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Fiction Novels Every Woman Should Read

Updated on August 31, 2012

There are some books that I’ve read in the past that have just stood out to me. Some of them I remember their titles, authors, and there are a couple in which I only recall the plot and haven’t been able to find that particular book since. Then there are the ones that I think are absolutely magical, or particularly engaging, or just pulled me into the story and made me feel for the characters as if they were actual people. I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, I’ve wished for a good movie to come of the books. Sometimes it happened, but more often than not, it didn’t.

The books on this list stood out because to me, they are the 8 that represent certain things between their pages that every woman can either relate to or that can teach them a lesson in some way. Sometimes fiction, really good fiction, can actually do that. It makes us see our lives through the characters and the stories they’ve told. Can they actually make us see the world differently? Can they change our view of some of the other women we have in our lives? Could a novel of fiction really have that much power?

This is a list of “chick lit” at its finest, at least in my opinion. It’s not about finding love or having a boyfriend, but these women found a little bit of themselves along the way. Some of the stories may seem superficial, others very serious, but the overall message is, “I am a woman, this is my journey, you can probably learn from it as well.” Even if it was written by a man, which one of them is, and I think he did a wonderful job of it to be honest.

Some books that were left off the list that I decided in the end not to include were I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou and Family Affair by Caprice Crane. I had my reasons for leaving them out, but it had nothing to do with me comparing them to the other stories on my list at all. The aforementioned are terrific books, Maya Angelou’s is legend, but when thinking of my synopsis for each of them, it didn’t satisfy me. There is a short story by Alice Walker that I wanted to include, but it’s a short, not a full novel, and that’s the reason it’s not on the list.

I wrote up my reasons for including the books that I did and I at least hope people understand where I was coming from when I chose the books that I did. So let’s start the countdown from ten to one and see where we end up:

8. The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger

I know some of you are already rolling your eyes, but hear me out. This is more than about fashion, but more about a girl trying to navigate her way through a city and a world within that city that she has no idea of truly understanding. Oh yes, and she has the boss from Hell. Do I think Lauren Weisberger may have exaggerated some of her experiences as an assistant to Anna Wintour? Not by much. I’ve been following the entertainment industry for years and the fashion industry is closely linked and a lot of those people look like terrors to be around. Not only do they behave as if they are entitled, but when most people get in positions of power they really do act like, well, devils. Put a girl in New York where the price of a coffee and a muffin are sky high, her boss is a monster, and she’s trying to fit in with girls she actually has nothing in common with and you’ve got your story. The book is very different from the movie in the fact that the book painted a more realistic portrait of events and was a lot more rational in circumstances. In the movie the friends just seemed whiny and disrespectful to Andie and didn’t seem to understand that her life couldn’t revolve around theirs with her new job, but in the book the character of Andie really did start to change into someone that just tossed her friends aside and started focusing on a job that was sucking the life out of her. In the movie it didn’t depict that properly; Anne Hathaway’s character in the movie actually looked like she was getting into her position and possibly could’ve enjoyed it a little more if her friends weren’t being a bunch of brats all the time. All in all, I think this was a good story for young women that are just starting out with their careers in low paying jobs that consume most of their time, trying to find a place for their boyfriends and friends, and finding out who they are and what they’re made of, and at the same time trying to hold on to who they always believed they were as people. Maybe it’s not the deepest addition on the list, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good story and one that you can learn something from.

7. She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb

A lot of people don’t like this book, and I’m not exactly sure why. Maybe it’s because they were looking for a happy story or it could be that they didn’t like reading about a character wallowing in their own misery and being bratty, when in all actuality we all do that from time to time. This story told a tale of 3 generations of women, two of which kept making the same mistakes with their daughters that the one before them made, and that’s what goes on in real life until someone realizes what’s happened to them and what will happen to their children if they don’t change the course of things. The thing is, I think a lot of the women that picked up this book were looking for some kind of love story with a happy ending where everyone got what they wanted, but that’s not what this story was about. This wasn’t about matchmaking, or having some unrealistic romantic tryst, and a happily ever after, but it was more like what we really go through. How many of us have one path in mind or maybe we’re not even giving much thought to our future when one event after another takes us down a road, or roads, that we never thought we’d end up going down as long as we lived? How many of us hide behind food, or starve ourselves, or lock ourselves behind closed doors when life has dealt us a hand that we can’t begin to know how to handle? How many of us have been bullied or teased? This isn’t the story about a woman who gets revenge on all the people who’ve done her wrong, it’s about a woman who succumbs to the pressures and only towards the end does she make any turn around. This isn’t about a woman who gets her happy ending, but about a woman who’s living day by day and who realizes that’s what counts. That the time in between, the situations that propel us throughout life are the things that make us into the adults we are. This book represents how we all go through things that undo us, but it’s up to us to pull it together again, but sometimes we need help in the process. We can’t do it alone. We all need somebody in the end and having someone to hold our hand and to look up and smile at is one of the best things this life can offer us.

6. Jubilee by Margaret Walker

It’s not just black women who should read about the perils of what the black women of the past had to go through, but any woman of any race can take the books that broach those subjects well and get something from them. I found that this isn’t exactly the typical book from the genre, but it describes the hardships this particular character went through with magnificent detail and she exudes a strength that the reader has to admire. Not only that but by reading this you’ll see that a lot of blatant racism and classicism didn’t just evaporate over time, but for most people in this day and age they just stuff it down. Racism and hatred is still deeply ingrained in a lot of people, a lot of families, and it’s been passed down generation to generation, only now it’s more stifled. I think people need to read books like these to remind themselves of how far we’ve come and then again at how very much the same people stick with a lot of the ignorance that was taught to their forefathers long ago. This is a reminder that “freedom” was bought at a bloody price, and a lot of people still are stuck in that slave and master mentality. They don’t have to say it; it comes out in their actions, sometimes in the things they say. This book reminds me of what so many women fought so hard for and some women now take for granted and are almost throwing it back in their faces. They weren’t fighting to be equal back then, they just wanted to be free to live as normal human beings, but weren’t treated as such. Not in the least. Women should read this book because every now and again we need to think about the past in terms in what brought us to where we are today. The past matters just as well as the future.

5. Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

Two sisters who have nothing in common, their bond strengthened by the fact that in reality, they only had one another. How many women don’t get along with their sisters? How many women wish things could’ve been different? With the women in this book, the young sisters Sally and Gillian, it was mentioned that had they been able to acquire friends apart from one another they probably wouldn’t have been close--can’t a lot of us with sisters relate to that one? Yes, this book is about “witches”, but Alice Hoffman takes you into this world with her beautiful poetic prose and takes you on a lifetime of journeys with women you wish you knew in real life. Various lines in the book are precious morsels of advice or they mention something that I didn’t know before. After reading this story, I made a chocolate cake without flour which amounts to being a sort of brownie, but is just as delicious--if you’ve ever read this book you’ll know where I got that part from. I actually saw this movie before I read the book at all and I love them both equally even though they are quite different. The producers, writers, and directors of the film took extra care and wove a story so wonderful from this novel that I can’t help but wonder why other producers, writers and directors don’t handle great stories with such love and respect as they did with this one. The parts from the book they didn’t include, I didn’t mind, and the parts they added, only made the story that’d been told come alive even more and made it richer. This was the epitome of translating a magnificently beautiful book into a magnificently beautiful movie. I know a lot of people wouldn’t agree with me, and they look at both the film and the novel and shrug, but it’s one of those stories that got to me and became my favorite not because of any witchcraft mentioned, but because of the way Hoffman is able to weave such a poignant tale of womanhood and friendships and family relations to make even the most mundane thing come across as engaging. Maybe I’m a bit biased because Alice Hoffman is my favorite author of fiction, but this is one of those stories I think every woman can find herself getting lost in and can look at the routine of her daily and existence and find the magic in the most unexpected places.

4. Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen

This was the first novel I read by Sarah Dessen and it made me a fan of hers instantly. I think she captured one aspect of female camaraderie with such brilliance; you can’t help but relate to it. We’ve all judged other females, thinking that we’re better than them, and we’ve also felt ourselves being judged by those that we deem “less” than ourselves at one point or another. A lot of us have been thrust into that weird, uncomfortable, and sometimes downright scary position of having parents that put us in the middle of their drama and we’ve stood there not knowing what to do, how to react, or how to handle what’s going on with the people who raised us. When one of our parents remarries and we have to deal with a stepparent, we could only hope for a step mom like Heidi. She frustrated me at first, especially how she just took what was dished out to her and seemingly got walked all over, but as the book progressed and Dessen gave us more of a peek into the character, the woman, that she was, I couldn’t help but like her. I know that most of the readers were judging her the same way that the character Auden was judging her, but there’s always more to people than meets the eye. No matter how many times that’s been said over the years, people always seem to forget it and make the same mistakes over and over again. I didn’t like Auden’s mother either and I also couldn’t figure out why, with Auden’s ‘awakening’ during that summer, that she didn’t lash out at her annoying family more. But we have to look characters the same way we do ourselves sometimes. It doesn’t take much for family to hurt us. All it takes is for someone to change and to state that change to send us into a tailspin. Auden didn’t say much to her parents to show that she’d grown up, to show them that she was no longer the same little girl who took their crap, but she didn’t have to say much to get her point across. Some of us have had to “baby” our parents the same way she did, but there comes a time when your parents have to wake up and realize that they’re being just as childish as you’re supposed to be acting. I’m not saying this is necessarily what happens in real life, but we have to look at ourselves and accept the things that we can’t change and change the things that need hinder our growth as people. For me, this wasn’t a story about Auden getting the guy in the end, but about her understanding herself and her parents, and about her growing up. It maybe from a teen’s point of view, but women of all ages can learn something from this story.

3. When the Glass Slipper doesn’t Fit and Silver Spoon is in Someone Else’s Mouth by Claire Cloninger & Karla Worley

This is a fairly old self help book, and when I say old I’m talking a little over 20 years old. But it’s still relatable and just as helpful today as it was then. I think every couple of years they should put it in rotation in the stores. It’s from a Christian point of view, and I’m of another faith altogether, but the issues that are addressed transcend most religious differences you may have with the authors. It’s truthfully one of the best observances for marriage and motherhood because it gets straight to the point, to the heart of the matter that most western families face. Both authors touch a bit on growing up and how they tackle their good days and their bad, their children and their husbands, and how they just want enough time to breathe at the end of the day. We’re always looking at places where we think the grass is greener, but the truth is, it’s probably not as great on the other side as you think it is. And even if life is really sweet on the other side of the fence, you may not agree with everything even then. I read this book more than once over the course of the years and as self help books go, this is at the top of my list when it comes to recommendations for women. Most of us have probably been through some of what they’ve gone through or when we get to those points at least we can have some reference points of how to handle things when they happen. The point that it’s making is life isn’t going to go in some straight line as we expect it, but we’re going to end up where we’re meant to be. So expect the unexpected, hold onto your faith, and try and smile.

2. The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Page 530 of the novel after the story itself is finished Stockett wrote this, “Wasn’t that the point of the book? For women to realize, we are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I’d thought.” Like a lot of white people that grew up with black help, she thought, very ignorantly, “Our maid is lucky to have us,” when in fact if given a choice in the matter their maids would’ve inexplicably chosen their own families. But alas, black folk during that time had to make a lot of hard choices, painful choices, just to have food on their tables. Black women have many opportunities in this country now, but not all of them take advantage to what they were simply born into and choose to remain in a kind of stagnant slave mentality, repeating the same mistakes their mothers and grandmothers made in the past. These were women that didn’t have a choice, but now they do and the only way to show how grateful they are would be to surpass the hardships that overcame the women before them and be even better women. You live and you learn, and that’s what Stockett did and that’s how she was able to write this novel. She grew up and she saw that the hatred of the past didn’t just last for a certain period of time, but it was something that was apart of people that didn’t have to be there. Racism is something that puts a wedge in our understanding of one another as women, but it’s also something that puts a wedge into our friendships with people of our own race. White girls put one another into certain categories if they find out a female in their own race finds black guys attractive or if they do certain things that crosses over into another culture, an attribute of a different race. The same for black girls and women. Listening to certain kinds of music or finding certain kinds of men attractive, talking a certain way, acting a certain way, will give you the label of “acting white”. I was ostracized in school because I read a lot. And it’s not as if I was reading about anything deep like science or classic poetry, but it was books like Lois Duncan and John Grisham and Anne Rice. I still get dirty or puzzled looks now as an adult being one of the few black women that don’t immediately go to the African American section of the book store. And those looks are usually from other black women. I love The Help because it tries to get a message across that racism and hatred should be left in the past where it was because it’s not helping us in anyway. When women should have an even stronger bond now, there’s still that divide. The movie based on the book was pretty bad in my opinion, but the book lives up to the hype. I’m so glad I bought it instead of passing it over as I’d first intended. I hate grabbing up something just because other people claim it’s good, but with this I found it to be true. I laughed and I cried, but in the end, it’s something I wish every woman can understand.

1. Growing Up Female (by a rather long assortment of authors)

This book is great because it’s not just about one woman’s struggles and triumphs and heartaches and joys, but it’s about a variety of females telling their versions (albeit some of them fictional accounts) of what it was like growing up from girls into women. The book as a whole is made up of either short stories from collections or chapters taken from full novels, but it packs a punch. I think anyone can take something from this book. It's a shame that when I searched for this book about 5 other novels, one entitled Slut, popped up. I think that this books should be available in libraries for everyone to read and not only that, but I think when you type in the title it should be the first book you see under Amazon's search list. You'll probably end up going out and buying more books because of this selection, but they're worth it. I think women as a whole should not just relegate these stories as something to read and then forget them later when they're dealing with other women. I think they should be applied to life itself so that we can have better relationships with one another overall.

I hope that this list at least makes you think of what it is to be female in this world today, but also how we relate to one another and not just relying on our preconceived notions about one another or simply what we've been taught growing up. We have our own brains, we can think for ourselves, and we can be better women because of that.


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