25 Amazing Books by Women You Need to Read

Photo illustrations, Mental Floss. Backgrounds: iStock. Covers: courtesy of the publisher.
Photo illustrations, Mental Floss. Backgrounds: iStock. Covers: courtesy of the publisher.

It's time to do some spring cleaning, dust off the bookshelf, and plot which stories to add to your reading list. Whether you're looking to discover a new author or find an unread title by an old favorite, these 25 books by women would be welcome additions to your collection.

1. BAD FEMINIST // ROXANE GAY

BAD FEMINIST, ROXANE GAY

Roxane Gay is a New York Times best-selling author who has written everything from novels to cultural essays to comic books—in short, she's a badass. Bad Feminist—a term she uses for herself—is her collection of personal essays (backed up with external sources) about the daily conflicts that women encounter being feminists in our complicated, culture-consuming world. She approaches each topic with a healthy balance of humor and criticism, acknowledging the messy, flawed nature of trying to live by an ever-changing set of feminist principles.

Find It: Amazon

2. MEN WE REAPED // JESMYN WARD

MEN WE REAPED, JESMYN WARD

After Jesmyn Ward's second novel, Salvage the Bones, took home the National Book Award for Fiction in 2011, she turned to her own life for the 2013 memoir Men We Reaped. It's a devastating account of black lives lost to drugs, accidents, or suicide, all in her tiny Mississippi hometown. Telling the stories of five men she knew in reverse chronological order while weaving in chronological chapters about her own childhood and coming of age, it all leads to the heartbreaking death of her brother.

Find It: Amazon

3. TEXT ME WHEN YOU GET HOME: THE EVOLUTION AND TRIUMPH OF MODERN FEMALE FRIENDSHIP // KAYLEEN SCHAEFER

TEXT ME WHEN YOU GET HOME, KAYLEEN SCHAEFER

Kayleen Schaefer admits early on in Text Me When You Get Home that she is a reformed mean girl. As someone who used to view other women solely as competition, her book about the incredible, complicated bonds of female friendship is relatable, familiar, and subverts the false notion that women are predisposed to hating each other.

Find It: Amazon

4. LIKE THE SINGING COMING OFF THE DRUMS // SONIA SANCHEZ

LIKE THE SINGING COMING OFF THE DRUMS, SONIA SANCHEZ

Sonia Sanchez's 1998 collection of love poems is romantic and sexy. Her poems take various forms, including tanka and haiku, and with lines like "I breathe you and become high," Sanchez invites you to bask in their lovely brevity while entreating you to turn the page to the next one. The musicality of her poems ("i dreamt i was tangoing with / you, you held me so close / we were like the singing coming off the drums") is kinetic and shows why The New York Times once referred to her as "the spiritual mother of spoken word for a hip-hop generation." (Sanchez did, after all, dedicate this book to Tupac Shakur and his activist mother, Afeni Shakur.)

Find It: Amazon

5. DIVING INTO THE WRECK // ADRIENNE RICH

DIVING INTO THE WRECK, ADRIENNE RICH

Adrienne Rich's collection of poems feels as relevant today as it must have when it was released in 1973. When it was announced she would split the National Book Award for poetry with Allen Ginsberg, Rich declined the award as an individual and instead accepted it on behalf of all women, speaking to the deeply feminist and political nature of her work. Her 2012 New York Times obituary called her "a poet of towering reputation and towering rage"; after reading the titular poem, it would be impossible to disagree.

Find It: Amazon

6. SATAN SAYS // SHARON OLDS

Sharon Olds won a Pulitzer for 2012's Stag's Leap, but her first collection of poetry, Satan Says, from 1980, set the tone for her acclaimed career as a writer of incredibly personal poems who can tackle themes like sex, trauma, and abuse with honesty and aplomb. Fellow award-winning poet Marilyn Hacker called it "a daring and elegant first book," and its straightforward prose and frankness quickly made Satan Says college curriculum material.

Find It: Amazon

7. PACHINKO // MIN JIN LEE

Min Jin Lee's epic Pachinko was one of the most celebrated books of 2017, and with good reason. This novel, Lee's second, chronicles the lives of four generations of a Korean family who immigrate to Japan. Owning pachinko parlors, a slot-machine-style game popular in Japan, is one of the only ways for the Korean immigrants to rise in economic standing. Lee's ability to keep the reader captivated through each new generation is a testament to her ability to craft detailed and nuanced characters who resonate.

Find It: Amazon

8. HOMEGOING // YAA GYASI

Yaa Gyasi's historical novel begins in the 18th century with two African sisters and follows the lives and struggles of multiple generations of their descendants. The family progresses forward one chapter at a time, each focusing on a different generation and contextualizing their lives based on where their family line was headed—one sister married a British official and stayed in Africa, while the other was captured and sold into American slavery. Each subsequent character is so incredibly well developed that closing their chapter and leaving them behind hurts a little every time.

Find It: Amazon

9. THE ANIMATORS // KAYLA RAE WHITAKER

The Animators, Kayla Rae Whitaker's 2017 debut novel, joins the pantheon of books about complex female friendship. The story focuses on the bond between two talented and creative women who meet in college and become successful collaborators as adults. The relationship between Sharon and Mel is as intense and messy as it is funny and inspirational, and their artistic failures and achievements can sometimes feel like a third friend.

Find It: Amazon

10. A LITTLE LIFE // HANYA YANAGIHARA

Over the course of Hanya Yanagihara's 2015 novel, an unlikely crew of college friends—Jude, Willem, Malcolm, and JB—become such indelible characters that you'll be thinking about them long after you've finished reading. While each of the boys becomes wildly successful in his own field, there is a darkness that looms due to a mysterious past trauma suffered by Jude. Yanagihara, who uses this book to examine the role of male friendship, once described the novel as "a fairy tale set in a contemporary time and place"—but consider this fair warning: She is referring more to classic Grimm than Disney.

Find It: Amazon

11. THE HOUSE ON MANGO STREET // SANDRA CISNEROS

Acclaimed Mexican-American writer Sandra Cisneros's The House on Mango Street came out in 1984. A coming of age story about a young Latina girl named Esperanza ("in Spanish my name means hope, in English it means too many letters") in Chicago, the book format follows Esperanza from her teenage years to adulthood. Cisneros weaves in stories about the robust Latin neighborhood around Esperanza, painting a vivid picture of life on Mango Street.

Find It: Amazon

12. WHAT IT MEANS WHEN A MAN FALLS FROM THE SKY // LESLEY NNEKA ARIMAH

The National Book Awards named Nigerian writer Lesley Nneka Arimah one of their 5 Under 35 in 2017. The very first story in this debut collection, "The Future Looks Good," is so brilliantly crafted around the family history of a girl who is fumbling to open a locked door, it's nearly impossible to catch your breath until the spectacular end. Each subsequent story has a distinctive voice. NPR called her writing "defiantly original" with a range that goes from "nightmare fairy tale" to "post-apocalyptic hope."

Find It: Amazon

13. ELEANOR & PARK // RAINBOW ROWELL

If it were possible to bottle up the feeling of first love and put it into word form, Eleanor & Park would be the result. It's set in the '80s—meaning mixtapes on cassettes and having to wait to see your crush because there are no cell phones. Rowell writes beautifully about the first flutters of love. Her other books vary in theme from a fanfic writing college student to gay magicians, but her ability to capture that first love feeling remains one of her most magical qualities across all her books.

Find It: Amazon

14. FAR FROM THE TREE // ROBIN BENWAY

Robin Benway's novel about a pregnant, adopted teen searching for her biological siblings could have easily veered into the after-school special territory. Instead, its realistic dialogue and beautiful prose make this book a smart, "big-hearted and uplifting" read, and made it last year's National Book Award winner for young people's literature.

Find It: Amazon

15. THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING // JOAN DIDION

THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING BY JOAN DIDION

The Year of Magical Thinking is the painfully honest chronicle of Joan Didion's life the year following the sudden death of her husband. Known for her novels, screenplays, and essay collections like Slouching Towards Bethlehem, this deeply personal book is a raw glimpse into the realities of grief. Didion adapted Magical Thinking into a play that debuted on Broadway in 2007.

Find It: Amazon

16. TO ALL THE BOYS I'VE LOVED BEFORE // JENNY HAN

To All the Boys I've Loved Before

Jenny Han's first book in the series about teen Lara Jean Song Covey is so charming it's no wonder it's being adapted into a movie. Han writes incredibly authentic sister relationships: Lara Jean keeps the love letters she's written to the boys she's crushed on in a hat box, and when her younger sister mails them out, it sets off a series of perfect rom-com events.

Find It: Amazon

17. THE MOTHERS // BRIT BENNETT

THE MOTHERS BY BRIT BENNETT

Brit Bennett's 2016 debut novel, The Mothers, is about a young woman, Nadia, whose grief over her mother's recent suicide sends her down a path where she makes life-altering decisions that change the course of her future. Her ongoing relationships with her best friend, Aubrey, and the pastor's son, Luke, remind Nadia of what could have been had she made different choices.

Find It: Amazon

18. THE ROUND HOUSE // LOUISE ERDRICH

THE ROUND HOUSE BY LOUISE ERDRICH

Celebrated Native American writer Louise Erdrich has written 14 novels, including the 2009 Pulitzer Prize finalist The Plague of Doves. In her 2012 novel The Round House—which was called "haunting" and "powerful" when it won the National Book Award for Fiction that year—the narrator shares the story of his struggle to make sense of and seek justice after the violent rape of his mother when he was 13 years old.

Find It: Amazon

19. TENDER AT THE BONE // RUTH REICHL

TENDER AT THE BONE BY RUTH REICHL

Former New York Times restaurant critic and Gourmet magazine editor-in-chief Ruth Reichl's 1998 memoir is infused with a lot of humor and truth telling. She writes openly about her mother's manic depression (and penchant for quirky culinary creations) and includes recipes throughout the book, which takes the reader through the various people who shaped her palate. Kirkus aptly described Tender as "A perfectly balanced stew of memories: not too sweet, not too tart."

Find It: Amazon

20. WE ARE NEVER MEETING IN REAL LIFE // SAMANTHA IRBY

WE ARE NEVER MEETING IN REAL LIFE BY SAMANTHA IRBY

Four years after her first book, Meaty, comedian Samantha Irby returned with a new collection in 2017. We Are Never Meeting in Real Life is filled with 20 candid and moving essays which Bust called "so vulnerable and fearless that they'll stop you in your tracks." Chronicling decidedly unfunny moments, like spreading her father's ashes or dealing with a sick pet, Irby manages to inflect her curmudgeonly humor and warmth into every scenario, leaving you unsure if you should laugh or cry.

Find It: Amazon

21. IN THE COUNTRY // MIA ALVAR

IN THE COUNTRY BY MIA ALVAR

The nine stories in Mia Alvar's 2015 debut collection center around the life of Filipinos, those in the Philippines as well as those who moved to the U.S. or Bahrain for work, as she and her family had in her childhood. "Many of Mia's stories are so plausible," BuzzFeed reviewed, "it's easy to forget her book is a work of fiction." One story, about an expat woman who begins to tutor a severely impaired young girl, provides such insight into the morally gray area that so many people find themselves in that you'll find yourself thinking about it long after you've set the book aside.

Find It: Amazon

22. AN AMERICAN MARRIAGE // TAYARI JONES

AN AMERICAN MARRIAGE BY TAYARI JONES

Tayari Jones's fourth novel, An American Marriage, was quickly chosen by Oprah as her next book club selection after it was released earlier this year. The novel is told from the alternating points of view of a newlywed couple, Celestial and Roy, and the man who introduced them, Andre. When Roy is falsely convicted and sent to prison, it irreparably damages their marriage. Jones's masterful storytelling is gripping, and as Oprah describes it, "It's a love story that also has a huge layer of suspense."

Find It: Amazon

23. CRAZY SALAD // NORA EPHRON

CRAZY SALAD BY NORA EPHRON

This 1975 collection by legendary screenwriter Nora Ephron is hilarious and very much of the time. Prior to writing and/or directing classic movies like When Harry Met Sally …, Sleepless in Seattle, and You've Got Mail, Ephron was a journalist and essayist. Crazy Salad includes the famous "A Few Words About Breasts," which is Ephron's humorous musing on how different her life would be if her breasts were larger. The essays, described by Entertainment Weekly as "coiled with crabby wit and snide intelligence," offer a glimpse into the women's movement in the '70s.

Find It: Amazon

24. THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR // NICOLA YOON

THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR

This dreamy YA novel published in 2016, Nicola Yoon's follow-up to her debut, Everything, Everything, is about a matter-of-fact teenage girl who doesn't believe in fate or magic, but meets a winsome teen boy who shows her otherwise. With two POC protagonists tackling topics like deportation and the unique pressure of being the child of immigrants, this book manages to feel both current and timeless.

Find It: Amazon

25. MS. MARVEL // G. WILLOW WILSON

MS. MARVEL

When Marvel decided to make Ms. Marvel a Muslim, Pakistani-American teenager who lives in New Jersey—and had G. Willow Wilson, a Muslim woman, write the series—the world took notice. (The novel won the Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story in 2015.) Part My So-Called Life, part classic Peter Parker origin story, Wilson makes Kamala Khan's adventures balancing school, family, and her superpowers feel like the universal teen experience.

Find It: Amazon

15 Fascinating Facts About Beatrix Potter

Getty Images
Getty Images

Even today, more than 75 years after her death on December 22, 1943, celebrated children’s author Beatrix Potter's beautifully illustrated tales—featuring animals and landscapes inspired by her beloved home in England’s Lake District—are still hugely popular. Below are 15 fascinating facts about The Tale of Peter Rabbit author.

1. Beatrix wasn't Potter's real first name.

Potter was born in London on July 28, 1866 and was actually christened Helen after her mother, but was known by her more unusual middle name: Beatrix.

2. The Tale of Peter Rabbit was inspired by a letter.

The first edition of The Tale of Peter Rabbit.
Aleph-bet books via Wikimedia // Public Domain

Potter’s most famous book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit , was inspired by an illustrated letter Potter wrote to Noel, the son of her former governess, Annie, in 1893. She later asked to borrow the letter back and copied the pictures and story, which she then adapted to create the much-loved tale.

3. Peter Rabbit and her friends were partly based on Beatrix Potter's own pets.

Peter was modeled on Potter’s own pet rabbit, Peter Piper—a cherished bunny who Potter frequently sketched and took for walks on a leash. Potter's first pet rabbit, Benjamin Bouncer, was the inspiration for Benjamin Bunny, Peter's cousin in her books. Potter loved sketching Benjamin, too. In 1890, after a publisher purchased some of her sketchers of Benjamin, she decided to reward him with some hemp seeds. "The consequence being that when I wanted to draw him next morning he was intoxicated and wholly unmanageable," she later wrote in her diary.

4. Potter’s house was essentially a menagerie.


Riversdale Estate, Flickr // Public Domain

Potter kept a whole host of pets in her schoolroom at home—rabbits, hedgehogs, frogs, and mice. She would capture wild mice and let them run loose. When she needed to recapture them she would shake a handkerchief until the wild mice would emerge to fight the imagined foe and promptly be scooped up and caged. When her brother Bertram went off to boarding school he left a pair of long-eared pet bats behind. The animals proved difficult to care for so Potter set one free, but the other, a rarer specimen, she dispatched with chloroform then set about stuffing for her collection.

5. Peter Rabbit wasn’t an immediate success.

Potter self-published the Tale of Peter Rabbit in 1901, funding the print run of 250 herself after being turned down by several commercial publishers. In 1902 the book was republished by Frederick Warne & Co after Potter agreed to redo her black-and-white illustrations in color. By the end of its first year in print, it was in so much demand it had to be reprinted six times.

6. Beatrix Potter understood the power of merchandising.

In 1903 Potter, recognizing the merchandising opportunities offered by her success, made her own Peter Rabbit doll, which she registered at the Patent Office. A Peter Rabbit board game and wallpaper were also produced in her lifetime.

7. Potter was a naturalist at a time when most women weren’t.

Potter was fascinated by nature and was constantly recording the world around her in her drawings. Potter was especially interested in fungi and became an accomplished scientific illustrator, going on to write a paper , “On the Germination of the Spores of Agaricineae, ” proposing her own theory for how fungi spores reproduced. The paper was presented on Potter’s behalf by the Assistant Director of Kew Gardens at a meeting of the Linnean Society on April 1, 1897, which Potter was unable to attend because at that time women were not allowed at meetings of the all-male Linnean Society—even if their work was deemed good enough to be presented.

8. Potter sometimes wrote in secret code.

Between 1881 and 1897 Potter kept a journal in which she jotted down her private thoughts in a secret code . This code was so fiendishly difficult it was not cracked and translated until 1958.

9. Potter was reportedly a disappointment to her mom.


Wikimedia // Public Domain

Despite her huge success, Potter was something of a disappointment to her mother, who had wanted a daughter to accompany her on social calls and make an advantageous marriage. In 1905 Potter accepted the marriage proposal of her publisher Norman Warne. However, her parents were very against the match as they did not consider him good enough for their daughter, and refused to allow the engagement to be made public. Unfortunately, Warne died of leukemia just a few weeks after the engagement. Potter did eventually marry, at age 47, to a solicitor and kindred spirit, William Heelis.

10. Potter wrote much more than you. (Probably.)

Potter was a prolific writer , producing between two and three stories every year, ultimately writing 28 books in total, including The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin , The Tale of Mrs Tiggy Winkle , and The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher . Potter’s stories have been translated into 35 different languages and sold over 100 million copies combined.

11. Potter asked that one of her books not be published in England.

In 1926 Potter published a longer work, The Fairy Caravan . It was at first only published in America because Potter felt it was too autobiographical to be published in England during her lifetime. (She also told her English publishers that it wasn’t as good as her other work and felt it wouldn’t be well-received). Nine years after her death in 1943, the book was finally released in the UK.

12. Potter's later books had to be cobbled together from early drawings.

As her eyesight diminished it became harder and harder for Potter to produce the beautiful drawings that characterized her work. As a result many of her later books were pieced together from earlier drawings in her vast collection of sketchbooks. The Tale of Little Pig Robinson was Potter’s last picture book, published in 1930.

13. A lost work of potter's was published in 2016.

A lost Potter story , The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots , was rediscovered in 2013 and published in summer 2016. Publisher Jo Hanks found references to the story in an out-of-print biography of Potter and so went searching through the writer’s archive at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Hanks discovered a sketch of the kitty in question, plus a rough layout of the unedited manuscript. The story will be published with supplementary illustrations by Quentin Blake.

14. Potter was an accomplished sheep farmer.

Potter was an award-winning sheep farmer and in 1943 was the first woman elected President of the Herdwick Sheep Breeders’ Association.

15. You can visit Hill Top, Potter's home.


Strobilomyces, Wikimedia // CC BY-SA 3.0 

When Potter died in 1943 at the age of 77, she left 14 farms and 4000 acres of land in the Lake District to Britain’s National Trust, ensuring the beloved landscape that inspired her work would be preserved. The Trust opened her house, Hill Top, which she bought in 1905, to the public in 1946.

Mental Floss is partnering with the Paper & Packaging – How Life Unfolds® “15 Pages A Day” reading initiative to make sure that everyone has the opportunity (and time) to take part in The Mental Floss Book Club. It’s easy! Take the pledge at howlifeunfolds.com/15pages.

This article has been updated for 2019.

No, Ernest Hemingway Didn’t Write That Six-Word ‘Baby Shoes’ Story

Ernest Hemingway and actor Gary Cooper (right) leave a cinema on the Rue Royale in Paris, France in 1956.
Ernest Hemingway and actor Gary Cooper (right) leave a cinema on the Rue Royale in Paris, France in 1956.
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Journalist-turned-novelist Ernest Hemingway was known for his clean, restrained writing style. Which makes it conceivable that he's the author of the most famous six-word short story of all time.

The story goes that Hemingway wrote the gut-punching line "For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn" to win a bet against his writer friends. But there's no evidence that such a bet ever took place, and it's likely that one of the best-known works attributed to Hemingway has nothing to do with the author at all.

According to Open Culture, the urban legend sets Hemingway in a hotel (usually the Algonquin, but the location varies) some time in the 1920s. He was allegedly having lunch with a group of writer pals when he bet them he could write a story with a full narrative in just six words. After his friends put their money down, Hemingway jotted down a few words on a napkin and passed it around the table. Though brief, the other writers couldn't deny that "Baby Shoes" was indeed a full story.

Chances are this story actually originated years after Hemingway's 1961 death. It first appeared in print in the 1991 book Get Published! Get Produced!: A Literary Agent’s Tips on How to Sell Your Writing by agent Peter Miller. When recounting the anecdote, Miller wrote that he first heard the tale from an unnamed newspaper syndicator in 1974.

The story spread from there and its original source only became murkier. A retelling of the tale was included in the one-man biographical Hemingway play Papa in 1996, and then in a Reader's Digest essay in 1998. The internet—for which Hemingway's punchy, compact style was a perfect fit—got "Baby Shoes" in front of more eyeballs than ever.

Though it's been cited in articles and books numerous times, no one has ever been able to trace the story back to a first-hand source. As for the true author of "Baby Shoes" if it isn't Hemingway, flash fiction fans may never know his or her identity. It's possible that the line was never meant to be a fictional story in the first place: Real ads that bear striking similarities to the legendary work predate the myth.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER