Kim Wells

Originally written 2002,
Updated, Summer 2008

Chicken Soup for my Feminist Soul:
A List of Books to Read When You Need a Little Enlightenment

     I have a Sam's Club card, the coveted piece of plastic that will get you into those warehouse doors to buy gigantic bulk cans of tunafish, mayo, masses of toilet paper you'll never think you'll really use, etc. I like my Sam's card, and my husband and I hang out at the store a lot; it's an interesting place to people watch. I wonder why people are buying bulk cans of mustard (can anyone ever use that much? are they bathing in it?)

     In addition to all that bulk stuff, Sam's also sells books. They tend to be bestseller/popular works, religious stuff, kids books, cookbooks and coffee table books. One that I see A LOT of Sam's shoppers buying is the Chicken Soup for the (fill in blank with gender, or age, or other cultural identifier term) Soul series. I'll admit that I am not hugely fond of the books, but am really glad that people are reading SOMETHING at least. I wish people would try reading something that makes them think, learn new things, instead of reinforcing the things that they already "know." I find the categories that the C.S. for the S. folks pick a bit limiting. Not all women, teens, grandmothers, etc, want to read the same thing. And what is so nourishing about short, syrupy stories that we could pick up any home magazine for? But am I just being a book-elitist again? Is there something inherently comfortable about that kind of story? Chicken soup, after all, is not what I would choose to eat every day, but it is something worth your time now and then. Perhaps those stories are the same?

     But I was thinking-- rather than merely stand on the sidelines and complain and critique, maybe I ought to do something about it myself? How about a list of "Chicken Soup for MY Feminist Soul?" Maybe it's partly that people just don't know what to read, what they might like. I know I have really close friends who, knowing I do this for a living, sometimes ask me for a list to read. Maybe that's even why you, gentle reader, stumbled onto this website.

     So here I will attempt a not-at-all complete list of the books I read when my radical, personal-is- political, chick-lit teaching/reading feminist soul needs a little home-cooking. There are books here that I have read and will read time and again. There are a few I've only read once, but would read again. Some are radical-- some are not. Some fire me with anger and purpose, and some are just the kinds of things you slip into, like soft flannel pajamas on a cold day-- they are comfortable and warm. Some of the books are sort of "brain candy" for when I'm not in the mood to change the world, when I want to be entertained, when I want to NOT think about oppression and unfairness. But even some of those grab my feminist soul and shape it. For the most part, this list is fiction, more things I would read in my hammock in the backyard, less those books I read for my job. If you want something more "intellectually meaty" there are more "Feminist" women's studies "theory" type books on the webliography.

     All the books on this list teach me something about what it means to be a feminist in the world today. They might teach you, too-- they might not. I could also include a lot of male writers who should be on this list, for not all feminists are women. But since the site's focus is specifically women writers, I'm going to limit this list to people who are apparently carrying around two X chromosomes. The list is not in a hierarchical order... they are random here, as they occur to me. So you could conceivably figure out something about the way my brain is shaped, or how my messy bookshelves are organized today by looking at the order in which they appear. But if you're looking for something to read... check this list out. Some of them might not really be called "Feminist" in the "radical, goin' to meetin'" sort of way. But in some way, they make me think about what it means to define yourself as a feminist, to be a woman, to think of the issues of social equality and difference. They are my own, personal, women's canon.

Want a nice, print-outable list? Click here for a printer-friendly HTML version.

In 2008, I found a cool web "widget" that easily allows us to update books for you to read. Women writers' editor has added these books to the scrolling slideshow below, for your viewing/reading pleasure. :) These are all still books I have personally read, and recommend because they are thoughtful, interesting, have good, strong (usually women) protagonists, or are theory about feminism & women's lives.

This is much easier, and you still give Women Writers an amazon referral fee when you go buy a book from there using the amazon link. :)

I'm updating the widget as we go. It should be easier to add books to this list, and so more readily updateable as I read new stuff, and you can easily go and make your own wishlist using Amazon. :)

Practical Magic (fiction)
Alice Hoffman
Travels With Myself and Another (non-fiction, travel writing/memoirs)
Martha Gellhorn
Outlaw School (fiction)
Rebecca Ore
Country of the Pointed Firs (fiction)
Sarah Orne Jewett
Sensational Designs (non-fiction, scholarly)
Jane Tompkins
Quicksand (fiction)
Nella Larsen
Woman on the Edge of Time (fiction)
Marge Piercy
White as Snow (fiction)
Tanith Lee
Voodoo Dreams (fiction)
Jewel Parker Rhodes
The Joy Luck Club (fiction)
Amy Tan
The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton (fiction)
Edith Wharton
My Antonia (fiction)
Willa Cather
The Color Purple (fiction)
Alice Walker
The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter (fiction)
Katherine Anne Porter
The House of the Spirits (fiction)
Isabel Allende
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Written by Herself (autobiography/memoir)
Harriet Jacobs
Kindred (fiction)
Octavia Butler
The Parable of the Sower (fiction)
Octavia Butler
Cat's Eye (fiction)
Margaret Atwood
The Age of Innocence (fiction)
Edith Wharton
The Mistress of Spices (fiction)
Chitra Banerlee Divakaruni
Black Feminist Thought (non-fiction, scholarly)
Patricia Hill Collins
A Door into Ocean (fiction)
Joan Slonczewski
The Gate to Women's Country (fiction)
Sheri S. Tepper
Unbearable Weight (non-fiction, scholarly)
Susan Bordo
Cassandra: A Novel and Four Essays (fiction)
Christa Wolf
The God of Small Things (fiction)
Arundhati Roy
Prodigal Summer: A Novel (fiction)
Barbara Kingsolver
I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem (fiction)
Maryse Conde
In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens (essays)
Alice Walker
Annie Oakley's Girl (fiction)
Rebecca Brown
Sula (fiction)
Toni Morrison
Nights at the Circus (fiction)
Angela Carter
The Handmaid's Tale and Alias Grace (fiction)
Margaret Atwood
Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets (theory/non-fiction)
Barbara Walker
Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (fiction)
Rebecca Wells
A Pagan Place (fiction)
Edna O'Brien 
Transformations (poetry)
Anne Sexton
Failing at Fairness: How Our Schools Cheat Girls (non-fiction, scholarly)
Myra Sadker, David Sadker
The Body Project : An Intimate History of American Girls (non-fiction, scholarly)
Joan Jacobs Brumberg
Women of Wonder: The Classic Years
Pamela Sargent  (fiction)
Women of Wonder: The Contemporary Years: Pamela Sargent (fiction)
Lucy (fiction)
Jamaica Kincaid
Breath, Eyes, Memory (fiction)
Edwidge Danticat
The Diary of a Young Girl (autobiography/memoir)
Anne Frank
Memoirs of a Survivor & The Golden Notebook
Doris Lessing (fiction)
Bastard Out of Carolina (fiction)
Dorothy Allison
Their Eyes Were Watching God (fiction)
Zora Neale Hurston
The Awakening (fiction)
Kate Chopin
The White Haired Girl (autobiography/memoir)
Jaia Sun-Childers
Orlando and To the Lighthouse (fiction)
Virginia Woolf
Changes: A Love Story (fiction)
Ama Ata Aidoo
A Gracious Plenty (fiction)
Sheri Reynolds
The Woman Warrior (fiction/autobiography)
Maxine Hong Kingston
Dancing at the Edge of the World and The Left Hand of Darkness (fiction)
Ursula K. Le Guin
Women Who Run With the Wolves and Clarissa Pinkola Estes Live: Theatre of the Imagination (scholarly/theory) also, (book on tape)
Clarissa Pinkola Estes
Little Women and Behind a Mask (fiction)
Louisa May Alcott
Feminism, Femininity and Popular Culture (non-fiction, scholarly)
Joanne Hollows
From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers (non-fiction, scholarly)
Marina Warner
Written on the Body (fiction)
Jeanette Winterson
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (fiction)
Carson McCullers
Chocolat (fiction)
Joanne Harris
The House of Mirth (fiction) and The Age of Innocence (fiction)
Edith Wharton
Fear of Flying (fiction)
Erica Jong
To Kill a Mockingbird (fiction)
Harper Lee
The Mists of Avalon (fiction)
Marion Zimmer Bradley
The Bell Jar (fiction) 
Sylvia Plath
The Women's Room (fiction) 
Marilyn French

I know I'm leaving something out... but this is it for now!
I've added a few books and while this list is still not complete, it is all work that I have personally read, and can therefore recommend. (June 2003)
New update: May 2008


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Site launch, July 19, 1999
Updated: May 2008