Help” should be included in your list.

    • feministsassmaster

      Most of my WOC friends call The Help and Blindsided “white savior” books/movies…they’re less about the people of color and more about how some amazing white person came along and saved them from themselves. I can’t say that because 1. I’m not a WOC and 2. I’ve never read or watched either because my WOC friends are smart, wise, and socially justice savvy so I trust their judgment on such things.

  • Kayci Rose Rush

    Not one Black or African woman writer…. the subconscious bias is clearly visible. It’s almost as if people assume only white women read.

    • Gina Guarino

      Clearly , there are more than 7 books a woman should read, by all genders, races and faith. To come to the conclusion u did is narrow minded , uneducated and moronic. Please read another book

      • Maryann Kolb

        Wow! i think you really over reacted to this criticism.

        • Gina Guarino

          And I think people overcriticize, judge and speak before thinking of the consequences. Choose your words before condemning another.

          • Maniac1980

            Let me show you a perfect display of irony with a touch of hypocracy.

            You wrote:”To come to the conclusion u did is narrow minded , uneducated and moronic.”

            When someone accused of over over-reacting (which, btw, you did), what did you say?

            You wrote: “And I think people overcriticize, judge and speak before thinking of the consequences. Choose your words before condemning another.”

            In case you somehow missed it, your first statement displays your inability overcriticize someone, judge them and speak before you think. Perhaps YOU should choose your words more carefully before condemning people.

            Because calling someone narrowminded, uneducated and moronic is in fact overcritical, over-reacting, judgemental, and condemning.

            Which I am sure is not what you intended, right?

          • Gina Guarino

            No, I was referring to blanket statements, not individually, individually I am a very good judge of chatacter. And as an individual you are not a good one

          • Maniac1980

            Wow. Aren’t you ever so special, labeling people you have met based on the fact that they disagree with you over a book list?

            BTW, I don’t think I have to worry too much about you judging my chatacter, since there is no such thing as chatacter. Covfefe to you.

          • Gina Guarino

            Well at least u got one thing right, never said I disagreed with u about the list, character is not a label , but there is such a thing as character but not surprised you don’t know that, keep talking, it helps u dig ur own”character” grave. My opinion is not a judgement, But , it is obviously spot on. Done with this and stick that covfefe up your character

          • Maniac1980

            There is such a thing as character. There is NOT such a thing as chatacter.

            Read the difference.

            YOU are the one who called another woman narrow minded, uneducated and moronic. Then you doubled down with the complaint that people too often judge. And that people should chose their words carefully.

            Calling someone narrowminded, undeducated and moronic IS judging. What bugs you is that anyone called you out on not chosing your words carefully.

            My character is fine, thank you. My chatacter is non-existant.

          • Liz Smith

            Come on, ladies, aren’t we better than sniping over an article on the best books for women? This could have been an entertaining debate on the diversity of women and our favorite books. Instead, we’re taking personal potshots at one another like two high-school girls fighting over who gets to sit next to the cutest boy in class. Lighten up, please! Life’s so short.

          • mary krishnamurty

            thank you. I see much to much of this kind of sniping on comments sections wich then stray from the point of the article to a personal attack.Nd this is only what she sees as best books. I personally take theses kind of article as a starting point for exploring new writers.Peace.

          • Charlotte

            I agree…this makes me embarrassed to be a woman. Men wouldn’t be having this ridiculous conversation. I read everything. It’s a starting point. Read what you want. Sad

          • Claire Ian

            Oh, I could definitely see men having this conversation, especially the man currently serving as POTUS,

          • P.J.

            It’s not maniac’s fault that Gina is a nasty piece of work that seems a sandwich short of a picnic.

          • P.J.

            Really pot!!! Why are you calling the kettle black???

      • Lisa Lu

        A more constructive approach would be to offer some works or authors that would diversify & enhance the list. The insults are unnecessary.

      • P.J.

        Actually since there are more than seven out there to choose from why not be more representative? To call this lady moronic, amongst other things, for pointing out the lack of diversity is uncalled for.

    • Susan England

      Please list your seven, I’d love to read them…,,

      • Kayci Rose Rush

        Their Eyes Were Watching God is a 1937 novel and the best known work by African-American writer Zora Neale Hurston.

        Bluest Eye 1970 by African-American writer Toni Morrison. Morrison won the 1993 Nobel Prize for Literature.

        The Color Purple is a 1982 epistolary novel by African-American author Alice Walker that won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Fiction.

        White Teeth, 2000, by British Black writer Zadie Smith. Won Guardian Best First Novel.

        Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi , 2011. Granta Award for best new Novelist.

        Americanah is a 2013 novel by the Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, for which Adichie won the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Fiction award.

        Homecoming- 2017. by Yaa Gyasi Just released.

        • Maggie

          Elizabeth Alexander, poet who recited her poem at one of Obama’s inaugurations, wrote a beautiful nonfiction personal story The Light of the World, about her Eritrean husband and their two sons.

          • Maggie

            Another significant Nigerian author I love is Chinua Achebe. Things Fall Apart one of his many good stories.

        • Robin

          Of your list, I’ve only read Their Eyes Were Watching God. I would definitely recommend it. I read a book by Alice Walker, I think, based on the practice of clitoral castration (I’m not certain that’s what it is called). I cried and my emotions ran the gamut throughout. I am ashamed that I can’t recall the title and am uncertain as to the author. I think it had something about Rainbow in the title?? Perhaps you know this book? And thank you for your list!

        • feministsassmaster

          White Teeth and Americanah were amazing.

          Also, for some brevity in writing, Luvvie Ajayi’s “I’m Judging You” is absolutely terrific–just be prepared to laugh out loud on public transportation if you take such a thing (and have people look at you like you’re a lunatic).

        • Judy Fleener

          Homegoing is the book by Yaa Gyasi Probably an autocorrect.

    • Patricia Glass Rittler

      You’re right. Name some and I will put them on my list, for sure.

      • The Color Purple

        • Patricia Glass Rittler

          Beloved

    • Maniac1980

      I was also puzzled by that. “The Book of Joan” while interesting, probably doesn’t qualify as a book women MUST read. I would have put “Wild” in it’s place (though this doesn’t diverisfy the list).

      I would probably also put “Anne Frank – Diary of a Young Girl” on the list, simply because of Anne’s amazing writing for one so young.

      I would put Anna Badkhen’s books on this list, because as a female journalist whose work has taken her to Iraq, Chechnya and Afghanistan, Her stuff is about how life goes on in these places during war, and I love it.

      Toni Morrison and Song of Solomen belong on the list. Amy Tan’s great works on immigrant mothers and their American daughers (Kitchen God’s Wife, THe Joy Luck Club) should be here also. Alice Walker should be here. And I am currently enjoying Stephanie Powell Watts book “No One is Coming to Save Us”.

    • Colleen Pierre

      So what books by Black or African women would you add to the list?

      • Kayci Rose Rush

        I would strongly recommend The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf. That book really stuck with me. And Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist should definitely be on this list (which would also solve the problem of only white writers, which is kinda embarrassing for you).
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        khrystle
        19 days ago
        The Book of Ruth by Jane Hamilton is absolutely necessary reading for every young woman. And Gone With the Wind.
        3
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        Carol
        2 months ago
        I have read all of these books but one, Reading Lolita in Tehran, and it is on my list. Perhaps it is a generational thing (I am 64), but I believe formative reads for women about strong women should start with Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Tangentially, see how far women have come by reading Unmentionable by Therese Oneill.
        4
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        Scout Finch Carol
        a month ago
        Good point – Little Women.
        1
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        Joyce Elaine Dauby Carol
        2 days ago
        Yes, yes, on Little Women!

        Reply

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        Bonnie Amesquita
        25 days ago
        The Women’s Room and Sula woke me up.
        2
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        Beth gargan
        a month ago
        Formative books for me (I am 65) were Little Women and Pride and Prejudice.
        2
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        Anne Therese Calkins Beth gargan
        6 days ago
        Yes!! Strong characters!!

        Reply

        Avatar
        Nan Jørgensen
        7 days ago
        I like your list —which I have read, but I would definitely add _Amerikanah_ by Adichie, and _Half of a Yellow Sun_ by her as well, _Little Women_ by Alcott, definitely, (transformative), Tillie Olson’s _Tell Me A Riddle_, Katherine Anne Porter’s _Ship of Fools_, Charlotte Brontë’s _Jane Eyre_ _Shirley_ other works, and almost all of Jane Austen, particularly _ Pride and Prejudice_ and _Emma_.
        1
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        Avatar
        Kayci Rose Rush
        17 days ago
        Not one Black or African woman writer…. the subconscious bias is clearly visible. It’s almost as if people assume only white women read.
        1
        EditReply

        Avatar
        Maniac1980 Kayci Rose Rush
        9 days ago
        I was also puzzled by that. “The Book of Joan” while interesting, probably doesn’t qualify as a book women MUST read. I would have put “Wild” in it’s place (though this doesn’t diverisfy the list).

        I would probably also put “Anne Frank – Diary of a Young Girl” on the list, simply because of Anne’s amazing writing for one so young.

        I would put Anna Badkhen’s books on this list, because as a female journalist whose work has taken her to Iraq, Chechnya and Afghanistan, Her stuff is about how life goes on in these places during war, and I love it.

        Toni Morrison and Song of Solomen belong on the list. Amy Tan’s great works on immigrant mothers and their American daughers (Kitchen God’s Wife, THe Joy Luck Club) should be here also. Alice Walker should be here. And I am currently enjoying Stephanie Powell Watts book “No One is Coming to Save Us”.
        2
        Reply

        Avatar
        Susan England Kayci Rose Rush
        14 days ago
        Please list your seven, I’d love to read them…,,
        1
        Reply

        Avatar
        Kayci Rose Rush Susan England
        14 days ago

        Their Eyes Were Watching God is a 1937 novel and the best known work by African-American writer Zora Neale Hurston.

        Bluest Eye 1970 by African-American writer Toni Morrison. Morrison won the 1993 Nobel Prize for Literature.

        The Color Purple is a 1982 epistolary novel by African-American author Alice Walker that won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Fiction.

        White Teeth, 2000, by British Black writer Zadie Smith. Won Guardian Best First Novel.

        Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi , 2011. Granta Award for best new Novelist.

        Americanah is a 2013 novel by the Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, for which Adichie won the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Fiction award.

        Homecoming- 2017. by Yaa Gyasi Just released.

      • feministsassmaster

        This question is asked in all seriousness, not in any way snotty, but why should it be up to others to educate you on those authors? What is stopping you and any other women on here from actually looking this information up yourselves and possibly learning something about the authors, if it fits into what you want/need to learn, and about diversity as a whole? Google is a mighty tool.

        With that being said, here are some authors I would recommend: Roxanne Gay, Luvvie Ajayi (her book and blog), bell hooks, Zadie Smith, Chimananda Ngozi Adichie, Colson Whitehead, Natalie Y. Moore, Audre Lourde, Janet Mock, Junot Diaz, Paulo Cuehlo, Gabrial Garcia Marquez, articles/books about Nely Galan…I could keep going because this is just from my bookshelves and bookmarked articles.

    • Lori

      Why is it we have to bring race and color into everything. This is one persons idea of 7 books every woman should read. Why must you criticize and bring color into it. Either read them or dont. Or better yet make your own list with whoever you think woman should read. Smh

      • feministsassmaster

        Because race and color are a MAJOR issue when it comes to women in the workplace. White women are the power structure when you look at only women and because of that, WOC are overlooked in their struggles, which far outweigh those of white women. To list only books written by white women shows a pervasive lack of diversity in the author’s reading and understanding of who makes up the full workforce and who has to work the hardest to even get to that “glass ceiling” let alone break it. AND THAT IS A BIG PROBLEM because again, it’s pervasive among white women. So if we want to talk about women and careers and breaking ceilings and getting to the top, we MUST be inclusive or we are doing a serious disservice to a BIG chunk of women out there—women of color, women of low income, women with criminal backgrounds who’ve changed their lives, women of non-christian religions, single mothers….the list is pretty damn long and pretty damn important.

  • Danielle Masursky

    I would strongly recommend The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf. That book really stuck with me. And Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist should definitely be on this list (which would also solve the problem of only white writers, which is kinda embarrassing for you).

    • ShemenSasson

      I just finished Roxane Gay’s “Hunger.” I have not yet read “Bad Feminist.” But the former was deeply moving and not about “race” per se but about being a woman. It was exceptional.

      • feministsassmaster

        Bad feminist is AMAZING! Especially since it’s in essay for so you can just bounce around to whatever you feel like at that particular time (though I’d recommend reading the whole thing).

  • Judith L. Goldfarb

    I’ve only read one… and amazingly, I still wake up every morning. How about books that all people should read, like “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Beach Music,” “South of Broad,” “The Mists of Avalon,” “Mila 18.” I could go on and on and on…

    • Maniac1980

      Love seeing Mila 18 on your list–that, along with Exodus, Armegeddon, QB7 and Trinity are great books by Leon Uris. His last few noveles were kind of tragically bad . . .

      • Judith L. Goldfarb

        I agree. I try not to think of the books he wrote at the end of his career. If you haven’t yet read them, I recommend anything and everything written by Pat Conroy; especially “Beach Music” and “South of Broad.” “Prince of Tides” is also a wonderful book.

  • Linda

    I would add White Teeth and The Natural Way Of Things.

  • Nan Jørgensen

    I like your list —which I have read, but I would definitely add _Amerikanah_ by Adichie, and _Half of a Yellow Sun_ by her as well, _Little Women_ by Alcott, definitely, (transformative), Tillie Olson’s _Tell Me A Riddle_, Katherine Anne Porter’s _Ship of Fools_, Charlotte Brontë’s _Jane Eyre_ _Shirley_ other works, and almost all of Jane Austen, particularly _ Pride and Prejudice_ and _Emma_.

    • Claire Ian

      Yes to Jane Eyre!

  • MiddleAged Malcontent

    The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf
    Backlash by Susan Faludi
    The Mismeasure of Woman by Carol Tavris
    Growing Up Free by Letty Cottin Pogrebin (guide to non-sexist child raising)
    There are others, but these came off the top of my head

  • I would add a few to this list. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros is a powerful statement about finding the self. For most of my years teaching in a public high school, I taught The Bluest Eye, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and Mango Street—they were critical books for me personally. A peer taught The Color Purple, which is the only reason I did not. I would also add Maxine Hong Kingston’s Woman Warrior to this list. I would add so many others!

  • Bobbi Crow

    The Immortal Life of Heneritta Lacks
    Amazing read! 🤗

    • anniepajamie

      a stunning story. (y)

  • Joyce Elaine Dauby

    I’ve read 4 of the 7. Reading Lolita in Terran, looks a must I need to get. As for recommendations, Gate to Women’s Country was a most formative book to me. I still think of it regarding how I think of different kinds of men in the world and what to do about them, and the possible relationships between impowered women and those men who can be real allies.

  • Bonnie Amesquita

    The Woman’s Room. I read it when I was in an abusive marriage. It changed me and gave me courage to get out of the situation.

    • khrystle

      Yes!

  • Libbe HaLevy

    Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets by Barbara Walker and When God was a Woman by Merlin Stone. Out hidden history – or rather, herstory.

  • ML

    I’ve read some posts and I must say that only when you cease to see the color of a person are you truly tolerant. Can’t we just enjoy being women together without labeling each other? I though that reading was supposed to open your mind.

    • 3r1nsm0m

      Agree – a good book is a good book, regardless of whether the author is male, female, black, white, Asian, or whatever. I don’t care about the race of the author!

  • Marianne Carter

    I have read their eyes are watching god vest writing and also I agree with color purple how about our bodies ourselves

  • Marianne Carter

    Additionally Women who run with wolves one if the best books about women and myths I have ever read right up there with a Handmaids Tale these are also books I have given my daughter to read

  • Lisa Zapasnik Gottlieb

    I would also recommend The Woman’s Room.

  • ghm52

    “The Woman’s Room” by Marilyn French and “Possessing the Secret of Joy” by Alice Walker.

  • Eileen Miller

    I would add Anne of Green Gables & the Laura Ingles Wilder series. I read every single Nancy Drew & Cherry Ames books as a kid. I suppose they wouldn’t entertain kids today – too old fashioned. But they were empowering in their way. Of course, some classics I loved were The Scarlet Letter, Anna Karenina and Dr. Zhivago. Also, Sophie’s Choice.

    • Maureen Walsh

      Oh my, Eileen. I have never met another reader or seen a reference to the Cherry Ames books. I loved them so much. (I am 67)

  • Michele Vanier

    I love Bitch; In Praise of Difficult Women by Elizabeth Wurtzel. Fear of Flying and The Haidmaid’s Tale are my favorites.

    • feministsassmaster

      Bitch is BRILLIANT! and speaking of I’d also say BITCHfest, an anthology of articles from Bitch magazine is a great one because it covers the gamut of topics from writers from all different walks of life.

      • Michele Vanier

        I know, right? I still quote her “A girl who pays her own bills, doesn’t have to be nice”

  • Karen Stensgaard

    Somehow it seems like a blog picking 7 books about strong women morphed sadly into an online fight. So back to the question, I’ve read some suggested & in comments but now more for my reading list! I’d add Lilac Girls – a recent bestseller about WWII experienced by 3 very different strong willed women. And if not a problem, I’d like to suggest my debut under-the-radar novel AQUAVIT about a woman who wants to restart her life by going on a bucket list trip. Free chapters on Amazon. Luckily there are always lots of books to read. To many more stories with strong women heroines!

  • Crissy

    I would add, “Love” by Bell Hooks to this list.

  • Claire Ian

    There needs to be at least one book by Joyce Carol Oates on the list. I recommend “We Were The Mulvaneys” or “Foxfire.” Or really, any of her books.

  • Mary Shoning

    Terry Mcmillan anyone? “Interruption of Everyting” connects with me. I’m a 53 yo mom of 3

  • bksrmgc

    “Our Bodies, Ourselves” is a book that should be given to every girl on her 10th birthday.

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