Top Ten Books By Women For Women!

Published on 9 Jul 2016 . 9 min read

Ten books by women that every woman should read and why, the brief said.

After I’d finished my 2.5 minutes of hyperventilation about ten books, just ten books, how one earth could I chop down a lifetime of reading stated as my given bad habit into ten books, I decided to tackle this seemingly impossible task in another way.  So here are classic books by women authors I have read and think every woman should definitely read, and contemporary books by women authors you need to go out and buy now. I’ve condensed them into ten with great difficulty. Trust me, I was sorely tempted to put one of my own on the latter list, but I resist temptation like it was never meant to be resisted.


Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

I call this book my first feminist manifesto ever, before I had even heard  the word feminist. In an era of simpering heroines going all coy over masterly heroes, Jane Eyre was my idea of a true heroine of a protagonist. Independent, by necessity as she was an orphan, her fierce streak shows up in the dreadful conditions of the home for orphans where she grows up, bristly and defiant. And her decision to choose the older, disabled, previously married Mr. Rochester over the appropriate young curate showed a young, impressionable me that love was indeed, inexplicable.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

This story of four sisters living with their mother, struggling to make ends meet while their father is off to war will touch the heart of every girl or woman reading it, seeing as they will, glimpses of themselves in any of the characters. For me, Jo, was me, a tomboy, with dreams of being a writer, who had to eventually rein in her tomboyishness and become a ‘girly girl.’

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

What does one say about Pride and Prejudice except that it was chick lit when chick lit wasn’t even a gleam in the eye of the publishing industry, and Mr Darcy continues to remain, after all these centuries, still the epitome of male romantic heroes in literature. And the feisty Elizabeth Bennet  is perhaps the precursor of the headstrong, independent female protagonists that our contemporary fiction works lead with.

A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction,” says Woolf in this book, and over the years the truth of the statement has hit me far more insidiously than it did when one first read. This is one of the books that convinced me that women need to write their stories, because most of the writing we know down the centuries has come to us through the gendered prism of the patriarchal male gaze, and as Woolf said, for most of history, Anon was a woman.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

It is 1936, the age of chivalry is dead. And a Scottish school mistress is filling her students’ heads with ideas quite unrelated to the syllabus. Miss Jean Brodie, defiantly in her prime and in love with the art teacher, is perhaps one of the most intriguing fictional characters I have read. ““Give me a girl at an impressionable age,” she boasts, “and she is mine for life.” Read this book for the fabulously etched protagonist, an anomaly for her age, exquisite storytelling and the sharp observations of character.

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” The opening line hooked me, as did the character of the young girl with the name unknown who falls in love with the brooding Maxim de Winter, and goes to his ancestral home, the Manderley of the opening line. I read it as a young, very impressionable pre-teen, in my time there was no fancy YA genre for us in betweens, we read kids books and we then read adult books, and I was sucked into a brooding, oppressive atmosphere which sucked you in and spat you out, and all through it the overwhelming , haunting presence of the beauteous, dead Rebecca.


Wild by Cheryl Strayed

An autobiographical memoir of the gruelling 1,100 mile hike Strayed took through the Pacific Crest Trail in a pilgrimage to deal with the death of her mother, this book is honest, unflinching, written with the kind of raw courage that comes from a place of great suffering and not only exorcises the writer of the grief that caused it, but also leads the reader through immense catharsis and raw self discovery.

The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf

This book, which takes a dispassionate look at how beauty or the images of idealised beauty are used to control women by a male dominated society, leading to a backlash of eating disorders, cosmetic surgery addictions and pornography, was to the younger me, a clarion call as to how one projected oneself often took cues from what was expected of one. Twenty years later, I realise, not much has changed, the pressure if anything has only intensified.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

A disturbing, exquisitely written story about a dystopian world in which women’s bodies have been taken over by a regiment as purely reproductive life forms, the regime has categorised women into various categories based on their functionality. Even their names have been taken away from them. This tale, though it might seem dystopian and distant, is something every woman reading would feel the slight terror of knowing, within her skin, is completely possible.

Fear of Flying by Erica Jong

What can I say about Fear of Flying but that Isadora White, the protagonist, was a revelation to me, a teen girl in 80s India. That such women existed, thought like that, were unapologetic about their sexual needs and desires, and were unabashed about adultery completely put paid to all the moral science I’d picked up along the route to adulthood. Jong’s voice is sharp, fun and completely honest.  This book, a semi autobiographical memoir by Erica Jong, also put the phrase, ‘zipless fuck’ into my lexicon although I have unfortunately never had the opportunity to use it.

And here, from twitter are other suggestions of books women should read.

@wastrelette : Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. Every single book by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Kindred by Octavia Butler (will think of more)

 @justkanchana : Any book by @cdivakaruni. The manner in which she deals with mother daughter & sister relationship. Profound. Brilliant.

@priyal : the entire Aryavarta chronicles by Krishna UdayShankara. Rare good writing and plot brilliance in crowded mythfiction world

@Sachinky : Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. Chilling dystopian novel.

@justkanchana : Also Lianne Moriarty to enjoy the world of women and their mundane yet delightful routine. The extraordinary in the ordinary.

@priyal : Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Never has and never will cease to be relevant. Specially for young adults

@maikeya : Wave by Sonali D, because it tears right into your soul and you wonder what depths of being can a woman draw courage from

@maikeya : A handbook for my lover by @RosaParx because about damn time someone wrote erotica like that.

@23_rahulr : A room of one's own by Virginia Woolf.. Absolute must. Woolf questions a millennium of conditioning that has us believing..

@TarangSinha : 'Legacy' by Danielle Steel (even though I'm not her fan). For brave, extra-ordinary Wachiwi, one of the central characters.

@TarangSinha : I've Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella. It's a 433 page #book, and trust me, not a single page is boring!

@TarangSinha : This Matter Of Marriage & A Little Bit Country by @debbiemacomber. For her delightful stories & lovely characters esp heroes :)

@suku06 : #Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. Why? Rich deep gothic romance and suspense. We all need a bit of that.

@effyourstylist : The Secret History by Donna Tartt. Makes you fall in love with the classics, the written word, snow, friendship, love.

@radzzzzster : Before we visit the goddess - by @cdivakaruni

@colorlightsfood : Anuradha Roy because her books make you yearn for those imaginary places. Also thirity umrigar, elif shafak so many more

@Pallavisms : Books by Erma Bombeck. Hilarious take on day-to-day issues.

@ViolentVeggy : Sultana's Dream by Begum Rokeya

@semantix_ : obvious perhaps, but To Kill A Mockingbird. Political, powerful, and what sheer skill. Also, Ismat Chugtai's short stories.

@tarasnark : North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell.

@aishu_s : Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. Strong female protagonist in an oppressive society in the late 19th century, How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran for its honest reflections.

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Kiran Manral
Kiran Manral was a journalist before she quit to be full time mommy. Her blogs were both in India’s top blogs and she was a Tehelka blogger columnist on gender issues. Her debut novel, The Reluctant Detective, was published by Westland in 2012 and her second novel Once Upon A Crush, was published by Leadstart in 2014. Her third book is due out in August 2015 from Penguin Random House. She is on the planning board of the Kumaon Literary Festival and is an advisor on the Board of Literature Studio, Delhi. She was awarded the Women Achievers award by Young Environmentalists Group in 2013. She lives in Mumbai with her family and counts every day off the Nutella wagon as a successful day.

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