We asked... and we answered. Powell’s booksellers share the writers, characters, and books that most inspire us.
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What female author has had the biggest impact on your life?
: her dry and sly gentle sense of irony is such a constant joy. No one can emulate her. – Sheila N.
I read Virginia Woolf
for the first time with a shock of recognition. YES! Here was life — the small beauties and horrors and sense of connection in the world I had felt but never articulated, put into words cut and polished and shining. The feeling of being seen was formative. – Patrick D.
Virginia Woolf. All of her characters are stronger and more compelling for their vulnerability and emotionality. And this is true of Woolf herself. Her experiences with trauma and frequent grapples with mental health strengthened her sense of empathy, a faculty that inspired her activism for women's rights and allowed her to render the complexities of the human experience. She is important to me because her mental illness is not cause for martyrdom, but the origin of great strength. – Caroline M.
How about three? Lucy Parsons
, Grace Lee Boggs
, and Emma Goldman
. They all taught me that in radical politics one's authority derives from moral imperatives and the force and power of one's voice rather than one's standing in society. All three are models on how to live according to one's own principles rather than sheepishly conforming to mass society. – Jason C.
There are too many to count. Mary Pope Osborne
taught me how to stay up all night to finish a book. J. K. Rowling
taught me that characters can breathe. Toni Morrison
taught me that things aren't always what they seem. And Lauren Groff
taught me what writing could be. – Alec B.
by presenting inner dialogues most are not brave enough to publish. – Trevor C.
In addition to her literary fame, Louisa May Alcott
(a suffragette and abolitionist) was the first woman to register to vote in Concord, MA. A bona fide 19th-century radical feminist, her activism speaks to the power of collective movements impacting long-lasting change. – Hayley B.
I would have to say Harper Lee. I say this because To Kill a Mockingbird
has been my favorite book since I was a child and a reason I fell in love with reading. I still get goosebumps when little Scout says "hey, Boo."
– Molly E.
. Her whole approach to literature is astounding. Appropriating, recontextualising, and subverting everyone from Don Quixote
? Yes, please. – Fletcher O.
has been an inspiration since I discovered that women can read, write, and love nonfiction books too. Growing up, I was rarely invested in fiction, so discovering Roach helped open my mind to an entirely new genre. She made me realize that it's okay that I'm not obsessed with The Poisonwood Bible
and Eat, Pray, Love
— two books my mother recommended I read — and that I could love the same types of books my father had on his nightstand instead. After devouring Stiff
, I moved on to other great female nonfiction writers like Joan Didion
, Mary Beard
, Rebecca Solnit
, Roxane Gay
, and so many more. I'll never be able to thank her enough for cracking that door open and making me feel like I had a place in the literary world too. – Liz L.
I only started reading Joan Didion
when I started working here. Her writings about California, love and loss, resonated with me. The Year of Magical Thinking
destroyed me in the most beautiful way. – Alexa K.
Though there are many amazing female mystery writers, especially these days, Agatha Christie
has been my inspiration since childhood. Not only as such a prolific mystery writer, but also her vital role as a creator of Golden Age Detective Fiction. – Janelle M.
. Her courage and determination are awe-inspiring. – Sheila N.
Donna Tartt. The Goldfinch
was one of the first novels to make me examine the paradoxical beauty that arises from tragedy, the steps a person must take to overcome, and how easy it is to stray down a dark path even with the best intentions. – Corey S.
What female protagonist inspires you most?
Arya Stark from A Song of Ice and Fire
. I first read that series (or as much of it as had been published at the time) when I was a teenager going through a difficult phase in my life, and I found her point of view to be supremely relatable. Arya's stubborn, steadfast refusal to let the winds of life buffet her without striking back and forging her own way made her an all-time favorite character of mine. To this day, she is my favorite of the many nuanced and excellently written POV characters in that celebrated series. – Thomas B.
Liesel Meminger from The Book Thief
. This girl has so much tenderness and so much FIGHT and she is absolutely unapologetic in living her life and telling her story. – Alec B.
for showing that a woman can walk more than one path simultaneously. – Trevor C.
Sara Crewe from A Little Princess
has inspired me since I was very young. What you learn about yourself through the trials life throws at you, and how you treat others through those trials, felt and still feels particularly salient. It's definitely something I remind myself about when things get tough. – Sarah M.
Ayla from The Clan of the Cave Bear
. This is a woman who wants to be a healer, a woman, a mother, a lover, and every step of the way she has to battle and she never fails to rely on herself and find a solution. – Molly E.
Laurie R. King's Mary Russell
. She not only holds her own with Sherlock Holmes, but even one-ups him many times! – Fletcher O.
Caitlin Smith from Mockingbird
by Kathryn Erskine because she is an amazing example of how empathetic, funny, and intelligent autistic girls can be. – Rin S.
was my first literary hero. She embodied everything my mother taught me to be; strong, resilient, smart, vulnerable, passionate and creative. As a young girl, I was in awe of her courage in moments of crisis, a trait I still greatly admire.
– Liz L.
What feminist book would you make required reading?
Our Bodies, Ourselves
by Boston Women's Health Collective, because understanding our bodies and how they work is empowering! – Serra T.
It's out of print now: Sally Cline
's Reflecting Men at Twice Their Natural Size
. Still available: Mary Beard's Women and Power: A Manifesto
. – Sheila N.
Riane Eisler's The Chalice and the Blade
. I read that book during my undergraduate years, and it not only inspired me to pursue a capstone project focused on the idea that women's empowerment was the cornerstone issue that undercut nearly every international political and developmental problem (I was an international studies major and political junkie living in DC at the time), but it also served as the philosophical jumping-off point for my own piece of feminist literature, a sci-fi novel which I am currently querying to agents.
The Chalice and the Blade
posits a highly attractive alternative to our current broken and exploitative global political and economic system, and suggests that a reorganization of global society along traditionally feminine principles, in contrast with the global society we live in now, which is organized along strictly masculine principles, is the missing link that we need in order to literally save the world. At the time it was written, the specter of nuclear war between the U.S. and USSR was the masculinity driven apocalypse that Eisler feared. Reading it now, one can easily replace nuclear Armageddon with the looming extinctions brought on by climate change, or the massive social collapse that could occur if unfettered and unrestricted capitalist practices are taken to their logical conclusion. It's a staggeringly important book, and if I could snap my fingers and force everyone on earth to read it, you better believe I would.
– Thomas B.
Hillary Clinton's Hard Choices
. She says "women are the greatest untapped reservoir of talent in the world," and this book proves that.
– Trevor C.
Virgie Tovar's You Have the Right to Remain Fat
is a fat-positive manifesto that turned my world upside down. Perfect for anyone and everyone who's sick of the narrative that thinness equates to happiness, and published by none other than Feminist Press.
– Haley B.
If it were up to me, Can We All Be Feminists?
would be required reading. It's an absolutely brilliant collection of essays that stresses the necessity of intersectionality in feminism and highlights issues too often ignored by the mainstream media. – Lauren P.
by Naomi Alderman. I adore the way a world where women weren't in charge is unfathomable to people. I see the truth in "absolute power corrupts absolutely." I think it is one of the most empowering yet terrifying books I have read in a long time.
– Molly E.
Either Angry Women (RE/Search #13)
, a series of interviews with icons such as Diamanda Galás, Lydia Lunch, Sapphire, bell hooks, and of course, Kathy Acker, or Toril Moi's brilliant survey Sexual/Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory
. – Fletcher O.
Mindy McGinnis's The Female of the Species
, a fiery commentary on rape culture and what it's like to be a girl, should be required reading: “Do no harm. Be nice. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar. But what if I don’t want to catch the flies? What if I’d rather see them swatted?” – Emily F.
Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me
is my #1 recommendation. It speaks so closely to my own experience in a male-dominated field — I worked in software before landing this job — and it's painfully accurate to the lives of women who are told every day that they are not smart enough. – Liz L.
Though decades after Judy Grahn
penned them, the words of [her poetry] remain moving and ultimately relevant today, communicating to each and every young woman how important it is to fully understand her own strength and worth. – Dawn L.
The Will to Change
by bell hooks is currently my favorite feminist book. She skillfully lays out the violence done to boys and men by the patriarchy and what we must do in order to regain our whole selves. A must read for anyone who doubts the negative effects the patriarchy has on men. – Joel D.
Amber Dawn's Sub Rosa
is this fabulous, eerie fairy tale about sex workers that inducted me into a very specific femme aesthetic that exists as a kind of tension between erotism and horror. It's dramatically impacted both my reading and writing choices ever since. – Cosima C.
was the proto-feminist book I needed growing up: doing heavy, important, personal things on your own terms, in your own time, was a lesson that continues to help me today. – Sarah M.
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