According to neuroscience, reading changes the way our brain works. We boost our Emotional Quotient by taking the perspective of characters very different from ourselves. Reading is actually a wonderful empathy workout. Isn’t it fascinating?
There is no shortage of books we can read to learn and grow. Each year, I set a reading objective to read diverse voices and stories to expand my perspectives and stretch my thinking. Last year, I’ve enjoyed reading 51 books and traveled the world with fabulous characters. I compiled a list of some books written by women about women I’ve enjoyed, including fiction and poetry. I have to say that it was hard to choose. There are so many great books out there!
We should all be feminists – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
This one is the perfect starter. It’s for those interested in understanding gender equality and feminism. Chimamanda’s Ted Talk inspired this book. “We teach girls that they can have ambition, but not too much … to be successful, but not too successful, or they’ll threaten men,” says author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
The second Sexe. – Simone de Beauvoir
A must-read about feminism and gender. A study of women that still resonates after more than 70 years after publication.
“What is woman?” Simone de Beauvoir argues that man is considered the default, while woman is considered the “Other”.
This book is a feminist manifesto including history, biology, psychology… Not a light read, but a crucial one.
Dear Ijeawele: A Feminist Manifesto In Fifteen Suggestions – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie received a letter from a new mother who wanted to know how to raise her baby girl to be a feminist. Chimamanda responded with fifteen powerful suggestions for empowering a daughter to become a strong, independent woman. Straightforward, funny, and thoughtful, this short book is filled with compassionate guidance and advice. It gets right to what it means to be a woman today.
Invisible women – Caroline Criado Perez
“Imagine a world where your phone is too big for your hand, where your doctor prescribes a drug that is wrong for your body, where in a car accident you are 47% more likely to be seriously injured, where every week the countless hours of work you do are not recognized or valued.If any of this sounds familiar, chances are that you’re a woman.”
Caroline Criado Perez shows us using data and statistics how we systematically ignore half the population in a male-biased world. It exposes the gender data gap, systemic gender discrimination, and how defining women solely by their relationships to men – as wives, daughters, sisters, or mothers – allows men to view women either as a subtype of men rather than as autonomous human beings with their own dreams, goals, desires, and specific needs.
Women Who Run With the Wolves – Clarissa Pinkola Estés
This book explores the wild and sacred feminine that ignites intuition and creativity. That part that societies and cultures have tamed as it’s much more comfortable putting women in boxes and specific roles than dealing with their skills and magic.
I loved this article from the NYT about how the new generation of artists embraces women’s bodies in all their hormonal, bloody glory.
How women rise – Marshall Goldsmith & Sally Helgesen.
This one is written by a man and a woman combining both perspectives. It is about the “12 habits that hold women back from their Next Raise, Promotion, or Job”.
The book is smart, well documented, & pragmatic. The authors recognize that women and men face different roadblocks and identify the 12 self-limiting habits that they believe hold many women back in their career, use real/insightful examples, and offer a practical and measurable action plan.
Milk & Honey – Rupi Kaur
We all need some poetry. This one is brilliant, beautiful, and so deep. Milk and honey is a collection of poetry and prose about survival, violence, abuse, love, loss, and femininity. It’s a short and poignant read.
Girl, woman, other – Bernardine Evaristo
Girl, Woman, Other follows the lives and struggles of twelve very different characters. Mostly women, black and British, they tell the stories of their families, friends, and lovers across the country and through the years.
The characters are so rich and diverse! Gay, straight, single, married, transgender, young, old, liberal, mother, daughter…
My brilliant friend – Neapolitan novels – Elena Ferrante
This is a story about many things. Patriarchy, culture, family, female empowerment. It’s about that female friendship that most women will have experienced at some point in their lives and how it shapes us.
The story begins in Naples in the early 1950s and follows Lila & Elena, two magnificent characters. This series of 4 books will make you stay up late reading. And, when the reading is finished after the last page of book four, there is a deep sense of wanting more and missing close friends.
A woman is no man – Etaf Rumi.
This one is about representation. It’s about an Arab woman in America navigating patriarchy and finding her way through reading. It ripped my emotions and left me shaking.
« I was born without a voice, one cold, overcast day in Brooklyn, New York. No one ever spoke of my condition. I did not know I was mute until years later when I’d opened my mouth to ask for what I wanted and realized no one could hear me. »
In Brooklyn, eighteen-year-old Deya is starting to meet with suitors. Though she doesn’t want to get married, her grandparents give her no choice. History is repeating itself: Deya’s mother, Isra, also had no choice when she left Palestine as a teenager to marry Adam. Though Deya was raised to believe her parents died in a car accident, a secret note from a mysterious yet familiar-looking woman makes Deya question everything she was told about her past. As the narrative alternates between Deya and Isra’s lives, she begins to understand the dark, complex secrets behind her community.
I’m so curious to know what books you would add to this list! Which have inspired you? Please drop a comment and let me know what book(s) this list is totally missing out on.
Additional resources about the neuroscience of reading: