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100 Books Every Woman Should Read, Part Four

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Before you read this list, we strongly recommend reading Experimental Wifery’s Guide to the 100 Books Every Woman Should Read.

See parts one, two, and three of our list.

The Bible

Importantcontext for Western literature even for non-Christians. The Bible not only tells the stories of brave, ambitious, charitable, and clever women, but also provides instructions for a nobler way of life.

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in inquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareath all things, believath all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

One Thousand and One Nights

Scheherazaden must tell her new husband a cliff-hanging story every night if she wants to keep her head. Her creative story-telling introduces a body of Middle Eastern and South Asian legends and shows us a fairy-tale princess who uses her cunning to save herself.

He also sware himself by a binding oath that whatever wife he married he would abate her maidenhead at night and slay her next morning to make sure of his honour; “For” said he, “there never was nor is there one chaste woman upon the face of the earth.”

The Pillow Book by Sei Shonaon

Musings on courtly behavior from eleventh-century Japan. Sei kept a journal of personal thoughts, lists, and poetry while serving Empress Consort Teishi.

“How can I get pleasure writing on you? You have to write on me.” “Go on. Use my body like the pages of a book. Of your book.”

Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pizan

A collection of stories about virtuous women written by a Medieval Italian. De Pizan presents wives and saints as the building blocks of a beautiful city.

The man or the woman in whom resides greater virtue is the higher; neither the loftiness nor the lowliness of a person lies in the body according to the sex but in the perfection of conduct and virtues.

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

The most famous poem in Middle English. Many sometimes-holy, sometimes-bawdy, always-entertaining pilgrims tell each other tales on the way to Canterbury Cathedral. Chaucer introduces now-famous characters like the emancipated Wife of Bath and the clever strumpet Allysoun.

There shul ye seen expres that it no drede is, That he is gentil that dooth gentil dedis. And therfore, leeve housbonde, I thus conclude: Al were it that myne auncestres weren rude, Yet may the hye God, and so hope I, Grante me grace to lyven vertuously. Thanne am I gentil whan that I bigynne To lyven vertuously, and weyve synne.

King Lear by William Shakespeare

King Lear tests his three daughters before he lets them inherit their thirds of the kingdom. Instead of giving him flattering answers, Cordelia tells her father the truth—that no words can describe how much she loves him. Cordelia is an example of honesty, devotion, and virtue in the face of adversity.

Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave my heart into my mouth. I love your majesty according to my bond; no more nor less.

The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm by the Brothers Grimm

The origin of the word “grim.” This collection of traditional folktales introduces Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and many other classic fairy tale characters to share with the kids in your life. Be prepared for PG-rated versions of your Disney favorites.

The queen…went to her mirror and said, “Mirror, mirror, here I stand. Who is the fairest in the land?” And the mirror replied, “You, O Queen, are the fairest here, but Snow White, who has gone to stay with the seven dwarfs far, far away, is a thousand times more fair.”

The Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen

Fairy tales about real love. The un-sanitized, original versions of classics like The Little Mermaid and The Steadfast Tin Soldier are among the most beautiful stories ever written. Again and again Andersen’s character selflessly choose the people they love—lovers, siblings, children, and friends—over themselves.

You, poor little mermaid, have tried with your whole heart to do as we are doing; you have suffered and endured and raised yourself to the spirit-world by your good deeds; and now, by striving for three hundred years in the same way, you may obtain an immortal soul.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beacher Stowe

When President Lincoln met Harriet Beacher Stowe, he supposedly said, “”so you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war. The brave Eliza and her young son run away from her wicked master. Her fictional plight drew Northerners’ attention to the evils of slavery.

“I looks like gwine to heaven,” said the woman; “an’t thar where white folks is gwine? S’pose they’d have me thar? I’d rather go to torment, and get away from Mas’r and Missis.”

Middlemarch by George Eliot

Eliot hated the “silly women novelists” of the Victorian era and littered her work with “unfeminine” literary and scientific allusions topped off with an uncharacteristically depressing ending. This novel, her opus, centers on the choices we make about marriage and vocation—and the way these choices affect the rest of our lives.

I mean, marriage drinks up all of our power of giving or getting any blessedness in that sort of love. I know it may be very dear—but it murders our marriage—and then the marriage stays with us like a murder—and everything else is gone.

My Ántonia by Willa Cather

An elegy to the families who built new lives west of the Mississippi River—and the pioneering women who often led them. The novel tells the story of Ántonia as she grows up, marries, and becomes a mother.

She lent herself to immemorial human attitudes which we recognize by instinct as universal and true. I had not been mistaken. She was a battered woman now, not a lovely girl; but she still had that something which fires the imagination, could still stop one’s breath for a moment by a look or gesture that somehow revealed the meaning in common things.

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

The novel that earned the first Pulitzer Prize awarded to a woman. Wharton asks her reader to think critically about the assumptions and morality of upper-class New York society in the 1870s through an impending marriage and the scandal that threatens to ruin it.

 “Women ought to be free—as free as we are,” he declared, making a discovery of which he was too irritated to measure the terrific consequences.

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

A lovely, partially-autobiographical children’s novel about American westward expansion. Laura’s family learns that, as long as you are with your family, even a covered wagon can be a home.

There is no comfort anywhere for anyone who dreads to go home.

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

A comic satire on the way city-slickers think of rural life. Flora Poste brings a little urban wisdom to an emotionally stunted farming town. Gibbons novel pokes gentle fun at the kind of women who think they know how to solve everyone else’s problems.

Like all really strong-minded women, on whom everybody flops, she adored being bossed about. It was so restful.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

The world’s best-selling mystery novel of all time. Ten men and women, all complicit in the deaths of others, find themselves mysteriously thrown together on an isolated island. Then, one by one, they fall victim to murder themselves…

I have wanted . . . to commit a murder myself. I recognized this as the desire of the artist to express himself!

The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams

In my opinion, Williams’ most tragic play. Laura’s mother tries to push her introverted daughter into a world too big for her. When trying to be something she isn’t, Laura is as breakable as her collection of fragile figurines.

Most of them are little animals made out of glass, the tiniest little animals in the world. Mother calls them a glass menagerie! Here’s an example of one, if you’d like to see it!… Oh, be careful—if you breathe, it breaks!

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

The emotionally stunted narrator, Charles Ryder, finds meaning for his life in his relationships with the Marchmain family—especially his lover, Julia. But he discovers that the faith and vivacity that draw him to them are the very things that must drive them apart. A beautiful novel about the profound ways a woman can affect a man, often outside of her control.

Perhaps all our loves are merely hints and symbols; a hill of many invisible crests; doors that open as in a dream to reveal only a further stretch of carpet and another door…

Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Reflections on American life by the wife of Charles Lindbergh. Lindbergh uses the shells she finds on the beach as inspiration for her collection of essays about love and age, youth and marriage, peace and activity. Her quiet, meditative book encourages all women to step back and appreciate what we have—before we allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the pace of modern life.

Yes, I believe the oyster shell is a good one to express the middle years of marriage. It suggests the struggle of life itself.

The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers

Frankie struggles to find a community in her small, Southern town. When her brother gets engaged, she must learn how much of who she is linked to the people she cares about—and how much of who she is belongs to her alone.

They are the we of me.

The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

A love triangle during and just after World War Two. Sarah Miles must find a balance between her desires, her obligations, and her faith.

Insecurity is the worst sense that lovers feel; sometimes the most humdrum desireless marriage seems better. Insecurity twists meanings and poisons trust.

Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis

Written with the help of his terminally ill wife, C. S. Lewis’ last novel. In this retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, Psyche’s older sister accuses the gods of playing with human lives. The novel is a beautiful description of what does—and doesn’t—lay within our control.

The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing — to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from — my country, the place where I ought to have been born.

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

A cult fantasy classic. The last unicorn in the world goes on a quest to find her missing kin. In an effort to save her from their fate, a bumbling magician disguises her as a beautiful, young woman. A beautiful tale about the costs of innocence and purity.

“Any woman can weep without tears,” she answered over her shoulder, “and most can heal with her hands. It depends on the wound. She is a woman, Your Highness, and that’s riddle enough.”

Under a Cruel Star: A Life in Prague, 1941-1968 by Heda Margolius Kovály

In this memoir, Kovály describes how she survives German concentration camps and the reconstruction of her country only to watch the Russians destroy all she cares about. A moving story about hope in the face of horror.

It was becoming evident to many that while evil grows all by itself, good can be achieved only through hard struggle and maintained only through tireless effort, that we had to set out clear, boldly-conceived goals for ourselves and join forces to attain them. The problem was that everyone envisioned these goals differently.

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

In sixteen interwoven vignettes, Jing-Mei Woo pieces together the life stories of her immigrant mother, her friends, and their daughters to carry back with her on a visit to China. The San Francisco Chronicle identified The Joy Luck Club as a novel about “what it is to be American, and a woman, mother, daughter, lover, wife, sister, and friend.”

I wanted my children to have the best combination: American circumstances and Chinese character. How could I know these two things do not mix?

First Family by Joseph Ellis

A biography of John and Abigail Adams by a Pulitzer-Prize-Winning author. Ellis distills the Adams’ famous correspondence into a story that is part political history and part love story. Abigail stands out as a woman of wit and insight quietly important to the founding of our country.

“I can do nothing,” John told Abigail, “without you.”

2 responses »

  1. Eagerly awaiting the reading guide… you should consider a book of the month challenge/ art of manliness 30 day challenge mash up. Encourages both your audience to read the books on your wonderfully comprehensive list as well as encouraging more of viewer interaction/community interaction with your site. Just a thought. Best wishes – Karen


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