SINGAPORE (March 13): This month, we celebrate the best books by female authors — great literary works that speak of feminism, empowerment, and the experiences of women. Here are our top 10 picks for books that celebrate women, by women.

 

Difficult Women by Roxanne Gay

The only work of fiction by feminist author Roxanne Gay, Difficult Women is a collection of short stories featuring difficult, troubled, headstrong, and unconventional women. Gay, whose first book and autobiography, Hunger, was a trailblazer in its unflinching approach to abuse, mental illness and eating disorders, tackles uncomfortable topics once again with these short stories. By no means an easy read, this book intends to demystify the feminine, break stereotypes and affect readers with its graphic and visceral descriptions of flawed and unlikeable women. While her writing strays into the realm of carelessness, it nevertheless stands out for how much Gay refuses to write women as one-dimensional, almost saint-like figures. The women of her book are unlikeable, and often weak — yet all have an authenticity to them. 

 

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

This dystopian novel by Margaret Atwood is not for the faint-hearted. It is set in a world where women are subjugated in a patriarchal society, used as mere birthing cattle, and try various means to gain individualism and independence. It centres around the story of Offred, who joins a resistance to overthrow the theonomic republic known as the Republic of Gilead. Be warned: this is not a book to read without being fully prepared for a truly dark conversation of the patriarchal society we live in, but it is truly a necessary read for its themes of equality and justice. 

 

Lean in: Women, Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg

Yahoo chief operations officer Sheryl Sandberg’s 2013 book is undoubtedly the one that started it all for power women in the boardroom full of men. With stories from women from all walks of life, including herself, the book explores the intersectionality of race, gender and class in both work and family. It also offers perspectives on how to thrive in a world dominated by men, defeat the impostor syndrome, and shatter stereotypes. While it had its fair share of criticism about being written “by white women and for white women”, it nonetheless shows that women can strut down the walkways of the boardroom and belong there, effortlessly.

 

Becoming by Michelle Obama

The former First Lady of the United States can only be described as a trailblazer. Not only has she handled the spotlight of being the First Lady with grace and poise, she has inspired young women to accept their vulnerabilities and turn them into strength. Open and honest about her struggles with her marriage to former president Barack Obama, her book also explores Obama’s childhood in Chicago, facing racism in public life, and her experiences being America’s First Family. She writes with an authentic voice, lending gravitas and relatability to her story. 

 

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

While most of us may familiar with the movie, this book about the lives and secrets of African-American domestic workers in white households in 1960s Jackson, Mississippi, is a riveting read. It is told largely from the perspective of three women — Aibileen Clark and Minny Jackson, both maids to rich white families; and Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan, a modern, progressive-thinking young journalist and writer who chronicles their lives. It’s all at once funny, heartbreaking and endearing. 

 

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

No list of books for women could be complete without Amy Tan’s poignant book about the lives of four Chinese American immigrant families in San Francisco, from the perspective of the mothers and their daughters. A true classic, the book tells of secrets revealed, lives destroyed, loves shattered and the human experience of loss, grief and happiness. It shows the depth of a mother’s love for her child, the struggles of rebuilding a new life in a new country, and the true courage it takes to survive against all odds. 

 

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

No one writes about women quite the way that Jane Austen does, and even in times where women’s rights were nowhere close to as progressive as today. Written in the British Regency era in 1813, Austen’s book follows protagonist Elizabeth Bennet as she navigates life and romance with a headstrong will, refusing to marry just for prestige and social standing, but for love. Along the way, she learns that not all is so simple, and that her wilfulness has consequences not just for herself but also her family and sisters. A must-read for any young woman today 

 

Little Women by Louisa M Alcott

Before the film, there was the book — as well it should be. Written between 1868 and 1869, this book follows the lives of the four March sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, and details their passage from childhood to womanhood. Each a distinct personality, the sisters face the trials of becoming women, both with humour and tenacity. Its coming-of-age tale is simple, never overblown or dramatic, and really resonates in its simplicity 

 

The Passion According to G H by Clarice Lispector

A truly bizarre yet gripping short novel, this slim volume by Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector takes form as a monologue by a woman known only as G H, about her inner crisis the day after she crushes a cockroach with the door of her wardrobe. She also discovers that her domestic helper hated her, which then spurs her monologue of both anger and anguish. Published in 1964, Lispectors’ third book doesn’t just shock you, it also forces you to wonder if this is a tale of a woman’s descent into madness or transcendence into epiphany and a realisation of self. 

 

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The only novel by American writer and poet Sylvia Plath, this semi-autobiographical story is regarded as a cult classic. A deeply troubling book that is an unflinching exploration of mental illness, its protagonist’s descent into mental illness parallels Plath’s own experiences. This book is definitely triggering, and not for everyone, but it makes real an illness long viewed as “only in your head”. While the protagonist (spoiler warning) eventually finds a bittersweet ending, depending on how you’ve interpreted it, Plath herself did not; she died by suicide a month after it was first published in the UK in the late 1960s (she had initially written it under a male pseudonym).