Books

The 25 books every woman should read

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It’s difficult to hone your top books. Which is precisely why we asked our favourite erudite eight-year-old to do it for us.

Trying to decide your top 25 books is nigh on impossible. Which is why we roped in one of the wisest minds in existence: Lisa Simpson, often seen clutching a copy of The Bell Jar and quoting lines of her favourite prose. And her credentials don’t lie. Take this as proof: when we asked her what classic books can teach us about the world, she said, “That any man playing Mr Darcy is incredibly cool.” See? So smart.

As one of the best-known overachievers in modern history, we also asked her about the first book she ever read (“The Boozemixer Bartender’s Guide; Dad had taken me to Moe’s”) and why reading is worthwhile (“It takes you to another world which, believe me, I need.”)

Here she has ranked her top 25 classic tomes. Let the countdown commence…

The brand new series of The Simpsons is on Sky 1 every Sunday at 6pm

Words: Francesca Brown

Lead image: Matt Groeing The Simpsons™ and ©2014 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved.

  • 25. THE LUMINARIES BY ELEANOR CATTON (2013)

    This is a divisive read: some critics hailed it as a modern masterpiece and others called it hard work. Set during the 1866 New Zealand gold rush, it’s not an easy read but it is a tour de force and Catton deserves her praise. (£7.49, itunes.apple.com)

    Lisa says: “Eleanor Catton was the youngest person to win the Man Booker Prize at age 28. That gives me 20 years to beat her. No problem.”

  • 24. AMERICAN WIFE BY CURTIS SITTENFELD (2008)

    If you’ve never read this, you need to buy it now. Loosely based on the life story of Laura Bush (wife of George W), Sittenfeld’s fascinating novel is the story of a liberal primary school teacher drawn to a charismatic would-be politician. A serious contender for the Great American Novel. (£4.49, itunes.apple.com)

    Lisa says: “I do not plan to become an American wife, no matter what Milhouse says.”

  • 23. HALF OF A YELLOW SUN BY CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE (2007)

    Half Of A Yellow Sun is a jaw-dropping tale of the horror and tragedy of civil war which leaves the reader hollow but, thanks to Adichie’s incredible writing, is impossible to put down.  (£6.49, itunes.apple.com)

    Lisa says: “I read this tale of Nigeria’s Biafran civil war right after I read The Berenstain Bears Go To Camp. What a contrast, and yet both suck you in with their subtle characterisations.”

  • 22. THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING BY JOAN DIDION (2005)

    “Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant.” Didion’s raw book about the year after the sudden death of her husband turns fact into writing of the most breathtaking kind. (£4.99, itunes.apple.com)

    Lisa says: “Another super-bummer. Why do I love sad things so much? What is wrong with me? It’s like, if I read something super-sad will that make the sadness inside of me go away? Nope.”

  • 21. PERSEPOLIS BY MARJANE SATRAPI (2000)

    Telling the story of Satrapi’s childhood in Iran, this is funny, wise and sad. (£6.79, amazon.co.uk)

    Lisa says: “This is a great graphic novel. But it’s got nothing on Betty And Veronica. What does Archie see in Veronica? She’s such a snob. Betty is much more real with blonde hair and middle-class values. You know who I like? That Dilton Doiley guy. He’s cute and smart. But Persepolis is really good, too.”

  • 20. BLONDE BY JOYCE CAROL OATES (2000)

    A self-described feminist, Oates doesn’t shy away from difficult subjects. Blonde is a fictional account of Marilyn Monroe’s life. Haunting and sad, it’s an ambitious work from a woman who, in the mid-Sixties, helped destroy the notion that only white middle-class men could be ‘writers’. (£10.39, amazon.co.uk)

    Lisa says: “This book is about Marilyn Monroe, who eventually killed herself, so it’s kinda in my wheelhouse. I gotta get a better wheelhouse.”

  • 19. GONE WITH THE WIND BY MARGARET MITCHELL (1936)

    In its first six months, Gone With The Wind sold a million copies and went on to inspire one of the best films ever made. It is a fascinating portrayal of the Old South and its desperate attempts to cling on to ways of life left obsolete by progress. (£3.49,itunes.apple.com)

    Lisa says: “This book is full of repugnant racism that glamorises a terrible time in American history. But... Ashley Wilkes. SIGH.”

  • 18. THE JOY LUCK CLUB BY AMY TAN (1989)

    Intermeshing the stories of four Chinese-American immigrants and their daughters, The Joy Luck Club is an ambitious saga that’s impossible to read without wanting to call your mum. (£5.49, itunes.apple.com)

    Lisa says: “This book gave me wonderful insight into the cultural history of the students who compete with me for the top spot.”

  • 17. PEYTON PLACE BY GRACE METALIOUS (1956)

    An absolute scandal on its release, Peyton Place is still an eye-opener today. Featuring graphic sex, it’s a landmark of feminist fiction and a top read. (£10.99, amazon.co.uk)

    Lisa says: “My dad got this for me because he thought it was about [American football player] Peyton Manning. It turned out to be grossly inappropriate for a child.”

  • 16. WIDE SARGASSO SEA BY JEAN RHYS (1966)

    A powerful read set in stifling colonial Jamaica. (£5.59, amazon.co.uk)

    Lisa says: “This book is a devastating attack on colonialism. Unfortunately, my brother defaced the cover so it reads, ‘Wide Ass Sea’. After that, I could not return it to the library and had to pay a significant fine.”

  • 15. FRANKENSTEIN BY MARY SHELLEY (1818)

    Frankenstein came about one stormy night in Geneva when Shelley, her husband (poet Percy Shelley) and friend Lord Byron each wrote a horror story. Shelley came up with the goods and also invented science fiction. Girl power. (99p, itunes.apple.com)

    Lisa says: “I see a lot of me in the title character. A little of my dad in the monster.”

  • 14. MIDDLEMARCH BY GEORGE ELIOT (1874)

    Although female authors did use their own names during Mary Ann Evans’ lifetime, she adopted the pen name of George so her work would be taken seriously. And it doesn’t get more serious than this. Middlemarch is huge and sad but utterly absorbing. (Free, itunes.apple.com)

    Lisa says: “I’ve definitely read all of Middlemarch. Every word. I did not fall asleep in the middle and then skim the rest. It is not in any way boring.”

  • 13. THE SECRET HISTORY BY DONNA TARTT (1992)

    If you’re ever stuck for a good book to recommend to people, this is it. A whydunnit rather than a whodunnit, the novel has sold over 5 million copies. Set in a New England college, the plot unravels around six classics students whose intense obsession with each other leads to tragedy. (£6.49, itunes.apple.com)

    Lisa says: “Don’t tell my parents I read this. Also, I really, really want to go to the college where it takes place.”

  • 12. JANE EYRE BY CHARLOTTE BRONTË (1847)

    Jane Eyre has it all: love, suspense, injustice, then some justice, a mad woman in the attic… and to top it all, our heroine only marries the object of her desire, Mr Rochester, once she knows they’ll be equals in marriage. Jane Eyre is a book that rainy Sundays were made for. If you haven’t read it recently – treat yourself. (Free,itunes.apple.com)

    Lisa says: “I know it’s obvious, but... Mr Rochester. SIGH.”

  • 11. THE AWAKENING BY KATE CHOPIN (1899)

    A landmark in early women’s rights literature, The Awakening explores the restrictions placed on women during the 19th century. On its release, Chopin was called “one more clever writer gone wrong”; for that reason alone you should buy it. (£1.49,itunes.apple.com)

    Lisa says: “This early feminist work was derided when it was first published. I’m not sure if this is the message of the book, but it made me really want to wear a bustle.”

  • 10. MRS DALLOWAY BY VIRGINIA WOOLF (1925)

    A deliberate break from the realist literature that preceded it, Mrs Dalloway takes place on a single day jumping between the thoughts of society hostess Clarissa Dalloway and war veteran Septimus Smith. Woolf revolutionised literature in the early 20th century but tragically committed suicide in 1941. (49p, itunes.apple.com)

    Lisa says: “Is it at all weird that I love books by women who killed themselves?”

  • 9. I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS BY MAYA ANGELOU (1969)

    The first instalment of Maya Angelou’s autobiographical series was inspired after a friend said he thought it would be impossible to “write an autobiography as literature”. The dentist scene in particular distills the power of Angelou’s writing into less than three pages. (£4.49, itunes.apple.com)

    Lisa says: “I love this book. But I love, even more, being seen carrying it.”

  • 8. THE HOUSE OF MIRTH BY EDITH WHARTON (1905)

    One of the most heartbreaking novels ever written, The House Of Mirth is a stark reminder of a time when women had to marry in order to survive. The first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1921 for The Age Of Innocence, Wharton dissects the hypocrisy of New York society. (£1.99, itunes.apple.com)

    Lisa says: “I enjoyed this, especially since I live in a house of girth. [LAUGHS AT OWN JOKE]”

  • 7. THE COLLECTED DOROTHY PARKER BY DOROTHY PARKER (COMPILED IN 1995)

    A founding member of the Algonquin Round Table (a group of acerbic writers in Twenties New York), Parker’s short stories are witty and honest. (£9.09,amazon.co.uk)

    Lisa says: “Oh, to have been a member of the Algonquin Round Table. I zinged Nelson with a witty barb at a cafeteria lunch table, but he just shoved Bart’s face into a plate of turkey tetrazzini.”

  • 6. LITTLE WOMEN BY LOUISA MAY ALCOTT (1880)

    Otherwise known as ‘The One Joey Had To Hide In The Freezer’, Little Women, for many readers, turns out to be their first experience of sudden grief. The novel became popular with US female emigrants in the early 20th century who, for the first time, discovered female role models with actual goals. (49p, itunes.apple.com)

    Lisa says: “I’ve always felt like a Jo trapped in a world of Amys.”

  • 5. REBECCA BY DAPHNE DU MAURIER (1938)

    The anonymous narrator of Du Maurier’s most famous work is difficult to like. But throw cruel Rebecca, creepy housekeeper Mrs Danvers and some iconic writing (“Last night I dreamt

    I went to Manderley again”) into the mix and you have the best thriller ever written. (£5.99, itunes.apple.com)

    Lisa says: “I love The House On The Strand, but Daphne Du Maurier out-Du Mauriers herself with this one.”

  • 4. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE BY JANE AUSTEN (1813)

    Let’s face it, a book list isn’t a book list without Jane Austen’s most popular novel, which has sold over 20 million copies. However, none of Austen’s books were ever published under her own name while she was alive. It wasn’t until the 1880s that her work became fêted. Since then, she’s never been out of print. (Free,itunes.apple.com)

    Lisa says: “I know it’s obvious, but... Mr Darcy. SIGH.”

  • 3. THE BELL JAR BY SYLVIA PLATH (1963)

    The Bell Jar is a book that needs to be read. Semi-autobiographical, it tells the story of Esther Greenwood and her belief that women can’t have it all. Despite being published 51 years ago, it is still scarily relevant. (£5.99, itunes.apple.com)

    Lisa says: “This book details one woman’s descent into madness. Much like when I’m trapped next to Bart in the back seat of the car.”

  • 2. THE HANDMAID’S TALE BY MARGARET ATWOOD (1985)

    Atwood’s dystopian vision of a society where fertile women of a certain caste act as surrogates to the ruling classes is a feminist warning never to take our liberties in the West for granted. (£5.49, itunes.apple.com)

    Lisa says: “I’ll never forget my first dystopian novel, which laid the groundwork for The Hunger Games, The Maze Runnerand all the young adult novels that will consume my teenage years.”

  • 1. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD BY HARPER LEE (1960)

    Famously Harper Lee’s only novel, To Kill A Mockingbird has sold over 30 million copies. A tale of justice and racism, it is, according to the US Library of Congress, second only to the Bible, as the book that has “made [the most] difference” to people’s lives. (£3.99, itunes.apple.com)

    Lisa says: “This book taught me about the importance of standing up for what’s right. And... Boo Radley. SIGH. Last one.”

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