smash’s Recommended Memoirs and Novels by Women

Looking for something to read?

These are memoirs and novels by women that I recommend, in the order of the year they were published. Check them out!

The women authors I have selected are not as diverse as I would like, so please reply to this page with your favorites.

Feminist Novels

1975 Woman at Point Zero– Nawal El Saadawi

The protagonist interviews a woman imprisoned for stabbing her pimp, and narrates her life as she is abused by men.

1977 The Women’s Room– Marilyn French

This novel depicts several women’s journey toward feminist consciousness in the 1970s.

1985 On Strike Against God– Joanna Russ

A love story about coming out as a lesbian and a feminist.

1993 Conditions of War Lierre Keith

Radical feminist women fighting patriarchy.

1998 The Edible Woman– Margaret Atwood

On being consumed by patriarchy from the inside.

2012 Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen– Mary Sharratt

This historical fiction novel tells the story of real-life medieval nun Hildegard von Bingen who turns her life cloistered within the walls of a monastery into victory for women’s autonomy and voice.

Feminist Memoirs

1999 A Daughter of Isis – Nawal El Saadawi

Saadawi writes her memoir of growing up in Egypt and being treated as lesser for being born a girl, yet rising above through her intelligence and unwillingness to be made less than she is.

2011 Girls Like Us– Rachel Lloyd

Lloyd was prostituted from a young age, and now helps other young women escape exploitation.

2013 Paid For: My Journey Through Prostitution by Rachel Moran

Moran tells her heartbreaking story of exiting prostitution, reveals the horrors of being used as an object, and documents her recovery. She makes a feminist argument against prostitution.


Feminist Fantasy/Magical Realist/Post-Apocalyptic/Science Fiction/Utopic Novels

1915 Herland– Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Men come upon an isolated utopic women-only society, and the women have to decide what to do with them.

1937 Swastika Night– Katharine Burdekin

This original dystopic fiction story preceded Orwell and Huxley, and may have been their inspiration. The setting is several hundred years in the future where Nazis run half the world, and women are treated as breeding chattel. This book analyzes power-over and the ways it destroys the world.

1969 The Left Hand of Darkness– Ursula K. Le Guin

On a wintery alien planet, inhabitants transition from one sex to the other over their lifetimes.

1974– 1999 The Holdfast Chronicles Suzie Marie Charnas

This four book series is set in a far-past-the-apocalypse world where “fems” (women) are completely dominated by violent men who do not treat them as people. The series follows the “fems” uprising, the lives of the “woms” (free horse-riding women), and the dangers of domination. This is a must read (please excuse the strangeness of the horse “interactions” – you’ll know what I mean when you read it).

1974– 1989 Women Without Men: A Novel of Modern Iran– Shahrnush Parsipur, translated by Faridoun
Farrokh

This novella, written in magical realism style, follows five women and the struggles each faces in Iran.

1975 The Female Man– Joanna Russ

This science fiction story follows five women living in different worlds who travel to one another. Some worlds are utopic, some are dystopic, and some are in-between. This dryly humorous book approaches sexism from many angles.

1984 Daughters of a Coral Dawn– Katherine V. Forrest

Women leave Earth to create a utopic women’s community. Some of the romance between women seems cheesy, but it’s fun escape reading.

1985 Woman on the Edge of Time– Marge Piercy

A woman tormented in a mental institution travels forward in time with a friend to a utopic community.

1990 A Gift upon the Shore– M.K. Wren

This stunning post-apocalyptic novel celebrates the written word as one woman’s gift to the future.

1992 Ammonite– Nicola Griffith

The protagonist is sent by “The Company” to investigate a planet where a virus that kills all men (and some women). Despite the fact that the planet is now populated by only women, relations between the two factions are not utopic.

2008 Daughters of the North – Sarah Hall

In a futuristic UK, a women-only commune teaches women how to develop the strength to stand up to a totalitarian government.

Funny Memoirs that are Not Anti-Feminist

1983–2010 Nora Ephron authored:

1983 Heartburn (about her husband’s affair when she was seven months pregnant) 2006 I Feel Bad About My Neck (about aging as a woman), 2010 I Remember Nothing (her last memoir in which she contemplates the end of her life).

1987 Postcards from the Edge– Carrie Fisher

Actress Carrie Fisher (best known for her role in the Star Wars trilogy as Princess Lea) provides a humorous take on her journey to sobriety.

1985 Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady– Florence King

King describes growing up in the southern US and the gendered expectations she was never quite “able” to meet. She explores her attraction to women and how she disappoints her grandmother for not being the stereotypical “southern lady”. This book is hilarious, despite the fact that the author is a conservative.

2005 Garlic and Sapphire– Ruth Reichl

Reichl is a restaurant reviewer for the New York Times, and must dine in disguise to make sure the establishment doesn’t give her special treatment. It’s a fun read, and it will make you hungry.

2010 Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated
– Alison Arngrim

As a child, Arngrim played Nellie Oleson on the television show Little House on the Prairie. The universally hated character gives Arngrim a unique childhood environment. Content warning for incestuous sexual assault. Arngrim is honest about her life, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that she is very funny. (Also, please don’t be put off by the word “bitch” in the title. The author is mocking the way that others perceive her for having portrayed a “bratty” young woman on the TV show she grew up on.)

2012 Bossypants –Tina Fey

Comedy writer and actress Fey discusses growing up awkward and finding success. She also explains where she got that scar.

2012 Guts: The Endless Follies and Tiny Triumphs of a Giant Disaster– Kristen Johnston

Actress Kristen Johnston (Sally Solomon from the 90s TV show 3rd Rock from the Sun) provides a humorous take on her journey to sobriety.

Funny Novels that are Not Anti-Feminist

1932 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons

This satirical take on “romantic period” clichés sees orphaned Flora Poste come to live at her relatives’ farm. Their lives are a mess, and she rolls up her sleeves to fix them. Hilarious.

2009 The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

The British territory Gurnsey Island has been invaded by Nazis. To get around curfew, they create a book club as an excuse to get together. This book was cute and enjoyable.

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