18 of the best feminist books you should be reading

Our list of some of the best feminist novels, feminist non-fiction and feminist poetry to empower, educate and move you to take action.

5 minutes to read

The fight for gender equality has certainly gained traction in recent years but the past year has drawn attention to areas in which progress is still desperately needed, whether the global rise in domestic violence during lockdown or the need for feminism to be intersectional, as highlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement. If you’re looking for inspiring reads to motivate you in the fight for gender equality, here is our edit of the best feminist books you should be reading.

Feminist novels

Breasts and Eggs

by Mieko Kawakami

Book cover for 9781509898206

This literary debut, which Haruki Murakami called ‘breathtaking’, is a must-read for fans of feminist literary fiction. Mieko Kawakami paints a radical picture of contemporary working-class womanhood in Japan as she recounts the heartbreaking stories of three women who must survive in a society where the odds are stacked against them.

The Handmaid's Tale

by Margaret Atwood

Book cover for The Handmaid's Tale

No list of the best feminist books would be complete without a mention of Margaret Atwood’s masterful dystopia set in a future America where women are reduced to their reproductive usefulness. The TV adaptation has been internationally successful and the novel, which now seems scarily prescient in today’s political climate, will be followed with a sequel, The Testaments, in September 2019.

Read 12 books to read after The Handmaid’s Tale.

The Testaments

by Margaret Atwood

Book cover for The Testaments

Set fifteen years after Margaret Atwood's bestselling novel The Handmaid's TaleThe Testaments continues the story of Gilead through three, very different, women's voices. The novel delves into the inner workings of the regime, and asks how far these women will go for what they believe in. 

A Thousand Ships

Book cover for 9781509836192

While the names Odysseus, Achilles and Agamemnon are synonymous with epic tales of battle and bravery, the women of Homer’s epics have largely been sidelined, if not entirely forgotten. From Helen to Penelope, Natalie Haynes gives a voice to the women, girls and goddesses who have been silenced for so long in this retelling of the story of the Trojan War from an all-female perspective.

The Awakening

by Kate Chopin

Book cover for 9781509854127

Seen as scandalous when it was first published in 1899, The Awakening is now considered one of the earliest and boldest examples of feminist fiction. When Edna meets the charming Robert Lebrun while holidaying with her husband and two young children, a flirtation turns into an affair which opens her eyes to a life outside her passionless marriage and the stifling restrictions of nineteenth-century society.

Salt Slow

by Julia Armfield

Book cover for 9781529012569
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Julia Armfield won the White Review Short Story Prize 2018, and Salt Slow is her debut collection of short stories, including the prize-winning ‘The Great Awake’. This is a collection focused on women and their experiences in society, exploring relationships, sexuality, female bodies and female fears.

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The Doll Factory

by Elizabeth Macneal

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Elizabeth Macneal’s enthralling novel follows Iris Whittle as she breaks free of the staid gender expectations of the 19th century to follow her heart and pursue a new life full of art and love. But after a chance meeting, collector Silas develops a dark obsession with Iris which could threaten her new found freedom forever. Battling gender stereotypes and male entitlement, Iris is undoubtedly a Victorian heroine for the 21st century.

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Read Naomi Frisby on the male gaze in The Doll Factory, art and society.

The Bluest Eye

by Toni Morrison

Book cover for The Bluest Eye

The Bluest Eye is the debut novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Toni Morrison. In the novel, Toni explores the problematic and racist beauty ideals of western society, as well as addressing issues of race, poverty and abuse. Percola, made to feel ugly because of her dark skin, wishes desperately for the blue eyes of her dolls, as her family falls apart around her.

The Golden Notebook

by Doris Lessing

Book cover for The Golden Notebook

Written in 1962, this experimental, Nobel Prize-winning novel brings taboo issues of the time, including women's sexuality, bodily functions and mental illness, to the fore. The novel sees Anna, a writer, attempt to collate the notebooks in which she has recorded her life’s experience into a cohesive whole, in a final, golden, notebook, while she struggles with her mental health.

Feminist non-fiction

Pandora’s Jar

by Natalie Haynes

Book cover for 9781509873111

Taking Pandora and her jar as a starting point, Natalie Haynes puts the women on an equal footing with the men in this feminist take on Greek myth. The voices of remarkable women, from Athena and Artemis to Eurydice and Penelope, are front and centre in this witty collection of stories. 

The Moment of Lift

by Melinda Gates

Book cover for 9781529005516
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For the last twenty years, Melinda Gates has worked tirelessly to find solutions for people around the world with the greatest needs. Her inspirational journey has illuminated one absolute truth: if you want to lift a society up, you need to stop keeping women down. Full of the lessons Melinda has learned and the astonishing stories of just some of the people she has met, The Moment of Lift addresses the most pressing issues affecting women globally today.

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Discover 6 unbelievable facts about gender inequality in 2019, revealed in The Moment of Lift.

A Room of One's Own

by Virginia Woolf

Book cover for 9781509843183

First published in 1929, this essay by Virginia Woolf is just as incisive and relevant today as when it was first delivered as a lecture at Cambridge University. Challenging the accepted thinking of the time, Woolf argues that women are not intrinsically lesser writers because of their gender, but because of the educational and economic restrictions placed on them by a patriarchal society.

We Should All Be Feminists

by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Book cover for We Should All Be Feminists

This short essay is based on a TEDx talk the author gave in 2012 and addresses the ways in which we need to raise our children, both sons and daughters, differently in order to begin creating a fairer world for everyone. Illustrated by Chimamanda’s own experiences of gender inequality throughout her life, this is a concise, well-argued and beautifully written book, and at only 52 pages, there’s no reason not to find the time to read it.

It's Not About the Burqa

by Mariam Khan

Book cover for 9781509886425

It’s Not About the Burqa represents the voices you don’t see represented in the media – seventeen Muslim women speaking frankly and honestly about the hijab and their faith; love, sex and divorce; intersectional feminism; queer identity; racism and facing a disapproving community. A must-read for feminists everywhere.

Watch the contributors to It’s Not About the Burqa talk about what being a Muslim woman means to them.

A Vindication of the Rights of Women

by Mary Wollstonecraft

Book cover for A Vindication of the Rights of Women

Written in 1792 by proto-feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is one of the earliest examples of feminist philosophy. Mary argues against the established thinking that women should only receive a domestic, not a rational, education, claiming that educating women is essential as they, in turn, will educate the nation’s children. Although it was published before the word feminism was even coined, the idea that women are human beings who deserve the same fundamental rights as men is at the heart of this text.  


by Sinéad Gleeson

Book cover for 9781509892730
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This is a powerful collection of personal and political essays on the female body, from pregnancy and the often painful reality of breastfeeding to bodily autonomy and the Irish referendum on abortion. Taking us on a journey that is both deeply personal and yet universally relatable, this is the story of life in a body.

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Feminist poetry


by Safiya Sinclair

Book cover for 9781529030235

The poems in Safiya Sinclair’s debut collection bloom with an intense lyricism and fertile imagery that evoke the poet’s Jamaican childhood as they explore race, history, womanhood and exile. Colliding with and confronting The Tempest and postcolonial identity, Safiya shocks and delights her readers with her willingness to disorient and provoke. Here the female body is a dark landscape; the female body is cannibal.

The World's Wife

by Carol Ann Duffy

Book cover for 9781509852666

A unique collection of poetry with a new, feminist slant on age-old mythology, The World’s Wife takes tales of famous men and tells the stories of the women behind them. From Frau Freud on her husband’s psychoanalytical theory of penis envy to Queen Kong, in love with a visiting documentary maker, and a retelling of the Kray Twins as a pair of sisters, this collection turns history on its head.

She Is Fierce

by Ana Sampson

Book cover for 9781529003154
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This beautiful book contains 150 bold, brilliant, brave poems by women – from classic, well-loved verses to innovative modern voices. Immerse yourself in this wonderful collection featuring an inclusive range of voices from suffragettes to schoolgirls. From literary legends such as Carol Ann Duffy and Emily Dickinson to spoken-word star Holly McNish, this is an essential collection for any poetry-loving feminist.

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For more feminist poetry, read our edit of   inspiring poems from female poets.