Yuknavitch's protagonist, the 17-year-old Ida, is a modern reincarnation of Freud's famous bisexual case study Dora, whom our most famous shrink deemed "hysterical." Ida may be a bit "hysterical" too—but she's taking back the term. She's raunchy, irreverent, filled with the desire to strip naked in the middle of "Nordfucks" or shave her head, sidekicked by a beautiful gang of weirdos. "I want to create new girl myths," Yuknavitch said of the book. I think everyone should read them.
The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir
"I hesitated a long time before writing a book on woman," De Beauvoir begins. "The subject is irritating, especially for women; and it is not new. Enough ink has flowed over the quarrel about feminism; it is now almost over: let's not talk about it anymore." This was in 1959—and the sentiment is as fresh now as it was then, just like (most of) the rest of De Beauvoir's lucid book, equal parts literary and philosophical. All else aside, it's one of the most classic feminist texts in the language. And men should read more of those.
The Woman Warrior, Maxine Hong Kingston
Maxine Hong Kingston's take on the memoir blends her personal experiences with traditional Chinese folktales, examining the Chinese-American experience as well as the female one, taking on the cultural source of oppression, something we could all do to think more about. She writes: "There is a Chinese word for the female I—which is 'slave.' Break the women with their own tongues!" So why even be a girl? "I refused to cook. When I had to wash dishes, I would crack one or two. 'Bad girl,' my mother yelled, and sometimes that made me gloat rather than cry. Isn't a bad girl almost a boy?" This is the kind of thing most boys never have to think about.
The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
It's pretty much a given that everyone should read The Bell Jar, but I'll just drive the point home again—it's a look into the conflicted mind of a tortured genius snuffed out too soon.
The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton
There is so much in this book that carries over perfectly to the modern era. Sure, maybe not the idea of tableaux vivants as party diversions, but the double standards for men and women, the vicious social games women play with each other, the perils of depending on another person—these issues are all alive and well. Plus, the novel is phenomenal. Can't go wrong.
Excellent Women, Barbara Pym
John Updike, male of all males, called this high comedic novel "a startling reminder that solitude may be chosen and that a lively, full novel can be constructed entirely within the precincts of that regressive virtue, feminine patience." What the never-married, witty but mild-mannered Mildred Lathbury would have to say about that, I cannot say.
The Complete Claudine, Colette
Though Colette's frisky stories aren't nearly as scandalous today as they were when they were first printed, she is still a giant of French literature, and her writing is just about as daring, sexy, gorgeous, and smart as she. As this book's introduction describes it, Colette is "[a]ccessible and elusive; greedy and austere; courageous and timid; subversive and complacent; scorchingly honest and sublimely mendacious; an inspired consoler and an existential pessimist -- these are the qualities of the artist and the woman." A must for any reader who sees female writing as only one thing.
Drinking With Men, Rosie Schaap
Men love bar stories, right? Funny, smart, and insightful, Schaap's memoir as a drinking buddy will make you a better person.
Inferno, Eileen Myles
Some men might be put off by a "poet's novel," but we bet they'll be on board once they read that killer first line: "My English professor's ass was so beautiful." Myles can be difficult, but she can also be incredible, and in this story of a young poet's self-actualization, she's both. Take note.
Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi
I maintain that Satrapi's beloved graphic memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution is a must-read for absolutely everyone, so including it here is a no-brainer. What does it mean to be a tough little girl into rock music in a country that suppresses their women? What does it mean to be a tough little girl? Satrapi will tell you with grace, humor and delightful illustrations.
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