It’s summer, which means we’re absolutely allowed to indulge in as many mindless beach reads as our little over-worked hearts desire; however, even well-earned vacations can get boring, so it might be wise to pack one or two tomes that will keep your mind mildly exercised during whatever break you’re able to give it. Here, 21 books every smart girl has read, and by that we mean that very few of us have actually read every book on this list, but that it’s one worth aspiring to conquer.
We Should All Be Feminists
This essay, based on a 2012 TED talk by the author which has nearly 3M views, was rather famously sampled by Beyonce—the queen of 2016's smart girls—on her song "Flawless." Sweden has since decided to give the book to every 16-year-old in the country.
The Group made the New York Times Best Seller list in 1963, and it didn't budge from the list for two years. It follows the stories of eight young women as they struggle for independence and lives of their own at a time in which their roles were mostly restricted to the home.
The Broom Of The System
The Broom of the System is the first book written by Infinite Jest author David Foster Wallace, and it was published while he was still a Masters student at the University of Arizona. He claimed it was semi-autobiographical, and that the idea was sparked by something an ex-girlfriend had once said about wishing she were a fictional character instead of a real person.
This novel received the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2001. It tells the fictional story of a man who was evacuated from Czechoslovakia in 1939 as an infant on what was known as a "kindertransport."
To Kill A Mockingbird
Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning book is one of the most widely-read novels in history that deals with issues of race.
Autobiography Of Red
This "novel in verse" has received high praise from renowned authors and critics alike. To give you a sense of what you're in for if you pick up this book, a 2013 profile on the author titled "The Inscrutable Brilliance of Anne Carson" said, "Carson gives the impression — on the page, at readings — of someone from another world, either extraterrestrial or ancient, for whom our modern earthly categories are too artificial and simplistic to contain anything like the real truth she is determined to communicate."
A New York Times survey of writers and critics named this novel the best work of fiction published between 1981 to 2006. It tells the story of an escaped slave who, upon being recaptured, kills her own 2-year-old daughter so she won't live a life enslaved.
Fear of Flying
This book is less racy than any Rihanna video circa 2016, but in 1973, when it was written, it was highly controversial for its depiction of female sexuality. For its fortieth anniversary, the New York Times wrote this interesting article comparing the novel to Girls, which is worth a read if you can't get to the novel itself.
Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage
This collection of short stories by renowned author Alice Munro has been adapted in various forms to film, most recently Hateship, Loveship starring Kristen Wiig. It received the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction, among many other honors.
One Hundred Years of Solitude
This novel, famous for its magical realist style, has sold more than 30M copies and been translated into 37 languages. It was originally written in Spanish in 1967, and it tells the multi-generational story of one family in the mythical Latin American town of Macondo.
Lolita may be this author's most famous work, but Pale Fire is probably his most ambitious. It's a 999-line poem written by a fictional author and including commentary by a fictional editor, and it divided critics, some of whom thought it was unreadable and some of whom thought it was brilliant.
Rabbit Angstrom: The Four Novels
Rabbit, Run, the first novel in this series of four, established John Updike as one of the novelists of his generation. It was published in 1960 and it, along with the other three novels in the series, tells the story of an ordinary man's attempts at escaping his boring life.
The Age Of Reason
The Age of Reason was initially published in a series of pamphlets in the late 1700s, and it controversially challenged institutionalized religion. At the time, the British government prosecuted anyone who tried to publish or distribute it.
The Age Of Innocence
Edith Wharton was the first woman to win the Pulitzer, and she did so for this, her twelfth novel, which she published at the age of 58.
The Art of War
Many say that if you want to succeed in the world of office politics, this is the book you should read. It was written in the 5th century BC, and it basically details ways in which you can outsmart any opponent.
The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao
This is one of those books you'll want to compulsively read in one sitting, and then read again (and again, and again). It was written in 2007 by Dominican American writer Junot Diaz, and it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2008.
The Yellow Wallpaper
Written in 1892, The Yellow Wallpaper is celebrated as an important work of early feminism. The story centers around a woman who has been diagnosed with "a slight hysterical tendency," which was a common—and totally sexist—diagnosis for females at that time.
A Confederacy of Dunces
We love the story of how John Kennedy Toole's mother painstakingly worked to get this book published after her son's death—her efforts were rewarded when it won a posthumous Pulitzer in 1981. It's an incredibly colorful, unforgettable novel you'll want to read multiple times.
When Dostoyevsky labels a novel a "flawless work of art," you know it's probably worth a read. Tolstoy considered this to be his first novel, and a 2007 poll of contemporary authors by Time ranked Anna Karenina as the "greatest book ever written."
A Wrinkle In Time
Yes, we know this is a Young Adult novel, but it's still one of the smartest books we've ever read. It's also notable for featuring a female protagonist in a science fiction setting, which was an incredibly rare phenomenon when the book was published in the 1960s.
As I Lay Dying
Faulkner claimed to have written this book from midnight to 4am (after work) over the course of six weeks which, if it's true, makes us wonder if our Netflix time could be put to better use. As I Lay Dying consistently ranks as one of the best novels of the 20th century.