Virginia Woolf once said that “books are mirrors of the soul”, and we tend to agree. So many iconic feminists were shaped by their bookshelves, so we’ve taken a deep dive into their reading histories to find their best book recommendations.
Question: have you ever wondered what your favourite celebrities like reading? Because we have. It’s always interesting to hear about the kind of books that inspired Harry Potter (apparently we all owe a lot to Jane Austen for our obsession with all things Hogwarts), and finding out about Zadie Smith’s indebtedness to EM Forster is one way of deepening our understanding of her groundbreaking novels.
But what about the fierce feminists who aren’t writers, like Ellen DeGeneres or Meryl Streep? We all know that literature was a huge part of Emma Watson’s feminist education, but is that the same for Hilary Clinton? Is Jennifer Lawrence drawn to literary thrillers like The Hunger Games, or does she curl up with light comedy on a rainy afternoon? And which books does Taylor Swift use as inspiration for her iconic lyrics?
From Michelle Obama to Beyoncé, here’s a list of book recommendations from your favourite female celebrities.
Lena Dunham: The Most of Nora Ephron by Nora Ephron
Unsurprisingly, Lena Dunham’s favourite reads include a whole host of feminist classics, including Sylvia Plath’s Ariel, Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist, and Zadie Smith’s NW. But her ever-lasting love goes to her idol: Nora Ephron. This is a wonderful anthology of her writings on journalism, feminism, and being a woman; with extracts from her semi-autobiographical novel Heartburn and her iconic When Harry Met Sally, it is the perfect introduction to the iconic writer.
Emma Watson: The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler
Emma Watson is obsessed with books. So obsessed that it’s really quite hard to work out which is her favourite. But this choice is one she champions a lot: an important work in the women’s empowerment movement, it is a wonderful celebration of female sexuality in all its complexity.
Hillary Clinton: The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky
Hillary has talked about her love of mystery novels, and her childhood penchant for all things Nancy Drew. But one book she will always hold close to her heart is this thrilling tale. In true Dosdoyevskian style, this novel is a dark exploration of the meaning of good and evil. If you’re in the mood for a challenging read, give this one a go.
Taylor Swift: To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
We all know that Swift loves reading. Her first-hit single was based on no other than Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (Love Story, anyone?), and she even mentions F Scott Fitzgerald in her lyrics (‘feelin’ so Gatsby for that whole year’). But this is one of her absolute favourites. In an interview with Big Machine Records, she said that hearing “storytelling like in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird […] makes your mind wander … it makes you feel like it makes your world more vast. And you think about more things and greater concepts after you read something like that”. Woah.
Jennifer Lawrence: The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
In an interview with The O Magazine, Lawrence describes this book as “salacious”. A dramatic and gripping read, the novel tells the story of Anne Boleyn: aka, the woman who changed the course of history. As sexy as it is dangerous, this book will keep you on tenterhooks.
Emma Stone: Franny and Zooey by J D Salinger
In an interview with Huffpost, Emma names this Salinger classic as her favourite book. Described by Stone as “funny, moving, and almost spiritual”, the book is a beautiful dual portrait of the youngest members of a fictional family living in New York. A wonderful balance between easy-to-read and thought-provoking, these stories will whisk you away to a literary La La Land (sorry, how could we not?).
Beyoncé: What Will It Take To Make A Woman President? by Marianne Schnall
In an interview with Garage magazine, Beyoncé said that if her fans read any book, it should be this one. A collection of interviews and essays by great women including Gloria Steinem, Melissa Etheridge and Maya Angelou, Beyonce insists that reading it will “inspire you to become a better leader”. Featuring interviews with public officials, writers, activists, artists and politicians, the book explores ‘the obstacles that have held women back’ as well as ‘what needs to change in order to elect a woman into the White House’. Listen up, kids: this is a pure feminist literary suggestion from Queen Bey herself. Consider it a call to arms. Who run the world? You will, after reading this book.
Jameela Jamil: Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur
Much like with Michelle Obama, it’s hard to work out which book Jameela loves the most. With favourites including Charly Cox’s She Must Be Mad and Rhik Samadder’s I Never Said I Loved You, this poetry collection is one of the most inspiring and heartwarming of her literary picks. A beautiful meditation on love that is lost, it is a soothing read which manages to instil a belief in the possibility to recover from heartbreak.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge: The Versions Of Us by Laura Bennett
In an piece for The Guardian, Waller-Bridge discusses her favourite novel, which tells the story of two people who meet and fall in love, but in three different ways, over an entire lifetime. A true romantic in the most realistic sense, she describes how this is “a real story of what it is to live a whole life, carrying all your decisions about it along with you; it’s about choice and love and how profoundly the two things affect a human life. There is a passage at the end about finding love again later in life that stayed me”. If you’re in the mood for a heart-breakingly-heartwarming tale about love, this one’s for you. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
Oprah Winfrey: The Seat Of The Soul by Gary Zukav
Oprah’s literary taste is impeccable, and her book club is world-renowned. But this spiritual self-help book is the one that tangibly transformed her outlook on life. After a difficult incident in which white supremacists turned her show into a sensationalist episode, Oprah turned to this book which helped her understand that ‘the number one principle that rules [her] life is intention’. It changed the course of both her professional and private life, as she re-positioned herself - and her own happiness - at the centre.
JK Rowling: Emma by Jane Austen
In an interview with Amazon, this incredible author admitted that she’s read Emma at least 20 times. And in an interview with Oprah, she cited Virginia Woolf’s description of Austen’s incredible writing ability: “for a great writer, she was the most difficult to catch in the act of greatness”. A feminist classic, and a wonderful love story, Emma is definitely a book to return to again and again.
Nora Ephron: Pride And Prejudice by Jane Austen
Another Austen fan, Nora Ephron described this book as ‘probably my favourite book ever, ever, ever’. She describes the protagonist, Elizabeth Bennet, as a “practically perfect heroine”, and we could not agree more. A timeless love story, Pride And Prejudice is a must-read.
Meryl Streep: Postcards From The Edge by Carrie Fisher
Meryl is –unsurprisingly – a feminist icon who loves reading. This is one of her many favourite novels; a story which tracks the development of a young actress who undergoes a difficult process of drug rehabilitation from a drug hospital. Written by Carrie Fisher, the novel captures Hollywood in a really unique way. Streep is enamoured by its effortless linguistic prowess (“it is so well written”), whilst also being drawn to the story on a personal level: it “sounded like me”.
Ellen DeGeneres: The Art of Racing In The Rain by Garth Stein
This is the book that Ellen Degeneres recommends to all her family and friends (and, let’s face it, she has a lot of friends). Told from the perspective of a dog, it is a heartwarming and inspirational tale about how his human family almost fractured, and how he managed to bring them back together. Of the book, Ellen says “your family will love it. Your friends will love it. And call me a gambler, but I’d put money on the fact that even your cats will want you to read it to them again and again”. If you’re in the mood for an uplifting, light-hearted read then take Ellen’s advice and read this one. You won’t regret it.
Meghan Markle: Grace: A Memoir by Grace Coddington
Meghan is one of the most inspirational and outspoken feminists of our time, and she’s also a big reader (surprise surprise). From childhood favourites (The Little Prince) to business picks (Who Moved My Cheese?) and self-help guides (The Inner Gym), her bookshelf reflects her many varied interests. But the one recurring theme is her interest in style and fashion: from Grace’s memoir to In Vogue: An Illustrated History Of The World’s Most Famous Fashion Magazine and The Dress: 100 Iconic Moments In Fashion Hardcover, Meghan is proving that feminists can be fashion-conscious too, and we are so here for it.
Emma Thompson: Three Guineas by Virginia Woolf
The woman, the myth, the legend. Emma Thompson is acting royalty, and she unsurprisingly loves all things literary. In an interview with Oprah, she’s outlined her favourite books: from The Tale Of Mr Tod to The Valley Of Fear by Arthur Conan Doyle, she clearly has a varied taste in books. One of the most feminist of her recommendations is Virginia Woolf’s literary classic Three Guineas. An incredible collection of feminist essays, this is a must-read for any budding feminist. Thank you, Emma.
Zadie Smith: Middlemarch by George Eliot
In an interview with Oprah, Zadie described this book as ‘a work of genius’. And one of the things she loves most about the book? That a woman wrote it. That’s right, George Eliot used a male pseudonym because she knew how much easier it would be to publish her works under a male name. About this, Zadie said: “Eliot was the first woman I read who could go toe-to-toe with, say, Tolstoy. I was 15. Since then, I’ve learned how many grand achievements in the novel have been female, but when I was a teenager, that was news to me”.