March is National Women’s History Month, which has me inspired to expand my reading list to include memoirs and historical novels about women who have shaped our world. As I have gotten older, I have realized that there are gaps in my knowledge about many things — especially in regard to women’s history. I learned about the founding of the United States, our country’s presidents, wars, and a few inventors here and there (Notice how women don’t usually fall under those categories in middle and high school history classes?). Anything outside of that I had to learn through reading on my own. There are so many exceptional women who have come before us or live among us today. The women in the books I have listed are compassionate, strong, intelligent, capable, resilient, and courageous.
Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space by Lynn Sherr – Sally Ride made history as the first American woman in space. A member of the first astronaut class to include women, she broke through a quarter-century of white male fighter jocks when NASA chose her for the seventh shuttle mission, cracking the celestial ceiling and inspiring several generations of women.
The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt – A provocative story of artist Harriet Burden, who, after years of having her work ignored, ignites an explosive scandal in New York’s art world when she recruits three young men to present her creations as their own. Yet when the shows succeed and Burden steps forward for her triumphant reveal, she is betrayed by the third man, Rune. Many critics side with him, and Burden and Rune find themselves in a charged and dangerous game, one that ends in his bizarre death.
Joan: The Mysterious Life of the Heretic Who Became a Saint by Donald Spoto – Since her death at the age of nineteen in 1431, Joan of Arc has maintained a remarkable hold on our collective imagination. She was a teenager of astonishing common sense and a national heroine who led men in battle as a courageous warrior. Yet she was also abandoned by the king whose coronation she secured, betrayed by her countrymen, and sold to the enemy. In this meticulously researched landmark biography, Donald Spoto expertly captures this astonishing life and the times in which she lived.
The Wife by Meg Wolitzer – A story about the evolution of a marriage, the nature of partnership, the question of a male or female sensibility, and the place for an ambitious woman in a man’s world.
My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem – Gloria is known for being a writer, activist, organizer, and inspiring leader. In this novel she tells a candid story of her life as a traveler, listener, and catalyst for change.
Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History by Sam Maggs – Smart women have always been able to achieve amazing things, even when the odds were stacked against them. In Wonder Women, author Sam Maggs tells the stories of the brilliant, brainy, and totally rad women in history who broke barriers as scientists, engineers, mathematicians, adventurers, and inventors. Plus, interviews with real-life women in STEM careers, an extensive bibliography, and a guide to women-centric science and technology organizations—all to show the many ways the geeky girls of today can help to build the future.
Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxanne Gay – A collection of essays spanning politics, criticism, and feminism from one of the most-watched young cultural observers of her generation.
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson – Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world.
Narrative of Sojourner Truth by Sojourner Truth – Truth’s landmark slave narrative chronicles her experiences as a slave in upstate New York and her transformation into an extraordinary abolitionist, feminist, orator, and preacher. Based on the complete 1884 edition, this volume includes the “Book of Life,” a collection of letters and sketches about Truth’s life written subsequent to the original 1850 publication of the Narrative, and “A Memorial Chapter,” a sentimental account of her death.
Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir by Azar Nafisi – Azar Nafisi’s luminous masterwork gives us a rare glimpse, from the inside, of women’s lives in revolutionary Iran.
Born Survivors: Three Young Mothers and Their Extraordinary Story of Courage, Defiance, and Hope by Wendy Holden – The Nazis murdered their husbands but concentration camp prisoners Priska, Rachel, and Anka would not let evil take their unborn children too—a remarkable true story.
Paradise Beneath Her Feet: How Women Are Transforming the Middle East by Isobel Coleman – Coleman reaches across the Middle East and into Asia in her wide-ranging discussion of feminism and Islam. She profiles women in fields ranging from education to politics who live across the Muslim world and individually exhibit great courage in their struggle to create greater opportunities for girls. The foundation of many of their arguments is Islam itself, and the ways in which they refute sexist interpretations of the Koran and Islamic law will be eye-opening to Western readers who have sadly grown jaded on the topic of feminism.
I hope that one or more of these books serve(s) as inspiration to you. I’m looking forward to checking more of these off my 2017 reading list. Happy reading everyone!
Disclaimer: All links send you to Amazon’s bookstore. However, please feel free to purchase your copies at local bookstores, alternative chains, or check them out at the library. So far, I have only read a couple of the books on this list so the descriptions and suggestions are supplied with the help of Amazon and Goodreads.