‘Emma’ by Jane Austen
Jane Austen herself was pretty badass, and she created a whole host of feisty female leads who don’t need a man to make them happy. (Sure, they all get married at the end, but they were doing just fine on their own.) It was a real challenge to pick just one Austen heroine here (Lizzie Bennet is so sassy! Anne Elliot is so strong!), but in the end, I just had to go with Emma Woodhouse. She’s kind of crabby, and Austen didn’t think that anybody would like her, but she’s also sassy as all hell, devoted to looking after her (useless) father, and she doesn’t want to get married because she likes having her own power. You go, girl
‘The Girl Who Saved The King of Sweden’ by Jonas Jonasson
Nombeko Mayeki has fought her fate every step of the way. Born in a Soweto shack, she taught herself to read, write, and do some pretty complicated maths. Faced with some intense social injustices (like when she is made a slave as punishment for the terrible crime of being hit by a car while being black), she never gives up, and instead sets off on a serious of ridiculous and hilarious adventures.
‘Snapshots of Dangerous Women’ by Peter Cohen
In ‘Snapshots of Dangerous Women’, Peter Cohen has collected vintage pictures of awesome women breaking out of their conventional gender roles to be their badass selves. Expect to see women boozing, smoking, playing sports, shooting guns, and even flying planes — all while wearing stockings and suspenders.
‘Bad Feminist’ by Roxane Gay
To women who worry that feminism is too exclusive, too unapproachable, or too unattainable, Roxane Gay’s fierce, funny essays reach out with open arms. Gay writes from the point of view of a black queer woman (a miserably underrepresented viewpoint). She also writes as someone who loves pink, reads fashion magazines, and listens to offensive rap. To her, “bad feminism” is a way to be a feminist and also be herself. It’s raw and it’s honest, and I love it.
‘Push’ by Sapphire
The book behind the award-winning film Precious is Push, the grueling story of 16-year-old Precious Jones, who is obese, illiterate, and pregnant with her second child by her rapist father. Her horrific story is turned around when she changes schools and meets an inspirational teacher, Ms. Blue Rain. This novel is heartbreaking but hopeful, a powerful portrayal of a tough young girl and the extraordinary young woman who helps her.
‘Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina’ by Misty Copeland
Misty Copeland is a fighter. She fought a vicious custody battle with her mother, she fought prejudice as the only black woman in the American Ballet Theatre, and anyone who’s seen Black Swan will know how much fight it takes for ballerinas to keep their bodies in perfect dancing shape. Copeland’s triumph in forcing the ABT to accept her makes this memoir an empowering read.
‘Famous for 15 Minutes: My Years with Andy Warhol’ by Ultra Violet
In ‘Famous for 15 Minutes’, the self-styled Ultra Violet gives us a grand tour of Andy Warhol’s exotic world of sex, drugs, and art. Ultra Violet was a muse for Salvador Dali before Warhol, so she was obviously a force to be reckoned with. This is an addictively colorful and glamorous read.
‘Just Kids’ by Patti Smith
Patti Smith is so rock and roll. Her writing just oozes with how cool she is. Just Kids chronicles her relationship with iconic photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. With two such legendary figures as the main characters, it’s a wonder that the pages don’t burst into flames — this book is seriously onfire. Do I need to tell you why a badass woman needs to read this? (No.)
‘Ten Days in a Mad-House’ by Nellie Bly
Nellie Bly (real name Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman) was one brave woman. In order to write this book, she feigned insanity in order to be committed to a mental institute, putting herself at risk of the same brutality she was investigating for a series of newspaper reports. The graphic descriptions of conditions in the asylum prompted a grand jury to launch its own investigation, and ultimately grant an extra $850,000 to the budget of the Department of Public Charities and Corrections.
‘Pippi Longstocking’ by Astrid Lindgren
Everything I ever learned about not taking no for an answer or caring a dicky bird what others say began with this book. Pippi Longstocking is playful, assertive, and really, really strong. She can lift her horse with one hand and swats her bullies aside with a smile and a ‘god bless you’ attitude that we should all adopt. The original and the best, should be required reading at schools.