25 Must Read Classics for Women

Rebecca
This 1930s Gothic classic is an un-put-down-able, curl-up-by-the-fire mystery. Don't be put off by its age: this thrilling novel feels surprisingly current. Suspenseful but not scary, and it holds its tension on a re-reading: a sure sign of a well-crafted thriller.
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From the publisher: "A deep penetration into the darkest and most harrowing corners of the human psyche, The Bell Jar is an extraordinary accomplishment and a haunting American classic."
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The publisher calls this a "classic, engrossing memoir—a triumph of the pioneer spirit and an adventure-charged chronicle of a life lived to the fullest." Beryl Markham was an amazing woman, and one of the first people to successfully cross the Atlantic by plane. Yet she's not nearly as well known as others who share her arial accomplishments. In her autobiography, she preserves the moments that meant the most to her—from her childhood, spent in Africa with her British colonial family, to her adult years, when she became the first professional pilot in Africa and successfully crossed the Atlantic, alone. The title refers to the fact that when she flew, she was mostly in the dark.
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Just because it’s assigned reading in high school doesn’t mean this isn’t a great book. This groundbreaking classic is a Gothic romance, mystery, and psychological thriller all rolled into one. You’ll be kicking yourself for not reading it decades sooner.
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This one is on my reading list. Nobel laureate Sigrid Undset tells the story of her heroine in 14th century Norway with great love and attention to detail. Book-of-the-Month Club famously said, "We consider it the best book our judges have ever selected and it has been better received by our subscribers than any other book." My friend (who's been urging me to read this for ages) tells me she'd give it ten stars if she could.
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The haunting story of Angelou's childhood in the American South in the 1930s. If this is one you've been meaning to read, give the audio version a try: Angelou's lilting voice brings her powerful, touching story to life.
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From the publisher: "In this symphonically powerful novel, Willa Cather created one of the most winning heroines in American fiction, a woman whose robust high spirits and calm, undemonstrative strength are emblematic of the virtues Cather most admired in her country. Antonia Shimerda is the daughter of Bohemian immigrants struggling with the oceanic loneliness of life on the Nebraska prairie. Through the eyes of Jim Burden, her tutor and disappointed admirer, we follow Antonia from farm to town and through hardships both natural and human, surviving everything from poverty to a failed romance--and not only surviving, but triumphing."
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From the publisher: "Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl, prays every day for beauty. Mocked by other children for the dark skin, curly hair, and brown eyes that set her apart, she yearns for normalcy, for the blond hair and blue eyes that she believes will allow her to finally fit in. Yet as her dream grows more fervent, her life slowly starts to disintegrate in the face of adversity and strife. This is the story of the nightmare at the heart of her yearning and the tragedy of its fulfillment. Published in 1970, is the first novel written by Toni Morrison, winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature. A powerful examination of our obsession with beauty and conformity, Toni Morrison’s virtuosic first novel asks powerful questions about race, class, and gender with the subtlety and grace that have always characterized her writing."
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This one has been highly recommended to me by numerous readers with excellent taste, and I’ve checked it out of the library at least 4 times, only to return it unread. Not this year.
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Arianna Huffington, writing for O, The Oprah Magazine says, "If you’ve never read it, read it now." From the publisher: "Landmark, groundbreaking, classic—these adjectives barely do justice to the pioneering vision and lasting impact of The Feminine Mystique. Published in 1963, it gave a pitch-perfect description of 'the problem that has no name'. Writing in a time when the average woman first married in her teens and 60 percent of women students dropped out of college to marry, Betty Friedan captured the frustrations and thwarted ambitions of a generation and showed women how they could reclaim their lives. Part social chronicle, part manifesto, The Feminine Mystique is filled with fascinating anecdotes and interviews as well as insights that continue to inspire."
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When I asked what books every woman's gotta read, Alcott's 1869 novel about New England sisters growing up in the Civil War Era was an overwhelming crowd favorite. I only recently learned that Alcott herself didn't want to write Little Women: when a publisher asked her to write a book for girls, she put aside the thrillers she'd been writing and wrote about the only girls she knew— her sisters. The book's unexpected success changed her life and literary career.
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Eliot's hefty masterpiece combines her "study of provincial life" with a close look at several young couples who fall (or think they fall) in love. Who will find lasting happiness, and who won't, and why? By focusing on the narrow disappointments and particular joys of this small community, Eliot cuts to the heart of human nature. A novel about love, happiness, and second chances.
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Woolf's long essay about society and art and sexism is thoroughly of its time and timeless. She argues that a woman must have money and a room of her own (literally and figuratively) in order to write well. It's a little slow to get into but keep at it: this is one of Woolf's most accessible and rewarding works.
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A spoiled, loveless orphan and a coddled, cantankerous invalid bring a forgotten garden—and each other—to life again in this childhood classic. The themes of rebirth and renewal—and the literal spring that blooms before their eyes in their secret garden—make spring the perfect time to revisit this book, or read it for the first time, as I just did.
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If you’ve never read a single Jane Austen book, summer is a good time to start. Jane Austen books are great for the pool or vacation, they’re easy to find in throwaway versions, free for kindle, and the topics are fresh and fun enough for the beach. Honest.
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