'If we don't read books by women, we're missing essential data', says author Deborah Levy, whose essay Things I Don’t Want to Know first ignited my mission to grapple with my female identity, as a woman, as a mother, as a daughter, as a writer – and, I soon realised, as a reader. 

So here it is: a reading list of 50 books. They are on there because of who wrote them, because of subjects they explore, or because of their influence on the societal perception of women. They are all fiction, with the exception of Deborah Levy’s essay, which is as moving as any novel, and which I couldn’t not put in.

This is very much a personal list. Some will be contentious. I have included, for instance, Lolita, because it has (mis)shaped widespread cultural perception of women and as a reader it was a useful stoker of the feminist fires I wanted to re-connect with. I first put this list together for The W Review, and since then I've made a few revisions, but it is interesting to see that most of the entries stay the same.

Curiously, a survey of 400 women by the Orange Prize revealed a rather more diverse reading list than mine. Women were asked which novels had most changed the way they viewed themselves – the results included The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

What books would you add to this list? Which ones do you disagree with? Which book most influenced you as a woman, or shaped your ideas of womanhood?


1. Things I Don’t Want to Know by Deborah Levy

2. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
(could have gone with anything by VW to be honest, including the essays, letters and diaries, but Mrs D is what I read first, many moons ago)

3. The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

4. The Lover by Marguerite Duras

5. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

6. Top Girls by Caryl Churchill

7. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

8. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

9. Fear of Flying by Erica Jong

10. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

11. The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

12. The Colour Purple by Alice Walker

13. The Delta of Venus by Anais Nin

14. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

15. The Awakening by Kate Chopin

16. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

17. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

18. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

19. The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler

20. Diary of an Ordinary Woman by Margaret Forster

21. A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen

22. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

23. House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

24. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

25. Good Woman of Szechuan by Bertolt Brecht

26. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

27. Cassandra at the Wedding by Dorothy Baker

28. Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro

29. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

30. The Way Things Are by EM Delafield

31. The Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pizan

32. Lelia by George Sand

33. Madame Bovary by Gustav Flaubert

34. Swallowing Geography by Deborah Levy

35. Middlemarch by George Elliot

36. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

37. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

38. Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw

39. Bad Behaviour by Mary Gaitskill

40. Are you there God, It’s me Margaret by Judy Blume

41. An Untamed State by Roxane Gay

42. Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende

43. Aftermath by Rachel Cusk

44. The Vagabond / The Shackle by Colette

45. Laura by Vera Casperway

46. The Taming of the Shrew by Shakespeare

47. Lolita by Vladimir Nabakov

48. The Women’s Room by Marilyn French

49. We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

50. A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride