26 books every feminist should read before the age of 26
Cicero once said: “A room without books is like a body without a soul.” But in 2019, the saying is more like: "A room without feminist books is an absolute red flag and you need to run. Far."
No but seriously, if you haven't read any of these 26 classics before the age of 26, you need to get yourself into a bookshop or the library ASAP.
1. Why I’m No Longer Speaking To White People About Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge
It all started off with a blogpost about why Reni Eddo-Lodge was tired of communicating with people who didn't want to acknowledge structural racism. And it turned into a bestseller. Everyone needs to read this bible on institutional racism because your feminism isn’t feminism if it’s not intersectional. Buy the book here.
2. Everything I Know About Love – Dolly Alderton
This autobiography hilariously confronts everyday societal issues and the conditioning which has lead to really unhealthy views on health, relationships, dating etc. So easy to read and tackles serious topics. Buy the book here.
3. On The Frontline With Women Who Fight Back – Stacey Dooley
Not only is it an autobiography of the woman who turned her life around and went from working in Luton Airport to making groundbreaking documentaries, it also centres around the stories of women and girls who are facing adversity and fighting back globally. Buy the book here.
4. The Opposite of Loneliness – Marina Keegan
A selection of essays and short stories (including the one she delivered as valedictorian graduating from Yale) about love, growing up, academia, and everything in between. Marina died in a car crash five days after graduation and the book was collated and published after her death. Buy the book here.
5. Becoming – Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama's memoir touches on the experiences that shaped her, such as growing up in the south side of Chicago and being the first black First Lady of the USA. Buy the book here.
6. Women & Power – Mary Beard
Quite simply a modern feminist classic. It's a manifesto which looks back on the history of silencing women and urges us to act against this long-held tradition. Buy the book here.
7. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
A book about a terrifying patriarchal dystopia that, even more terrifyingly, is not far from our own. Buy the book here.
8. The Guilty Feminist – Deborah Francis-White
This is a book for anyone who’s ever felt they weren’t “good enough” to be a feminist. It teaches the reader about intersectional feminism in a way that’s full of humour and without judgement. Buy the book here.
9. Women, Race and Class – Angela Davis
Within the context of the Civil Rights Movement, Angela Davis discusses how race, gender and class are inextricably linked, and explores how these compound to shape different women’s experiences in a variety of ways – a real key read when it comes to understanding intersectionality. Buy the book here.
10. We Should All Be Feminists – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
A really short read looking at the disparities between men and women all over the world. Easy and quick to get through, it’s a great summary of what it means to be a feminist. Buy the book here.
11. How Not To Be a Boy – Robert Webb
Reading Robert Webb's How Not To Be a Boy is such a nice experience because it's refreshing to hear a man talk about feminism, toxic masculinity and how fucked up raising boys "to be boys" is. Buy the book here.
12. Her Body and Other Parties – Carmen Maria Machado
Carmen Maria Machado approaches female sexuality in the context of love, loss, bodily inscriptions, insecurity, vulnerability, and motherhood in her debut anthology of short stories, all through the lens of a bisexual woman. Her stories are beautifully written and seem to read themselves to you: any woman will feel less alone by absorbing them into her consciousness. Buy the book here.
13. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou
Angelou's autobiography explores identity, rape, racism and literacy in "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings." She writes about women's lives in a male-dominated society. Mays has been called "a symbolic character for every black girl growing up in America. Buy the book here.
14. The Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank
Anne Frank's diary should be on every school's curriculum. She wrote about her family's hiding during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. After two years of hiding, her family were found by the Gestapo and sent to a concentration camp, where Anne died. It's a truly heartbreaking read but very important. Buy the book here.
15. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice explores feminism during a time when a woman's role was to be a perfect lady. She subtly critiques the traditional idea of what it's like to be a woman in her time. Buy the book here.
16. Persepolis – Marjane Satrapi
The graphic novel tells the story of the author growing up in Iran during the Islamic revolution in 1979 and then her later experience of living in Europe. Things get very politically tense in Iran and her family flee to Austria when Marjane is 14. With her new-found freedom in Austria, there is also the culture shock she has to deal with. She finds this very hard and ends up taking drugs and living on the streets. It's very moving. Buy the book here.
17. The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
Everyone has harped on about The Bell Jar at some point, but there's a reason and it's because it's so good. Buy the book here.
18. The Help – Kathryn Stockett
A white female journalist exposes the other white women in her town for mistreating the black women who have spent their whole lives taking care of their families and children. She interviews black women across the Southern town and it turns out, they all have quite a lot to say about the racist treatment they've faced for years. Buy the book here.
19. The Best of Dorothy Parker
A funny, brutally honest and feminist poetry? Yes please. Parker's work expresses her battle with depression as well as the dazzle and darkness of New York in the 1920s.
While her quotes and one-liners were laugh-out-loud caustic keepers, this selection delves deeper into Parker’s literary repertoire, bringing together the best of her short fiction and poetry. Her unparalleled ability to combine a heartbreak with a wisecrack ensured her enduring popularity. Buy the book here.
20. A Room of One’s Own – Virginia Woolf
The extended essay is based on two lectures Virginia Woolf delivered on women and fiction. It's a key work of feminist literary criticism, which examinees the educational, social and financial disadvantages women have faced throughout history. She says that "a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction", meaning one has to have independence to be able to write in an independent way. Buy the book here.
21. I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up For Education And Was Shot By The Taliban – Malala Yousafzai
Malala is an educational campaigner from Pakistan. In October 2012 she was shot in the head, after being targeted by the Taliban. I am Malala is Malala's autobiography, which details her early life, her father's ownership of schools and activism and the rise and fall of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan Buy the book here.
22. The Second Sex – Simone de Beauvoir
A revolutionary text. It's one of the earliest attempts to confront history from a feminist perspective. It's a pillar of feminist thought. The main idea is that men oppress women by characterising them at every level. And essentially, this leaves women as the "Other." Buy the book here.
23. Stone Butch Blues – Leslie Feinberg
The book follows the life of Jess Goldberg who grows up in New York in the 40s. She's aware she's different from other girls, often getting asked: "Are you a boy or a girl?" It's not an easy read because it's so brutally honest, but is often described as a genderqueer classic. Buy the book here.
24. Redefining Realness – Janet Mock
In 2011, Janet Mock stepped forward for the first time as a trans woman. She is an American writer, television host, director, producer and transgender rights activist. Her memoir follows Mock's quest for identity and the hurdles she faced all the way from Honolulu to New York. Buy the book here.
25. In Extremis: The Life of War Correspondent Marie Colvin – Lindsey Hilsum
Marie Colvin was killed by an airstrike in Syria in 2012. She was reporting from the front line in an area of Syria on behalf of The Sunday Times, a place where most other foreign correspondents hadn’t dared embed themselves due to the heavy bombing. Brave and committed to telling the truth and speaking on behalf of others who did not have a voice, Marie Colvin – known for her eye patch after a bomb explosion in Sri Lanka left her blinded in one eye – infiltrated the all-boys club of traditional war correspondents to become one of the greatest reporters.
Her biography, written by her friend and fellow foreign correspondent Lindsey Hilsum, tells the story of Marie standing up to her male editors and proving people who assumed she either couldn’t make it, or due to the dangers of war reporting shouldn’t make it wrong. If you’re interested in journalism, read up on one of the best. Buy the book here.
26. The Bloody Chamber – Angela Carter
Carter retells our fave fairy tales such as Snow White and Beauty and the Beast but uses her amazing imagination to superimpose a feminist point of view on them. They’re really brutal in some respects; in the retelling of Snow White called ‘The Snow Child’ the father figure rapes his dead “child” (who was also the figment of his patriarchal lust).
There are some pretty inspiring transfigurations of lesser known tales such as Perrault’s Bluebeard which depicts the hero figure of the story as the protagonists mother. She’s pretty sick and assassinates her daughter’s gross husband with a “single, irreproachable bullet” from horseback. Carter breaks down the myths of late 20th century to show that what women aren’t simply damsels in distress. Buy the book here.