14 Inspirational Books for Women
Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
“Mandela's story is an inspiration for anyone who cares about social justice and political change. His autobiography has been a huge influence on me in my work as an activist and founder of Girls Who Code. Mandela reminds us to fight for our values and what we know is right.”
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
“Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid’s Tale is the most plausible feminist dystopia ever. From that moment when the heroine's ATM card no longer works because women's bank accounts have been frozen, to her struggles to escape from slavery as a breeder, this smart and page-turning novel reminds us to never let ourselves be defined by our ovaries.”
Emma Donoghue, author of Room
To buy: $9, amazon.com.
Carrie by Stephen King
“What can I say? This is the first book that came to mind. Besides Norah Ephron's I feel Bad About My Neck, it's the only book I've reread on a regular basis. Carrie is my favorite heroine in literature. I know it's more popular or intellectually respectable to say Jane Eyre or Mrs. Dalloway or Emma, but for me: It's Carrie White.
Carrie is a mean girl target. Her mama is a mean girl. Her gym class is full of mean girls. She is pelted with tampons and bucketed with pig's blood. But there's something inside her that finally says, "Stop." And she stops everyone. Cold.
The moral of the story is: Be careful who you pick on. Better yet, don't bother shy girls who don't bother anybody. Once you bully a shy girl's nose out of a book, there's no telling what she'll do.”
Helen Ellis, author of American Housewife: Stories
To buy: $12, amazon.com.
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman
“Ostensibly a book about a Hmong immigrant child in Fresno, California who has epilepsy, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down is also a tale of culture clash, spiritual beliefs, and what it means to be "well." It is by turns uplifting and heartbreaking, and changed—literally forever—the way I think about parenthood, medicine, immigrants, and love.”
Kristin van Ogtop, former editor of Real Simple and author of Just Let Me Lie Down
To buy: $8.50, amazon.com.
Grace for President by Kelly DiPucchio
“It's a children's book, but reading this with my daughters gives me a powerful way to talk about leadership and independence. It also helps that it offers a timely introduction to talk about women and girls running for office and about our electoral system.”
Erin Loos Cutraro, Co-Founder and CEO of She Should Run
To buy: $9, amazon.com.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
“It's brutal and beautiful in a way that only the great Dr. Maya Angelou can weave together words. Every woman should read this book, not because you can relate to the exact details, but you may certainly relate to wanting your voice heard even when other people and difficult circumstances try to silence you.”
Tamron Hall, broadcast journalist.
To buy: $13, amazon.com.
Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman
"Such a hard question! I read voraciously, all the time; my greatest friends growing up were books. My first instinct was to advise reading as much good fiction as you can. Fiction cultivates empathy, imagination and judgment: all vital qualities for leaders. Identifying with characters, understanding their circumstances and their reasoning, following them as they work through quandaries and dilemmas—think of it as mental exercise for muscles you need.
On reflection, however, I advise a non-fiction book, one I read back in the late 1980s when my life seemed to have lost direction and purpose. The book is Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology. It essentially teaches you to pay attention to the negative narratives in your head, the tapes telling you that you cannot succeed, that whatever you are doing is not good enough. I was writing my dissertation at the time; I would write a paragraph, read it, delete it and start again, over and over. Reading Learned Optimism changed my life and started me on the path to the confidence and resilience we need to succeed. Even though we have come a long way, women still get plenty of negative messages from our environment. We certainly don't need to internalize and add to them in our own heads! It sounds like pop psychology, yet another self-help book, but Dr. Seligman pioneered an entire school of therapy that has helped millions. It is certainly not just for women, but all women should read it."
Anne-Marie Slaughter, author of Unfinished Business
To buy: $11, amazon.com.
Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante
“Though much has been written about the complex, competitive, ineffable, unknowable nature of female friendship, it remains for me one of life’s—and literature’s—most fascinating topics. Ferrante is the maestra of the genre; her Neapolitan Quartet consists of over 1,000 pages which follow two women from childhood through middle age, and whose friendship proves more enduring than relationships with family, husbands, and lovers. The competition is there, the disapproval, and the jealousy. But Ferrante also captures the unconditional love and the indomitable connection that buoys them throughout their lives. It is fascinating to see Ferrante examine this phenomenon; through reading her we understand our own complicated female friendships.”
Allison Amend, author of Enchanted Islands
To buy: $10, amazon.com.
Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple
“It’s a page-turner that is hugely entertaining, funny, and emotional. A perfect book to share with a teenage daughter, Where’d You Go Bernadette explores with compassion and humor how easy it is to lose yourself while trying to balance parenthood, marriage, work and creativity.”
Nina Jacobson, producer of The Hunger Games and The People v. OJ Simpson
To buy: $9, amazon.com.
My Ántonia by Willa Cather
“Picking just one book is too limiting—cough, The Warmth of Other Suns, The House of Mirth, Song of Solomon, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Crazy Salad, cough—but if I had to pick just one, I would probably pick my favorite novel, Willa Cather's My Antonia. Just because it's gorgeous and will make you cry. And because even though it's a small, personal novel, it tells a larger story about America, and how it was built by immigrant women and men who gave their energies and devotion to a land that rarely welcomed them.”
Rebecca Traister, author of All the Single Ladies
To buy: $6, amazon.com.
A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
“Jennifer Egan's prize-winning fourth novel, which is riveting and vivid from start to finish, gracefully distills the perils of being young and emotionally (and sexually) reckless. She paints a heartbreaking portrait of the enormous sacrifices women can make to feel loved, and of how utterly willing women can be to yield their own power just to court the so-called powerful. As bleak as that sounds, though, Egan also finds inventive ways of offering us a palpable sense of how it feels to find real connection, comfort, and safety after a lifetime of hurling yourself in front of speeding trains.”
Heather Havrilesky, author of How to Be a Person in the World
To buy: $9.50, amazon.com.
How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen
“The authors use academic theories to help readers find meaning and happiness in their work and their personal lives. I highly recommend this book to anyone considering a new career or if you are just trying to lead a fulfilling life.”
Anna Maria Chavez, former CEO of Girl Scouts of America
To buy: $16, amazon.com.
The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman
Family Happiness by Laurie Colwin
"Every woman should read Laurie Colwin's novel Family Happiness. On one level it's a charming jewel box of a story, describing the life of Polly Demerest, dutiful wife, daughter, mother, who lives on the UES of Manhattan in the 1980s. However the novel surprises and captivates once it's revealed Polly is having an affair with a reclusive artist downtown. This becomes a book that is profound and sophisticated and calls into question what women need for themselves. You must read it once, or like me... read it more than once.”
Elin Hilderbrand, author of Here's to Us (available June 14)
To buy: $12, amazon.com.