The Top 100 Books Every Woman Should Read, Part I: The Classics

Twenty classic tales start our list of must-have reads

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The Awakening by Kate Chopin

Published in 1899, Chopin’s novel was largely criticized for its frank depiction of female sexual desire. Now, the story, which centers on wife and mother Edna Pontellier at the end of 19th century New Orleans , is lauded for its groundbreaking feminist themes. Buy it at Amazon.

Jane Eyre By Charlotte Brontë

An orphaned young woman takes a job as governess at Thornfield Manor. There, she falls for the master of the house. When she finds out he harbors a devastating secret, she must choose between her morals and her desire for happiness. Buy it at Amazon.

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

Woolf’s landmark modernist novel follows the Ramsay family on trips to their summer home on the Isle of the Skye in Scotland. Buy it at Amazon.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Famous first line: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." Buy it at Amazon.

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

Rhys’s post-colonial prequel to Jane Eyre breathes life-and humanity-into Rochester’s infamous first wife, the mad woman in the attic. Buy it at Amazon.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Alcott loosely based this coming-of-age novel on her own childhood experiences with her three sisters. Like the author, the March girls grow up at Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts. Buy it at Amazon.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Set in Alabama during the Great Depression, Lee’s only published novel is narrated by six-year-old Scout Finch. The girl chronicles life in the fictional town of Maycomb, where her father Atticus, a lawyer, is appointed by the court to defend a black man in a rape trial. Buy it at Amazon.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Famous first line: "Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta." Buy it at Amazon.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

An African American woman in her forties searches for love, marrying three very different men, in 1930s and 1940s Florida. Buy it at Amazon.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Famous first line: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Buy it at Amazon.

Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton

This novel, published in 1948, protests the social structures in South Africa that would later make up apartheid. Here, a black Anglican priest from a rural town, searches for his son Absalom in the city of Johannesburg. Buy it at Amazon.

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

New York socialite Lily Bart attempts to secure a husband-and a place in rich society. Buy it at Amazon.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Stowe’s sentimental anti-slavery novel made such an impact upon its publication in 1852 that it’s credited, in-part, with sparking the Civil War. The story follows Eliza, a slave in Kentucky, who escapes to the North with her young son Harry. Buy it at Amazon.

Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Shelley’s tale of a scientist who creates a monster spawned an entire genre of horror stories and films. Buy it at Amazon.

The Arabian Nights

Compiled during the Islamic Golden Age, the best known of these oral folk stories include "Aladdin’s Wonderful Lamp," "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves" and "The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor." Buy it at Amazon.

Women in Love by D.H. Lawrence

Two sisters living in the Midlands of England become involved with two neighbor men, a coal mine heir and a school inspector. Buy it at Amazon.

The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

Anna, a writer, keeps four notebooks. In one, with a black cover, she reviews the African experience of her earlier years. In a red one she records her political life, her disillusionment with communism. In a yellow one she writes a novel. And in a blue one she keeps a personal diary. Finally, in love with an American writer and threatened with insanity, Anna tries to bring the threads of all four books together in a golden notebook. Buy it at Amazon.

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Emma Bovary, a bored housewife in provincial France, begins a love affair in search of happiness. Buy it at Amazon.

Middlemarch by George Eliot

This novel, "A Study of Provincial Life," is set in the fictitious Midlands town of Middlemarch, England during the early 1830s. Buy it at Amazon.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

The unforgettable love story of Heathcliff and Catherine. Buy it at Amazon.


Julia Alvarez, Jane Ciabattari, Carmela Ciuraru, Judith Coyne, Ellen Heltzel, Meredith Maran, Cathleen Medwick, Pamela Redmond Satran, Amanda Robb, Roxana Robinson, Sheila Weller, Patricia J. Williams


Share Your Thoughts!


Cheryl Barker08.29.2013

I agree with Lauren. Let's support our local bookstores!

Lauren Saal07.30.2012

These are all must-reads! I'd suggest supporting local bookstores by stopping by and picking a few of these titles up. As Gina Barreca says, independent bookstores matter.

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