article images

6 Brilliant Books About Being A Woman

As chosen by our panel of bookworms who are also, helpfully, female

By Felicity Robinson


Expectation by Anna Hope

Journalist and book reviewer Kerry Potter 

“I tore through this novel on my summer holiday – you know how some books really resonate? Well, this didn’t just chime with me, it made me feel like the author had been secretly taking notes on my life for decades. In this story of the complicated friendship between three women, British actor-turned-novelist Anna Hope unpicks the disconnect between the lives we optimistically sketch out for ourselves in our late teens/early 20s and the lives we actually go on to lead. Best laid plans, eh?”

Men Explain Things To Me & Other Essays by Rebecca Solnit 

Anna Saunders, co-founder of PRIMER

“Every now and then you come across a piece of writing that so perfectly articulates a thought or feeling that you have experienced, that there is an almost physical shock of recognition. Rebecca Solnit is the queen of this kind of writing.

“In 2012 – well before #MeToo, years before the term #mainsplaining went mainstream – she wrote an essay entitled Men Explain Things To Me, which neatly described the way a certain type of man will confidently and confrontationally hold forth on topics they know very little about, in a way that women, who tend to be plagued with self-doubt, very rarely do. This collection of essays is worth reading for that chapter alone, but also includes other brilliant feminist essays on rape culture, Virginia Woolf and colonisation.”

Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

By Andreea Nemes, a #PickMePrimer runner-up

“I read this book while eating my breakfast, brushing my teeth – even walking down the street. At first glance the story appears to be about middle-aged Toby Fleishman, newly separated from his seemingly cold, unloving wife, Rachel. He’s enjoying his new singledom even as he’s undergoing a personal crisis brought on by Rachel’s disappearance. Told from the point of view of his old friend Libby, the joy in reading this is discovering that really, it’s not about Toby at all. It’s about Libby, Rachel and the ways in which women have to position their lives in relation to mens’. The writing is exquisite – hilarious, honest and gut-wrenching all at once. A savagely intelligent take on women’s lives today.”

How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran

By PRIMER co-founder Felicity Robinson 

“I always identified with journalist Caitlin Moran – we both grew up the eldest of a tribe of siblings (she has seven), we were bookish and wore Doc Martens and grunge, and we both had a column in the London Times at 17… oh no, that latter achievement was just her. But despite her precocious success, Moran has always had a knack for writing about womanhood in all of its ordinary, hilarious, heart-breaking, messy and sublime glory. This book roughly spans her life from teenage years to 30-something motherhood, and it veers from feminist rant (why are we supposed to get Brazilians?) to proper laugh-out-loud hilarity, often within a couple of sentences. I still dip into How To Be A Woman whenever I’m feeling a bit glum, and it never disappoints.”

A Life’s Work by Rachel Cusk

By Laura Brading, of book subscription service Well Read

“Until recently, there was an enormous lack of literary inquiry into how motherhood was experienced, despite it being the most relevant subject to only every single person in the world. And so this frank, intelligent and profoundly insightful memoir was something of a miracle when it was published in 2003. Cusk writes unapologetically about the banality and beauty of motherhood, the unmanageability of it all, the catastrophe, the tedium, the love! It’s a rare and dizzying thing when a writer so accurately reveals what you thought impossible to articulate.”

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

By Sheree Strange, PRIMER’s book reviewer

“This novel is the first in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan series (translated to English by Ann Goldstein). Every time I recommend it, I worry that my praise can’t possibly do it justice. Ferrante weaves a beautiful and intricate story of two girls growing up in mid-20th century Naples. Their lives are those of poverty, violence, and limitation, and a tenuous and torrid friendship ebbs and flows between them. It is the most masterful exploration of women’s lives, loves, and friendships that I have ever read.”


What’s your favourite ever book about ‘the female condition’ (as it’s often, rather grandly, known)? Let us know in the comments or join the chat on socials




BY Felicity Robinson

Felicity is the co-founder of Primer. Elena Ferrante and Caitlin Moran are on her dinner-party wish list

view more Books