The best books by women about women, beyond romance, motherhood, or emulating men

Eugenia Cheng Author Of X + Y: A Mathematician's Manifesto for Rethinking Gender
By Eugenia Cheng

Who am I?

I have been thinking a lot about what feminism means for me. In this interview, I said, "I wish more authors would write about strong women, beyond the strength and importance of motherhood, but not just emulating traditional male behavior." I feel that this is the kind of strong woman I am, as a woman forging a non-traditional path in mathematics. I have been on something of a mission to find books like this, and particularly ones written by women. I find such books frustratingly rare, so I wanted to recommend a few that I have found. There is more to being a woman than falling in love and having children.


I wrote...

X + Y: A Mathematician's Manifesto for Rethinking Gender

By Eugenia Cheng,

Book cover of X + Y: A Mathematician's Manifesto for Rethinking Gender

What is my book about?

A brilliant mathematician examines the complexity of gender and society and forges a path out of inequality. Why are men in charge? After years in the male-dominated field of mathematics and in the female-dominated field of art, Eugenia Cheng has heard the question many times. In X + Y, Cheng argues that her mathematical specialty -- category theory -- reveals why.

Category theory deals more with context, relationships, and nuanced versions of equality than with intrinsic characteristics. Category theory also emphasizes dimensionality: much as a cube can cast a square or diamond shadow, depending on your perspective, so too do gender politics appear to change with how we examine them. Because society often rewards traits that it associates with males, such as competitiveness, we treat the problems those traits can create as male. But putting competitive women in charge will leave many unjust relationships in place. If we want real change, we need to transform the contexts in which we all exist, and not simply who we think we are.

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The books I picked & why

The Tiger's Wife

By Téa Obreht,

Book cover of The Tiger's Wife

Why did I love this book?

This is a gorgeous, poetic, magical book, with a strong female character with a mission that is not about falling in love and having children. Although there are love stories in the book, they are unusual ones (as shown by the title) and that is not the main narrative arc of the central protagonist. I long for books where women do something other than fall in love, have children, or emulate men.

By Téa Obreht,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Tiger's Wife as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction 2011! 'Having sifted through everything I have heard about the tiger and his wife, I can tell you that this much is fact: in April of 1941, without declaration or warning, the German bombs started falling over the city and did not stop for three days. The tiger did not know that they were bombs...' A tiger escapes from the local zoo, padding through the ruined streets and onwards, to a ridge above the Balkan village of Galina. His nocturnal visits hold the villagers in a terrified thrall. But for one boy, the…


Book cover of Everything I Never Told You

Why did I love this book?

This book has one of the most spectacular first sentences I've ever encountered in a book and continued to be spectacular throughout. I felt it was crafted almost like a mathematical proof, where you start from the end and work backward towards first principles, seeking to understand every detail of the intricate combination of factors leading to the result. I have been seeking more books by Asian people as I've read so few books that in any way reflect my own experience of growing up Asian surrounded by white people. I love the fact that this book sets an Asian's experience of racism next to a white woman's experience of sexism, and has a strong woman who does not conform to social expectations. And moreover, that this isn't just incidental, but fundamentally drives the plot.

By Celeste Ng,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Everything I Never Told You as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The acclaimed debut novel by the author of Little Fires Everywhere and Our Missing Hearts

"A taut tale of ever deepening and quickening suspense." -O, the Oprah Magazine

"Explosive . . . Both a propulsive mystery and a profound examination of a mixed-race family." -Entertainment Weekly

"Lydia is dead. But they don't know this yet." So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia's body…


The Last Flight

By Julie Clark,

Book cover of The Last Flight

Why did I love this book?

Motherhood is not a universal woman's experience: some women don't want to be mothers and some women are unable to be mothers. But being disrespected, overlooked, and exploited is a universal woman's experience. I found this to be a gripping book about women trying to break free from those experiences, in tightly intertwined tales.

By Julie Clark,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Last Flight as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES, USA TODAY BESTSELLER, & INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER!
"The Last Flight is thoroughly absorbing-not only because of its tantalizing plot and deft pacing, but also because of its unexpected poignancy and its satisfying, if bittersweet, resolution. The characters get under your skin."-The New York Times Book Review
Two women. Two flights. One last chance to disappear.
Claire Cook has a perfect life. Married to the scion of a political dynasty, with a Manhattan townhouse and a staff of ten, her surroundings are elegant, her days flawlessly choreographed, and her future auspicious. But behind closed doors, nothing is…


Book cover of The Misfortune of Marion Palm

Why did I love this book?

I love the concept of the main character, Marion Palm. She's a sort of anti-hero, exactly the sort of woman society expects us not to celebrate: she commits crimes, and then abandons her family when she's been found out. She goes on the run, like the characters in The Last Flight but for different reasons. And yet I found myself rooting for her. Her crime is almost victimless (or rather, the victims are mostly stuck-up rich people we are not exactly encouraged to sympathize with), and her motives are not selfish. In the end, I took this as a book about a woman unapologetically seeing her own worth and looking for people who will appreciate her for it, albeit in bracingly unconventional ways.

By Emily Culliton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Misfortune of Marion Palm as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Entertainment Weekly Best Debut Novels 2017

A wildly entertaining debut about a Brooklyn Heights wife and mother who has embezzled a small fortune from her children's private school and makes a run for it, leaving behind her trust fund poet husband, his maybe-secret lover, her two daughters, and a school board who will do anything to find her.

Marion Palm prefers not to think of herself as a thief but rather "a woman who embezzles." Over the years she has managed to steal $180,000 from her children’s private school, money that has paid for European vacations, a Sub-Zero refrigerator they…


Sounds Like Titanic

By Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman,

Book cover of Sounds Like Titanic

Why did I love this book?

This is my only non-fiction pick, but it reads a little like a gripping work of fiction except that I had to keep pinching myself to remember it really happened. The author is writing about her experience as a professional violinist in a "fake" orchestra. It is a wonderfully nuanced look at the gray area between "fake" and "real", which is devastatingly pertinent to our times. It challenges us to consider if we can actually always tell the difference and if the difference is really clear-cut at all. The reason I'm including it in the list is that the main protagonist, the author, is a strong woman who is determined to make her own way. And there is one section I found particularly satisfying, in which (and I don't think this will give too much away) she refuses to include any romance in the book. She declines to write of being rescued from her predicament by finding "Mr. Right", mainly because it's untrue. But she is urged to make something up, because it is "expected" in books about women, and she refuses, instead deciding to include the conversation about it in the book instead. I love that small but important (to me) resistance. Women don't need to be rescued by men, and more to the point, in reality, as opposed to fiction, women do build their own lives and their own successes, in their own way.

By Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sounds Like Titanic as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When aspiring violinist Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman lands a job with a professional ensemble in New York City, she imagines she has achieved her lifelong dream. But the ensemble proves to be a sham. When the group "performs", the microphones are never on. Instead, the music blares from a CD. The mastermind behind this scheme is a peculiar and mysterious figure known as The Composer, who is gaslighting his audiences with music that sounds suspiciously like the Titanic movie soundtrack. On tour with his chaotic ensemble, Hindman spirals into crises of identity and disillusionment as she "plays" for audiences genuinely moved…


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In Human Shadow

By Gregory J. Glanz,

Book cover of In Human Shadow

Gregory J. Glanz Author Of In Human Shadow

New book alert!

Who am I?

It seems that all of the fictional main characters I create have anti-hero tendencies. There is always some voice in their head telling them to do right when they are expected to do wrong, or to do wrong when it is supposed they will do right. I find this flaw very compelling, and universal for those of us of flesh and blood. Do sneering, evil characters exist? Well, maybe, but they aren’t very interesting, and I think a weak trope.

Gregory's book list on anti-heroes of fantasy fiction

What is my book about?

Born the half-breed, bastard son of an orc chieftain, Wrank tries to survive life in OrcHome among ignorance and spite aimed at his human heritage even as he develops a Talent for folding shadow. When life is no longer viable among the clans, he escapes into the world of humans where he once again encounters intolerance from thieves, wizards, priests, and assassins.

With the eyes of imps, demons, miscreant gods, and a changeling upon him, can he survive In Human Shadow even though his future is foretold, his death foreseen?

In Human Shadow

By Gregory J. Glanz,

What is this book about?

Born the half-breed, bastard son of an orc chieftain, Wrank tries to survive life in OrcHome among ignorance and spite aimed at his human heritage even as he develops a Talent for folding shadow. When life is no longer viable among the clans, he escapes into the world of humans where he once again encounters intolerance from thieves, wizards, priests and assassins. With the eyes of imps, demons, miscreant gods, and a changeling upon him, can he survive In Human Shadow even though his future is foretold, his death foreseen?


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