8 Empowering and Inspiring Books for Your IWD Reading List

Reading Time: 8 minutes
IWD Reading List, Image: Sophie Brown
IWD Reading List, Image: Sophie Brown

Today is International Women’s Day and we have put together an IWD reading list for you. This list contains a mixture of fiction and non-fiction titles, but they all have one thing in common, messages to inspire women of all ages, races, and backgrounds. We’d love to hear what’s on your IWD reading lists – share your choices with us in the comments or on social media.

A Galaxy of Her Own, Image: Century
A Galaxy of Her Own, Image: Century

A Galaxy of Her Own: Amazing Stories of Women in Space by Libby Jackson (Chosen by Sophie)

A Galaxy of Her Own is a collection of fifty single-page biographies about the women who have worked to take us into space since even before the dawn of the space age. While it naturally features many names you are probably familiar with such as Mae Jemison, Sally Ride, and Christa McAuliffe, there are also dozens of others who have worked behind the scenes, those women whose names are less well-known than the world-famous astronauts but whose contributions are equally as important to humanity’s journey to the stars.

In this book you will read about the team of seamstresses who put together the first spacesuits, the lawyer who crafted the laws governing space, and the nurses who looked after the Apollo astronauts. There are teachers and textile workers, actresses and astrobiologists, politicians and pilots. It is a fascinating read packed full of facts about the people who made our achievements possible and who continue to do so. It is also inspiring in the way it shows that no matter what career you choose, it is possible to contribute in a very real way to space exploration. So even if you failed that astronaut fitness test, you can still work in the space industry if that’s where your dreams take you.

A Galaxy of Her Own is written by Libby Jackson, a former space mission flight director and currently the Human Spaceflight and Microgravity Programme Manager for the UK Space Agency, so she really knows her stuff when it comes to women in space. It is filled with illustrations created by students from the London College of Communication, but while these are beautifully drawn, I would have loved to see photographs of the women as well. With only one page per person, A Galaxy of Her Own is, by necessity, a very brief look at these women’s lives and achievements, but it succeeds in both packing in huge amounts of detail and encouraging you to go out and learn more.

The Hunter Kiss Series, Image: Ace Books
The Hunter Kiss Series, Image: Ace Books

The Hunter Kiss Series by Marjorie Liu (chosen by K)

I know Marjorie Liu from her exceptional work on Marvel’s X-23 as well as her currently running Monstress series. I constantly follow her comics – and am a little ashamed I only heard of the Hunter Kiss series very recently.

Maxine Kiss is a Chosen One style heroine, with her matrilineal line a series of supernatural hunters charged with protecting the world from zombies, humans possessed by demons. The thing I love best about Maxine is that while she does have a love interest in the books, the books are not about romance. I love romance when I want to read it, but I like that there can be books with characters who are in love, but that’s not the plot of the book.

Book one, The Iron Hunt, features labyrinths, unicorns, lost boys, and old wolves. Maxine’s story is also tightly entwined with thoughts about what makes up a family, which is particularly powerful for those of us who focus on families of choice (rather than origin). With great plots that embrace female power and exceptional writing, this series is absolutely fantastic.

“Nor was there any point to saving the world if I felt no love for it—if I was not in love with the people in it. Some of them, anyway. I wasn’t a hippie, or anything.”

Amelia Earhart's Daughters, Image: William Morrow
Amelia Earhart’s Daughters, Image: William Morrow

Amelia Earhart’s Daughters: The Wild And Glorious Story Of American Women Aviators From World War II To The Dawn Of The Space Age by Leslie Haynsworth (Chosen by Corrina)

Amelia Earhart’s Daughters is the story of the World War II female flyers for the U.S. Army Air Force who flew and tested every kind of plane manufactured for combat and then how they and their sacrifices were largely forgotten after World War II.

There are so many unknown heroines in this book, especially the young woman who died testing out the aircraft and didn’t even receive a military funeral because they were technically still civilians. They risked everything to fly and contribute to the war effort, they were belittled, they were often put in danger as test pilots, and yet they persevered, and have, finally, been remembered not only in this book but in history.

The second half of the book explores how prominent female fliers in the early 1960s pushed for women to be included in the NASA astronaut program and how, despite performing well in all sorts of grueling tests, the women were left behind once again, at least until progress finally caught up to the space program. When I first read this story, my reaction was anger because I’d been taught for years that women who were qualified to fly in space didn’t exist at the time of the Mercury or Apollo programs and, of course, that was dead wrong.

So many female stories have been forgotten. I’m glad that this book brings those women back to life.

The Stone Sky, Image: Orbit
The Stone Sky, Image: Orbit

The Stone Sky (The Broken Earth #3) by N. K. Jemisin (Chosen by K)

If you haven’t read the Broken Earth series by N. K. Jemisin, you’re missing out on an incredible story. The character of Essun, who goes by different names at different points in the story, is trying to survive in the shattered world after the Rifting.

While all three books are incredible, the third book – The Stone Sky – particularly destroyed me. Essun is finally close to her daughter, Nassun, who she has been seeking throughout the trilogy. The story explores what parenting means, what Nassun needed and did not get from her parents, and what Essun wishes she’d had to give. The final moments reflect a reconnection that left me sobbing.

We: A Manifesto for Women Everywhere, Image: Simon and Schuster
We: A Manifesto for Women Everywhere, Image: Simon and Schuster

We: A Manifesto for Women Everywhere by Gillian Anderson and Jennifer Nadel (Chosen by Sophie)

We: A Manifesto for Women Everywhere is exactly what it sounds like; a guide to living a life focused on empowering yourself and other women around you. The book imagines a global sisterhood governed by the nine Principles introduced in its pages: Honesty, Acceptance, Courage, Trust, Humility, Peace, Love, Joy, and Kindness, a sisterhood where women are happier, healthier, and more productive at doing the things they want to do for themselves.

More than just another self-help book, We moves beyond theory with practical activities to complete, writing daily gratitude lists, saying positive affirmations out loud to the mirror, meditation, and deeply considering the labels we apply to ourselves. It pushes you to be brutally honest with yourself in order to force your body and mind into making the changes to want to make but struggle to find the motivation to achieve. The activities and discussions of each element of the book are interspersed with first-person accounts from the authors where they talk about how they overcame personal difficulties using the Principles gathered here.

At times, We can be a little romantic in its visions and the book could probably have a decent percentage of its length shaved off if it stopped self-congratulating itself and got down to business, however, the key messages here are positive and will benefit nearly every woman who reads it. One of the biggest things I took away from it was this: “Taking care of yourself emotionally, physically, and spiritually is a profoundly political act”. In a culture that constantly criticizes women’s bodies, choices, and beliefs, this is a statement worth internalizing and repeating to yourself whenever you feel that self-doubt beginning to creep in once more.

Wonder Woman: The Circle, Image: DC Comics
Wonder Woman: The Circle, Image: DC Comics

Wonder Woman: The Circle By Gail Simone (Chosen by Corrina)

Rarely have the implications of the Amazon’s all-female society been explored In Wonder Woman’s history, at least until The Circle delved into the Queen’s driving need to have a child and what the birth of that child, celebrated by most, did to those Amazons who longed for children and could not have any.

Yes, it’s also a superhero action-adventures but it’s also the story of mothers and daughters and sisters and how changes like becoming a mother affect those around you. This is one of those rare books that explore the history of what women mean to each other, how they can support each other, and how they can also break each other’s hearts.

Persopolis, Image: Pantheon Graphic Novels
Persopolis, Image: Pantheon Graphic Novels

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi (Chosen by Corrina)

A black and white graphic novel, Persepolis tells the story of a young girl growing up in Iran from 1969-1982, the years of the Shah’s oppression and the revolution. It’s a personal story of how one girl experience growing up in a tumultuous time and place that also kept telling this soon-to-be woman that being female somehow made her lesser. This book was also made into an acclaimed movie in 2007 and made Time magazine’s ten-best list for that year.

Like all good graphic storytelling, the images convey so many emotions, from innocence to laughter to sadness but the story is ultimately a triumph. “In life, you’ll meet a lot of jerks. If they hurt you, tell yourself that it’s because they’re stupid. That will help keep you from reacting to their cruelty. Because there is nothing worse than bitterness and vengeance… Always keep your dignity and be true to yourself.”

Leia: Princess of Alderaan and Bloodline, Images: Del Rey/Disney-Lucasfilm Press
Leia: Princess of Alderaan and Bloodline, Images: Del Rey/Disney-Lucasfilm Press

Leia: Princess of Alderaan/Bloodline by Claudia Grey (Chosen by Sophie)

Princess Leia is one of the original feminist icons, at one time she was the only named female character in the entire galaxy far, far away. Leia: Princess of Alderaan and Bloodline are the two new canon books which focus on her in-depth and add a vast amount of detail to what we know of her life both before and after the original trilogy.

Leia: Princess of Alderaan is set around Leia’s sixteenth birthday. In order to become the successor to the Alderaanian crown, she must declare and perform three challenges, one of the body, one of the mind, and one of the heart. Throughout the book, Leia works to succeed in her challenges while also dealing with parents who seem progressively more preoccupied, her own burgeoning romantic feelings, and an empire closing in on her peaceful home planet. Throughout the book we see Leia struggling with the transition from teenager to young women, as we also see her parents dealing with that same process – made all the more difficult by their own unwillingness to put their daughter at risk by allowing her to become involved in a rebellion they know will put her life in danger.

Bloodline is set six years prior to The Force Awakens and sees Leia working as a senator in the increasingly partisan Galactic Senate of the New Republic. Leia takes on a fact-finding mission with a senator from the opposing party after a claim that Ryloth is suffering from the actions of a crime cartel, only to discover a far deeper reaching conspiracy than she could have imagined and to have her own secrets broadcast to all. This book shows us an older Leia with the regrets and fears that come with age and experience – a refreshing perspective when so many Star Wars books focus on young characters. The galaxy is rapidly forgetting the cruelty of the Empire and Leia worries what this might mean for the future.

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