From feminist memoirs to compelling fiction, Team Stylist celebrates the literature – and remarkable women who wrote them – that have shaped the last 10 years: a significant decade for women.
If the 1960s was about women finding their sexuality, the 2010s has been about women finding their voices.
While there is still more work to be done, the last decade has undoubtedly marked unprecedented progress in the ongoing fight for equality across the board.
We’ve had feminist movements, such as Me Too and Time’s Up, and international marches demanding gender equity. We’ve edged closer than ever before to equal pay, and nearly even had a female president.
Change is in the air.
So, unsurprisingly, this long-overdue social progress is written all over the literature that has defined the past decade: strong women, sharp opinions, honest conversations.
If you haven’t already, we highly recommend stacking both of these on your bedside table for future reading, and while you’re there, why not add some more of our favourites?
To mark the end of the 2010s, the Stylist team has rounded up our favourite books by remarkable women that have shaped what has, we’re sure you’ll agree, been a remarkable decade.
The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher
Chosen by: Hannah-Rose Yee, stylist.co.uk contributor
“This memoir was tabloid fodder when it was published, mostly because it contained revelations about an on-set relationship between Fisher and co-star Harrison Ford while filming Star Wars. She was 19, he was 33. Look beyond that, though, and you’ll see one of the best books ever written about this funny thing called celebrity. Fisher grew up in the public eye, started acting young and became one of the most recognisable women in cinema for an entire generation. Her previous memoirs, which detailed her struggles with addiction and mental health, were radically honest and sharp, establishing Fisher as one of the best chroniclers of the business of being famous. This one, though, is softer, full of warmth and humour and the keen observations that Fisher was known for. Her death was a tragedy and I still struggle to think about this book, or Star Wars, without crying. But how lucky are we that we get to have her Star Wars movies, and this book, forever? This is my favourite line from the memoir, a typical Fisher quote, all wit and sparkle: “Someone has to stand still for you to love them. My choices are always on the run.”
Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur
Chosen by: Sarah Biddlecombe, stylist.co.uk commissioning editor
“This is a decade-defining book of poetry about survival, told in Kaur’s signature cherry-sharp voice. Each poem is accompanied with a simple, but perfect, line illustration. It not only stuck two fingers up to all the people who said good poetry had to be written by men, and come printed in long verses in books, it also launched a worldwide revival of our love of poems. This led to a flood of new poetry books hitting the shelves, and a 12% increase in the number of people buying poetry in the UK.”
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
Chosen by: Sarah Shaffi, stylist.co.uk contributor
“This last decade was the year I finally felt seen in books: as a woman, as a person of colour, as someone of South Asian descent, as a Muslim. Although it’s still a long, slow road to proper representation, novels like Ayisha Malik’s Sofia Khan is Not Obliged, YA stories like Sandhya Menon’s When Dimple Met Rishi, and non-fiction like Anita Anand’s Sophia and Kavita Puri’s Partition Voices all showed that stories and excellent writers don’t have to be white. But if I had to pick just one pick just one book, I’d go for Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire, a modern retelling of Sophocles’ Antigone. It tapped into my love of ancient literature and retellings of those stories. It presented varied, nuanced, complicated, three-dimensional Muslim women. It was eerily prescient in some of its characterisations. And it built and built and built to a devastating conclusion. I reread the last few pages of the book three or four times immediately after I finished it, and thinking about it now still takes my breath away.”
Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney
Chosen by: Megan Murray, stylist.co.uk writer
“Sally Rooney lays bare the relatable workings of 21-year-old Frances’s mind as she studies and works as a spoken word artist alongside her former-lover, and now best friend, Bobbie. As they accelerate into the world of literature, the people they meet weave themselves into the tight bond that these two women have, creating a messy ménage à quatre. Rooney’s smart writing manages to unpick every self-conscious thought you naively presumed was unique to you and expose it on the page, making for a penetratingly-relatable read. I gobbled it up in two days thanks to incredibly in-depth characters, nuanced relationships and unexpected turns and recommend it to anyone who is fascinating by people and how they react to each other.”
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Chosen by: Francesca Brown, stylist.co.uk contributor
“Tracing the lives of two Asante sisters and their descendants, this incredible book travels from Ghana to the US revealing how slavery destroyed so many families, traditions and lives – and how its terrifying impact is still reverberating now. I must have recommended this book about 1,700 times. From its elegant structure to magnetic characters described with wit and care, Gyasi has created a story of real power and insight.”
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Chosen by: Felicity Thistlethwaite, stylist.co.uk executive editor
“Americanah is about a young Nigerian woman, Ifemelu, and a young Nigerian man, Obinze, who both leave Lagos and find themselves battling issues around race, migration and dislocation. I read books to learn, to educate myself about different cultures and experiences. Ifemelu’s experiences of race and racism as a non-American young black woman living in America – and then as a woman who has lived in America, and the reaction when she returns to her hometown of Lagos – are eye-opening. The way it’s written is so rich and filled with honest, essential observations of our modern world – the good, the bad and uncomfortable laid bare. It’s a book that should change the way each reader looks at the world, because it did just that for me.”
Rough Magic by Lara Prior-Palmer
Chosen by: Kat Brown, stylist.co.uk acting social media editor
“At 19, an age when most of us are getting pissed at university or applying for first jobs, Prior-Palmer entered the world’s toughest horse race, the Mongol Derby, on a whim – and won. Not only was she the youngest ever to complete it, she was the first woman to win. Her account of the ride is utterly hypnotic, magical writing that’s grounded in great humour and practicality (your period still comes, even when marvelling at the beauty of the Mongolian landscape while riding for miles on a half-wild pony). Rough Magic marks out Prior-Palmer as a phenomenal talent in writing as well as in sport, and this is a fascinating insight into experiences that most of us will never have. It’s second only to Winifred Watson’s age-old favourite Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day as the book I give most often to people.”
In Order to Live by Yeonmi Park
Chosen by: Kayleigh Dray, stylist.co.uk editor
“‘Remember, Yeonmi-ya,’ her mother would say, ‘even when you think you’re alone, the birds and mice can hear you whisper.’ Yeonmi Park was born in the North Korean city of Hyesan, close to the Chinese border. She was raised in abject poverty and darkness – electricity was rarely reliable in North Korea – and forced to scramble in the streets for excrement in order to meet the government’s waste quota each day. ‘At school the teachers would send us out into the streets to find poop and carry it back to class,’ she notes in the text, her revelation made all the more disturbing by her matter-of-fact tone. ‘So if we saw a dog pooping in the street, it was like gold.’ Worse than the hunger that permeated her every childhood memory, though, was the brutal and paranoid atmosphere she was raised in. At school, Yeonmi was taught to hate North Korea’s enemies, especially the United States. She was taught, too, to trust nobody, to love nobody, save for her ‘Dear Leader’ Kim Jong-Il. Indeed, it wasn’t until she was 7 or 8 that she first laid eyes on a bootleg recording of Hollywood’s Titanic, and began to slowly realise that there was more to the outside world than she realised. In Order To Live documents Yeonmi’s dangerous escape from North Korea – her treacherous crossing of the frozen Yalu River, the human traffickers who abused her, her travels through the Gobi desert, her first taste of freedom in South Korea. It is, overwhelmingly, a tale of survival – and reminds us that hope really can be found in a hopeless place. However, Yeonmi – now working as a human rights activist – insists that there is another, more important message, for readers to take away. ‘People are making jokes about Kim Jong-un’s haircut, about how fat he is – [North Korea] is a joke, really,’ she told The Guardian. ‘It is a joke, but it is a tragic joke, that this kind of thing can happen to 25 million people. These things shouldn’t be allowed to happen to anyone.’”
Lowborn by Kerry Hudson
Chosen by: Hollie Richardson, stylist.co.uk writer
“Kerry revisits the places she grew up in, which were some of the most deprived areas in the UK. Her writing is bold, beautiful, honest and sometimes painful to read. It gets my vote because Kerry illustrates the realities of what austerity in the UK does to people. At a time when people are relying on food banks, facing homelessness and struggling with cuts – it’s an essential read.”
The Power by Naomi Alderman
Chosen by: Kat Poole, Stylist Loves editor
“I didn’t read fiction for several years after I left university (I studied English Literature, go figure), and finally started again with The Power, Naomi Alderman’s novel about an alternate world in which women develop the ability to conduct electricity through their fingers. I loved it; it was visceral, provocative and curiously pertinent considering the timing – the book was released in October 2016, the very same month that the president’s ‘pussy grabbing’ comments galvanised women across the world. The story has stayed with me since.”
Three Women by Lisa Taddeo
Chosen by: Chloe Gray, stylist.co.uk editorial assistant
“I’m not usually one for massively hyped up books. Gone Girl? Never read it. Harry Potter? Not interested. But when I heard a colleague raving about Lisa Taddeo’s Three Women, I was sold. She spent eight years travelling across the USA to find, listen to and write the stories of Sloane, Maggie and Lina, focusing on their relationships and desires. It’s a remarkable achievement in a journalistic sense, investing that much time in the world’s of her subjects, to cover illegal relationships with teachers, divorce, polyamory and more. But Taddeo also breaks down the idea that a man and a picket fence is the key to happiness in a way I’ve never seen, read or heard of before. She questions the boundaries put on female sexuality by ourselves, the patriarchy and the law. She writes about sex, explicitly, uncomfortably, and gorgeously. I’ve given the book to a friend going through a break up, to my mum and to my male friends equally, but for very different reasons. It may have only been released a few months ago, but it’s the most important book I’ve read this decade, and possibly ever.”
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Chosen by: Moya Crockett, contributing women’s editor, stylist.co.uk and deputy editor, Stylist Loves
“The Hate U Give is technically a YA novel, but I firmly believe there is no one who wouldn’t benefit from reading it. It follows 16-year-old Starr, a black girl from a working class neighbourhood in a fictional US city, who witnesses her childhood best friend get shot dead by police. Starr subsequently becomes a central figure in protests against racism and police brutality – but this puts her at odds with some of her relatives and friends at the private school she attends. It’s a story about race and racism, both cultural and institutional, but it also offers a powerful look at class tensions, the complexities of family relationships and the true meaning of courage. Starr’s voice feels genuinely revolutionary – the world needs more books like this.”
Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton
Chosen by: Kate Samuelson, acting features writer
“Journalist and High Low podcast co-host Dolly Alderton’s memoir about surviving her 20s, from disastrous drunken antics to falling in love and, most importantly, the friendships that remained consistent throughout. I’ve never known of a book before that’s led so many (very different!) friends of mine to describe it as being ‘literally about them’. Dolly’s familiar and warm style of writing makes every page feel relatable.”
Yes Please by Amy Poehler
Chosen by: Kayleigh Dray, stylist.co.uk editor
“As an avid fiction reader, I didn’t expect to fall in love with Amy Poehler’s collection of essays – but fall in love with them I did. Why? Well, I’ll let Poehler explain it for me… ‘It’s called Yes Please because it is the constant struggle and often the right answer,’ she writes. ‘Can we figure out what we want, ask for it, and stop talking? Yes please. Is being vulnerable a power position? Yes please. Am I allowed to take up space? Yes please. Would you like to be left alone? Yes please. I love saying ‘yes’ and I love saying ‘please.’ She adds: ‘Saying ‘yes’ doesn’t mean I don’t know how to say no, and saying ‘please’ doesn’t mean I am waiting for permission. ‘Yes please’ sounds powerful and concise. It’s a response and a request. It is not about being a good girl; it is about being a real woman. It’s also a title I can tell my kids. I like when they say ‘Yes please’ because most people are rude and nice manners are the secret keys to the universe.’ Poehler breaks her book into easily digestible sections, guiding her readers through their careers, relationships, insecurities and so much more. I can’t count how many times I’ve grabbed the book in times of crisis and skimmed through it to find out what Poehler – one of the funniest, warmest, wittiest and smartest women in showbiz – has to say. She’s never once let me down. I recommend everyone buy a copy, read it cover to cover, and then keep it somewhere close by for emergencies. You will never regret it.”
Becoming by Michelle Obama
Chosen by: Jessica Rapana, stylist.co.uk contributor
“The memoir of former First Lady Michelle Obama is about how she became – and continues to become – one of the most compelling and iconic women of our era, as an advocate for women, mother and the first African American First Lady in the White House. Yet somehow, this book still feels so utterly relatable. Finding your voice and discovering who you are is something we all go through – so to be privy to another woman’s journey in such an intimate way like this is as comforting as it is inspiring. This book will make you realise we all face the same existential questions, while inspiring you to tackle them with the same strength of conviction and grace.”
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Images: courtesy of publishers
Jessica Rapana is a journalist based in London, and enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content. She is especially fond of news, health, entertainment and travel content, and drinks coffee like a Gilmore Girl.