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You just can’t beat a good book.
Nothing is quite as riveting as being engrossed in an amazing story, reading even as your eyelids droop, and the clock says it is way past your bed time. I hold my hand up and admit, I have cancelled a friend coming for dinner once because I didn’t want to put the book down. (In case you are wondering, it was called She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb — amazing.)
Sometimes though, books mean even more than just a good read. They are inspiring to the point of being life-changing. After you have read them, nothing feels the same. You aren’t the same. So, with that in mind, I polled every person I knew, scoured every book website I could lay my eyes on, and grilled my local book store assistant to within an inch of her life — asking the question, “What 10 books should every woman read?”
I know, everyone has different tastes. What I love to read might be another person’s “Can’t get past the first page!” But what I was looking for, are the books that will help us on life’s journey — will remind us to be grateful for who we are and what we have. (Without getting too deep on y’all!)
Remind us that at the end of the day, no matter our color, culture, race, or religion – we are all women, striving to be better: daughters, sisters, wives, girlfriends, friends, mothers, colleagues and partners…
Please tell me what you think! Or if there are any I have missed:
1. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Why: To always believe in your dreams
Back in 1996, I had come back from traveling and was trying to break into a career in TV. Feeling low one day, I was a reading a magazine, where Madonna quoted a little book called The Alchemist. I raced to buy it, and read it in one sitting. A charming fable that teaches us to have faith and to not give up, it is possibly my favorite book of all time. It is the book I buy for all my friends, to remind them that if we want something, the whole universe conspires for us to achieve it…
2. The Diary Of A Young Girl by Anne Frank
Why: To always have courage.
Famously, 13-year-old Anne Frank wrote this diary over the two years she was in hiding while the Nazis occupied Holland. I actually visited her house in Amsterdam and saw where she hid, on a school trip when I was 11. It prompted me to read her book — how could a child so young be so brave? Anne had always hoped it would be published, but never to lived to see this achieved. Sadly Anne’s family (alongside the family they were in hiding with) were betrayed and taken to concentration camps, where Anne eventually died. Her Father was the only survivor and was given her diary.
3. Forever by Judy Blume
Why: To remind us that our teenage years were never as good as we thought!
Back in the early ’80s I borrowed this book from a friend and was enthralled and shocked in equal measure. At that stage, I don’t think I was mature enough to appreciate the honest writing and genuine story at the heart of this book: a tale of a teenage girl Catherine, falling in love for the first time.
4. How to Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran
Why: Because one book, hilariously tells us how to be women, here and now!
I confess, I am a fan of Caitlin’s writing. Her smart sarky prose is littered across the broadsheets and magazines in the UK. This book was a roaring success here because she reclaims feminism — asking such questions as, “Why are we supposed to get Brazilians? Should we use Botox? Do men secretly hate us? And why does everyone ask you when you’re going to have a baby?” Part memoir, part rant — you will devour it!
5. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Why: Showing that smart women should never marry beneath their brains, regardless of class or culture.
This was first published in 1813, and first read by me when I was 15 years old. The story follows the main character, Elizabeth Bennet, as she deals with issues of morality and marriage in the society of early 19th century England. She is the second of 5 daughters, to a mother who is obsessed with marrying her daughters off. She meets the aloof Mr. Darcy and begins a battle of wits with him; eventually he has to overcome his pride and she her prejudice, for them to be together.
6. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Why: Simply, to be inspired.
I have to confess, I watched this film before I read the book, and am grateful that on this occasion — both were equally good. The Color Purple tells the harrowing story of an uneducated African-American girl, Celie, through the letters she writes to God and her sister Nettie over a twenty-year period. Subjected to sexual violence and abuse by her father and then her husband, the book is sometimes bleakly graphic in its depiction of violence at the hands of African-American men. But Celie’s strength and innocence keep us riveted. The ending is the most uplifting I have ever read.
7. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
Why: To ponder what love is…
Another confession — I have yet to read this book. But it made it onto this list, as every woman I canvassed said it was a “must-read.” The story? The Unbearable Lightness of Being follows the lives of Tomas (a Czechoslovakian surgeon), his wife Tereza, and his mistress Sabina during the Prague Spring of 1968, and the turbulent years that followed the event. At its heart, it is a book about three very different views on love. Can they reconcile? Reviews of it say “powerful, moving and thought provoking.” I cannot wait to read it!
8. The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
Why: Because we are NOT inferior and need to remember this – especially when asking for a pay raise!
Hailed as the book that started the second wave of feminism, this is an EPIC, epic tour from the dawn of the human race to the contemporary world of 1940s commerce and culture, addressing the thoughts and prejudices of societies throughout the world. Her breadth and depth of research is an attempt to answer one simple question: Why are women constantly seen as inferior to men, in effect the “second sex?” Not an easy read, but a vital one.
9. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Why: It will remind us that the world we live in, ain’t so bad.
This is a dystopian novel, a work of science fiction. Set in the near future, in a totalitarian Christian theocracy, which has overthrown the government, The Handmaid’s Tale explores themes of women in subjugation and the various ways by which they gain status. Women have no bank accounts, no jobs — heck they even aren’t allowed to read. Disturbing, gripping, and profoundly affecting, this is a must-read for all women.
10. The Bitch in the House edited by Cathi Hanauer
Why: To feel we are not alone.
I bought this book in 2003, the year before I got married. It is a collection of essays about marriage, motherhood, work, love, loss and living. At the time certain stories resonated with me; but when I returned to this book last year, as a married mother of two, some of the essays that I had glossed over, suddenly spoke to me. Beautifully written, instantly engaging, this is a book that is honest to its core. Reading it feels like you are in a cafe chatting over lunch with your girlfriends. I never wanted it to end.