by contributing writer Em J Parsley
When choosing books for this list, I found it impossible to stick to one genre or theme. There’s too many wonderful books from all the wonderful genres to confine this list to a monolith, so what we’ve got spans from poetry to graphic novels to children’s literature. Enjoy!
1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen [novel]
If you haven’t read it, you’ve probably seen one of the several versions of the movie. I recommend you read it anyway. Over 200 years later, and Austen still holds up. Her dry humor and quick-witted heroines hold as much charm as ever, but even more than that, Elizabeth Bennet is an ever-modern heroine who remains that just-right combination of realistically flawed and startlingly authentic.
2. Antígona González by Sarah Uribe [prose poetry]
Inspired by Sophocles’ play Antigone, Uribe tells the utterly heart-breaking tale of a woman’s search for her missing brother. Antígona’s grief becomes a powerful manifestation of all the Antigones across Mexico who are in the same position as her, which is all the more convincing due to Uribe’s scattering real accounts throughout the book from people whose family members have gone missing.
3. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel [graphic memoir]
Equal parts hilarious and tragic, Fun Home tells the story of Bechdel’s childhood and coming of age. From her time spent at her family’s funeral home to the discovery of her sexuality to her emotionally distant father’s sudden death, Bechdel pulls no punches and leaves no family stone unturned.
4. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros [novel/short stories]
On the surface, teenage Esperanza Cordero’s story may seem like a typical coming-of-age account with boys and fights and questions of what it means to grow up, but Cisnero refuses to stop there. The House on Mango Street displays a rich use of a vignette style that weaves between storytelling, philosophical quandaries, and at times language so flowing and rhythmic it could be considered poetry, while also dealing with a variety of heavy, important topics, like sexual assault, racism, and misogny. Cisneros’ message is clear right from the dedication page, which reads, “A las Mujeres -- to the Women.”
5. Playing in the Dark by Toni Morrison [literary criticism]
Playing in the Dark is a phenomenal (and short) read if you are interested in literary criticism. Shedding the dry, painfully academic tone that so much of literary criticism is guilty of, Morrison takes a look at the past and present condition of literature in the United States, examining how white canonical literature portrays race and “Americanness.” It is a potent, thoughtful, and unflinching look into America’s literary imagination.
6. The Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag [children’s graphic novel]
This is the only novel I’ve included in this list that does not have a woman/girl protagonist, but Molly Ostertag still has so much to say about feminism and gender roles. The Witch Boy tells the story of a boy named Aster who comes from a family where all of the women are witches and all of the men are shapeshifters, and what he does with his struggles with shapeshifting and his love for witchcraft. It’s a heart-warming and at times heartbreaking tale that asks the reader to examine who they are and be that person unconditionally.
7. Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown [novel]
Protagonist Molly Bolt is fondly placed in my memory as a Scout Finch-esque tomboy if Scout swore a lot. Molly’s story, while placed in lesbian novel history as being one of the few that is not deeply tragic--it is, in fact, one of the funniest books I’ve read in a long time--it is also a literary goldmine for feminism, in particular, feminism’s relationship to patriarchal control of women’s sexuality.
8. The Color Purple by Alice Walker [novel]
The Color Purple follows the life events of Celie living in rural Georgia, told through a series of letters to God in which Celie recounts her experiences of the horrors of rape, systemic racism, and poverty. Even in the face of addressing such dark subjects, Walker treads with gentleness and love, because her focus is always, perpetually on women’s bonds with each other.
9. Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde [essays and speeches]
While Audre Lorde is probably best known for her poetry, this book of essays is truly a marker for what Lorde is capable of. The essays, handling everything from police brutality to terminal illness, are, as with everything Lorde writes, a push back against silence, against violence: “We cannot allow our fear of anger to deflect us nor seduce us into settling for anything less than the hard work of excavating honesty.”
10. Wanting in Arabic by Trish Salah [fiction/poetry/memoir]
This marriage of genres, as undefinable as it is beautiful, harkens back to old Arabic traditions of femininity and literature while remaining fresh with its modern memoir elements. Salah’s recounting of her experience as a transgender queer woman mixed with more traditional poetic thought is not only a fascinating thought experiment on how we interact with our pasts, but gives insight into the human soul, body, and experience that make it a worthy read, I believe, even if you think poetry’s not for you.
by first official Nevada Poet Laureate Mildred Breedlove who spent three years writing a poem about the State of Nevada.