It’s International Women’s Day on 8th March and it would only be right to make a list of some celebrated female fiction at Chapters. These may include books by famous female writers, books that advocate the rights of women and perhaps most importantly, books with strong women characters in them. Here are some book recommendations for you to choose from, and celebrate with us- the many women- fictional and real, who were either bold and mischievous or undeniably exemplary- and whose contribution to literature has been admired the world over.
We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
What does “feminism” mean today? That is the question at the heart of We Should All Be Feminists, a personal, eloquently-argued essay – adapted from her much-viewed Tedx talk of the same name – by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the award-winning author of ‘Americanah’ and ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’.
With humour and levity, here Adichie offers readers a unique definition of feminism for the twenty-first century – one rooted in inclusion and awareness. She shines a light not only on blatant discrimination, but also the more insidious, institutional behaviours that marginalise women around the world, in order to help readers of all walks of life better understand the often masked realities of sexual politics. Throughout, she draws extensively on her own experiences – in the U.S., in her native Nigeria – offering an artfully nuanced explanation of why the gender divide is harmful for women and men, alike.
Argued in the same observant, witty and clever prose that has made Adichie a best-selling novelist, here is one remarkable author’s exploration of what it means to be a woman today – and an of-the-moment rallying cry for why we should all be feminists.
‘The book I’d press into the hands of girls and boys, as an inspiration for a future “world of happier men and happier women who are truer to themselves”’ Books of the Year, Independent
‘One and a half million YouTube viewings later, this small but perfectly formed talk has become an equally small but perfectly formed book, thanks to Fourth Estate. The perfect size in fact for handbags, pockets and Christmas stockings. There really is no excuse not to buy several’ Harpers Bazaar
‘A writer with a great deal to say’ The Times
‘Here is a new writer endowed with the gift of ancient storytellers.’ Chinua Achebe
‘Adiche [has] virtuosity, boundless empathy and searing social acuity’ Dave Eggers
‘Adichie is terrific on human interactions … Adichie’s writing always has an elegant shimmer to it … Wise, entertaining and unendingly perceptive’ Independent on Sunday
2. The Virginia Woolf Collection
Virginia Woolf is now recognized as a major twentieth-century author, a great novelist and essayist and a key figure in literary history as a feminist and a modernist. Born in 1882, she was the daughter of the editor and critic Leslie Stephen, and suffered a traumatic adolescence after the deaths of her mother, in 1895, and her step-sister Stella, in 1897, leaving her subject to breakdowns for the rest of her life. Her father died in 1904 and two years later her favourite brother Thoby died suddenly of typhoid.
With her sister, the painter Vanessa Bell, she was drawn into the company of writers and artists such as Lytton Strachey and Roger Fry, later known as the Bloomsbury Group. Among them she met Leonard Woolf, whom she married in 1912, and together they founded the Hogarth Press in 1917, which was to publish the work of T. S. Eliot, E. M. Forster and Katherine Mansfield as well as the earliest translations of Freud. Woolf lived an energetic life among friends and family, reviewing and writing, and dividing her time between London and the Sussex Downs. In 1941, fearing another attack of mental illness, she drowned herself.
Her first novel, The Voyage Out, appeared in 1915, and she then worked through the transitional Night and Day (1919) to the highly experimental and impressionistic Jacob’s Room (1922). From then on her fiction became a series of brilliant and extraordinarily varied experiments, each one searching for a fresh way of presenting the relationship between individual lives and the forces of society and history. She was particularly concerned with women’s experience, not only in her novels but also in her essays and her two books of feminist polemic, A Room of One’s Own (1929) and Three Guineas (1938).
Her major novels include Mrs Dalloway (1925), the historical fantasyOrlando (1928), written for Vita Sackville-West, the extraordinarily poetic vision of The Waves (1931), the family saga of The Years (1937), and Between the Acts (1941). All these are published by Penguin, as are her Diaries, Volumes I-V, and selections from her essays and short stories.
Browse her books here
3. Sleeping on Jupiter by Anuradha Roy
A stark and unflinching novel by a spellbinding storyteller, about religion, love and violence in the modern world.
A train stops at a railway station. A young woman jumps off. She has wild hair, sloppy clothes, a distracted air. She looks Indian, yet she is somehow not. The sudden violence of what happens next leaves the other passengers gasping.
The train terminates at Jarmuli, a temple town by the sea. Here, among pilgrims, priests and ashrams, three old women disembark only to encounter the girl once again. What is someone like her doing in this remote corner, which attracts only worshippers?
Over the next five days, the old women live out their long-planned dream of a holiday together; their temple guide finds ecstasy in forbidden love; and the girl is joined by a photographer battling his own demons.
The full force of the evil and violence beneath the serene surface of the town becomes evident when their lives overlap and collide. Unexpected connections are revealed between devotion and violence, friendship and fear, as Jarmuli is revealed as a place with a long, dark past that transforms all who encounter it.
Anuradha Roy won the Economist Crossword Prize, India’s premier award for fiction, for her novel The Folded Earth, which was nominated for several other prizes including the Man Asia, the D.S.C., and the Hindu Literary Award. Her first novel, An Atlas of Impossible Longing, has been widely translated and was named one of the best books of the year by the Washington Post and The Seattle Times.
4. God Help The Child by Toni Morrison
Spare and unsparing, God Help the Child—the first novel by Toni Morrison to be set in our current moment—weaves a tale about the way the sufferings of childhood can shape, and misshape, the life of the adult.
At the center: a young woman who calls herself Bride, whose stunning blue-black skin is only one element of her beauty, her boldness and confidence, her success in life, but which caused her light-skinned mother to deny her even the simplest forms of love. There is Booker, the man Bride loves, and loses to anger. Rain, the mysterious white child with whom she crosses paths. And finally, Bride’s mother herself, Sweetness, who takes a lifetime to come to understand that “what you do to children matters. And they might never forget.”
A fierce and provocative novel that adds a new dimension to the matchless oeuvre of Toni Morrison.
“Powerful . . . attests to her ability to write intensely felt chamber pieces that inhabit a twilight world between fable and realism, and to convey the desperate yearnings of her characters for safety and love and belonging . . . Writing with gathering speed and assurance as the book progresses, Ms. Morrison works her narrative magic, turning the Ballad of Bride and Booker into a tale that is as forceful as it is affecting, as fierce as it is resonant.”
—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“Nobel laureate Morrison continues to add to her canon of eloquent, brilliantly conceived novels defining the crises and cultural shifts of our times . . . Yet another finely distilled masterpiece.”
– Jane Ciabattari, BBC
“Powerful portraits in lean prose . . . . The pieces all fit together seamlessly in a story about beating back the past, confronting the present, and understanding one’s worth.”
—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal, (starred review)
“Sly, savage, honest, and elegant . . . . Morrison spikes elements of realism and hyperrealism with magic and mayhem, while sustaining a sexily poetic and intoxicating narrative atmosphere . . . . Once again, Morrison thrillingly brings the storytelling moxie and mojo that make her, arguably, our greatest living novelist.”
—Lisa Shea, ELLE Magazine
Read our review of the book here
Toni Morrison is the author of ten novels, from The Bluest Eye (1970) to Home (2012). She has received the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize. In 1993 she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
5. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
The more I know of the world, the more am I convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love. I require so much!’
Marianne Dashwood wears her heart on her sleeve, and when she falls in love with the dashing but unsuitable John Willoughby she ignores her sister Elinor’s warning that her impulsive behaviour leaves her open to gossip and innuendo. Meanwhile Elinor, always sensitive to social convention, is struggling to conceal her own romantic disappointment, even from those closest to her. Through their parallel experience of love—and its threatened loss—the sisters learn that sense must mix with sensibility if they are to find personal happiness in a society where status and money govern the rules of love.
“Know your own happiness. You want nothing but patience- or give it a more fascinating name, call it hope.”
Jane Austen was an English novelist whose works of romantic fiction, set among the landed gentry, earned her a place as one of the most widely read writers in English literature, her realism and biting social commentary cementing her historical importance among scholars and critics.
6. The Book of Night Women by Marlon James
“An undeniable success.” — The New York Times Book Review
The Book of Night Women is a sweeping, startling novel, a true tour de force of both voice and storytelling. It is the story of Lilith, born into slavery on a Jamaican sugar plantation at the end of the eighteenth century. Even at her birth, the slave women around her recognize a dark power that they and she will come to both revere and fear.
“Bad feeling is a country no woman want to visit. So they take good feeling any which way it come. Sometime that good feeling come by taking on a different kind of bad feeling.”
The Night Women, as they call themselves, have long been plotting a slave revolt, and as Lilith comes of age and reveals the extent of her power, they see her as the key to their plans. But when she begins to understand her own feelings and desires and identity, Lilith starts to push at the edges of what is imaginable for the life of a slave woman in Jamaica, and risks becoming the conspiracy’s weak link.
Lilith’s story overflows with high drama and heartbreak, and life on the plantation is rife with dangerous secrets, unspoken jealousies, inhuman violence, and very human emotion between slave and master, between slave and overseer, and among the slaves themselves. Lilith finds herself at the heart of it all. And all of it told in one of the boldest literary voices to grace the page recently–and the secret of that voice is one of the book’s most intriguing mysteries.
7. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
National Book Award Winner
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. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.
Ms. Woodson writes with a sure understanding of the thoughts of young people, offering a poetic, eloquent narrative that is not simply a story . . . but a mature exploration of grown-up issues and self-discovery.”—The New York Times Book Review
8. I Am Malala by Malala Youzafzai and Christina Lamb
When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, one girl spoke out. Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education.
On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, when she was fifteen, she almost paid the ultimate price. She was shot in the head at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school, and few expected her to survive.
“We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.”
Instead, Malala’s miraculous recovery has taken her on an extraordinary journey from a remote valley in northern Pakistan to the halls of the United Nations in New York. At sixteen, she has become a global symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
I Am Malala is the remarkable tale of a family uprooted by global terrorism, of the fight for girls’ education, of a father who, himself a school owner, championed and encouraged his daughter to write and attend school, and of brave parents who have a fierce love for their daughter in a society that prizes sons.
I Am Malala will make you believe in the power of one person’s voice to inspire change in the world.
9. The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul by Deborah Rodriguez
From the author of the memoir Kabul Beauty School comes a fiction debut as compelling as real life: the story of a remarkable coffee shop in the heart of Afghanistan, and the men and women who meet there — thrown together by circumstance, bonded by secrets, and united in an extraordinary friendship.
After hard luck and some bad choices, Sunny has finally found a place to call home — it just happens to be in the middle of a war zone.
“Women are like tea bags; you never know how strong they are until they’re put in hot water. — ELEANOR ROOSEVELT”
As this group of men and women discover that there’s more to one another than meets the eye, they’ll form an unlikely friendship that will change not only their own lives but the lives of an entire country.
Brimming with Deborah Rodriguez’s remarkable gift for depicting the nuances of life in Kabul, and filled with vibrant characters that readers will truly care about, A Cup of Friendship is the best kind of fiction—full of heart yet smart and thought-provoking.
“This compelling tale features the stories of five women in Afghanistan and how living surrounded by conflict and danger affects their lives.” –Bella
“A heartwarming tale about female friendships.” –Cosmopolitan
“A brilliant story of strength and appreciation of difference that restores belief in humanity.” –Daily Telegraph
“A unique insight into the women of this volatile, fascinating place.” –East Anglian Daily Times
10. True Love by Jennifer Lopez
In Jennifer Lopez’s first ever book, True Love, she explores one of her life’s most defining periods—the transformative two-year journey of how, as an artist and a mother, she confronted her greatest challenges, identified her biggest fears, and ultimately emerged a stronger person than she’s ever been. True Love is an honest and revealing personal diary with hard-won lessons and heartfelt recollections and an empowering story of self-reflection, rediscovery, and resilience.
Includes more than 200 exclusive photographs from Lopez’s personal archives, showing candid moments with her family and friends and providing a rare behind-the-scenes look at the life of a pop music icon travelling, rehearsing, and performing around the world.
Jennifer Lopez is an award-winning actress, singer, dancer, entrepreneur, fashion designer, film producer, philanthropist, and now author. She is one of the most influential female artist-performers in history and proud mother of two children, Max and Emme.
11. Nora Webster By Colm Toibin
Nora Webster is the heartbreaking new novel from one of the greatest novelists writing today.
It is the late 1960s in Ireland. Nora Webster is living in a small town, looking after her four children, trying to rebuild her life after the death of her husband. She is fiercely intelligent, at times difficult and impatient, at times kind, but she is trapped by her circumstances, and waiting for any chance which will lift her beyond them. Slowly, through the gift of music and the power of friendship, she finds a glimmer of hope and a way of starting again. As the dynamic of the family changes, she seems both fiercely self-possessed but also a figure of great moral ambiguity, making her one of the most memorable heroines in contemporary fiction. The portrait that is painted in the years that follow is harrowing, piercingly insightful, always tender and deeply true.
“We walk among them sometimes, the ones who have left us. They are filled with something that none of us knows yet. It is a mystery.”
Colm Tóibín’s Nora is a character as resonant as Anna Karenina or Madame Bovary and Nora Webster is a novel that illuminates our own lives in a way that is rare in literature. Its humanity and compassion forge an unforgettable reading experience.