VB Book ClubThe Empowerment Edition
If there's one must-do to check off your list this month, it's this: inspire, and lift each other up. After all, it's Women's History Month. And to get you revved up, we're spotlighting our top must-reads that celebrate women—some classics, some new, all by written by women, of course.
P.S. Surprise! We're also giving away a set of our favorites here to keep the inspiration going. Keep scrolling for more info.
We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie redefines feminism for the 21st Century in this gem of a book, adapted from her 2012 Ted Talk of the same name. "The problem with gender is that it prescribes how we should be rather than recognizing how we are," she writes. "Imagine how much happier we would be, how much freer to be our truer individual selves, if we didn't have a weight of gender expectations." At a mere 52 pages—and pint-sized pages, at that—We Should All Be Feminists is a quick and easy read but in no way does that diminish its potent beauty.
You may have grown up watching Amber Tamblyn on General Hospital or The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, but lately, she's been burning up screens and the front-page news as an outspoken activist. Era of Ignition is her own very personal exploration of feminism, and a call to arms. "By growing out of my role as just a girl for hire and becoming instead a woman who prospered," she begins, "my own voice has been awakened anew."
Three words: Gloria Steinem's memoir. Enough said.
Toni Morrison is another icon who needs no introduction. Her newest book, already a best seller since its debut in February, features a collection of essays dating back four decades, with ruminations on everything from the role of language and the arts to James Baldwin and the victims of 9/11. It's magical.
Not all powerhouse women have the recognition factor of Steinem and Morrison. Bygone Badass Broads introduces us to all the would-be icons buried in history. Like jiu-jitsu suffragette Edith Garrud. And Queen Arawelo, the Somali royalty who took over her father's throne in 15 CE. And Japan's rebel poet Murasaki Shikibu of The Tale of Genji fame. They're trailblazers all, deserving of more time in the spotlight.
You'll learn about even more inspiring women in Maria Popova's new book, Figuring, which explores four centuries worth of extraordinary people on the hunt for truth and meaning, including astronomers Caroline Herschel and Maria Mitchell, poet Emily Dickinson and marine biologist Rachel Carson—with appearances by Walt Whitman, Frederick Douglass, Charles Darwin and others. It's a heady and dizzying read, one you easily get lost in—and we mean that as a compliment.
One more for the science crowd... Who says the field belongs to men?
And one for the foodies, spotlighting 73 female culinary stars: Alice Waters, Michelle Bernstein, Carla Hall, Alex Guarnaschelli, Christina Tosi...
Decor tip: Stylish shoes as bookends—why not? Above, the Jaqlyn mule
For many, this is the book that launched the term "mansplaining"—but it's much more than that. A collection of essays, it's a smart and incisive primer on modern feminism. "Sometimes the emphasis is on what stayed in the jar: hope. But what's interesting to me right now is that, like the genies, or powerful spirits, in the Arabic stories, the forces Pandora lets out don't go back into the bottle," Solnit writes. "There's no going back."
Another collection of incredible essays, another contemporary classic... "I embrace the label of bad feminist because I am human," explains Gay. "I am messy. I’m not trying to be an example. I am not trying to be perfect. I am not trying to say I have all the answers. I am not trying to say I’m right. I am just trying—trying to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in this world, trying to make some noise with my writing while also being myself."
A handy how-to for raising an empowered generation, complete with fun quizzes and lists and "confidence warm-ups."
What's the path to success? That's the million dollar question, no? According to Angela Duckworth, who spent years studying the topic, the answer is easy. It's not achievement or innate talent but rather grit, which she defines as a combination of passion and perseverance. "Grit is about working on something you care about so much that you’re willing to stay loyal to it," she writes. "It’s doing what you love, but not just falling in love―staying in love."
Admit it—classic fairytales aren't exactly a bastion of female empowerment. In her newest book, out in the U.S. next month, Cecelia Ahern flips the script with a collection of modern-day fairytales—some amusing, some hilarious, some out-right weird. Sample chapter: "The Woman Who Was Swallowed Up By the Floor and Who Met Lots of Other Women Down There Too." Not hooked yet? There's also this: Nicole Kidman snapped up rights and is bringing Roar to a television near you.
And speaking of flipping scripts... What if Homer (the Greek not Groening one) told his epic tales from a female point of view? That's exactly what Madeline Miller has done in this extraordinary book, by swapping out Odysseus for a protagonist anchor in Circe. She's no longer just the witch who turned the Odysseycrew into pigs, but, in Miller's deft writing, becomes a multifaceted and textured—and very human—character.
She Wants It offers another take on the woman-hear-me-roar narrative—here, it comes with a dose of Hollywood. The book is written by Jill Soloway, creator of the Amazon show Transparent, which was itself inspired by Soloway's own transgender father—making this memoir a meta nonfiction dive into a life we know through a fictional lens. Everything you love about Transparent—the shrewd observations; the funny, candid voice; the emotional tugs—you'll find here.
Lisa Alther and Françoise Gilot couldn't come from more different backgrounds—the latter is an artist from Paris, a longtime muse to Pablo Picasso; the former, a novelist, from rural Tennessee. But it's that juxtaposition that makes About Women greater than the sum of these two women's lives. As a reader, you have a front-row seat to two brilliant creatives, delightfully ping-ponging from one perspective to another.
In need of inspiration? This book is a sunny antidote for those moments of doubts, written by a woman The Cut once called the Millennial Oprah. Read it from start to finish for power motivation or skip around and dip in as needed. And if you can't get enough, head to her Instagram for more daily doses of advice.
The 1962 novel follows divorced single mom Anna Wulf, a writer who keeps four journals, each a different color and tracking a different aspect of her life. Blue, for instance, records her dreams and emotions; black, her time during WWII. With its themes of fragmentation and disillusionment, motherhood and female liberation, the book was as controversial as it was influential at the time—and, now, is a classic in feminist canon.
The title says it all. Fran Hauser unpacks what it means to be nice—not exactly a term that's typically embraced with respect in the C-suite. But, as she writes, we need to reclaim the word. Plus, with chapters variously named "Be Ambitious and Likeable," "Speak Up Assertively and Nicely," "Invest in Yourself and Be a Team Player," this is a book after our own heart.