We women face many challenges these days, from global concerns like climate and Covid to more micro issues such as whether or when to have children—and, P.S., will we have access to abortion or contraception if we decide to wait? There remain so many obstacles to parity with men in our careers, in government, and in healthcare, not to mention in our own households. These barriers are even more insurmountable for the poor and for women of color. And then there’s parenting. Why do women end up having to mother not just their own kids but, sometimes, it seems, everyone around them? And yet, through the struggles, there is great joy and great community, especially when we celebrate each other by sharing our stories and wisdom, which is why we put together this assemblage of books to empower women.
This list of empowering books is tailored for women who are seeking a wide range of insight into a variety of topics, including dating struggles, moving through the world as a transgender woman, ethnic identity, disability, artistic roadblocks, domestic violence, breaking into the boys’ club that is the comedy world, bias at the workplace, or validation that being an introvert is actually pretty cool.
Mostly memoirs by incredible women, these authors are Nobel Prize winners, iconic creatives, passionate activists, and whip-smart experts in their field. They have a wealth of knowledge that will make anyone feel validated, and help make you feel truly seen. And for a bonus treat, we included a journal—so break out those glitter pens and colorful markers!
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Uncomfortable Labels, by Laura Kate Dale
The labels others choose for us so rarely reflect who we actually are. In this groundbreaking memoir, Dale explores the labels that have influenced her life as a gay trans woman on the autism spectrum. She takes readers on her journey through transition, diagnosis, and discovering who she truly is by challenging assumptions of society. Candid and humorous, this memoir is a reflection on gender and autism, and what it means to live authentically.
Revolution from Within, by Gloria Steinem
A fierce feminist, Steinem has been at the front lines of social revolution for decades. Now, as we face reproductive rights being stripped away in the U.S. on a mass scale, her wisdom on revolution has never been more timely. Injustice can erode our internal sense of power and self-confidence, and here the activist and icon shares how we can reach within to restore the inner fire that outside forces have tried to extinguish. Changing the world means harnessing our power externally and internally. And when we do that, we can change the course of entire nations.
Yoke, by Jessamyn Stanley
In Sanskrit, yoga means to “yoke.” It means the connection and flow of our minds and bodies, our movement and breath, and the good and the bad of life. Yoga is so often seen as just something we do for exercise, but it’s more than that. It’s about yoking— connecting—the lessons learned on the mat to who we are off the mat. A memoir-in-essays, Stanley reflects on cannabis, why self-love is a full-time job, and why we need to address the whiteness that has overtaken Western yoga. Growing up Bahái, Stanley shows readers how these questions of spirituality have been a core part of her life—and what you can learn from it, too.
I Am Malala, by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb
When Malala Yousafzai was 11, she wrote blogs for the BBC documenting her days in school in the Swat Valley, Pakistan, where the Taliban was gaining control and banning girls from receiving an education. The youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner at 17, she survived being shot by the Taliban and valiantly continued to raise her voice to advocate for girls’ rights to education. Her remarkable story is a reminder of the inner power we all have to stand up to oppression against women and girls everywhere.
The Source of Self-Regard, by Toni Morrison
Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison was a genius; her power with words approached the supernatural. In this collection of essays and meditations, Morrison weighs in with her extraordinary oratory and literary power on a variety of topics—among them a spine-tingling prayer for the dead of 9/11, her eulogy for James Baldwin, and her thoughts on the role of the artist in times of political turmoil. She also explores the subject of female empowerment and interrogates the concept of womanhood itself. The Source of Self-Regard will pull you in like a siren. You’ll never forget the lessons it imparts.
She Memes Well, by Quinta Brunson
Brunson has taken the world by storm with her hilarious and tender new show, Abbott Elementary—nominated for seven Emmys!—which she created and stars in. Before the Emmy-nominated show, the comedian got her start creating viral comedy videos on Instagram and YouTube, which developed into stardom as she got roles on HBO, Netflix, and Comedy Central. In her funny and deeply personal collection of essays, Brunson delves into her brand of online humor, what it feels like to try to be successful even when you’re struggling, and why it’s important to stick to your roots.
In the Dream House, by Carmen Maria Machado
Machado’s revolutionary and innovative gothic memoir about domestic abuse is a work of epic talent. In it she interweaves myth and cultural analysis—alongside her own searing, dreamlike recollections—to construct a portrait of what it is to be queer and in an abusive relationship, a subject long ignored by even some of the most vociferous domestic violence survivor advocates. Machado uses legal proceedings, fairy tales, Star Trek, and Disney villains to create one of the best memoirs in recent memory.
Well-Read Black Girl, by Glory Edim
Nominated for an NAACP Image Award, this enthralling anthology will give you greater insight into the magic of entering new worlds and learning from text. The volume features essays by some of the best Black women authors and icons out there—Jesymn Ward, Tayari Jones, Gabourey Sidibe, and Jacqueline Woodson—and is curated by the founder of the wildly popular book club Well-Read Black Girl.
You Are Not a Before Picture, by Alex Light
Diet culture is toxic, often causing women to put their health at risk in order to achieve the coveted “after picture” look. But You Are Not a Before Picture, out on August 16, confronts this harmful preoccupation and encourages women to make accept and love their bodies. Well-known Instagram influencer Alex Light consults experts in psychotherapy, fitness, and nutrition to create a framework for finally saying to ourselves, Yes, I like you just as you are.
In the Company of Women, by Grace Bonney
Is there any better feeling than being in a room filled with inspiring, successful women? In the Company of Women captures that feeling so you can keep it close by on your bookshelf. The volume features over 100 entrepreneurial women of all ages, ethnic backgrounds, and careers who’ve overcome barriers to become experts in their fields and offer firsthand accounts, for example, of what it’s like be a celebrated tattoo artist or an iconic architect. Use it as a guide on your journey to becoming an assertive leader in both your professional and personal lives.
Knocking Myself Up, by Michelle Tea
How many of us were raised to associate motherhood with being a wife? Or with being straight, fairly young, or financially well-off? If you don’t fit that mold, Tea’s vivid memoir, on sale August 2, provides an inspirational, hilarious, and down-to-earth alternative portrait. In it, the author/poet, tarot legend, and 2021 Guggenheim fellow shares her intimate story of deciding, as a 40-year-old, single, queer, uninsured woman, to have a child.
Fairest, by Meredith Talusan
A finalist for the 2021 Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Nonfiction, Talusan’s gorgeously written memoir explores her childhood as a boy with albinism growing up in the Philippines; her immigration to America, where she transitioned; and navigating the elite world of Harvard, which awarded her an academic scholarship. Talusan explores themes of race, dislocation, disability, and gender with insight and power. A true classic.
Year of the Tiger, by Alice Wong
In Chinese culture, the tiger is deeply revered for its confidence, passion, ambition, and ferocity. This is the spirit that Wong, founder and director of the Disability Visibility Project, carries into every battle on behalf of disabled people as an activist, media maker, and community organizer. Drawing on a collection of original essays, previously published work, conversations, graphics, photos, and art by disabled and Asian American artists, she shares her reflections on creativity, access, power, care, the pandemic, mortality, and the future.
As women, we face so much pressure to be the life of the party, to engage and entertain everyone. And even when people are trying to empower us, that advice is usually to be louder, more aggressive—to take up more space. Not all of us want to be “on” all the time, but the pressure to be extroverted can leave you doubting yourself and unaware of the power of introversion. In this New York Times bestseller, Susan Cain (whose viral TED Talk tackles those myths about introverts) shares how you can use your introverted spirit to your advantage. She writes that introverts tend to be more perceptive, observational, and objective, making them effective at innovation and out-of-the-box thinking. Being quiet isn’t something you have to apologize for. It could just be your superpower.
Heart Berries, by Terese Marie Mailhot
This bestselling poetic memoir chronicles an Indigenous woman’s experience of childhood dysfunction, mental illness, troubled romance, and motherhood. The author’s struggle to come to terms with a stint in a psychiatric hospital and a dual diagnosis of PTSD and bipolar II disorder is rendered so powerfully that the readers feels they are there with her, cheering her on. Through hazy memories that still retain a startling clarity, we also see Mailhot reflecting on her relationship with her father―an abusive drunk and a brilliant artist―who was murdered under mysterious circumstances. Altogether enthralling.
The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin
What does it mean to be truly, deeply, blissfully happy? We all know we want to attain this kind of happiness. But in a world of long work hours, impossible expectations, and global uncertainty, how do we achieve it? For Rubin, it started with realizing just how much of her life she was wasting by not focusing on her own well-being. So for a year, she decided to focus solely on that. Throughout, she she shares her own thoughts and experiences, as well as scientific research and life lessons from others, providing a road map to enlightenment…and fun!
Wildflower, by Drew Barrymore
A child actor thrust into the spotlight early, Barrymore‘s story is full of trauma and struggles with addiction, but ultimately a tale of triumph, despite many roadblocks. Cheerful and honest, the actor, mogul, and TV host shares with readers her journey to adulthood and how she reconciled with her past to become the woman she is today.
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