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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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."

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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.

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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

Artificial Intelligence Identifies Shakespeare's Co-Writer on 'Henry VIII'

Scott Barbour, Getty Images
Scott Barbour, Getty Images

William Shakespeare has long been celebrated as the greatest playwright of all time (and he's certainly the most quoted). Historians have speculated whether his name might be a pseudonym for a lesser-known writer or whether he had assistance in composing his plays, among other theories. In 2016, Oxford University Press credited Shakespeare's contemporary Christopher Marlowe as co-writer of three plays in Henry VI.

Now, new evidence has come to light that casts doubt on Shakespeare’s sole authorship, this time for Henry VIII. According to an analysis [PDF] published prior to peer review on arXiv.org, the Bard wrote roughly half of Henry VIII. His contemporary, playwright John Fletcher, wrote the rest.

The conclusion was based on the findings of an algorithm taught to examine word choice and writing style, created by researchers at the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague.

The program first "learned" each writer’s approach to their craft by reading four plays by Fletcher and by Shakespeare, written at about the same time. The algorithm identified traits unique to each. Fletcher, for example, tended to use ye instead of you, or ‘em in place of them.

The algorithm was then applied to Henry VIII. It earmarked the first two scenes as being written by Shakespeare. Fletcher wrote the next four. The writers' styles then mixed until later in the play, when Shakespeare’s voice appeared to take hold.

Collaboration among playwrights was common in the era, and scholars have long believed Fletcher was somehow involved—possibly assisting an aging Shakespeare.

Nineteenth-century literary analyst James Spedding theorized in 1850 that Fletcher had co-written the play; Fletcher had succeeded Shakespeare as the house playwright of the King’s Men Acting Company following the Bard's death in 1616. Spedding even surmised who wrote which scene. This most recent analysis loosely lines up with his findings.

[h/t Smithsonian]

11 Fascinating Facts About Mark Twain

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Mark Twain is widely considered the author of the first great American novel—The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn—but his rollicking tales aren’t the only legacy he left behind. His poignant quotes and witticisms have been told and retold (sometimes erroneously) over the last century and a half, and his volume of work speaks for itself. Over the course of his legendary career, Twain—real name Samuel Langhorne Clemens—wrote more than a dozen novels plus countless short stories and essays and still found time to invent new products, hang out with famous scientists, and look after a house full of cats.

1. Mark Twain is a nautical reference.

Like many of history’s literary greats, Mark Twain (né Samuel Langhorne Clemens) decided to assume an alias early on in his writing career. He tried out a few different names—Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass, Sergeant Fathom, and, more plainly, Josh—before settling on Mark Twain, which means two fathoms (12 feet) deep in boating jargon. He got the idea while working as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River—a job he held for four years until the Civil War broke out in 1861, putting a halt to commerce. (However, another popular theory holds that he earned the nickname in a bar. According to reports in a couple of 19th-century newspapers, he’d walk into a pub and call out “mark twain!,” prompting the bartender to take a piece of chalk and make two marks on a wall for twain—two—drinks. Twain denied this version of events, though.)

2. In addition to being a steamboat pilot, Mark Twain also worked as a miner.

Shortly after his stint on The Big Muddy, Twain headed west with his brother to avoid having to fight in the war. He took up work as a miner in Virginia City, Nevada, but the job wasn't for him. (He described it as "hard and long and dismal.") Fortunately for Twain, he didn’t have to work there long. In 1862, he was offered his first writing job for Virginia City’s Territorial Enterprise newspaper, where he covered crime, politics, mining, and culture.

3. A story Mark Twain heard in a bar led to his “big break.”

An old photo of the Angels Hotel
Historic American Buildings Survey (Library of Congress), Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1864, Twain headed to Calaveras County, California in hopes of striking gold as a prospector (he didn’t). However, it was during his time here that he heard the bartender of the Angels Hotel in Angels Camp share an incredulous story about a frog-jumping contest. Twain recounted the tale in his own words in The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. It was published in 1865 in The New York Saturday Press and went on to receive national acclaim.

4. It took Mark Twain seven years to write The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

A cover of an old copy of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Twain started writing the sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in 1876, but he wasn’t too pleased with his progress. After writing about 400 pages, he told a friend he liked it "only tolerably well, as far as I have got, and may possibly pigeonhole or burn" the manuscript. He put the project on the back burner for several years and finally finished it in 1883 following a burst of inspiration.

5. Mark Twain invented a board game.

While Twain was putting off writing The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, he was busy working on a game he dubbed Memory Builder. It was originally supposed to be an outdoor game to help his children learn about England’s monarchs, but he ended up turning it into a board game to improve its chances of selling. However, after two years of work, it was still too convoluted to be marketable and required a vast knowledge of historical facts and dates. That didn’t stop him from patenting the game, though.

6. Mark Twain created "improved" scrapbooks and suspenders.

Memory Builder wasn't Twain's only invention; he also patented two other products. One was inspired by his love of scrapbooking, while the other came about from his hatred of suspenders. He designed a self-adhesive scrapbook that works like an envelope, which netted him about $50,000 in profits. His “improvement in adjustable and detachable straps for garments” also ended up being useful, but for an entirely different purpose than Twain originally intended. According to The Atlantic, “This clever invention only caught on for one snug garment: the bra. For those with little brassiere experience, not a button, nor a snap, but a clasp is all that secures that elastic band, which holds up women's breasts. So not-so-dexterous ladies and gents, you can thank Mark Twain for that."

7. Thomas Edison filmed Twain at home.

Only one video of Twain exists, and it was shot by none other than his close friend, Thomas Edison. The footage was captured in 1909—one year before the author died—at Twain’s estate in Redding, Connecticut. He’s seen sporting a light-colored suit and his usual walrus mustache, and one scene shows him with his daughters, Clara and Jean. On a separate occasion that same year, Edison recorded Twain as he read stories into a phonograph, but those audio clips were destroyed in a fire. No other recording of Twain’s voice exists.

8. Mark Twain did wear white suits, but not as often as you might think.

Mark Twain standing near a window while wearing a white suit and smoking a pipe
Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

When you think of Mark Twain, you probably picture him in an all-white suit with a cigar or pipe hanging from his lips. It’s true that he was photographed in a white suit on several occasions, but he didn’t start this habit until later in life. According to The Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum, “In December 1906, he wore a white suit while appearing before a congressional committee regarding copyright. He did this for dramatic emphasis. Several times after that he wore white out of season for effect.” He also refused to trade his white clothes for “shapeless and degrading black ones” in the winter, no matter how cold it got. So take that, people who subscribe to the “no white after Labor Day” rule.

9. At one point, Mark Twain had 19 cats.

Twain really, really liked cats—so much so that he had 19 of them at one time. And if he was traveling, he would “rent” cats to keep him company. In fact, he had a much higher opinion of felines than humans, remarking, “If man could be crossed with the cat, it would improve man, but it would deteriorate the cat.” He also had a talent for coming up with some great cat names; Beelzebub, Blatherskite, Buffalo Bill, Sour Mash, Zoroaster, Soapy Sal, Pestilence, Bambino, and Satan were just a few of the kitties in his brood.

10. Mark Twain probably didn’t say that thing you think he said.

Twain is one of the most misquoted authors in history. According to one quote wrongfully attributed to him, “It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.” What Twain actually said was, “[He] was endowed with a stupidity which by the least little stretch would go around the globe four times and tie.” There are many, many examples of these.

11. Mark Twain accurately predicted when he would die.

When he was born on November 30, 1835, Halley’s Comet was visible from Earth. It appears roughly every 75 years, and Twain predicted he would die the next time it graced the sky. As he put it in 1909, “I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.’ Oh, I am looking forward to that.” He ended up passing away at his Connecticut home on April 21, 1910, one day after Halley’s Comet appeared in the sky once again.

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