100 books like Anne Sexton

By Diane Wood Middlebrook,

Here are 100 books that Anne Sexton fans have personally recommended if you like Anne Sexton. Shepherd is a community of 9,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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By Nancy Milford,

Book cover of Zelda: A Biography

Libby Sternberg Author Of Daisy

From the list on the tragedy of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Who am I?

I’ve loved F. Scott Fitzgerald’s stories ever since I read The Great Gatsby as a teenager. After that, I devoured all of his works, thanks to a membership in one of those book subscription services where you have to send back monthly book selections if you don’t want them. I read almost all his short stories, all his novels, including the unfinished The Last Tycoon, and everything I could find on him and his wife Zelda. When The Great Gatsby entered the public domain a couple years ago, I started daydreaming of how I'd love to revisit the story from a fresh perspective, which led me to penning Daisy.

Libby's book list on the tragedy of F. Scott Fitzgerald

Why did Libby love this book?

Probably the biggest tragedy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s life was his wife Zelda’s descent into mental illness.

This magnificent biography chronicles their tumultuous relationship as well as Zelda’s upbringing, and how she became the perfect flapper, independent and even a little wild. While the story is drenched in sadness as we all know its ending, this book reveals the struggles of creative women to be respected and seen as individuals, not just appendages to their famous husbands.

It also illuminates Scott’s enduring love for Zelda. Even as he had an affair at the end of his life, he never abandoned his wife to public institutions, insisting she have the best care, no matter the expense, at private ones.

By Nancy Milford,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

“Profound, overwhelmingly moving . . . a richly complex love story.” — New York Times

Acclaimed biographer Nancy Milford brings to life the tormented, elusive personality of Zelda Sayre and clarifies as never before Zelda’s relationship with her husband F. Scott Fitzgerald—tracing the inner disintegration of a gifted, despairing woman, torn by the clash between her husband’s career and her own talent.

Zelda Sayre’s stormy life spanned from notoriety as a spirited Southern beauty to success as a gifted novelist and international celebrity at the side of her husband, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Zelda and Fitzgerald were one of the most…

Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings

By Annette Gordon-Reed,

Book cover of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy

Ann Little Author Of The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright

From the list on biographies of American women.

Who am I?

I’ve been fascinated by American women’s lives my whole life, reading and writing women’s biographies from high school through graduate school and into my career as a professional historian. I was raised in the Great Lakes region of the United States, and was educated at Bryn Mawr College and the University of Pennsylvania. I teach early American history, women’s history, and the history of sexuality at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado, and am at work on a book about women’s lives in the generation after the American Revolution.

Ann's book list on biographies of American women

Why did Ann love this book?

Not a biography in the strict sense, this book is an investigation into “an American controversy” by a legal scholar that demonstrates the value of historical research and analysis by showing how Jefferson’s grandchildren, and white scholars and biographers following their lead, effectively conspired to hide the truth of Jefferson’s 30+ relationship with a woman he owned. And Gordon-Reed published this book a full year before the DNA-based analysis showed that Jefferson was overwhelmingly likely to have been the only father to Hemings’s four children.

By Annette Gordon-Reed,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When Annette Gordon-Reed's groundbreaking study was first published, rumors of Thomas Jefferson's sexual involvement with his slave Sally Hemings had circulated for two centuries. Among all aspects of Jefferson's renowned life, it was perhaps the most hotly contested topic. The publication of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings intensified this debate by identifying glaring inconsistencies in many noted scholars' evaluations of the existing evidence. In this study, Gordon-Reed assembles a fascinating and convincing argument: not that the alleged thirty-eight-year liaison necessarily took place but rather that the evidence for its taking place has been denied a fair hearing.

Friends of Jefferson…

Jefferson's Daughters

By Catherine Kerrison,

Book cover of Jefferson's Daughters: Three Sisters, White and Black, in a Young America

Cassandra Good Author Of First Family: George Washington's Heirs and the Making of America

From the list on the fascinating families of America’s founders.

Who am I?

As a child, I loved reading books about time travel, and now as a historian, I do a sort of time travel for my job. I have always been especially drawn to reading women’s correspondence, particularly when the women involved were pushing against gender roles and finding ways to access political power. I approach doing history as if it’s an ethnography of a group of people with entirely different beliefs, norms, and even emotions from us today; after all, the past is a foreign country. I’m especially intrigued by uncovering how personal relationships worked in the past and how relationships with political figures allowed family and friends to access power.

Cassandra's book list on the fascinating families of America’s founders

Why did Cassandra love this book?

Kerrison brings careful scholarly research and even detective work to this fluidly-written story of Jefferson’s two white daughters, Martha and Maria Jefferson, and one Black daughter, Harriet Hemings. The book offers a more detailed chronicle of Martha and Maria, but Kerrison reveals for the reader her search for what happened to Harriet after she left Monticello and why that story ultimately remains a mystery.

By Catherine Kerrison,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Jefferson's Daughters as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The remarkable untold story of Thomas Jefferson’s three daughters—two white and free, one black and enslaved—and the divergent paths they forged in a newly independent America
FINALIST FOR THE GEORGE WASHINGTON PRIZE • “Beautifully written . . . To a nuanced study of Jefferson’s two white daughters, Martha and Maria, [Kerrison] innovatively adds a discussion of his only enslaved daughter, Harriet Hemings.”—The New York Times Book Review

Thomas Jefferson had three daughters: Martha and Maria by his wife, Martha Wayles Jefferson, and Harriet by his slave Sally Hemings. Although the three women shared a father, the similarities end there. Martha…

Never Caught

By Erica Strong Dunbar,

Book cover of Never Caught: The Washingtons' Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge

John Wood Sweet Author Of The Sewing Girl's Tale: A Story of Crime and Consequences in Revolutionary America

From the list on Revolutionary America focus on the lives of women.

Who am I?

I'm an American historian and former director of UNC-Chapel Hill's Program in Sexuality Studies—and former pizza maker, gas pumper, park ranger, and tour guide at the house in which Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women. As a historian, I've spent my career trying to understand the lives of people in early American history who weren't well known at the time. In writing the Sewing Girl's Tale, which focuses on a survivor of a sexual assault, it was especially important to keep her at the center of the story. Ultimately, I wanted to know: What was life in the aftermath of the American Revolution like—not for some Founding Father—but for an ordinary young woman.

John's book list on Revolutionary America focus on the lives of women

Why did John love this book?

This best-selling book tells an important story about Black women's struggles for freedom and autonomy at the founding of the American nation. And tells it so well! One of my favorite things about this book is that the title is a bit misleading: this is not actually (another) book about the Washingtons.The book centers on Ona Judge, a woman who freed herself after the Revolution and forged a new life in the tumultuous world of the newly independent United States. Dramatic and suspenseful as her personal story is, this book also tells a bigger story about how it was enslaved people themselves who made the North free. Heartbreaking, heroic, dramatic, suspenseful, inspiring.

By Erica Strong Dunbar,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Never Caught as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A startling and eye-opening look into America's First Family, Never Caught is the powerful story about a daring woman of "extraordinary grit" (The Philadelphia Inquirer).

When George Washington was elected president, he reluctantly left behind his beloved Mount Vernon to serve in Philadelphia, the temporary seat of the nation's capital. In setting up his household he brought along nine slaves, including Ona Judge. As the President grew accustomed to Northern ways, there was one change he couldn't abide: Pennsylvania law required enslaved people be set free after six months of residency in the state. Rather than comply, Washington decided to…

My Brilliant Friend

By Elena Ferrante, Ann Goldstein (translator),

Book cover of My Brilliant Friend

Genevieve Scott Author Of The Damages

From the list on featuring complex female friendships.

Who am I?

I love to read and write about complex characters and particularly the “unlikeable” female character. Many readers connect with my characters because they are flawed—they don’t always think or do what we want them to, or what we think they should do, which is often (frustratingly) the case with the real-life people we love and care about. Real, complex people exist in real, complex relationships, including friendships that don’t always serve them—or that do serve them, but in unconventional or superficially unclear ways. I think that reading about contradictory, inconsistent, and confused characters in relationships helps us to be kinder and more empathetic people—and, quite possibly, better friends. 

Genevieve's book list on featuring complex female friendships

Why did Genevieve love this book?

I held out on Ferrante for a while, put off by the complicated neighborhood tree at the beginning of the book. When I finally dug in, I was so riveted by Elena and Lila that I stopped caring about all those other characters.

This book really nails the loyalty that can build out of rivalry in a friendship. Elena and Lila meet as schoolgirls in a violent, working-class neighborhood in post-war Naples. They are both smart, but Lila, the more fiery and precocious of the two, is forced to drop out of school to work. Elena, with a kind of survivor’s guilt, carries on with her education.

As tension bubbles in their friendship, so does an enduring respect and interdependence. The smartest girls in the room need each other, especially in this hard-scrabbling neighborhood where two heads are better than one.

By Elena Ferrante, Ann Goldstein (translator),

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked My Brilliant Friend as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?









Now in B-format Paperback

From one of Italy's most acclaimed authors, comes this ravishing and generous-hearted novel about a friendship that lasts a lifetime. The story of Elena and Lila begins in the 1950s in a poor but…

Writing a Woman's Life

By Carolyn G. Heilbrun,

Book cover of Writing a Woman's Life

Marjorie G. Jones Author Of In the Château: A Frances Yates Mystery

From the list on women's spiritual journeys.

Who am I?

A so-called “recovering lawyer,” after 20 dreary years shuffling papers, I decided to pursue the Life of the Mind with a degree in Historical Studies at the Graduate Faculty of the New School. For an assignment regarding a significant historian, I chose Frances Yates, whose book Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition spoke to me. Culling her papers at the Warburg Institute in London led to her first biography, Frances Yates and the Hermetic TraditionSince then, I've transformed Dame Frances into a sleuth, who explores other unorthodox faith traditions, accompanied by another “recovering lawyer,” whose story mirrors my own, thus enabling me via bio-fiction to further enhance my spirituality. 

Marjorie's book list on women's spiritual journeys

Why did Marjorie love this book?

Writing a Woman’s Life ignited my interest in women’s stories. More significantly, Heilbrun’s feminist Kate Fansler mysteries, written via the pseudonym Amanda Cross, inspired me to transform Frances Yates into a fictional sleuth. To date, Dame Frances (DBE) has encountered other unorthodox faith traditions, as revealed in Tarot; the Convent of Sor Juana de la Cruz in Mexico; among Philadelphia Quakers; and women religious at the Ursuline Convent in Québec. To date, there have been four Frances Yates mysteries.

By Carolyn G. Heilbrun,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Writing a Woman's Life as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this modern classic, Carolyn G. Heilbrun builds an eloquent argument demonstrating that writers conform all too often to society's expectations of what women should be like at the expense of the truth of the female experience. Drawing on the careers of celebrated authors including Virginia Woolf, George Sand, and Dorothy Sayers, Heilbrun illustrates the struggle these writers undertook in both work and life to break away from traditional "male" scripts for women's roles.

Book cover of Let's Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship

Nancy K. Miller Author Of My Brilliant Friends: Our Lives in Feminism

From the list on how women's friendships shape their lives.

Who am I?

I’m a memoirist living in New York and my women friends have saved my life many times. I didn’t fully understand how important they were to me until the three I write about died within a few years of each other in the early aughts. I also teach memoir as an academic. I’ve learned from my favorite writers how crucial it is to push past shame and embarrassment to try and reach emotional truth—whatever that is for each of us. Only readers can decide whether one succeeds, but for me, the most important gift memoir can bestow is the writer’s willingness to risk intimate self-disclosure.  

Nancy's book list on how women's friendships shape their lives

Why did Nancy love this book?

The memoir helped me come to terms with the loss of three of my closest friends. Let’s Take the Long Way Home is an elegy to a beloved friend. It’s a book about grieving, of course, but also about recapturing loving memories of an intense relationship. The title, however, doesn’t hint at the story’s unusual major theme: the two women, both writers, meet over their love of and care for dogs! I confess that am not a dog lover, but I ended up captivated by the women’s passionate devotion to their animals and by seeing how this attachment strengthened their human bond. You don’t have to share a canine passion to be moved by this intimate portrait.

By Gail Caldwell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Let's Take the Long Way Home as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


They met over their dogs. Gail Caldwell and Caroline Knapp (author of Drinking: A Love Story)became best friends, talking about everything from their love of books and their shared history of a struggle with alcohol to their relationships with men. Walking the woods of New England and rowing on the Charles River, these two private, self-reliant women created an attachment more profound than either of them could ever have foreseen. Then, several years into this remarkable connection, Knapp was diagnosed with cancer. With her signature exquisite prose, Caldwell mines the deepest levels of devotion, and courage…

Truth & Beauty

By Ann Patchett,

Book cover of Truth & Beauty: A Friendship

Patti Miller Author Of True Friends

From the list on the wonders and challenges of friendship.

Who am I?

As a full-time writer of creative non-fiction, I am passionately interested in what makes us human. Like most people. I have always been fascinated by friendship and have had many friends throughout my life. I decided to write about friendship when a good friend 'pruned' me, that is, ended our friendship. I was bewildered and hurt and wanted to understand what had happened, which led me to write True Friends. When I discussed the topic with others, it turned out that most people had also experienced a friend break-up, but it was not much written about—until now!

Patti's book list on the wonders and challenges of friendship

Why did Patti love this book?

Ann Patchett is a successful American novelist, and Truth and Beauty is her memoir about her friendship with the poet, Lucy Grealy. She writes beautifully about Grealy, her talent and her warm, engaging personality, but also about her struggles and eventual death. Patchett conveys the depth of a passionate friendship by letting the reader see all her thoughts and feelings, courageously looking at how we can love someone, but how they can also try us to our limits. It is a book for those who love literature and are fascinated by the depth and intricacy of a creative connection between humans.

By Ann Patchett,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Truth & Beauty as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the bestselling author of The Dutch House, Commonwealth and Bel Canto, Winner of The Women's Prize for Fiction and the Pen/Faulkner Award.

When Ann Patchett and Lucy Grealy met in college they began a friendship that would define their lives. Lucy Grealy lost part of her jaw to childhood cancer, and a large part of her life to chemotherapy and endless reconstructive surgeries. Stoic but vulnerable, damaged by bullying but fascinated by fame, Lucy had an incandescent personality that illuminated those around her.

In this tender, brutal book, Ann Patchett describes Lucy's life and her own platonic love for…

Hidden Valley Road

By Robert Kolker,

Book cover of Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family

Stephen Trimble Author Of The Mike File: A Story of Grief and Hope

From the list on families struggling with mental health.

Who am I?

I’d been writing for forty years before I could write about the biggest story in my life. My 25 non-fiction books about the American West—landscape, Native peoples, conservation—are a joy to research, photograph, and create. But I had unfinished emotional business: my mentally ill brother who left home when I was six, never to return. After everyone in my family was gone, it was finally safe. I began to recreate my brother’s life, reveling in research. I know how to do that. Opening myself emotionally to the heart of my family story took far longer. Empathy is a choice, and I’ve made my choice.

Stephen's book list on families struggling with mental health

Why did Stephen love this book?

In many ways, my book is a prologue to Robert Kolker’s extraordinary book. When Mike left our home, he moved to the Colorado State Hospital, in 1957, just a few years before the Galvin brothers began to rotate through the same wards. My mother dealt with the guilt and shame, stigma and chaos of one child with schizophrenia. The Galvins had ten boys and two girls, and six of the boys were diagnosed with schizophrenia. Unimaginable. I feel especially close to their story because I went to college in Colorado Springs. I rode my bike near the Galvin home on Hidden Valley Road. Even the brain research ending Kolker’s book on a note of hope happens in Denver at the University of Colorado. Like mine, this is a Colorado story. 

By Robert Kolker,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hidden Valley Road as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • OPRAH’S BOOK CLUB PICK • ONE OF GQ's TOP 50 BOOKS OF LITERARY JOURNALISM IN THE 21st CENTURY • The heartrending story of a midcentury American family with twelve children, six of them diagnosed with schizophrenia, that became science's great hope in the quest to understand the disease.

"Reads like a medical detective journey and sheds light on a topic so many of us face: mental illness." —Oprah Winfrey

Don and Mimi Galvin seemed to be living the American dream. After World War II, Don's work with the Air Force brought them to Colorado,…

Destination Unknown

By LeOna Cox, Kathleen Cox,

Book cover of Destination Unknown: Adventures of a WWII American Red Cross Girl

Karen Berkey Huntsberger Author Of I'll Be Seeing You: Letters Home from a Navy Girl

From the list on women in uniform in World War II.

Who am I?

I’ve been devoted to reading memoirs since childhood. My favorite memoirs are based on letters written by people who served in World War II. Their letters encapsulate their experiences with an intimacy meant only for their loved ones. I am fascinated with the immediacy of their personal experience, the longing for home, and the courage to carry on that is expressed in these letters. I continue to be astonished and inspired by the lives of “ordinary” people who tell their own extraordinary stories better than anyone else could. I am the author of two non-fiction books based on letters and my current project is a World War II-era historical novel.

Karen's book list on women in uniform in World War II

Why did Karen love this book?

I absolutely love the layout of this book–the title, the photos, and the fonts. This irresistible chapter heading made me want to know more: “Training: Thrilled to Death with Everything.” At the start of the book, I knew nothing about World War II Red Cross volunteers and next to nothing about the war in Africa. LeOna’s letters are so exuberant with descriptions so vivid you feel like you are walking in her footsteps. I love the photos with her smiling face. I finished this book with a deep respect for the dedicated women who worked so hard to provide soldiers with comfort and a connection to home.

By LeOna Cox, Kathleen Cox,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From Kathleen Cox: Her name was LeOna Kriesel, and she was 27-years-old; a recent graduate from University of Minnesota and teaching at Allegheny College. When a fellow Allegheny teacher revealed he was also a recruiter for the American Red Cross he said, “LeOna, I’ve been observing you. I believe you’d make a good Red Cross Girl. Are you interested in applying for the job?” It took LeOna just seconds to exclaim, “Would I, you bet I would!” LeOna was my mother. Growing up I heard her stories about running enlisted men’s social clubs in Constantine, Algeria, and Rome, Italy, from…

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