In honour of International Women’s Day, here are some suggestions for important, influential, or just plain good books written by women.
How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
Caitlin Moran’s debut memoir, published in 2011, deals with her early years, serving stories of her youth and mindset with a heaping side dish of humour. The aim of the book was to centre women’s stories, and to make feminism more palatable to the masses. Less bra-burning man haters, more average people who just want equality. It’s a fantastic entry point to feminist literature for this exact reason, it’s written well and with very accessible language. A brilliant book from a brilliant woman.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
While Plath is known mainly for her poetry, her lone novel is essential reading for any fan of her work. A classic book from a classic author, it deals with issues any woman is familiar with in her young adult life, and does so with emotion and imagery. An earlier feminist work, it examines aspects of female life that many modern women take for granted, but most can still empathise with the protagonist Esther’s longing for freedom and fulfilment. An essential read for anyone who’s feeling a bit aimless coming up to graduation.
Notes to Self by Emilie Pine
Associate Professor at UCD, Emilie Pine, published a collection of personal essays last year. It’s been lauded widely since for its honesty and impact, covering subjects ranging from parental alcoholism, to infertility, to sexual violence. It’s a heavy read, but an important one. For more information on Pine and Notes to Self, see her interview with our own Tara Hanneffy here.
Girl Up by Laura Bates
Following on from the success of her debut book, Everyday Sexism, Laura Bates published a more personal book. Girl Up deals with the same subject matter as Everyday Sexism, that being modern misogyny in Britain and Northern Ireland, but does so from a much more personal perspective. While her debut dealt with figures and statistics, interspersed with tweet length anecdotes from young people impacted by the situations being discussed, Girl Up is an in-dept, up close and personal view on what it feels like to live as a woman in western society: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Bates infuses facts and knowledge with personality and humour, leaving you feeling more inspired and less despondent than Everyday Sexism, reminding you why feminism is still needed, and reminding you that you can work to change things for the better.
Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Somali-Dutch activist, writer and scholar published her autobiography, detailing her life to that point, in 2006. While Hirsi Ali is considered a controversial figure by some, this work remains incredibly important to many. In it, she discusses her childhood in Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Kenya; seeking asylum in the Netherlands; her work in Parliament; her time in university; and the murder of the filmmaker she worked with on the film Submission. Like a lot of the books already on this list, the subject matter can get very heavy, but again, it is really worth reading.
The American Way of Death by Jessica Mitford
Jessica Mitford, an English communist living in America during the Cold War, is a rather amazing woman to hear about. However, she is an even more amazing to read, and The American Way of Death has appeared on many an essential reading list since it was originally published in 1963. An exposé on the American funeral industry, she updated it before her death in 1996, which was published posthumously. It shocked and appalled many on its original release, and did the same on re-release. It’s a good entry point for her work, of which there is a lot, all well worth reading.
I Call Myself a Feminist: The View from Twenty-Five Women Under Thirty
Co-edited by Victoria Pepe, Rachel Holmes, Amy Anette, Martha Mosse and Alice Stride, this marathon book features twenty-five separate personal essays from young people who fight the good fight. Ranging from funny, to depressing, to inspiring, there’s a story for every mood, and an essay for every type of feminist within its covers. It’s essential reading for any young person who even knows a woman under thirty, and every page of it is worth it.
Unspeakable by Abbie Rushton
A young adult novel set in rural England, it deals with the complexities of being a young woman with selective mutism dealing with grief and trauma, on top of the stresses of school and exams. Lighter in tone that many of the other books on this list, I know it doesn’t sound like it but trust me, it’s a sweet, heartwarming novel about young love and the healing power of emotional bonds.
Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel, of ‘the Bechdel Test’ fame, started writing her world famous periodical comic in 1983, finishing in 2008. If you ever want to look into lesbian and feminist culture of the late 20th century, this is your place to do it. It’s since been compiled into several different print comic books, which are easy enough to find online, as well as an archive of some select strips on her personal site. It’s funny, and heartwarming. It’s a soap opera in strip format, and well, well worth spending some time flicking through.
Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley
Set during segregation in Virginia, 1959; Lies We Tell Ourselves follows the story of one of the first teenage girls to integrate into the local all-white high school, alongside the story of the daughter of one of the town’s most vocal opponents to integration. It’s a story of overcoming prejudice, of trying to find safety in a world that feels like it hates you, and of young women trying to find a place in a world that tells them they have none.
Normal People by Sally Rooney
Rooney’s second novel, which has been a resounding critical success, deals with a young couple trying to find a place where they might work together, despite their situations seeming to tell them they won’t. Both Irish and modern, it's sure to feel relevant to most young people, as the book is written with an intensity of feeling that is palpable to the reader. Rooney is definitely an author to be on the look out for, and Normal People is where you should start.
Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton
Former Sunday Times columnist, Dolly Alderton, published her debut memoir in 2018. It tells the story of her early adulthood, 'the still growing up while being grown'. Aside from just her stories, it gives lists, recipes, satirical observations and so much more. Anyone I know who has read this has loved it, Alderton’s own sincerity shining through the pages and making it feel more like a friend catching you up than a book.
Lord of the Butterflies by Andrea Gibson
If you’re in any way into spoken word, you’ve likely heard on Andrea Gibson. Their poetry is beautiful and impactful, with a score of it to be heard on YouTube if you want a sampler before you commit to their whole book. Dealing with topics like gender, romance, loss and family with the deft hand they are known for, Gibson excelled in this collection, as they have in their four previous ones. It’s a strong read, and as it’s available on eBook from Button Poetry, it is very easily accessible.
To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
We all know what this is at this stage. Han’s hit young adult novel, which was recently adapted into a Netflix film, deals with the fallout of a young woman’s secret love letters being posted to those they were written for. It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s sincere, and like all of Han’s books, incredibly well written. If you need any more convincing, watch the Netflix adaptation first. It’s a trilogy, so you still have two unspoiled books for after.
the witch doesn’t burn in this one by Amanda Lovelace
Lovelace is easily written off as just another “Instagram poet” who writes in short lined free verse, but this collection is easily more than that. The impact this collection has, particularly when read in one sitting (it’s not particularly long) is immense. As its title suggests, the overarching theme of the collection can be summed up as “we are the daughters of the witches you were not able to burn." As it culminates, you really do feel like you have been set alight. While it is the second instalment in a series, it’s easily read as a stand alone, and incredibly, incredibly worth the read.