This was a hard exercise my friends. And, because of that, I’ve included in my stack photos a lot more books than the one’s I’m highlighting below. I’ve grouped them in different categories – The Classics, The Biographies, Fiction & Non-Fiction. Brace yourselves for a very long post. And there are a lot of books I left out.
Let’s start with the beginning. I often say I don’t belong to this time. I was born in the wrong era. But I immediately follow up saying “as a man”. And then I find myself thinking “but it is so fun to be a woman… “, and then I get angry because of how women were treated in the past. If the gap is disparate now, then it was insane. I find myself thinking about all of the female writers, painters, composers, who didn’t make the cut. Because the works of a women were seen as being inferior. With woman having to publish their works in the name of their husbands or under a male pseudonym. (by the way, have you seen the movie Collette?). How insane, how crazy is that? While men could make careers as novelists, woman couldn’t. How dare she having a brain, calling herself talented?
- Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
I fell in love with the Classics when I read Pride and Prejudice years and years ago. I loved it so much that re-read it multiple times. It is still my favourite book by Jane Austen. I could talk about how it made me laugh out loud with her sarcasm. How well written it is, a somewhat satyric portrait of the English society of the 19th century. But the reason why it made it to this list is because, two centuries later, a girl in Portugal (probably about 15 years old) was reading the book and seeing herself in it. And no, not because I was hysterical about Mr. Darcy, but because I felt like the protagonist, Elizabeth Bennet. The injustices and judgements of a society on women.
There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate mePride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
2. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
I mean… this one had to make it to this list. I’ve only read this book once, but liked it so much I ended up buying a different edition, with a nice old hard cover, from a second hand bookstore. Contrary to Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre is more clearly a feminist novel. In a man dominated Victorian society, the protagonist often takes the unexpected choice.
I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
3. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
I need to buy this book. I read it about three years ago on Kindle. It became one of my favourite classics. It portraits the life of four young girls, sisters, living with their mum while their dad is at war. They struggle with impoverishment, with the condition of being women. But what is lovely about these characters is that they are all so different – they all desire different paths in life. And that’s all right, because what women deserve is choice and control over their own path.
There are many Beths in the world, shy and quiet, sitting in corners till needed, and living for others so cheerfully that no one sees the sacrifices till the little cricket on the hearth stops chirping, and the sweet, sunshiny presence vanishes, leaving silence and shadow behind.Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
4. Frankenstein by Mary Shelly
I was not sure if I this would should make it to the list. It is one of my favourite gothic books (I like dark stuff) and it was written by a woman in the 19th century. I think the most interesting thing is that the book was first published anonymously. I think we all know why.
I do know that for the sympathy of one living being, I would make peace with all. I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
I haven’t read many of these to be honest. At heart, I’m a person of fiction. The National Geographic made these special editions on women that I’ve been buying for a year now, since moving back to Portugal due to the pandemic. These are on Frida Kahlo, Marie Curie and Cleopatra and are such a pleasure to read. Highly recommend. One that is not in the stack (I couldn’t find it and I thought it had been forgotten in London…) is Persepolis, a graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi. And I’ll start with that.
- Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi
This is the only graphic novel I’ve read so far (I guess manga doesn’t count, and to be honest, even with manga I haven’t read much) and it’s fantastic. It is autobiographical. Through black and white trips, the author depicts what was like to grow up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. A read that will make you laugh, but most of all it will break your heart.
2. Becoming, by Michelle Obama
I’m a huge fan of the Obamas, and Michelle is such an admirable woman, an excellent role model for generations of young women. In her book, she’s brutally honest about the how hard it was to be married to a man pursuing the Presidency of the United States. How much she had to endure not just as a woman, but as a black woman. Her strength and faith in humanity is something that transpires throughout her words. Incredibly inspiring.
For every door that’s been opened to me, I’ve tried to open my door to others. And here is what I have to say, finally: Let’s invite one another in. Maybe then we can begin to fear less, to make fewer wrong assumptions, to let go of the biases and stereotypes that unnecessarily divide us. Maybe we can better embrace the ways we are the same. It’s not about being perfect. It’s not about where you get yourself in the end. There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others. This, for me, is how we become.Becoming, Michelle Obama
3. Eu, Malala (original title in English I Am Malala), by Malala Yousafzai
It was hard for me to read this. I was reading it through the first lockdown ever, feeling miserable about my life, and then feeling extremely stupid for feeling so miserable. Girls in other parts of the world are denied education. And shot if they attempt to go after what is their right as a human being. I was boiling in anger, I don’t know what I would do if I wasn’t allowed to study. If my government said no more school for me, because I’m a girl. Education is such a precious thing. This is the story of Malala in her own words.
Education is education. We should learn everything and then choose which path to follow.” Education is neither Eastern nor Western, it is human.I Am Malala, Malala Yousafzai
4. My Own Story, Emmeline Pankhurst
This is an incredibly political book by the head of the Suffragist movement in the UK.
Men make the moral code and they expect women to accept it. They have decided that it is entirely right and proper for men to fight for their liberties and their rights, but that it is not right and proper for women to fight for theirs.My Own Story, Emmeline Pankhurst
– Fiction & Non-Fiction: Race & Women –
Some of these titles are works of fiction and others are based on true events. They are all amazing. I have a soft spot for the writing of Zadie Smith, but I would say that any of this books are of compulsory reading.
- White Teeth by Zadie Smith
This was the first novel I read of Zadie Smith. I was in love with the way she portraits the living of immigrants in the UK, specifically London, while times evolve and ways of living change. Most of her books are about this relations – between race and ethnicity in a foreign land. Her writing my mind opening up. A lot of her stories also take place in neighborhoods I was living in, which made me look at the people I saw every day in the street differently. Wondering about their stories on my way to work, almost want to ask about it, if my shyness didn’t stop me.
Also, the artwork in this edition particularly is lovely.
If religion is the opiate of the people, tradition is an even more sinister analgesic, simply because it rarely appears sinister. If religion is a tight band, a throbbing vein, and a needle, tradition is a far homelier concoction: poppy seeds ground into tea; a sweet cocoa drink laced with cocaine; the kind of thing your grandmother might have made.White Teeth, Zadie Smith
2. Why I’m no longer talking with white people about race by Renni Eddo-Lodge
There was a surge in purchases for this book after the movement Black Lives Matter reappearing in the stage of the world in June of 2020, as a consequence of the murderer of George Floyd by a policeman. I think it was even sold out for some time. Thankfully I had read this book a few years back as a way to educate myself, as a white woman, on what I could do to be part of a change. What could I unlearn. What prejudices, no matter how unconscious they may be, I needed to continue to fight.
Feminism is not about equality, and certainly not about silently slipping into a world of work created by and for men. Feminism, at its best, is a movement that works to liberate all people who have been economically, socially and culturally marginalized by an ideological system that has been deigned for them to failWhy I’m no longer talking with white people about race by Renni Eddo-Lodge
3. Girl, Woman, Other, by Bernardine Evaristo
I remember very clearly the moment I bough this book. It was lockdown in the UK, the first one. The end of March. I had this miserable feeling I was running away, coming back to Portugal, amidst the pandemic. There was a WHSmith opened in Heathrow airport, so I went there and bought three books, to ensure I’ll be okay for the lockdown. This was one of those books.
I love books that don’t have a main character. That instead follow the intricacies of different beings. This is the case with this book. There isn’t a story. There are many. Of 12 different characters. Mostly women and black. But the funny thing is you realising that in the end, it’s all part of the same plot. As probably it always is the case with life.
Ageing is nothing to be ashamed of / Especially when the entire race is in it together / Although sometimes it seems that she alone among her friends wants to celebrate getting older / Because it’s such a privilege to not die prematurelyGirl, Woman, Other, Bernardine Evaristo
And this is all for today! Hope you can take some of these suggestions with, and feel free to share any more recommendations in the comments section 🙂
2 thoughts on “My favourite books on or by women”
Great selection of female authors, Nic! Haven’t read all of these books/writers, but many are on my reading list. Would like to share a couple of my favorite female writers: Joan Didion and Toni Morrison, both masterful and brilliant. I’ve only recently discovered Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, whose books I enjoy for the clarity of narrative style and unique insights into an experience very different from my own. Have a nice day and thanks for sharing this wonderful post!
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Thanks a lot for the recommendations Leighton! Never read anything from any of these authors, so will check them out 🙂
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