Sure, everyone loves a bit of fiction. It’s fun, fantastical and everything wraps up in a tight little package. But when you need a bit of inspiration, a bit of insight, or a friend made of ink and paper, non-fiction is where it’s at.
Ranging from autobiographies to hilarious essays, we’ve found the cream of the crop from those with some experience, knowledge and a story to share. These are our top non-fiction books every woman should read:
The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker
Lauded as a how-to book that reads like a thriller, The Gift of Fear is just as relevant today as it was back in 1997 when Oprah told us all to read it. Just check out the opening paragraph: “When it comes to violence, women can proudly relinquish recognition in the language, because here at least, politically correct would be statistically incorrect.”
Dissecting issues such as violence against women, stalking, violence in schools and in workplaces, security expert Gavin de Becker gives realistic and extremely practical insights into violence and fear that you’ll be sure to take to heart.
Bossypants by Tina Fey
Tina Fey pretty much rules the world in our eyes – not just because she was head writer at Saturday Night Live, anchored for Weekend Update, ran and starred in her own show 30 Rock and is continuing to slay in film and television (what’s up, Mean Girls and Kimmy Schmidt). The real reason is because the woman isn’t even scared of Taylor Swift! Full of biting wit, glamorous goss and the kind of honesty that has defined an entire genre of female comedic writing, Bossypants celebrates being a boss b*tch and proud.
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
A #1 New York Times Bestseller and an amazing motion picture starring Reese Witherspoon, Wild tells the we-can’t-believe-it’s-true story of Cheryl Strayed at an uncertain, desperate but ultimately determinative time in her life. Alone and with absolutely no experience or training, Strayed strays from the beaten path (hehe) and hikes more than a thousand miles on the Pacific Crest Trail on a quest to heal from a family tragedy and a shattered marriage. And we can’t even drive to Domino’s instead of paying for delivery.
Ask Me Anything by Rebecca Sparrow
When you start to shrink into yourself and revert to that teenage smallness and insecurity, never fear: Rebecca Sparrow’s Ask Me Anything is here. Answering 65 anonymous questions such as “Will I ever get a boyfriend?”, “How do you know if your friends really like you?” and “How can I feel closer to my mum who died?”, Brisbane author Sparrow isn’t afraid to be honest, personal and, above all, kind and constructive. Sure, the questions are from teenage girls but the answers are for anyone. And by anyone, we mean everyone.
A Woman in Berlin by Anonymous
Penned anonymously by a German woman living in Berlin between April and June of 1945, A Woman in Berlin is certainly not for the faint-hearted. Detailing the brutal atrocities inflicted upon German women (including herself) by Soviet soldiers, the author takes a hard but realistic look at trying to stay alive and fed in a war-torn, lawless environment. Equally as fascinating and disturbing as its contents is the book’s initial reception in 1959, with many Germans ignoring or disrespecting the memoir’s powerful honesty. It wasn’t until the book was republished in 2001 that the work received true recognition.
Bonk by Mary Roach
No, that title isn’t an acronym or some poetic metaphor – it means exactly what you think it does. Having written on everything from the alimentary canal to space simulation to death, Mary Roach is notorious but loved for her extremely inquisitive and candid attitude towards the science behind everything we’re curious about and Bonk is no different. Exploring laboratories, brothels, pig farms and sex-toy labs, Bonk is happy to answer any of your carnal curiosities.
The Anti-Cool Girl by Rosie Waterland
Long before her days of denouncing Bachie Blake Garvey as a “dirty street pie”, Rosie Waterland was trying to navigate her way through life as a so-called “cool girl”. But after this route led her to eating disorders, nude acting roles, mental health issues and weird Tinder dates, she decided to change direction and embrace her true self as an Anti-Cool Girl. And boy are we glad she did. Recounting a helter-skelter childhood living with a mentally ill mother and alcoholic father, Waterland writes with infectious humour but never backs away from the truth, making an intense but unforgettable read.
I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai
The woman really knows how to get our attention. In this book co-written with British journalist Christina Lamb, Yousafzai explores her identity as a Swati girl in Pakistan, a daughter of a supportive and empowering father, an 11-year-old international advocate for girls’ education, a shooting victim in an English hospital, and an inspirational resister of oppression. Only two years after the book’s release, Yousafzai has gone on to be the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate, the subject of a powerful 2015 documentary, He Named Me Malala, and a fellow He for She feminist campaigner with Emma Watson.
The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore
She can fight crime, lasso like a champ, rock gold like a kween and all with a body that just won’t quit – it’s… Wonder Woman! Created by William Moutlon Marston in 1941, Wonder Woman is only third to Batman and Superman as one of the most pervading and loved superheroes of all time, as well as a tiara-wearing feminist icon. In The Secret History of Wonder Woman, author Lepore explores the hero’s origins through a range of documents including her creator’s private papers, which reveal his interests in women suffrage and his relationships with the women in his life.
Empress of Fashion: A Life of Diana Vreeland by Amanda Mackenzie Stuart
Even when you ignore the fashion legacy Diana Vreeland left for the world, any woman who has said that “unshined shoes are the end of civilisation” is a keeper in our opinion. Documented by Amanda Mackenzie Stuart, Vreeland’s endlessly fashionable life featuring friends such as Coco Chanel, Wallis Simpson, Andy Warhol and Jack Nicholson, an impeccable sense of style, a determined work ethic that benefitted publications including Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue and her timeless sass are more than enough to make you say, “Anna who?”
Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay
Roxane Gay calls herself a bad feminist because pink is her favourite colour, she loves Sweet Valley High, she will relish dancing to Blurred Lines and she embraces her human tendency to be imperfect. Sound familiar? Heralded as a pluralist, realistic and human approach to modern feminism, Gay’s collection of essays in Bad Feminist is a simultaneous breath of fresh air and sigh of relief for anyone struggling with not only their stance on feminism, but their overall identity and attitude towards modern popular culture today.
Cupcakes and Kalashnikovs: 100 Years of the Best Journalism by Women by Eleanor Mills (Ed.) & Kira Cochrane
An inspiring example of feminist writing (it’s got an introduction by third-wave feminism icon Naomi Wolf, for crying out loud), this chock-a-block anthology of journalism doesn’t limit itself to one singular viewpoint of the female experience over the past 100 years. Instead, it delves into every area imaginable. From war correspondence to weight woes, suffragette writings to sexual freedom and the fall of the Berlin Wall to the rise of Bridget Jones, Mills and Cochrane’s collection is a testament to the creativity, skill and bravery of history’s female journalists.
Man Repeller: Seeking Love. Finding Overalls by Leandra Medine
Heartburn, Nora Ephron (OK, it’s apparently fictional but we know it’s all true)
The Diary of Young Girl by Anne Frank
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Yes Please by Amy Poehler
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me: And Other Concerns and Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
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