LIFESTYLE
15/03/2018 16:00 SAST | Updated 15/03/2018 16:03 SAST

35 Must-Read Books By Women From The Past 5 Years

A reading list for Women’s History Month and beyond.

With so many different options and so few hours in the day, it can be overwhelming to choose what to read next ― and tough to know where to start if you want to make reading a habit.

As March is the designated month to celebrate the work of women (though really, it should be a year-round practice), we put together a list of incredible books by women writers. Although the list of literary classics by women includes thousands of options, we decided to narrow our focus to recent history.

Here are 35 books by women authors published in the past five years.

  • 1 Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
    Penguin Press
    "Witnessing these two families as they commingle and clash is an utterly engrossing, often heartbreaking, deeply empathetic experience. ... It’s this vast and complex network of moral affiliations -- and the nuanced omniscient voice that Ng employs to navigate it -- that make this novel even more ambitious and accomplished than her debut. ... It is a thrillingly democratic use of omniscience, and, for a novel about class, race, family and the dangers of the status quo, brilliantly apt." -- The New York Times
  • 2 Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
    Random House
    “Mbue is a wonderful writer with an uncanny ear for dialogue -- there are no false notes here, no narrative shortcuts, and certainly no manufactured happy endings. It’s a novel that depicts a country both blessed and doomed, on top of the world, but always at risk of losing its balance. It is, in other words, quintessentially American.” -- NPR
  • 3 A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
    Doubleday
    A Little Life asks serious questions about humanism and euthanasia and psychiatry and any number of the partis pris of modern western life. ... A devastating read that will leave your heart, like the Grinch’s, a few sizes larger.” -- The Guardian
  • 4 Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
    Riverhead Books
    "Groff’s story of a marriage in which neither partner truly understands the other uses a sophisticated technique to tell its simple story, subverting our expectations with a two-voice counterpoint as meaningful as it is dazzling.” -- Time magazine
  • 5 The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
    Balzer Bray
    “Though Thomas’s story is heartbreakingly topical, its greatest strength is in its authentic depiction of a teenage girl, her loving family, and her attempts to reconcile what she knows to be true about their lives with the way those lives are depicted -- and completely undervalued -- by society at large.” -- Publishers Weekly
  • 6 Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
    Graywolf Press
    "[Her Body and Other Parties is] a vibrant collection that presents women in their vulnerabilities and strengths in relationships with men, in relationships with other women, and in reflection upon their own bodies as they sort through the social conventions that have long stifled their full expression of self.” -- The Seattle Review of Books
  • 7 Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
    Vintage
    "After two half sisters are separated, we follow their family lines over the course of two centuries through a series of short stories. Some of their descendants are in Africa, some are in America; some are free, some are enslaved. In the end, the two separate family sagas merge into one, back in the place where it all began." -- NPR
  • 8 The Bright Hour by Nina Riggs
    Simon Schuster
    "A vivid, immediate dispatch from the front lines of mortality and a record of a life by someone who wasn't done living yet. But there is nothing maudlin about it ... her warm portraits of each of [the members of her closest circle] are a large part of the book's emotional power. So is something we don't notice fully until it's gone: the strength and clarity of Riggs's voice, which never faded on the page, and which we won't get to hear again." -- Boston Globe
  • 9 Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
    Three Rivers Press
    "With essays such as 'A Starlet's Confessions,' which tackles Hollywood's idea of beauty, and 'How to Get Your Own Show (And Nearly Die of Anxiety),' addressing the troubled course of her sitcom, Kaling once again applies humor and pop-culture savvy to topics like body image, career and finding love." -- Los Angeles Times
  • 10 The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy
    Random House
    "Loss is the black hole at the centre of Ariel Levy’s maelstrom of a memoir. The events of her life surge around this absence, and loss is the centrifugal force -- not just loss of love (though love goes), or of hope, though that too, but loss of her sense of self as a ceaseless, marvellous act of becoming." -- The Guardian
  • 11 Lila by Marilynne Robinson
    Farrar Straus and Giroux
    "A poetic, bittersweet meditation on faith, family, and belonging, Lila embraces the depths of human doubt and misery while uncovering hope through the power of grace." -- HuffPost
  • 12 Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
    Anchor
    “Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s fourth book, Americanah, is so smart about so many subjects that to call it a novel about being black in the 21st century doesn’t even begin to convey its luxurious heft and scope. Americanah is indeed a novel about being black in the 21st century — in America, Great Britain and Africa, while answering a want ad, choosing a lover, hailing a cab, eating collard greens, watching Barack Obama on television — but you could also call it a novel of immigration and dislocation, just about every page tinged with faint loneliness.” — NPR
  • 13 Blood in the Water by Heather Ann Thompson
    Pantheon Books
    "Not all works of history have something to say so directly to the present, but Heather Ann Thompson’s Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy, which deals with racial conflict, mass incarceration, police brutality and dissembling politicians, reads like it was special-ordered for the sweltering summer of 2016. But there’s nothing partisan or argumentative about Blood in the Water. The power of this superb work of history comes from its methodical mastery of interviews, transcripts, police reports and other documents, covering 35 years, many released only reluctantly by government agencies.  ... It’s Ms. Thompson’s achievement, in this remarkable book, to make us understand why this one group of prisoners [rebelled], and how many others shared the cost.” -- The New York Times
  • 14 I’m Supposed to Protect You from All This by Nadja Spiegelman
    Riverhead Books
    "Nadja Spiegelman has written a memoir of a mother she thought she knew, which resonates through the recollections of the grandmother she might have misunderstood." -- NPR
  • 15 Redefining Realness by Janet Mock
    Atria Books
    "With simple honesty, the author brings readers into the world of transgender identity, of what it meant and felt like to be born and thought of as a boy, only to know deep inside that she was not that boy. From learning her father was addicted to crack to the childhood sexual abuse she sustained to the street sex she performed to gain enough money for her sex-change operation, Mock allows readers into the deepest and darkest moments of her life." -- Kirkus Reviews
  • 16 Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh
    Penguin Press
    "Moshfegh’s fiction is nothing if not distinctive. As in her debut novel, Eileen, the narrators of the 14 stories in Homesick for Another World are gloomy, narcissistic and self-pitying. Their lives are claustrophobic and squalid. They’re constantly squeezing their acne, having sex with people they despise, eating candy and drinking until they’re sick, developing meth addictions just for kicks, and always feeling slightly superior to their own surroundings despite their listless lives. They crave adoration, but look on anyone who gives it to them with contempt." -- HuffPost
  • 17 The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez
    Knopf
    "The unknown Americans of Cristina Henríquez's novel are Hispanic tenants of a run-down apartment building in a down-at-heel Delaware town. In particular, the novel centres on Maribel Rivera, a teenage girl with a severe brain injury. Her parents have left a comfortable life in Mexico, hoping that American special-needs education will restore their only child to her former self. The story of the poverty and isolation they find is told from two points of view: that of Maribel's mother, Alma, and of Mayor, a lonely neighbour boy who falls in love with Maribel." -- The Guardian
  • 18 Citizen by Claudia Rankine
    Graywolf Press
    “So groundbreaking is Rankine's work that it's almost impossible to describe; suffice it to say that this is a poem that reads like an essay (or the other way around) -- a piece of writing that invents a new form for itself, incorporating pictures, slogans, social commentary and the most piercing and affecting revelations to evoke the intersection of inner and outer life.” -- Los Angeles Times
  • 19 Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit
    Haymarket Books
    “Solnit tackles big themes of gender and power in these accessible essays. Honest and full of wit, this is an integral read that furthers the conversation on feminism and contemporary society.” -- San Francisco Chronicle
  • 20 Marlena by Julie Buntin
    Henry Holt and Co.
    "Marlena’s vivid portrait of a friendship between two teenage girls in a troubled community ― one who made it out, and one who didn’t ― viscerally captures the sensations and heartaches of adolescence." -- HuffPost
  • 21 The Mothers by Brit Bennett
    Random House
    "If you read The Mothers, you will learn a lot. You will learn what it’s like to experience a mother-shaped absence at the center of your life, as well as what it’s like to feel your mother’s hot, judgmental breath on your shoulder every second. You’ll learn that men, even when they do the wrong thing again and again, have feelings about babies born and unborn. You’ll learn that rigidly cruel actions have roots in sad, earned wisdom. And you’ll learn that Brit Bennett is a writer to watch." -- The Washington Post
  • 22 Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante
    Europa Editions
    “[Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels] don’t merely offer a teeming vision of working-class Naples, with its cobblers and professors, communists and mobbed-up businessmen, womanizing poets and downtrodden wives; they present one of modern fiction’s richest portraits of a friendship.” -- NPR
  • 23 Bright Lines by Tanwi Nandini Islam
    Penguin
    "Reckoning with the past leads to a more fully realized present. The novel is a sensitive and subtle exploration of the experience of gender nonconformity across cultures. Though Ella emerges as the most changed character, this is more than her story -- it's a transcontinental, transgenerational tale of a family and its secrets." -- Kirkus Reviews
  • 24 Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
    Scribner
    "While the magical element is new in Ward’s fiction, her allusiveness, anchored in her interest in the politics of race, has been pointing in this direction all along. It takes a touch of the spiritual to speak across chasms of age, class, and color. ... The signal characteristic of Ward’s prose is its lyricism. 'I’m a failed poet,' she has said. The length and music of Ward’s sentences owe much to her love of catalogues, extended similes, imagistic fragments, and emphasis by way of repetition. ... The effect, intensified by use of the present tense, can be hypnotic." -- The New Yorker
  • 25 Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
    Scribner
    "At once a suspenseful novel of noir intrigue, a gorgeously wrought and richly allusive literary tapestry, and a transporting work of lyrical beauty and emotional heft, Manhattan Beach is a magnificent achievement.” -- Boston Globe
  • 26 Nobody Is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey
    FSG Originals
    "Lacey’s debut novel has emotional power, depth, and subtle humor. The protagonist, Elyria, makes the impulsive decision to leave her luxurious New York City apartment, her husband, her job as a scriptwriter for soap operas, and, most importantly, the charade of happiness she has kept up since her sister’s suicide. Elyria decides to take a trip to New Zealand, after going to a party and meeting Werner, a successful novelist who said she could stay at his cottage there. ... Lacey rejects the typical dramatic trajectory of a self-discovery story. Instead, she keenly constructs a believable universe composed not of disasters or miracles, but of choices and consequences." -- Publishers Weekly
  • 27 Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
    Pamela Dorman Books
    "Debut author Honeyman expertly captures a woman whose inner pain is excruciating and whose face and heart are scarred, but who still holds the capacity to love and be loved. Eleanor’s story will move readers." -- Publishers Weekly
  • 28 Swing Time by Zadie Smith
    Penguin Press
    "Building upon the promise of White Teeth, written almost two decades ago, Zadie Smith’s Swing Time boldly reimagines the classically English preoccupation with class and status for a new era -- in which race, gender, and the strange distortions of contemporary celebrity meet on a global stage. ... No detail feels extraneous, least of all the book’s resonant motif, the sankofa bird, with its backward-arching neck -- suggestive less of a dancer than of an author, looking to her origins to understand the path ahead.” -- Vogue
  • 29 The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison
    Graywolf Press
    "[Jamison] combines the intellectual rigor of a philosopher, the imagination of a novelist and a reporter's keen eye for detail in these essays, which seamlessly blend reportage, cultural criticism, theory and memoir.” ― Los Angeles Times
  • 30 The Dark Dark by Samantha Hunt
    FSG Originals
    "In The Dark Dark, Samantha Hunt has a knack for capturing the mundane, and more often painful or disgusting, inner thoughts of a woman -- the fleeting fixations that haunt the body of the so-called fairer sex.  ... Hunt’s short stories -- like the one involving an act of infidelity so banal but strange it resurrects a dead dog; or the one that ends with a husband and wife, newly transformed into deer, parting ways from each other on four legs -- are filled with bits of speculative horror that hit acutely close to home." -- HuffPost
  • 31 Hunger by Roxane Gay
    Harper
    "At a time when there is no shortage of recommendations for women on how to discipline or make peace with their bodies, Roxane Gay’s book, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, stands out precisely because she begins it by declaring that she hasn’t overcome her 'unruly body and unruly appetites.'" -- The Atlantic
  • 32 The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud
    Vintage
    “Claire Messud’s fourth novel is that rare work of fiction seemingly destined to become a cultural benchmark, a byword even. It provides an indelible label for a member of society (and a long recurring figure in literature) who has somehow been confined to anonymity. Ms. Messud’s coinage -- the Woman Upstairs -- is so broadly defining and so necessary that even those who never read the novel may soon find themselves making unwitting use of it.” -- The Wall Street Journal
  • 33 Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
    Vintage
    "After an efficient strain of the flu wipes out civilization in a handful of days (fevers, air travel, overcrowded hospitals, clogged highways, silence), the survivors, mostly huddled into small 'cities' of 100 people or less, face struggles similar to those they encountered pre-apocalypse: In addition to warding off predators, they squabble over living spaces, question their children’s’ education and debate the quality of different artistic mediums." -- HuffPost
  • 34 My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem
    Random House
    "My Life on the Road, Ms. Steinem’s first book in more than twenty years, is a warmly companionable look back at nearly five decades as itinerant feminist organizer and standard-bearer. If you’ve ever wondered what it might be like to sit down with Ms. Steinem for a casual dinner, this disarmingly intimate book gives a pretty good idea, mixing hard-won pragmatic lessons with more inspirational insights.” -- The New York Times
  • 35 Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
    Grand Central Publishing
    "Spanning nearly 100 years and moving from Korea at the start of the 20th century to pre- and postwar Osaka and, finally, Tokyo and Yokohama, the novel reads like a long, intimate hymn to the struggles of people in a foreign land. Min Jin Lee meticulously reconstructs the relatively overlooked history of the large ethnic-Korean community in Japan, referred to as zainichi, whose perpetual status as outsiders obliges them, like Noa’s nephew Solomo in the novel, to renew their alien registration card every three years: a state of administrative limbo that mirrors their divided identities and condemns them to the role of the perpetual outsider." -- The Guardian