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In honour of Women’s History Month, a celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women around the world, we asked women in our network of talented publishing professionals to send us one of their favourite female-authored books. The result is a list of twenty fascinatingly varied book recommendations for you to add to your TBR list.
1. Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi
Two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.
2. The Poppy War series, R.F. Kuang
A dark fantasy series drawn from the politics of mid-20th-century China, with the central conflict based on the Second Sino-Japanese War and the atmosphere inspired by the Song dynasty. The series begins with a dark-skinned peasant girl, Rin, acing the Keju – the test to find the most talented students in the Empire: a shock to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who had hoped to get rich by marrying her off; and to Rin herself, who realised she was finally free from a life of servitude. That she got into Sinegard – the most elite military school in Nikan – was even more surprising.
3. The Blazing World, Siri Hustvedt
Presented as a collection of texts, edited and introduced by a scholar years after the artist’s death, the book unfolds through extracts from Burden’s notebooks and conflicting accounts from others about her life and work. Even after she steps forward to reveal herself as the force behind three solo shows, there are those who doubt she is responsible for the last exhibition, initially credited to the acclaimed artist Rune. No one doubts the two artists were involved with each other. According to Burden’s journals, she and Rune found themselves locked in a charged and dangerous psychological game that ended with the man’s bizarre death.
4. The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
Booker Prize winner The God of Small Things is the story of Rahel and Estha, twins growing up among the banana jam vats and peppercorns of their blind grandmother’s factory, and amid scenes of political turbulence in Kerala. Armed only with the innocence of youth, they fashion a childhood in the shade of the wreck that is their family: their lonely, lovely mother, their beloved Uncle Chacko (pickle baron, radical Marxist, bottom-pincher) and their sworn enemy, Baby Kochamma (ex-nun, incumbent grand-aunt).
5. Educated, Tara Westover
Tara Westover grew up preparing for the end of the world. She was never put in school, never taken to the doctor. She did not even have a birth certificate until she was nine years old. At sixteen, to escape her father’s radicalism and a violent older brother, Tara left home. What followed was a struggle for self-invention, a journey that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes, and the will to change it.
6. Women Who Run With The Wolves: Contacting the Power of the Wild Woman, Clarissa Pinkola Estés
In the classic Women Who Run With The Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estés tells us about the ‘wild woman’, the wise and ageless presence in the female psyche that gives women their creativity, energy and power. For centuries, the ‘wild woman’ has been repressed by a male-orientated value system which trivialises women’s emotions. Using a combination of time-honoured stories and contemporary casework, Estés reveals that the ‘wild woman’ in us is innately healthy, passionate and wise.
7. Hamnet, Maggie O’Farrell
Warwickshire in the 1580s. Agnes is a woman as feared as she is sought after for her unusual gifts. She settles with her husband in Henley street, Stratford, and has three children: a daughter, Susanna, and then twins, Hamnet and Judith. The boy, Hamnet, dies in 1596, aged eleven. Four years or so later, the husband writes a play called Hamlet.
8. Milkman, Anna Burns
In this unnamed city, to be interesting is dangerous. Middle sister, our protagonist, is busy attempting to keep her mother from discovering her maybe-boyfriend and to keep everyone in the dark about her encounter with Milkman. But when first brother-in-law sniffs out her struggle, and rumours start to swell, middle sister becomes ‘interesting’. The last thing she ever wanted to be. To be interesting is to be noticed and to be noticed is dangerous.
9. An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace, Tamar Adler
In this meditation on cooking and eating, Tamar Adler weaves philosophy and instruction into approachable lessons on feeding ourselves well. An Everlasting Meal demonstrates the implicit frugality in cooking. In essays on forgotten skills such as boiling, suggestions for what to do when cooking seems like a chore, and strategies for preparing, storing, and transforming ingredients for a week’s worth of satisfying, delicious meals, Tamar reminds us of the practical pleasures of eating. She explains what cooks in the world’s great kitchens know: that the best meals rely on the ends of the meals that came before them. With that in mind, she shows how we often throw away the bones, skins, and peels we need to make our food both more affordable and better.
10. Marianne Dreams, Catherine Storr
Marianne is no child prodigy at drawing. Confined to her bed with an illness she finds a pencil in her great-grandmother’s workbox, but the house she draws is as unsatisfying as always – like a shaky doll’s house with grass as unlike anything growing as ever. But that night she dreams and rediscovers her drawing in a completely new world. Returning to this world night after night, Marianne encounters a strange but familiar boy and the house takes on an increasingly ominous significance for both of them . . .
11. The Dictionary of Lost Words, Pip Williams
Motherless and irrepressibly curious, Esme spends her childhood at her father’s feet as he and his team gather words for the very first Oxford English Dictionary. One day, she sees a slip of paper containing a forgotten word flutter to the floor unclaimed. And so Esme begins to collect words for another dictionary in secret: The Dictionary of Lost Words. But to do so she must journey into a world on the cusp of change as the Great War looms and women fight for the vote. Can the power of lost words from the past finally help her make sense of her future?
12. The Faraway Nearby, Rebecca Solnit
Gifts come in many guises. One summer, Rebecca Solnit was bequeathed three boxes of ripening apricots, which lay, mountainous, on her bedroom floor – a windfall, a riddle, an emergency to be dealt with. The fruit came from a neglected tree that her mother, gradually succumbing to memory loss, could no longer tend to. From this unexpected inheritance came stories spun like those of Scheherazade, who used her gifts as a storyteller to change her fate and her listener’s heart. As she looks back on the year of apricots and emergencies, Solnit weaves her own story into fairytales and the lives of others – the Marquis de Sade, Mary Shelley and Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara. She tells of unexpected invitations and adventures, from a library of water in Iceland to the depths of the Grand Canyon. She tells of doctors and explorers, monsters and moths. She tells of warmth and coldness, of making art and re-making the self.
13. Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion, Jia Tolentino
Trick Mirror is an enlightening, unforgettable trip through the river of self-delusion that surges just beneath the surface of our lives. This is a book about the incentives that shape us, and about how hard it is to see ourselves clearly in a culture that revolves around the self. In each essay, Jia writes about the cultural prisms that have shaped her: the rise of the nightmare social internet; the American scammer as millennial hero; the literary heroine’s journey from brave to blank to bitter; the mandate that everything, including our bodies, should always be getting more efficient and beautiful until we die.
14. Thinking the Plant, Rebecca John
Robecca John came to botanical painting relatively late, and later still to success. This memoir of her life as a painter also talks about her childhood, and about both Augustus John and Gwen John, her grandfather and great-aunt. Illustrated with her delicate and finely observed botanical watercolours.
15. The Queendom Within: Rewrite Your Fairy Tale and Create Your Own Happily Ever After, Heidi Hauer
Heidi Hauer has a dream – the dream for every woman to realise that she has choices in her life and that everything she is seeking is already within her power to fulfil. In her inspirational new book, Heidi shows us how to create the life of our dreams, starting from within – our very personal Queendom. We all have moments in life that feel like a crossroads. You may have that sinking feeling that you’re in the wrong life – whether you feel trapped in a bad relationship, friendship or in a dead-end job – and secretly you hope for Mr Right to come along and sort everything out. This book will help you find your way back to your truest self, and it will give you the confidence you need to make your own happiness, whether Mr Right is there or not. Through a set of 28 exercises, Heidi Hauer will help you build a strong foundation for your Queendom.
16. Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency, Olivia Laing
Funny Weather brings together a career’s worth of Laing’s writing about art and culture, examining its role in our political and emotional lives. She profiles Jean-Michel Basquiat and Georgia O’Keefe, interviews Hilary Mantel and Ali Smith, writes love letters to David Bowie and Freddie Mercury, and explores loneliness and technology, women and alcohol, sex and the body. With characteristic originality and compassion, she celebrates art as a force of resistance and repair, an antidote to a frightening political time. We’re often told art can’t change anything. Laing argues that it can. It changes how we see the world. It makes plain inequalities and it offers fertile new ways of living.
17. Daughters of Nantucket, Julie Gerstenblatt
Nantucket in 1846 is an island set apart not just by its geography but by its unique circumstances. With their menfolk away at sea, often for years at a time, women here know a rare independence—and the challenges that go with it. Eliza Macy is struggling to conceal her financial trouble as she waits for her whaling captain husband to return from a voyage. In desperation, she turns against her progressive ideals and targets Meg Wright, a pregnant free Black woman trying to relocate her store to Main Street. Meanwhile, astronomer Maria Mitchell loves running Nantucket’s Atheneum and spending her nights observing the stars, yet she fears revealing the secret wishes of her heart. On a sweltering July night, a massive fire breaks out in town, quickly kindled by the densely packed wooden buildings. With everything they possess now threatened, these three very different women are forced to reevaluate their priorities and decide what to save, what to let go and what kind of life to rebuild from the ashes of the past.
18. Detransition, Baby, Torrey Peters
Reese nearly had it all: a loving relationship with Amy, an apartment in New York, a job she didn’t hate. She’d scraped together a life previous generations of trans women could only dream of; the only thing missing was a child. Then everything fell apart and three years on Reese is still in self-destruct mode, avoiding her loneliness by sleeping with married men. When her ex calls to ask if she wants to be a mother, Reese finds herself intrigued. After being attacked in the street, Amy de-transitioned to become Ames, changed jobs and, thinking he was infertile, started an affair with his boss Katrina. Now Katrina’s pregnant. Could the three of them form an unconventional family – and raise the baby together?
19. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead, Brené Brown
Every time we are faced with change, no matter how great or small, we also face risk. We feel uncertain and exposed. We feel vulnerable. Most of us try to fight those feelings – or feel guilt for feeling them in the first place. In a powerful new vision Dr Brené Brown challenges everything we think we know about vulnerability, and dispels the widely accepted myth that it’s a weakness. She argues that, in truth, vulnerability is strength and when we shut ourselves off from vulnerability – from revealing our true selves – we distance ourselves from the experiences that bring purpose and meaning to our lives.
20. Circe, Madeline Miller
In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. Yet, in the golden halls of gods and nymphs, Circe stands apart, as something separate, something new. With neither the look nor the voice of divinity, and scorned and rejected by her kin Circe is increasingly isolated. Turning to mortals for companionship, she risks defying her father for love, a path that leads her not to the marriage bed but to a discovery of a power forbidden to the gods: witchcraft. Banished by Zeus to the remote island of Aiaia, Circe refines her craft, fate entwining her with legends: the messenger god, Hermes. The craftsman, Daedalus. A ship bearing a golden fleece. And wily Odysseus, on his epic voyage home. As her power increases and her knowledge grows, so Circe must make the ultimate choice: to decide whether she belongs with the deities she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love. A source of fascination for ancient writers from Homer to Ovid, Circe is a character whose story is steeped in magic and mystery. Caught up in the story of heroes, she is a figure apart, a player in the lives of heroes and gods but one who has never commanded her own story, until now.
A huge thank you to all the women who contributed: Julia Koppitz, Jess King, Rosie Pearce, Kiana Palombo, Caroline McArthur, Silvia Crompton, Annabel Wright, Kelly Weekes, Jill Sawyer, Monica Byles, Sophie Scott, Zoe McDonald, Rose Corcoran, Heidi Hauer, Liz Amos, Lisa Tener, Becky Miles and BookBar’s Chrissy Ryan.