25 books every girl should read before turning 25
Also: don’t trust people who say they don’t read
You know that John Waters quote “if you go home with someone and they don’t have books, don’t fuck ’em”? It’s probably the wisest advice you will ever hear. If there’s one thing that you absolutely should judge people on, it’s the books they read. And there’s no better time to fine-tune that judgement than in your twenties.
It’s pretty much the best time to focus on expanding your mind, on being the best version of yourself that you can be, and reading seminal works of fiction from great women which make you feel like a better-rounded woman. Embrace it.
1. The Yellow Wallpaper – Charlotte Perkins Gilman
The narrator of this book has an awful husband called John, who decides to confine her to an attic room in their house and keep her deliberately understimulated to help her get over a typically-Victorian period of ‘mild hysteria’. Predictably, it doesn’t work, and the narrator slowly descends into madness, obsessed with the pattern of the wallpaper in her room because she has nothing else to think about.
It’s a fairly horrifying read, but it’s an important one, and, as the narrator would probably want, since its publication it’s been lauded as the archetypal feminist tract advocating for the importance of women’s mental stimulation and education (which Victorians thought made us hysterical).
2. The Bluest Eye – Toni Morrison
It’s impossible to read it and not feel heartbroken for Pecola, the main character, and angry at the society which drives her mad in her quest to be a blonde, blue-eyed, white girl.
3. Valley of the Dolls – Jacqueline Susann
Jennifer, Anne and Neely are sort of like a tripartite, sixties Kardashian family. Things start off innocuously enough for all of them but their lives and careers become more and more out of control and over the top. It’s a pop-culture classic and it’s extra as fuck but in a good way.
4. The Virgin Suicides – Jeffrey Eugenides
The Lisbon sisters can’t help that their youngest relative, Cecilia, is weird as fuck. They just want to live and be teenagers and listen to music and talk to their boring, lovesick neighbours and relax, but their religious parents are stifling them. You feel how suffocating it is to live in their world in their sleepy neighborhood and by the end of it understand why they feel so trapped.
5. Girl, Interrupted – Susanna Kaysen
You’ve probably seen the film with Winona Ryder where she gets off with Angelina Jolie and there’s a great soundtrack. That doesn’t happen in the book, but lots of other stuff does. If you’ve ever felt stressed out or confused about your place in the world it’s hard not to relate to some of Kaysen’s prose: “Sometimes the world you came from looks huge and menacing, quivering like a vast pile of jelly. At other times it is miniaturised and alluring, a-spin and shining in its orbit. Either way, it can’t be discounted”. There’s some light relief in there too, don’t worry.
6. The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
I know I know, literally everyone says “you should read The Bell Jar” with the same hushed reverence with which literally everyone says “you should read Catcher in the Rye” – but just because it’s hyped as a classic doesn’t make it any less important.
7. Slouching Towards Bethlehem – Joan Didion
Someone once wrote on Joan Didion: “She is the patron saint of smart girls who aren’t sure where being smart might lead them”. The beauty of Joan Didion is that you can read any of her stuff at any point in your life and it will resonate with you, even if you’re not 26 in New York or deep in 1960’s counter-culture LA or lamenting the loss of your husband and a great year of grief and magical thinking. You still read her and think that she gets you somehow – but Slouching Towards Bethlehem, her collection of essays about psychedelic Cali, is a great place to start.
8. Anything by Judy Blume
“Deenie by Judy Blume was the first book I read that really looked at how a young girl might actually be feeling and what she might be thinking as she goes through puberty, with the additional element of negotiating having to wear a spinal brace. All her work is amazing” – Olivia Thomson, London.
9. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
You’ll never look at heart shaped sunglasses in the same way again.
10. Anything by Jacqueline Wilson
When you were a kid the girls Jacqueline Wilson wrote about were the most troubled, inspiring, coolest, most annoying, realest girls you had ever heard of – even if they had weird names and spent lots of their time buying cakes and felt tip pens. No matter what happened to them, things turned out OK in the end – which is always a sentiment worth looking back on when you’re turning 25 and terrified of everything.She didn’t give a fuck
11. How to be a Woman – Caitlin Moran
“Everyone should read it, it’s the book that first taught me about feminism and I’ve never looked back. It discusses loads of things that women don’t always talk about, from abortion to masturbation, it remains one of the funniest and engaging books I’ve ever read” – Saskia Bamber, Bristol.
12. Speak – Laurie Halse Anderson
“Impactful. That’s the only way I can describe it” – Becca Tasker, Pittsburgh.
13. The Passion – Jeanette Winterson
“Villanelle is a feminist character to end all feminist characters” – Bobbie Edsor, Norwich.
14. Angus Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging
We all felt like Georgia Nicolson when we were 14, and most of us still feel as clueless now. Timeless and relatable, especially that time her legs looked like wotsits. Nightmare.
15. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Attwood
“It’s a classic; a really interesting dystopian take on what would happen to women if a group like the westboro baptist church took over the US” – Saskia Bamber, Bristol.
16. The Art of Happiness – Dalai Lama
“It’s not often you read a book that’s enjoyable to read and actually helps make you a better person. Anyone I know who’s read this has immediately changed their outlook on life, and parts of it stick with them forever” – Daisy Bernard, London.
17. Just Kids – Patti Smith
“Written by punk icon and poet, Patti Smith’s Just Kids is all about following your dreams and becoming an artist in a big city. It is an incredibly inspiring read for young women that will give you a new perspective on life and the experience of being a female artist” – Sophie Wilson, Sheffield.
18. A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini
“I’ve never cried so much at a book, and the struggles of women are the central motif” – Imogen Rohrs, Cardiff.
19. Yes Please – Amy Poehler
“She taught me that it’s OK to be happy with yourself and actually think about what is best for you and put yourself first for once. I now know that it’s OK to be unhappy with the ‘demons’ that you have and that you don’t need to always say sorry” – Victoria Brush, Reading.
20. On The Road – Jack Kerouac
It’s one of those coming of age books people tend to associate with tortured boys who study English Lit and write in moleskine journals and smoke without inhaling. But don’t let that put you off. Capote said it “wasn’t writing, just typing”, but it’s great because you read it really fast and it makes you consider packing it all in and taking to life on the open road. Appreciate the prose and probably don’t take mescaline.
21. The Pursuit of Love – Nancy Mitford
“It’s very witty and I love how it satirises the world of romance and roles women play in society. Plus it shows us the importance of female bonds” – Immy Ursell, Queen Mary University of London.
22. The Beauty Myth – Naomi Wolf
“It puts into words everything you thought about the superficial baggage that comes with being a woman” – Sarah George, Sussex.
23. Lean In – Sheryl Sandberg
“Even though strides have been made in terms of women being accepted and respected in the workforce, there is still work to be done and this book helps teach you methods for breaking through the ‘glass ceiling’ that still unfortunately exists” – Natalie Probst, Maryland.
24. We Should All Be Feminists – Chimamanda Gnus Adichie
“It’s a short book it will probably will only take one or two hours of your life but will effect you dramatically. She talks about why she became feminist and why everybody should do too. I would recommend to everyone who doesn’t have a clear idea or any uncertainties about feminism. It reminded me one more time why being a feminist is so important and why I should embrace it more” – Ece Ozcan, Royal Holloway.
25. So Sad Today – Melissa Broder
“The first chapter is called ‘How to never be enough’, another is ‘Hello 911, I can’t stop time’. the book is essentially about mental illness specifically right now with social media and how the author uses humor to combat that. It’s a really heavy book but it’s also hilarious and ballsy.
“I feel like I’ve never connected to a book as hard as I did with this one. I’ve always had depression and humor was always my way of either dealing with it or avoiding getting better but I think even those who have minor anxieties or depression could still heavily relate to this book because it’s so honest and exposes a lot of the hypocrisy that’s up & running in society today.
“I would recommend to any girl struggling with the same issues. It’s the darkest form of satire out there probs but nonetheless worth the read.” – Ashley-Sarah Mooney, Temple University.
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