We know what it’s like to hit a point in life where you just need a spark of motivation—but thankfully, there are plenty of female-penned books that can give you just that. (It's ok; everyone needs a little prompting sometimes.) Their authors range from journalists to social scientists to doctors, and even Pulitzer Prize and Nobel Peace Prize winners (goals). There's no lack of inspiring women out there.
These are the most inspiring reads that deserve a place on your bookshelf. Cancel your plans—you won’t be able to put them down.
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
In a collection of essays, author Roxane Gay explores what it means to be imperfect in this day and age (and why it’s okay). She doesn’t leave anything out—covering race, friendship, feminism, and even Lena Dunham. (FYI: The title speaks to how, as a Black woman, she believes in the tenets of feminism, but she feels like it was created to primarily benefit the white community.) If you think the tone is going to be preachy, think again. Sitting down with this book will kind of be like having a thought-provoking conversation with your cooler, smarter best friend.
Redefining Realness by Janet Mock
At the beginning of Redefining Realness, author Janet Mock writes, “We need stories of hope and possibilities, stories that reflect the reality of our lived experiences.” Mock’s narrative goes on to detail how she grew up impoverished, multiracial, and transgender, all with the ultimate goal of finding herself. It wasn’t until the PEOPLE editor fell in love with a man she was dating that she had to dig deep and open herself up to him—and the possibility of rejection.
Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown
If you’re a fan of social scientist Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly, you need to read Braving the Wilderness, too. If you’re familiar with her work, you know the author has the amazing ability to seamlessly weave stories with science, and the same is done in this piece of literature. The premise revolves around Brown’s belief that we’re all disconnected from reality, and she goes on to prescribe four ways to find belonging every day.
Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit
Rebecca Solnit’s collection of essays begins by recalling a conversation in Aspen with a successful businessman who assumes her opinions are wrong simply because she’s a woman. The book’s essays go on to range from the silly (like “mansplaining”) to the serious (gender equality). Solnit’s opinions about feminism, marriage equality, and our society are nothing less than bold (and sometimes totally necessary) in Men Explain Things to Me. But hey, there’s no use in sugarcoating things, right?
I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb
This memoir penned by the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize tells the tale of Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani girl who stood up for education. But more than that, the book—co-written by British journalist Christina Lamb—doesn’t shield you from Yousafzai’s flaws as she pushes for the right to attend school even in the face of the Taliban. From cover to cover, readers not only see Yousafzai’s true power amid the political strife, but also as discord in her family.
In the Land of Invisible Women by Dr. Qanta A. Ahmed
This compelling true story revolves around Quanta A. Ahmed, a British doctor of Pakistani descent who took a job in Saudi Arabia when her U.S. visa renewal was denied. In the Land of Invisible Women's plot is woven with positive moments like Ahmed rediscovering her Islamic religion on a pilgrimage and cons that include seeing co-workers celebrate during the September 11 attacks on the U.S. Things aren’t always black and white, as Ahmed comes to realize on her two-year stint in Riyadh, but sometimes you just have to find the silver lining.
One Thousand Wells by Jena Lee Nardella
Author Jena Nardella shares how she set out after college graduation to save the world with the hope of building 1,000 wells in Africa. The fact of the matter is that she succeeded—as the co-founder of Blood: Water, she’s helped give more than one million African residents access to clean water. But along the way, Nardella faced many challenges, including corruption and serious setbacks that caused her to question herself and her mission. Thankfully, the activist found a way to embrace the world—flaws and all (a lesson for all of us).
Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions by Gloria Steinem
This 1983 collection of essays by renowned leader of the feminist movement Gloria Steinem touches on her time working as a Playboy bunny and more. With gems like "If Men Could Menstruate," Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions is worth a read.
We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
In this New York Times bestseller, Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie offers her definition of feminism and what it means to be a woman today. It's adapted from her TEDx talk of the same name with more than five million views.
She's Not There: A Life in Two Genders by Jennifer Finney Boylan
Jennifer Finney Boylan's 2003 story of transitioning from a man to a woman is the first bestselling work by a transgender American. She's Not There explores love, sex, gender, and identity—with a touch of humor.
Two or Three Things I Know for Sure by Dorothy Allison
In this memoir, author Dorothy Allison tells the stories of the women in her family and the men who loved yet often abused them. Two or Three Things I Know for Sure is a powerful story about confronting abuse.
I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosley
This hilarious New York Times bestselling collection of autobiographical essays by Sloane Crosley chronicles how she just can do no right, no matter how hard she tries. I Was Told There'd Be Cake is a look at modern urban life in New York City.
The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan
This 1963 classic is a feminist must-read. It's about the institutions that kept women at home, and dropping out of college at alarming rates in order to marry, but also about how these women could reclaim their lives. Author Betty Friedan was a leader of the women's movement, and The Feminine Mystique is her masterpiece.
Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
Pulitzer Prize winners and married couple Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn wrote this powerful book to bring attention to the oppression of women and girls in parts of Africa and Asia. We meet several of these individuals, such as a Cambodian teenager sold into sex enslavement and an Ethiopian woman who suffered devastating injuries while giving birth. Half the Sky shows how just a little help can change their lives and how the key to economic progress is in empowering women to meet their full potentials.
Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
A political figure both admired and controversial, Ayaan Hirsi Ali is known for denouncing Islam and serving as a Dutch parliamentarian. In this memoir, the survivor of civil war, female mutilation, and brutal beatings shares about growing up in Africa and Saudi Arabia in a strict Muslim family. In adulthood, she sought asylum in the Netherlands, where she earned her degree and entered the world of politics. This is her book about overcoming adversity.
Find Me Unafraid: Love, Loss, and Hope in an African Slum by Kennedy Odede and Jessica Posner
Find Me Unafraid is both a love story and about the fight against poverty in Africa. This memoir is the story of Kennedy Odede, who's from Africa's largest slum, Kibera, and Jessica Posner, from Colorado. The pair fall in love and set out to change the lives of Kibera's girls—though founding a tuition-free school and health care, clean water, and economic empowerment programs. Truly inspiring.
Becoming Michelle Obama
It's almost impossible to not feel inspired after reading Michelle Obama's memoir. Hear about her childhood in the South Side of Chicago, going to Princeton and Harvard, her career as an attorney, falling in love with Barack, motherhood, and so much more in Becoming Michelle Obama. It's a fascinating glimpse into the private life of America's first Black First Lady that's easy to read and tough to put down.
Educated by Tara Westover
School isn't a topic on most American's minds: you just go. But for Tara Westover, who grew up in a survivalist family in Idaho, going to school was strictly discouraged by her paranoid father. So she taught herself, and at age 17 broke away from her family to attend Brigham Young University (although she'd never before stepped foot into a classroom) and later even Harvard and Cambridge. Hear about Dr. Westover's desire for knowledge, despite all odds in the New York Times bestseller Education.