Ladies, have you found yourselves stuck in a bit of a book-rut? Sure, you could pour yourself a hot drink and curl up with something easy-going like “Shopaholic and Baby” but you may run the risk of your brain melting out of your ears. Just saying. Novels are an adventure into lives we know nothing about, they can teach us empathy and compassion for others or teach us new perspectives.

We all need that daily dose of escapism to help deal with stresses and turning pages is a much better option than running to the nearest bar for a bottle (or two) of wine.

Reading is also a great alternative to Netflix (at least sometimes) because we sometimes don’t realize how therapeutic quiet can be. You can actually hear the birds and the bees while you read, and it’s extremely peaceful. It’s best to have several books on hand, especially while traveling because glamping, ocean-gazing and beach lounging just isn’t the same without a good book in hand.

The following 10 life-altering novels are important as they will teach you many life lessons that may come in handy one day. Each time we read new information we are sub-consciously storing new methods in our mind which we may call upon at a later date. Read a dozen books every year, and you’ll be able to better hold an in-depth intellectual conversation with almost anyone. No matter what your taste in fiction is, these following 10 books should be read at least once in your lifetime.

10. White Teeth by Zadie Smith 

When you open a Zadie Smith novel the first page should read, “Do you have a Bachelors Degree or equivalent?” because if the answer is no then you might as well just throw it over your shoulder before it goes over your head. Smith offers some of the most sophisticated writing available on bookshelves today and carrying one of her books under your arm will make you appear instantly highbrow.

White Teeth is a novel about the clash of cultures which follows the lives of two families from London. One of the major themes of the book is the dilemmas immigrants have to face when confronted with a new society and values. Each of her novels offer incredible life lessons that actually teach us the importance of patience when co-existing with others.

9. Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson 

Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit is most likely one of the novels your teacher tried to shove down your throat at high school. If you resented the idea of reading during your teenage years (the thought of being caught with your head in a book was unthinkable) then now is better than ever to make up for lost time.

This coming-of-age story by Jeanette Winterson follows the life of a young lesbian who grows in a small community. It addresses themes surrounding youth, religion, difficult family relationships and same sex relationships. Some of the events in the book reflected Winterson’s real-life when she was growing up, so much so that when it was published her mother was furious. In the book the young girl, Jeanette, alongside her gay partner are subjected to exorcisms from the church. It is a real eye opener showing the challenges a young woman had to face growing up.

8. Brick Lane by Monica Ali 

What were you up to at eighteen years old? Hanging with friends, chasing that guy and trying to find out what the hell you wanted to do with your life probably. Nazneen, an 18-year-old Bangladeshi woman moves to London to marry a much older man. The only english she can speak is “sorry” and “thank you”. The novel follows her life as she adapts to her new surroundings and it’s contrast with home which we get a glimpse of throughout letter received from her sister, Hasina.

You have to be quite the talented writer to land yourself on a Best Young Novelist list before you’ve even had your book published. But that is what happened to Ali before this masterpiece took the world by storm. This is a great book if you are interested in how much life experiences affect us and shape us to into the women we are today.

7. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

If you have already picked up this coming-of-age classic then I know you will have a special place in your heart for the March sisters – Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy. This is a journey into womanhood which we all know is never an easy one. Little Women has been labelled the very first novel which portrayed the “All-American Girl”.

The novel address the issues we have even nowadays where feeling like we have to be the “perfect” woman at all times. I am guessing that most us can relate to the feeling of that kind of pressure. Themes of work, true love, family relationships, domesticity and death all appear throughout. The book itself was a commercial successful for the author, Louisa May Alcott, as she had created a work of art which held a sentimental place with readers for decades to come.

6. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood 

The Handmaid’s Tale is a novel which will make you thankful for the choices we have in the life. Set in the future, where all women have lost their rights, there are The Handmaids. These are a group of fertile women who are used as child-making machines for rich, barren couples. The novel explores female identity, sexuality and social control.

A sterile woman in The Handmaid’s Tale is considered to be a non-person. The role as a handmaid is promoted as a positive one, they are often told that within society this holds a great honour. Although through the readers eyes we can all see this is very far from the truth. Once included on reading lists throughout schools until someone actually read the whole thing and demanded it to be banned from classrooms. Fair point as the graphic sex scenes really aren’t for young children.

5. Beloved by Toni Morrison 

Beloved is a novel based on the real-life story of Margaret Gunner, she escaped from slavery in Kentucky during the late 1800’s. When she became captured again, she murdered her own two-year-old daughter with a butcher knife so she would not have to live as a slave. Her trial in court became so notorious that more than a thousand people showed up to try and watch the case every day. Five hundred police had to be employed just to try and keep order.

Antislavery activist Lucy Stone told the courtroom, during the trial, that Gunner had acted within her own rights. She said, “Rather than give her daughter to that life, she killed it. If in her deep maternal love she felt the impulse to send her child back to God, to save it from coming woe, who shall say she had no right not to do so?” The novel, which changed the names of the main characters, is an emotional journey into the role of a mother during the years of slavery.

4. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Jane Eyre is a tale about a young girl growing into womanhood and it was revolutionary for it’s time. Jane meets many men throughout her travels and all of them attempt to assert some level of power over her. During her time, women were considered to have quite a low social standing so even for strong, independent woman like us it’s admirable how she handles herself in difficult situations.

Jane could be considered the very first feminist icon as she only falls for men who are her financial, emotional and intellectual equal. Bronte also would have had a tough time writing the novel as many of the dark moments were very similar to real-life events she was faced with herself. One character dies painfully from tuberculosis which was how she lost her own two sisters, Elizabeth and Maria. Another main character John Reed, Jane’s cousin, starts to disintegrate with alcoholism which is also a reflection of how Bronte’s brother met his death.

3. The Color Purple by Alice Walker 

The Color Purple is an important story about the life of African-American women who lived in southern America during the 1930s. You may have seen the movie or the musical adaption but the novel itself packs in the most emotional and painful punch you’ll ever have swung at you. The depiction of violence throughout is so strong that it is often censored by many public libraries in the states.

Celie is a fourteen-year-old poor, uneducated black girl who spends her time writing letters to God. Her own father beats her and rapes her. Her mother passes away after cursing her own daughter on her deathbed. The novel explores themes surrounding sexism and racism that women had to put up with during the 1930s. In 1985, Whoopi Goldberg took on the difficult role of Celie for the movie adaption which was directed by Steven Spielberg.

2. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath 

The Bell Jar is an important semi-autobiographical novel by Sylvia Plath. Talented, bright journalist Esther Greenwood lands herself a job at a prominent New York City magazine. The novel follows her story as she has to face a battle with depression which slowly witnesses her descent into insanity. The mental demise of Esther is described as being suffocated under a bell jar. She attempts suicide twice, once by swimming far out to sea and the second time by attempting an overdose of insomnia medication.

In 1963, a month after the book was published, Plath committed suicide aged just 30-years-old. She had struggled with clinical depression and the novel was labelled as part-autobiographical. She sealed the rooms between herself and her two children with wet towels. She then poisoned herself with carbon monoxide by placing her head in the kitchen oven.

1. The Feminine Mystique by Betty Frieden

Betty Frieden published The Feminine Mystique in 1963 and for this era it was ground-breaking work. Six years earlier she conducted a survey of her former college classmates in preparation for their 15 year reunion. She found from her survey that, well basically – everyone was miserable. From this she began to research the issue further and realised, which is no shock to us now, that women wanted more than to be a housewife and a mother.

The book inspired “the second-wave of feminism” and by the year 2000 over three million copies had been sold worldwide. At the time when it was published there were not many options for women to work so the majority believed they would be content playing the role of the content housewife.

Frieden blasts this conformity right into the sky by writing, “…women who ‘adjust’ as housewives, who grow up wanting to be ‘just a housewife,’ are in as much danger as the millions who walked to their own death in the concentration camps…they ate suffering a slow death of mind and spirit”. It is one book that will make you want to chop off your finger before you dream of placing a wedding ring on it again.

Photo courtesy: We Heart It

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