The best books with iconoclastic women

Why am I passionate about this?

When I was 12, I was given The Book of Questions by Neruda Pablo. “Tell me, is the rose naked or is that her only dress?” It was the perfect book for me, with an abundance of questions. As I got older, the questions turned more serious: what are these forces restricting women to a narrow strip of being? To a slim wedge of psychological existence? How did the definition of female pare down to only a fistful of traits—nurturing, accommodating, object of desire, etc.? I’ve found solace in books, with fully dimensional female characters who refuse society’s common assumptions. It’s these females I try to create in my work. 


I wrote...

The Translator

By Nina Schuyler,

Book cover of The Translator

What is my book about?

When renowned translator Hanne Schubert falls down a flight of stairs, she suffers a brain injury, a rare but real injury: the ability to speak only the language learned later in life—Japanese. Isolated from the English-speaking world, she goes to Japan for refuge, only to be confronted by a Japanese writer who accuses her of mangling the translation of his novel. 

Devoted to her work, Hanne seeks out the inspiration for the man’s novel to redeem her good name, an unemployed Japanese Noh actor named Moto. Through their contentious and sexually charged interactions, Moto finds his way back on stage and Hanne begins to understand how she mistranslated not only the novel, but also her daughter.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Door

Nina Schuyler Why did I love this book?

It’s mid-20th century, Budapest, and the narrator, a Hungarian writer named Magda, interviews Emerence about cleaning her house. I fell in love with this book early on, when Emerence makes it clear that she, not Magda, will decide whether she’ll take the job. To this day, Emerence haunts me. She’s a peasant, illiterate, an anti-intellectual, tall, and powerfully built. And she’s a relentless gift giver, a caretaker of the sick, and a tireless worker, sweeping the snowy or leaf-stricken street for the 11 buildings on the block. The contradictions and inconsistencies pile up, which is why she continues to roam around in my brain. And there’s the lovely mystery, which only reveals itself toward the end, as to why she’s never allowed anyone into her house. 

By Magda Szabo, Len Rix (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This 1987 Hungarian novel in the modernist tradition combines emotionality and literary quality in the story of two women, a writer and her housekeeper.


Book cover of Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead

Nina Schuyler Why did I love this book?

Janina is an older Polish woman. She speaks her mind—even if few listen—foments conflict and spends her days translating the poetry of William Blake and studying astrology, which she believes underlies everything. How could I not fall under her spell? But it was her deep affinity and affection for animals, even beyond that for her fellow humans—far beyond—that made me walk beside her in sympathy. When the dead bodies start piling up, all men, she utterly convinces me that these are acts of revenge, not by humans, but by animals on the local hunters. 

By Olga Tokarczuk, Antonia Lloyd-Jones (translator),

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With DRIVE YOUR PLOW OVER THE BONES OF THE DEAD, Nobel Prize in Literature laureate Olga Tokarczuk returns with a subversive, entertaining noir novel. In a remote Polish village, Janina Duszejko, an eccentric woman in her sixties, recounts the events surrounding the disappearance of her two dogs. She is reclusive, preferring the company of animals to people; she's unconventional, believing in the stars; and she is fond of the poetry of William Blake, from whose work the title of the book is taken. When members of a local hunting club are found murdered, Duszejko becomes involved in the investigation. By…


Book cover of Convenience Store Woman

Nina Schuyler Why did I love this book?

Keiko Furukura can’t find her fit in the world until she’s hired as a sales clerk at Smile Mart. (I imagine it’s like the 7-11 stores in Tokyo, which serve pretty good food.) She’s an ideal worker, primarily because her passion for Smile Smart is genuine. Yet her sister and others think she should marry, pursue a career, and at least have a boyfriend. Herein lies the heart of the inner struggle, to which each of us navigates to some degree or another: how much to relinquish oneself in order to please others? Keiko’s inner battle is valiant and believable, and I rooted for her throughout the story to choose her idiosyncratic, odd self over something as bland as the world’s definition of female. 

By Sayaka Murata, Ginny Tapley Takemori (translator),

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Convenience Store Woman as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Meet Keiko.

Keiko is 36 years old. She's never had a boyfriend, and she's been working in the same supermarket for eighteen years.

Keiko's family wishes she'd get a proper job. Her friends wonder why she won't get married.

But Keiko knows what makes her happy, and she's not going to let anyone come between her and her convenience store...


Book cover of Moments of Being

Nina Schuyler Why did I love this book?

Virginia Woolf is one of my favorite writers, not that I write like her, (I wish I had more of her style, for sure) but for her courage and creative will that stretched her work beyond the boundaries of what existed at the time. Along the way, you can pick out the raw material of her life that she transmuted into fiction. What great fortune to hear directly from Virginia about her philosophy of life and her vision of art.

By Virginia Woolf,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Moments of Being as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Moments of Being is “the single most moving and beautiful thing that Virginia Woolf ever wrote about her own life” (The New York Times) and her only autobiographical writing, published years after her death.
This collection of five pieces written for different audiences spanning almost four decades reveals the remarkable unity of Virginia Woolf’s art, thought, and sensibility.?
“Reminiscences,” written during her apprenticeship period, exposes the childhood shared by Woolf and her sister, Vanessa, while “A Sketch of the Past” illuminates the relationship with her father, Leslie Stephens, who played a crucial role in her development as an individual a…


Book cover of The Days of Abandonment

Nina Schuyler Why did I love this book?

I’d recommend any one of the novels by Elena Ferrante, a writer who depicts with nuance and complexity her female characters’ psychology, as it’s impacted by the forces of society, family, motherhood, wifedom, work, economics, and politics. The Days of Abandonment is one of her earlier novels about a woman whose husband leaves her for a younger woman after 15 years of marriage. A common story, unfortunately, but what isn’t common is the brutally honest depiction of rage, sorrow, depression, loss of self, and the slow evolution of a new life and a new self. 

By Elena Ferrante, Ann Goldstein (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Days of Abandonment as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the New York Times–bestselling author of My Brilliant Friend, this novel of a deserted wife’s descent into despair―and rage―is “a masterpiece” (The Philadelphia Inquirer).

The Days of Abandonment is the gripping story of an Italian woman’s experiences after being suddenly left by her husband after fifteen years of marriage. With two young children to care for, Olga finds it more and more difficult to do the things she used to: keep a spotless house, cook meals with creativity and passion, refrain from using obscenities. After running into her husband with his much-younger new lover in public, she cannot even…


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Feral Maril & Her Little Brother Carol

By Leslie Tall Manning,

Book cover of Feral Maril & Her Little Brother Carol

Leslie Tall Manning Author Of Maggie's Dream

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Why am I passionate about this?

Author Mentor Laugher Research nut Avid reader

Leslie's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Winner of the Literary Titan Book Award

Bright but unassuming Marilyn Jones has some grown-up decisions to make, especially after Mama goes to prison for drugs and larceny. With no one to take care of them, Marilyn and her younger, mentally challenged brother, Carol, get tossed into the foster care system. While shuffling from one home to another, Marilyn makes it her mission to find the Tan Man, a mysterious man from her babyhood she believes holds the key to her family’s happiness.

But Marilyn’s quest is halted when her daddy, an ex-con she has never met, is chosen by…

Feral Maril & Her Little Brother Carol

By Leslie Tall Manning,

What is this book about?

Bright but unassuming Marilyn Jones has some grown-up decisions to make, especially after Mama goes to prison for drugs and larceny. With no one to take care of them, Marilyn and her younger, mentally challenged brother, Carol, get tossed into the foster care system. While shuffling from one home to another, Marilyn makes it her mission to find the Tan Man, a mysterious man from her babyhood she believes holds the key to her family's happiness.

But Marilyn's quest is halted when her daddy, an ex-con she has never met, is chosen by the courts as the new guardian. Caleb…


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