Wednesday, March 08, 2017

5 Classics Every Woman Should Read

Priya's Lit Blog: 5 Books Every Woman Should Read

March 8 is Women's Day, the day many women pause and think about their past, present and future. So did a friend of mine, who on reflection realised that she hadn't read a book in years, thanks to her busy work life. She felt that she needed to read stories of ordinary women just like her and their sorrows, fears, and little joys, that she could relate to.

That made me thinking of all the books I grew up reading and the woman characters I had particularly liked, and related to, when I read their stories or later on, when I lived their stories. 

So I put together a list of some of the best loved literary classics that narrate stories of women who lived in different places at different points of time. These women may or may not be feminist by today's standards, but they surely have inspired or influenced readers to this day.

1. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm

Priya's Lit Blog: 5 Books Every Woman Should Read - Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas WigginAuthor: Kate Douglas Wiggin
Genre: Children's Literature, Bildungsroman/Coming of age
When ten-year-old Rebecca Randall leaves Sunnybrook Farm to go and live with her aunts, Miranda and Jane, in Riverboro neither she nor her aunts know quite what to expect. And with Rebecca around it's usually the unexpected that happens anyway. In fact it is this gift for the unexpected that means that life is never quite the same again for anyone with whom she comes into contact.
This classic story of a young girl growing up in the American state of Maine at the end of the l9th century follows Rebecca's life, education and escapades through the next seven years until the day, as the new mistress of her aunts' old brick house, she begins her adult life.
Read Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm
I won a copy of this book for a story writing contest at school and I was in fact inspired to become a writer when I read it. Rebecca is interested in writing and public speaking, and she is good at academics. Despite the hard family situations which have brought her to Maine, she blooms where she's planted, carries her own sunshine and spreads it to the many characters she encounters on her journey. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm is a coming-of-age novel set in the 1870s America but Rebcca's story is one that every woman would be able to relate to.

2. Anne of Green Gables

Priya's Lit Blog: 5 Books Every Woman Should Read - Anne of Green Gables by L. M Montgomery
Author: L. M Montgomery
Genre: Children's Literature
When Anne Shirley arrives at Green Gables farm on Prince Edward Island, she surprises everyone: first of all, she is a girl. Marilla Cuthbert and her brother, Matthew, had specifically asked for an orphan boy. She has bright red hair that won't manage and a mouth that won't shut. Nothing will ever be the same at Green Gables!
A favourite story of generations of girls ever since it was first published in 1908, Lucy Maud Montgomery's classic story of one girl's profound effect on a small Canadian community has stayed in print for nearly one hundred years and has been made into a popular TV series and even a musical.
Read Anne of Green Gables
Anne has a very positive and enthusiastic approach to life, and her vibes are contagious. When you read this book, you would also realise that the world is a beautiful place full of possibilities. She is high-spirited, speaks her mind and not afraid of anyone or anything. She makes the funniest mistakes, learns from them and moves on, growing up through the book. Although often categorised under middle grade children's literature, Anne of Green Gables is a book enjoyed by women of all ages.
"Dear old world," she murmured, "you are very lovely and I am glad to be alive in you."

3. Little Women

Priya's Lit Blog: 5 Books Every Woman Should Read - Little Women by Louisa May AlcottAuthor: L. M Alcott
Genre: Bildungsroman/Coming of age
One of the most popular books ever written about childhood charmingly recounts the home life of four sisters: literary-minded Jo March; Meg, the older sister who marries a young tutor; fashionable and artistic Amy; and gentle, musically inclined Beth. The family is poor in worldly goods, but rich in love and character. An unforgettable depiction of mid-19th century New England life.
Read Little Women
This semi autobiographical novel by L.M Alcott narrates the endearing story of four teenage sisters growing up the hard way during the Civil War. Their dreams and hopes, struggles and disappointments, are all aspects any woman would be able to relate to. Set in the 19th century, the characters are strong women going by the standards of that time and the artistic pursuits of Jo and Amy are inspiring. Times may have changed but Little Women is an all time classic and that is for a reason.

4. Rebecca

Priya's Lit Blog: 5 Books Every Woman Should Read - Rebecca by Daphne du MaurierAuthor: Daphne du Maurier
Genre: Psychological Thriller, Gothic, Crime, Mystery
"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again..."
Ancient, beautiful Manderley, between the rose garden and the sea, is the county's showpiece. Rebecca made it so - even a year after her death, Rebecca's influence still rules there. How can Maxim de Winter's shy new bride ever fill her place or escape her vital shadow?
A shadow that grows longer and darker as the brief summer fades, until, in a moment of climatic revelations, it threatens to eclipse Manderley and its inhabitants completely...
Daphne du Maurier's masterpiece weaves a special magic that no-one who reads it will ever forget.
Read Rebecca
Nine years ago, I picked this book from my school library and I have been an ardent reader of Daphne du Maurier ever since. Perhaps the best work by the underrated writer that du Maurier is, Rebecca is a timeless classic with an exemplary narrative that taps into one's fear of the rival, through its portrayal of the struggle between two women - the second Mrs De Winter and the first, who is no longer alive. This powerful novel is sure to leave a lingering presence of Manderley with you just like with the unnamed protagonist in the story. 

5. The Bell Jar

Priya's Lit Blog: 5 Books Every Woman Should Read - The Bell Jar by Sylvia PlathAuthor: Sylvia Plath
Genres: Autobiographical, Roman à clef, Bildungsroman
Sylvia Plath's shocking, realistic, and intensely emotional novel about a woman falling into the grip of insanity
Esther Greenwood is brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under—maybe for the last time. In her acclaimed and enduring masterwork, Sylvia Plath brilliantly draws the reader into Esther's breakdown with such intensity that her insanity becomes palpably real, even rational—as accessible an experience as going to the movies. A deep penetration into the darkest and most harrowing corners of the human psyche, The Bell Jar is an extraordinary accomplishment and a haunting American classic.
The only novel ever written by Sylvia Plath, published about a month before her suicide, The Bell Jar is Roman à clef novel based on her own life.
"My heroine would be myself, only in disguise. She would be called Elaine. Elaine. I counted the letters on my fingers. There were six letters in Esther, too. It seemed a lucky thing."
The narrative is quite immersive, emotionally compelling and poignant as the protagonist spirals into depression and insanity. The helplessness that she experiences can be disturbing. The Bell Jar is a seminal work of 20th century American literature - one that I would recommend reading. However, the knowledge that the book is autobiographical can be heart-wrenching and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who is prone to depression.

If you notice signs of depression in anybody around you, please reach out to them and do as much as you can to help. If you think you're feeling sad or depressed and want to talk to someone, please know that I could be that someone. Feel free to get in touch with me using the form here.

[ Book cover images courtesy: Goodreads. The book covers shown are merely for representation purposes, and no particular edition or publication is being endorsed. ]

How many of these literary classics have you read? What did you think of them? Are there any other books you would like to add to this list? Let me know in the comments!