The best books about tenacious women who will not be denied their adventures

The Books I Picked & Why

The Stone Angel

By Margaret Laurence

Book cover of The Stone Angel

Why this book?

Hagar Shipley’s voice is a force of nature forever lodged in my psyche. She is an infuriating woman, but so committed to being an asshole right to the end of the story that you have to shake your head in grudging admiration. Whether right or wrong, she's resolute. When she finds herself staring down the end of her life, she takes full responsibility for all of it—the pain, the joys, the failures−but still will not go darkly into that good night. I wanted a similarly epic voice for my young pioneer protagonist who flung herself at life.

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Lives of Girls and Women

By Alice Munro

Book cover of Lives of Girls and Women

Why this book?

In this book of linked short stories, we meet protagonist Del Jordan as a child fascinated by words and their relationship to all she is beginning to discover. We watch her grow into a precocious young woman who seeks out experience that will help her understand who she is and what she wants. Unflinchingly honest about her desires as a woman and a person, she makes fearlessly original observations about the people and places in her life. This is the story of a remarkably observant writer through whose eyes we see the world as an entrancing place in all its “radiant” detail. 

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Atlas Shrugged

By Ayn Rand

Book cover of Atlas Shrugged

Why this book?

Dagny Taggart is an epic protagonist who must use her mind to transcend the intellectual fog blanketing her world that is disintegrating from misguided values. Hauntingly contemporary considering the novel’s publication in 1957, she is surrounded by people who hold philosophies that encourage collectivism and irrationality. She has to trust her own insights to transcend the truisms of her day. Instead of propping up those who don’t deserve her heroic efforts, she lets go of what people tell her she should be doing to instead create an individual life worthy of her respect. The intellectual sweep of this novel is breathtaking through the philosophical clarity of its courageous female protagonist.

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The Life and Legacy of Annie Oakley, Volume 7

By Glenda Riley

Book cover of The Life and Legacy of Annie Oakley, Volume 7

Why this book?

While researching Annie Oakley as a character in my novel, I was amazed by what an exceptional icon she was. This non-fiction book gives sumptuous detail about a singular woman and the life she led. Oakley met Frank at a shooting competition, where she beat him by only one shot. Rather than becoming defensive, he married her and became her agent. Clearly, she didn't need his help to do what she did better than anyone else in the world, but he helped showcase her skills for adoring crowds in a rough and tumble business. My protagonist Abigail was inspired by her, and frankly so am I.

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By George Bernard Shaw

Book cover of Pygmalion

Why this book?

This play is perhaps better known to contemporary audiences by its movie title My Fair Lady. I loved this movie as a child and studied the play years later as a graduate student. I always admired Eliza Doolittle for having the gumption to act on whatever quirky opportunity life gave her for the mere sake of stretching herself. Henry Higgins’ self-serving wager that he could transform a Cockney flower girl into a duchess held out no tangible reward to the young woman who just wanted to better herself. While Eliza learned to transcend social class through her speech and deportment, the more valuable reward was an independent assessment of who she ultimately was despite the class context of her social world.

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