Margaret Atwood

In this short book, containing extracts from The Handmaid's Tale and Hag-Seed, as well as an essay never before published in book form, the inimitable Margaret Atwood asks if we can ever be wholly free. In her creations, she holds a mirror up to our own world. The reflection we are faced with, of men and women in prisons literal and metaphorical, is frightening, but it is also a call to arms to speak and to act to preserve our freedom while we still can. And in that, there is hope.

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (short edition)

Mary Wollstonecraft

The term feminism did not yet exist when Mary Wollstonecraft wrote this book, but it was the first great piece of feminist writing. In these pages you will find the essence of her argument – for the education of women and for an increased female contribution to society. Her work made the first ripples of what would later become the tidal wave of the women’s rights movement. Rationalist but revolutionary, Wollstonecraft changed the world for women.

Second Sex (short edition)

Simone de Beauvoir

When this book was first published in 1949 it was to outrage and scandal. Never before had the case for female liberty been so forcefully and successfully argued. De Beauvoir’s belief that ‘One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman’ switched on light bulbs in the heads of a generation of women and began a fight for greater equality and economic independence. These pages contain the key passages of the book that changed perceptions of women forever.

The Beauty Myth (short edition)

Naomi Wolf

Every day, women around the world are confronted with a dilemma – how to look. In a society embroiled in a cult of female beauty and youthfulness, pressure on women to conform physically is constant and all-pervading. In this shortened edition you will find the essence of Wolf’s groundbreaking book. It is a radical, gripping and frank exposé of the tyranny of the beauty myth, its oppressive function and the destructive obsession it engenders.

The Red Parts: Autobiography of a Trial

Maggie Nelson

Maggie Nelson is best-known for her memoir The Argonauts – but where should you look after that? The Red Parts is her singular account of her aunt Jane’s death, and the trial that took place some 35 years afterward. Jane went home from college for spring break in 1969 but never made it; she was found dead the next day. Officially unsolved for decades, the case was reopened in 2004 after a DNA match identified a new suspect. In 2005, Nelson found herself attending the trial, and reflecting with fresh urgency on our relentless obsession with violence, particularly against women.

Nancy: The Story of Lady Astor

Adrian Fort

If you don’t know Nancy Astor’s story, now – in the year of the UK’s Vote 100 celebrations – is the time to discover it. In 1919, Astor became the first woman to win a seat in parliament. She was already close to the ruling society having married into one of the richest families in the world, and she wasn’t a suffragette or suffragist. But hers was not only the life of power, glamour and easy charm: she proved herself a beacon for generations of women who would follow her into Parliament; principled, brave, always striving to do more.

Fear of Flying

Erica Jong

When it was first published in 1974, Fear of Flying radically changed the way we thought, and talked, about sex. The story of compulsive daydreamer Isadora Wing has gone on to sell over 27 million copies worldwide. Her life has come to a crossroads. Five years of marriage have made her itchy – itchy for men, and itchy for solitude. Ditching her second husband during a work conference in Vienna she goes in search of the perfect no-strings-attached tryst. It remains as sensational today as when it was first published.

Sally Heathcote: Suffragette

Mary Talbot, Kate Charlesworth and Bryan Talbot

Sally Heathcote: Suffragette is the gripping inside story of the campaign for votes for women. A tale of loyalty, love and courage, set against a vividly realised backdrop of Edwardian Britain, it follows the fortunes of a maid-of-all-work swept up in the feminist militancy of the era.

international womens day a vintage reading list

How To Be A Heroine

Samantha Ellis

Samantha Ellis looks again at her literary heroines – the girls, women, books that had shaped her ideas of the world and how to live. Some of them stood up to the scrutiny (she will always love Lizzy Bennet); some of them most decidedly did not (Katy Carr from What Katy Did). There were revelations (the real heroine of Gone with the Wind? It's Melanie), joyous reunions (Anne of Green Gables), poignant memories (Sylvia Plath) and tearful goodbyes (Lucy Honeychurch). And then there was Jilly Cooper...

The L-Shaped Room

Lynne Reid Banks

Attitudes towards unmarried mothers are very different today, but for 27-year-old Jane Graham in pre-pill, pre-Abortion Act Britain, getting pregnant by accident changes the course of her life. Kicked out by her father, she goes to ground in the sort of place she feels she deserves – a bug-ridden boarding-house attic in Fulham. She thinks she wants to hide from the world, but finds out that even at the bottom of the heap, friends and love can still be found, and self-respect is still worth fighting for.

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