This year’s Women’s History Month theme is “Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives,” and few people have done this better than the authors on this list. Not only have they written groundbreaking stories about women, but they’ve pushed boundaries in literature with their remarkable work. It pains me to keep this list restricted to only 100 entries when there are thousands of amazing female storytellers who have shaped history. In celebration of Black History Month, I penned an article highlighting some African American authors whose work breaks boundaries and transcends time. In case you missed it, Revisit Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, and Nora Zeale Hurston this month – and for the rest of your life.
1. Fear of Flying by Erica Jong
If I’m being honest, the reason I chose Fear of Flying has everything to do with its jaw-dropping 40th-anniversary book cover redesign. Who could resist? This cover is the embodiment of fearlessness, just as the novel inside it. Fear of Flying follows a 29-year-old woman poet’s journey to satisfy herself sexually and otherwise. The story was a controversial driving force in second-wave feminism. Meg Wolitzer, the bestselling author, explained that Jong showed us that “sexual content from a female perspective can be part of a book without necessarily making it ‘crappy.'”
2. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Alice Walker was a groundbreaking writer, becoming the first African American woman to win both the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and National Book Award. The Color Purple is her most famous work, which tells the story of abuse and racism through the perspective of a young black girl in Georgia during the 1930s. Even though it can be difficult to read at times, it speaks volumes about issues that are still relevant today.
3. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
I was pleasantly surprised to find out that one of my favorite novels from childhood, The Outsiders, was written by a woman. Susan Eloise Hinton became one of the most successful YA writers of all time when she published The Outsiders as a freshman in college. What’s even more amazing is that Hinton wrote the novel during her high school years. She used just her initials on the cover so male reviewers wouldn’t dismiss it because it wasn’t authored by a man. Nowadays, she continues to have an integral role in shaping young minds across America.
4. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
Did you know that Agatha Christie is the bestselling novelist of all time, having sold approximately two billion copies? For comparison’s sake, publishing powerhouse James Patterson has only sold around 300 million copies. In addition, her works rank third among the world’s most widely-published books–just behind Shakespeare and the Bible. And Then There Were None is actually the best-selling mystery novel of all time; however, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was voted by Crime Writers’ Association as being the best crime novel ever written. So if you haven’t yet delved into Christie’s fascinating world, that would be an excellent place to start.
5. The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
The woman whose words took her from state benefits to multi-millionaire status within five years is, of course, J.K. Rowling. Since we’ve all read the best-selling book series in history–Harry Potter–it’s time to turn our attention to two of her more recent novels: the first two installments of her crime series featuring Detective Cormoran Strike. The second book The Silkworm was released last year and received just as glowing reviews as its predecessor.
6. Middlemarch by George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans)
Although I’ve been constantly warned about the density of this book and others have nicknamed it “tough to get through,” 2015 is the year I finally tackle Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life. It’s often cited as one of the greatest novels written in English, so that’s really all that needs to be said.
7. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
To the Lighthouse is one of, if not my favorite books of all time. It’s written by my favorite novelist and it definitely deserves more recognition than it gets. Even though it’s a relatively short work, every sentence is so packed with philosophical insight and beautiful prose that you could read it over and over again throughout your life and still have new experiences each time. In my opinion, Woolf is one of the most revolutionary English language writers of all time.
8. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
Wharton was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1921 with her twelfth novel. She was also nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature three times. The Age of Innocence is a novel that uses Wharton’s sharp wit to critique late-nineteenth-century upper-class America.
9. The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
The 2014 recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Chilean novelist Isabel Allende has been called “the world’s most widely-read Spanish language author.” When her debut novel The House of the Spirits was published in 1982, it immediately became a bestseller. Her success only skyrocketed from there. Allende is a master at weaving stories about women’s lives
10. Heartburn by Nora Ephron
Nora Ephron is a legend in the romantic comedy genre, having written and directed classics like When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle. Though she was nominated for three Academy Awards throughout her career, she isn’t talked about nearly as much as she deserves to be. I highly recommend reading her novel Heartburn—which is based on her own life experiences—and watching its accompanying movie adaptation. The film stars Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson, both of whom give outstanding performances.
11. White Teeth by Zadie Smith
Many female writers are making a name for themselves in the literary world as we speak. Zadie Smith’s debut novel White Teeth was an instant bestseller and is often included in lists of the best novels of the century.
12. The Progress of Love by Alice Munro
Won the 2013 Nobel Laureate for Literature, Alice Munro is best known for changing the way people write short stories. Some have even called her “our Chekov,” and she was given the Man Booker International Prize because of her great body of work over time. If you’re wondering where to start reading Munro, critics say to begin with The Progress of Love from 1986.
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