For some, the idea of reaching for a summertime book means frivolous beachside reading material. But this year, instead of letting the time pass by with fluffy chick lit, why not delve deep into the classic stories by women writers that have made it to cult status?
From the captivating memoir of Patti Smith to the thrilling novel that placed a then-young Donna Tartt on the literary map, these are the books you should reading (or revisiting) this summer.
And if you feel so inspired, be sure to pass these titles along to your fellow gal pals seeking powerful feminist literature.
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
Though some speculate that the elusive and mysterious author Elena Ferrante may actually be a man (no one knows for sure), we do know that this novel, the first book in a series about two best friends named Elena and Lila who grow up together in a radically changing 1950s Italy, is the perfect book to lend to your own bestie.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Long before The Goldfinch ever existed, readers had been getting their Donna Tartt fix with The Secret History, possibly one of the most beautifully-written psycho-thriller books of our time. It’s a doozy of a read at almost 600 pages long but every single word is worth it.
Set in a small, liberal Vermont college, we meet narrator Richard Papen—a lower-class brain from California who immediately is accepted into a clique of five shadowy, sophisticated, highbrow students who study Classics (they quote Greek and Latin ad nauseum.) Eventually, they tell Richard that they've accidentally killed a townie. From there, things get really good.
My Misspent Youth by Meghan Daum
Author Meghan Daum has been killing it this year with the release of her hard-hitting books The Unspeakable (personal essays) and Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed (a collection of writers who chose not to have children which she edited). But it’s her debut book of essays My Misspent Youth, about what’s she’s learned (or not learned) in her 20s, that most women still feel most deeply connected to.
Speedboat by Renata Adler
The novel that catapulted Renata Adler into literary fame for her non-linear and unconventional narrative, follows journalist Jen Fain as she astutely navigates a wild micro-world of unforgettable misfits, characters, and everyday folks living in NYC during the late 1970s.
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
Author Carson McCullers may have only been 23 when this novel was published but its powerful themes — of race, fitting in, disabilities, and the power of music in a Georgia town during the 1930s — is a far more mature read than you’d expect.
Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan
It’s insane to think that Francoise Sagan was only 18 years old when this novel was published. But perhaps it’s only fitting that a teen would write so eloquently and honestly about the sexual fantasies of a teenage girl (a precocious one named Cécile) towards a strapping older man she crushes on while on vacation with her father and his mistress in just on the outskirts of Paris during the 1950s.
Just Kids by Patti Smith
This intimate look into the life and times of rock icon Patti Smith, from her early childhood days in New Jersey to becoming a hustling artist-in-making during the tumultuous times of ‘70s NYC, is also a beloved ode to the late Robert Mapplethorpe, her lover-turned-best-friend artist who died in 1989.
I Love Dick by Chris Kraus
The fiction-meets-memoir story of an aging and unsuccessful woman filmmaker, named Chris Kraus, who becomes obsessed with a famous theorist named Dick (who has no last name in the book). And the narrator’s husband? Oh, he helps her along on her sexually-driven quest.
Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion
To be honest, all Joan Didion titles could be considered cult-status books in their own right. However, there’s just something about Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Didion’s first book of nonfiction essays about growing up in California during the 1960s, that has turned mere readers into fervent fans for life.
Fear of Flying by Erica Jong
If you’re in the market for a sexually-liberating novel, look no further than Fear of Flying, the illuminating novel about a protagonist Isadora Wing who desires to break away from all her insecurities and let loose with her own self-discovery. Romance readers can look elsewhere — this novel is not so much about sexual fantasy but about how to change reality.
The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy
This wild ride of a novel, about a care-free American young woman who travels abroad to Paris in the 1950s to live it up in the most hedonist way, is the kind of read that will no doubt inspire you to pack your bags for a sexy, foreign adventure of your own.