24 Books Every Woman Should Read, Because A Mental Workout Is Just As Important as a Trip to the Gym

by Leah Rocketto

Remember the last time you read a book that included razor-sharp social analysis, really steamy sex scenes, or a relatable character that just “got you?” Yeah, neither do we. It’s not that these books don’t exist. In fact, there are an abundance of books that every adult woman should read. It’s that your schedule doesn’t always allow hours for reading. 

Even a Grade A book nerd will admit that finding time to read isn’t easy. If you aren’t tirelessly trying to climb the corporate ladder, you’re giving your social life a little extra attention. And if you do find a spare second, you immediately feel guilty for not tackling your never-ending to-do list instead (or is that just me?).

It’s time to change that. We all need and deserve time to recharge, and what better way to do that than with a good book, especially one that makes you think or dream?

If it’s been forever since you picked up a book (or Kindle or iPad), then you’re probably wondering what to read. To help make the selection a little easier, here are 24 books that every woman should read in her adult life. From cheeky celebrity memoirs to insightful works of fiction, these books are bound to transport and entertain you when you need a break from tending to other people’s needs.


'A Tree Grows In Brooklyn' by Betty Smith


What can adult learn from an 11-year-old living in Brooklyn? A hell of a lot. Betty Smith’s breakout novel A Tree Grows In Brooklyn chronicles the trials and tribulations of an Irish-American adolescent and her family. Through this child’s eyes, you’ll be reminded that adversity shouldn’t stop you from thriving. 


'I Am Malala' by Malala Yousafzai


No woman, or person for that matter, embodies courage like Malala Yousafzai. On the surface, Yousafzai’s 2015 memoir I Am Malala chronicles a young girl’s fight for equal education. But dive a little deeper, and you’ll find a story of a family coming together to champion for change. Malala’s story will not only inspire you as an individual, but as a parent as well. 


'Bridget Jones’s Diary' by Helen Fielding


There was once a time when people met potential soul mates at a bar and not on a laptop from the comfort of their couch. Although dating rituals have changed since Helen Fielding published Bridget Jones's Diary, her lessons in love remain the same. Through protagonist Bridget Jones, we are reminded that a woman shouldn’t have to compromise who she is to find “The One.” 


'Bad Feminist' by Roxane Gay


Yes – you can genuinely like the color pink and giving blowjobs and still identify as a feminist. Littered with humor, honesty, and pop culture references, Gay’s essays in Bad Feminist offer a unique view on feminism that will have you screaming, “YAS! Finally someone who understands me!” 


'The Awakening' by Kate Chopin


The Awakening is the story of Edna Pontellier, a 19th century housewife struggling to accept the roles society has thrust upon her. Writing from a different era, Chopin tackles motherhood, sexuality, and femininity in a way that feels as relevant now as ever.  


'Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret' by Judy Blume


Admit it. Everything you know about men, menstruation, and masturbation, you learned from Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. Though intended for preteens, Margaret’s struggles with self confidence and self acceptance resonate all too well with adult readers. Not to mention it’s the perfect way to prepare for your daughter’s inevitable journey through puberty. 


'The Joy Luck Club' by Amy Tan


Not since Lorelai and Rory has a mother-daughter duo been so captivating. Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club tracks four intergenerational pairs over the span of 40 years. Tan blends satire and sensitivity to explore the specific tension and tumult of the relationship between women and their female children. It’s a story that any mother of daughters — but also, any daughter — will find achingly familiar. 


'Yes Please' by Amy Poehler


In a world where the celebrity memoirs are a dime a dozen, Yes, Please stands out for being equal parts honesty and humor. Although the comedian offers plenty behind-the-scenes stories, it’s her sage advice on motherhood, work, and love that makes this an essential read for moms, women. . . really everyone. 


'The Color Purple' by Alice Walker


You can’t write a book about 1930s Georgia without addressing racism. But The Color Purple goes to the next level by examining sexism, gender roles, and sisterhood. A gripping read whose themes still apply today, it’s no wonder Walker won the Pulitzer Prize for this stunning novel.


'Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic' by Alison Bechdel


Now a Tony award-winning musical, Bechdel’s groundbreaking memoir Fun Home tackles an assortment of topics — father-daughter dynamics, LGBT issues, suicide, and more — with humor and insight. And it does it all as a graphic novel. 


'Jane Eyre' by Charlotte Brontë


Before Katniss and Hermione were household names, a woman named Jane was one of the literary heroines who came most quickly to mine. In a time when women weren’t expected to be independent, Jane Eyre stands on her own as a self-sufficient woman, proving society should not and cannot dictate your destiny.


'The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing' by Melissa Bank


You’ll never look at your youth the same way again after reading The Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing. Bank’s series of stories provides insight into and a little laughter around the struggles every woman faces growing up. 


'The Bluest Eye' Toni Morrison


Body positive hashtags have nothing on Morrison’s haunting portrayal of women’s obsession with body standards. The Bluest Eye challenges readers to love themselves in her exploration of gender, race, and the definition of true beauty. 


'Just Kids' by Patti Smith


Two carefree youths blindly chasing success and stardom: That only scratches the surface of Smith’s memoir, Just Kids, which chronicles the struggles (and some of the fun) she faced on her journey to musical fame. Smith’s story will dredge up those dreams you’ve put aside and possibly inspire you to re-embark on your journey to achieving them. 


'Feminism Is For Everybody' by bell hooks


It’s as if hooks wrote this book for feminist moms. In addition breaking down what it means to be a feminist, Feminism Is For Everybody emphasizes the importance of educating children – both boys and girls – on gender equality, and even offers some guidance on how to teach your little ones. 


'Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America' by Barbara Ehrenreich


Being a mom is tough. Being a mom on $6 an hour is even tougher. In Nickel and Dimed, Ehrenreich reveals what many Americans must do to survive on a minimum wage salary. Eye-opening and life-changing, you’ll close the book with a newfound respect for your waitresses. 


'Fear of Flying' by Erica Jong


Sometimes you need a reminder that you are entitled to desire and sexual pleasure. That’s where Fear of Flying comes in. Jong’s groundbreaking book follows a woman who, feeling unfulfilled in her marriage, partakes in a series of “zipless f*cks.” Even if you’re sexually satisfied, Fear of Flying will fuel your fantasies and might inspire a little experimentation in the bedroom.


'Girl Interrupted' by Susanna Kaysen


Many authors have written about mental illness, but few have captured the hospitalization experience as vividly as Kaysen. Her captivating memoir Girl Interrupted provides a unique look at the treatment of psychiatric patients – both inside and outside of hospitals.  


'Valley of the Dolls' by Jacqueline Susann


Addiction, affairs, abortion. These are just some of the problems that plague the social climbing protagonists in Valley of the Dolls. But these three women soon learn that the higher you climb, the harder you fall. The definition of a guilty pleasure, this bestseller is best enjoyed with an extra-large glass of wine. 


'We Tell Ourselves Stories In Order to Live' by Joan Didion


For a crash course in American politics, look no further that Didion’s collection of nonfiction work. As a factual as a history textbook, but far more captivating, We Tell Ourselves Stories In Order to Live offers observations on political events that shaped our country from the 1960s to the turn of the century. Covering everything from censorship in the media to the Manson family, Didion’s work is perfect for history and literary junkies alike. 


'Room' by Emma Donoghue


Having been held captive since the age of 19, Ma has tried to turn her 11-by-11 foot cell into a home for her and her son Jack. But when their lives are put on the line, Ma knows the sacrifices she must make to save her child. A riveting read, Room will remind you of your own motherly strengths. Warning: Better not to read this one immediately postpartum. Save this one for when you aren’t trapped in your house with an infant.


'Pride and Prejudice' by Jane Austen


Despite some of its outdated messages (it was written in 1813, after all), Pride and Prejudice continues to be one of English literature’s most popular and beloved love stories. Austin brilliantly weaves humor into her story of five sisters searching for financial support (and, perhaps, love too) in the form of marriage, making this one of the original rom-com reads.


'#GirlBoss' by Sophia Amouruso


“Don’t ever grow up. Don’t become a bore. Don’t let The Man get to you.” That’s just a sampling of the wisdom that can be found in the pages of #GirlBoss, a blunt, brazen, bad *ss guide to finding success in your career. 


'What I Know Now: Letters to My Younger Self' by Ellyn Sprains


What would you say to your younger self? That’s the question Sprains asks 41 famous females in What I Know Now, a collection of insightful and inspiring letters. And although we’re several decades and a DeLorean away from talking to our younger selves, there no reason you can’t jot down some sage advice for your little ones. 

Images: berc