The leaves turn, the air gets colder, and a publication devoted to men makes a list of “80 Books Every Man Should Read” that has just one female writer on it. It’s just one slight in a list that’s slanted towards the great white male literary perspective that’s so common these days. Instead of getting mad, we here at Flavorwire wanted to counter that vibe by asking our favorite feminist writers what they think “every man should read.” The results were funny, smart, and a true reflection of the complex lives that we all lead. Expand your mind, and find your next favorite book, below.
Alison Herman, Jillian Mapes, and Pilot Viruet contributed reporting to this piece.
I Love Myself When I Am Laughing… and Then Again When I Am Looking Mean and Impressive, A Zora Neale Hurston Reader
Alice Walker put this collection of Zora Neale Hurston’s work together, and it’s grand. The entire thing is perfect, but I want to take the essay “How It Feels to Be Colored Me,” Hurston’s polemic against the expectation her blackness and her femininity should leave her riddled with self-hatred, and beat everyone, especially men who are “so sorry,” over the head with it: Even in the helter-skelter skirmish that is my life, I have seen that the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more of less. No, I do not weep at the world– I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife. We don’t need your pity.
Jazmine Hughes is the contributing editor at The Hairpin.
Woman on the Edge of Time, Marge Piercy
Piercy’s 1976 utopian novel posits a future in which human reproduction has been mechanized, gendered pronouns have been supplanted by the handy term “per,” everyone can lactate, all adults are expected to co-parent a child with two friends (never lovers), and humans congregate in small towns with extremely direct democracies. In a moment in which dystopias rule the school, this prescient novel works as an amazing time machine — not only forward but back to an era in which women liberationists still took their title literally.
Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson
There’s a bit in Anatole Broyard’s review of Housekeeping, back when it came out, that I think sums up this beautiful, sad book very well: “It is about people who have not managed to connect with a place, a purpose, a routine or another person. It’s about the immensely resourceful sadness of a certain kind of American, someone who has fallen out of history and is trying to invent a life without assistance of any kind, without even recognizing that there are precedents.” Self-invention is a theme that shouldn’t belong just to men; Robinson proves, in Housekeeping, that it doesn’t.
Michelle Dean is working on a book about women intellectuals for Grove Press.
Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, Judith Butler
Because the roles of “heterosexual” and “man” were beaten into you by the system, but you have the power to break free from the unconscious repetition if only you can make it through this complex argument.
Daphne Carr is an activist and writer based in New York City.
All About Love: New Visions, bell hooks
A comprehensive report on the state of love (and its absence) in our culture, with practical insight as to how we can repair the damage we’ve done. Not a relationship book or a self-help book, but a thorough investigation of how love itself has changed in an era of great fear.
This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, edited by Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua
This feminist anthology, published in 1981 by Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, is a blueprint for how women on the margins gather and collectively write truth to power, hearing and healing one another.
Janet Mock is the author of Redefining Realness.
Tipping the Velvet, Sarah Waters
One, because it’s a great, great book. And two, because it has almost no important male characters. It’s a very common experience for women to read a great book (or watch a great movie) where female characters hardly matter. Venture through the looking glass, gentlemen!
Rainbow Rowell is the author of Landline, Fangirl, Eleanor & Park, and Attachments.
Y: The Last Man, Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra
Agent 355 is a allowed to be everything she can be, and sadly many men still don’t understand that women can be all things — simultaneously — and not be any lesser for it.
Bim Adewunmi is a London-based writer and editor who writes about all the fun things: pop culture, women, and race.
Eros the Bittersweet, Anne Carson
The best meditation on erotic love you’ll ever read. Carson, a poet and a classicist, goes to the edge of what an essay can be as she illuminates not only sexual desire but the ambiguities of time, the shaky state of selfhood, and the origins of narrative. I pick up this book whenever I need to really think.
Ann Powers is NPR Music’s critic and correspondent, and the author of Weird Like Us: My Bohemian America and Tori Amos: Piece By Piece (along with Amos herself).
Man V. Nature, Diane Cook
Hunger, despair, and perpetual awe for the collapsing natural world and the vulnerability of existence therein. Apply liberally before exposure to the elements. Contents include truth and other known allergens.
Rahawa Haile is an Eritrean-American writer of short stories and essays.
What Are You Doing Here? A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal, Laina Dawes
Heavy metal is one of the only times it’s okay for a black woman to get angry! Check out this book on breaking stereotypes, metal hardcore and punk and finding liberation through music.
Laina Dawes is a music and culture journalist.
Sister Outsider, Audre Lorde
“[O]nce we begin to feel deeply all the aspects of our lives,” Lorde writes in “Uses of the Erotic,” “we begin to demand from ourselves and from our life-pursuits that they feel in accordance with that joy which we know ourselves to be capable of.” This is the kind of essay collection that dares you to close the gap between the life you want to live and the one you’re living. You’ve been warned.
Lindsay Zoladz is the pop critic at New York Magazine.
Good Morning Midnight, Jean Rhys
This is my go-to recommendation when men ask me (and they do!) to recommend a book by a woman that I think they’ll like. It’s a perfect gateway drug because Rhys is such a hypnotic writer; she pulls you into her narrator’s consciousness and makes you complicit in her actions in the way only the greatest writers can. Plus, everyone can relate to being drunk, irresponsible, broke and past your prime but still doing the same old bad things. (Right?)
King Kong Theory, Virginie Despentes
This essay collection is a deliciously furious read, but necessarily so, as Despentes recounts in detail the fear of sexual violence and misogyny women face daily. It is the book-form response to “Not all men!”, but also a rallying cry for all sexes to examine how fixed definitions of masculinity and femininity can hurt us all.
When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: My Life as a Hip Hop Feminist, Joan Morgan
This was the first and definitive text in hip-hop feminism, in which Morgan, a founding hip-hop journalist, navigates the complex feelings of listening to (and loving) hip-hop while being a woman. We might rap along, but it doesn’t mean that shit don’t hurt, too.
Julianne Escobedo Shepherd is a music and culture critic. She’s the Culture Editor at Jezebel, a Staff Writer at Rookie, and a professor of music writing at NYU.
Testo Junkie, Beatriz Preciado
If you want to get on my level dude you should read this apocalyptic-feminist, totally Foucauldian adventure in post-binary fucking and off-label drug use.
The Complete Poems, Anne Sexton
For many people, Anne Sexton is just “the other one” — you know, the OTHER New-England-raised female confessional poet from the 1960s who studied with Robert Lowell and committed suicide following her divorce. If you stop looking for similarities to people whose names rhyme with “Hill Via Bath,” though, there’s a lot to learn: Sexton’s graphic, visceral poems about motherhood, sex, domestic violence, abortion and masturbation are never less than brutally honest about the conditions and compromises of female life. They’ll make you uncomfortable in the service of teaching you how the other half feels.
Sady Doyle is a staff writer for In These Times Magazine.
I Love Dick, Chris Kraus
A book I read at least once year. I own two copies, just so I can constantly have one within arm’s reach and another to loan out to my male friends, just so that they can read this line: “I think the sheer fact of women talking, being, paradoxical, inexplicable, flip, self-destructive but above all else public is the most revolutionary thing in the world.”
The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing
I’m not recommending The Golden Notebook to every man, only to those men who claim to love some combination of Knausgaard, Marxism, and female strength. Not only is this 1962 chef-d’ouevre one of the more brilliant and blisteringly feminine anti-social novels in history, but also, it’s long enough to keep a guy unprecedently quiet for a stretch.
The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. LeGuin
If there’s another book that I’m convinced would make the world a better place — if everyone read — it would be Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. It so effortlessly dismantles gender norms that it’s kind of shocking the world is still standing. Bonus points for writing a gutting love story, too.
Sonia Saraiya, senior TV writer at The A.V. Club, and Salon’s TV critic starting at the end of the month.
Approaching Eye Level, Vivian Gornick
Vivian Gornick writes about inner-life so accurately that it becomes expansive and more importantly, inclusive; replete with “me too” sentences like this one from her essay “What Feminism Means To Me” in Gornick’s collection, Approaching Eye Level: “I had always known that life was not appetite and acquisition. In my earnest, angry, good-girl way I pursued ‘meaning’.” She is a master.
Durga Chew-Bose is a writer in New York.
Heroines, Kate Zambreno
Heroines, by my friend Kate Zambreno, is many things that surpass just valuable feminist required reading. Part memoir, part chronicle of fictional and historical women of letters, part critique of modernism, part examination of female subjectivity, this book should actually be required reading for anyone with a pulse.
Porochista Khakpour is the author of The Last Illusion and Sons and Other Flammable Objects.
The Wife, Meg Wolitzer
Few modern novelists capture the complexities of marriage, parenthood and ambition as well as Wolitzer does. In The Wife, she writes with humor and insight about a talented writer whose dreams are subsumed by those of her husband, a renowned American novelist.
J. Courtney Sullivan is the author of The Engagements, Maine, and Commencement.
Writing a Woman’s Life, Carolyn Heilbrun
A great literary critic’s meditations on the scripts that women are expected to abide by, and on the importance of throwing them away and writing new ones. (After you’re done, check out one of Heilbrun’s mysteries, written under the pen name Amanda Cross.)
An Untamed State, Roxane Gay
There is a line in this book, “It is often women who pay the price for what men want.” Gay writes brilliantly to this point, revealing how even the good guys are accustomed to getting their way by any means necessary, and how often women are the “means”. Read this to understand what you may never know otherwise: women can be marked by men’s desires, but we can not be defined by it.
Ashley C. Ford writes essays, interviews, and profiles.
Written on the Body, Jeanette Winterson
How can the words of a nameless, genderless narrator chronicling an all-consuming love affair feel so deeply universal? Easy – a good story is a good story, regardless of the protagonist’s gender.
Britt Julious is a writer and human disco ball.
The Crying of Lot 49, Thomas Pynchon
A book about a woman trying to solve a mystery while every conceivable flavor of male douchebag stands in her way — DJs, actors, street artists, truthers, guys in a band. A decent primer on what it feels like to be on the female end of grade-A mansplaining and persistent low-level sexual harassment.
Amanda Hess is a staff writer at Slate and a freelancer for places like ESPN the Magazine, Elle, New York Magazine, and The Los Angeles Times.
Promiscuities: The Secret Struggle for Womanhood, Naomi Wolf
It was published in 1997, and she uses unnecessary 10-dollar words (I honestly recommend all men read The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti as well, it’s accessible and important), but Promiscuities is a smart book that shows what it’s like to grow up a woman. Wolf grew up in the 70’s in the Bay Area (when parents were all turning into hippies and kids had to raise themselves) and writes easily and intelligently about the reality of a lot of shitty things about being a young girl.
Mish Way is the frontperson in White Lung, as well as a regular writer for Noisey and Vice, The Talkhouse, and more.