It’s present day, and Dana is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday when she’s ripped back through time to the antebellum South to save the white son of a plantation owner. She returns to the slave quarters again and again, each journey more perilous, until it becomes unclear whether she’ll ever make it out. Through powerful prose, Morrison explores the physical and mental toll of slavery, blending harrowing realism with a glimpse of the otherworldly to create a deftly told modern classic.
Fear of Flying
In 1973, Erica Jong introduced us to “the zipless f–k” and Isadora Wing’s liberating search for self and sexuality. Jong’s narrative tends to be internal and intense, following Isadora through disappointing and awkward relations and sexual realizations as she navigates personal struggles, sexual desires, and the man in her life. The book broke new ground and was widely read in the 1970s for its controversial topics in women’s liberation, and it stands up as an iconic tale.
Reading Lolita in Tehran
Azar Nafisi recounts her time as a professor of literature at Tehran University, where she led a secret book discussion group for a few female students in her home, before eventually leaving Iran. The forbidden books included Lolita, Pride and Prejudice, Daisy Miller, and The Great Gatsby. In doing so, they risked imprisonment, beatings, rape, and even the possibility of execution. This profound memoir sheds light on life in Iran for many women, and why it’s important to remember that while women’s rights have come a long way in the western world, education in many parts of the world is still a controversial—albeit crucial—issue for female equality and essential freedoms.
The Book of Joan
If you’re a woman entering the world of television, comedy, and entertainment (or even one who appreciates the above), there’s a debt of gratitude to be given to the queen who blazed the way for women in the industry. This memoir, written by daughter Melissa, is full of heartfelt reflection on the unforgiving but completely professional pioneer that was Joan Rivers. Melissa considers her mother’s life and legacy to be many things: host, mother, entertainer, industry royalty, and tell-it-like-it-is professional in a world where she had to shout to be heard before she finally earned respect in her industry.
Sophia Amoruso, founder of online clothing retailer Nasty Gal (RIP!), wasn’t an ordinary CEO. By embracing her love for vintage fashion and seizing an opportunity in an untapped business market, Sophia turned selling clothes online into a $250-million venture. In #Girlboss, Sophia talks candidly about turning her once-personal hobby to a full-on career and inspires readers to see the full potential in an idea they might only dream of pursuing. Sophia proves that you can be a badass entrepreneur with street smarts and a cool outfit to boot.
The Handmaid's Tale
Set in a future-day Massachusetts, The Handmaid’s Tale is a disturbing portrayal of a totalitarian society, as told by Offred, a maiden who is owned by her commander in a post-apocalyptic world. Due to nuclear waste pollution, only a handful of the female population has been rendered fertile and able to reproduce. Offred is one of these women, and she becomes a coveted object with little freedom. Women who are infertile are labeled as “unwomen” and sent off into labor camps, unless, they are of a higher “class,” which grants them an exemption. You may not necessarily enjoy the subject of this profound book, but it will force you to consider feminism, reproductive rights, sex, fertility, and gender with sharper perspective.
This list wouldn’t be complete without Lean In. A double standard exists in both the professional sphere and in the roles at home: while most men enter a situation unabashed and ready to speak up for themselves, women tend to sit back, feeling undeserving and overly self-critical. Women balance multiple responsibilities as professional, mother, and wife, and yet most don’t give themselves the credit they deserve. Sandberg addresses knowing when to step up and negotiate, understanding your self-worth, appreciating your personal strengths and having the confidence to apply them, and, above all, actively “leaning in” to your own life in pursuit of coveted goals and desires.
Need a new book to dive into? What about these formative reads that were written by—and about—incredible 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.
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