Sunday, August 09, 2009

10 Books Girls Should Read Before Age 18

In a previous posting, I listed 10 books that I thought boys should read before age 18. But, since I am a daddy to two young girls and no boys, I figured I ought to take a stab at what books I think young girls should read before they turn 18. Before I do, though, I want to make one point and issue one qualifier. First, I am convinced that girls are wired differently than boys and so I think there needs to be a different set of literature that girls ought to read than what I think boys ought to read. That's not to say girls and boys wouldn't benefit from reading every book on both of my lists, but I think there are different books that will speak much more directly to a girl in a way that can maximize her self-confidence and maturity within the gendered world we live in. Second, I am a guy. So my list comes from a male perspective. My wife (and any woman, for that matter) can probably come up with a better and more relevant list, just because they've been there. But what the heck. Maybe a guy's perspective on what would be good for a young girl to read would be helpful to her in another important ways. At the very least, she can see what one guy (me) would advise for her and learn something from it accordingly. Hopefully, my list doesn't reflect too poorly on me! Here goes ...

1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy - This would be for young women closer to the age of 18. It's a tragic story that drives a woman confined by very intolerant and patriarchal expectations regarding love and sexuality to commit suicide; but it is well-written and can force a young woman to think about the conventions that have confined women in the past and how to deal with whatever conventions that might still exist today.
2. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott - A group of strong, loving, and accomplished women who can confront sexism head on and who can celebrate independent accomplishment in constrained circumstances.
3. Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. by Judy Blume - This is for girls on the cusp of adolescence; but it is, I think, a very good primer for a young girl as she relates to what it means to question identity, to navigate friendships, and to approach the physical aspects of female adolescence.
4. Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery - Again a story of a young woman who plows ahead with her dreams and ambitions and succeeds, both professionally and relationally.
5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee - A young girl's relationship with her father and with a society poisoned by racism and discrimination, and lessons for how to deal with marginalization and difference.
6. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank - Although a story of tragedy, it is also a story of incredible strength and compassion through the eyes of a young girl dealing with anguish and sadness and suffering.
7. Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy by Sigrid Undset - A great Norwegian epic tale of a woman's life through love and loss. The psychological, emotional, and physical strength of the main character is inspirational.
8. The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir - Written by a well-known existentialist philosopher, this is a book for very advanced readers, but it posits a history of women defined as the other in gender relations and power structures. I've only read parts of it, but I think it would be a helpful guide for young women who seek to understand what their gender has meant in terms of power, social structure, and authority, and who want a bit of historical context framing the subject.
9. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand - As much as I dislike this book on a whole variety of levels, I have to admit that the main character of Dagny Taggart is a strong, confident, accomplished individual. I personally think this book goes overboard in presenting as a heroine a woman who seems unable to feel or give love, or who does so stingily, and who seems to place career over everything else in life; but I would not deny a young woman the chance to meet Dagny Taggart and make up her own mind about it.
10. Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary - What can I say? I have two girls about the same age as the two characters in this story and I find that the simple discussion of sibling rivalry and affection between the sisters is charming. Not a life-altering book, but a sweet story.

I also need to note that the exercise of thinking about books for girls to read before the age of 18 has revealed to me a couple of things. First, this was a hard thing for me to do. Probably because I'm a guy, but also because I had a hard time thinking of literature that would offer something exceptional to young women as young women. But I wonder if it could also be because there just aren't as many classic options available. Second, and probably a by-product of the first comment above, I'm just not as well read on literature by women, about women, or for women. I need to work on that. If I have any female readers, please help me out in the comments!


Editilla the Pun said...

S'up Chuck,
nice post and list.
Perhaps your girls will meet strong women of color eventually, so may I recommend:
"Wild Seed" (and anything else) by Science Fiction author Octavia Butler.

"The Color Purple" and anything else by Alice Walker.

"The Air Between Us" By Deborah Johnson

"Love and Life behind the Purdah" By Cornelia Sorabji

"Wise Blood" by Flannery O'conner
"Handmaiden's Tale" by Margaret Atwood
"Exquisite Corpse" by Poppy Z. Brite

"Silent Spring" by Rachel Carson

"Pan Gaia: Exploring the Different World Cultures" by Jean Houston

"Coming of Age in Samoa" by Margret Mead

Good luck with your girls. They are in good hands indeed.

Huck said...

Thanks, Editilla. Great recommendations, too.

D-Vega said...

Some additional:

- Aesop's Fables

- Dante's Inferno

- A Brave New World

- The Stranger

- How To Stop Worrying & Start Living.

- The Prince

- The Communist Manifesto (Marx/Engels)

- The Federal Papers (compilation)

- The Odyssey

Leigh C. said...

God Almighty, "Atlas Shrugged"?? If the girls can make it through the final 200 pages, more power to 'em. I still haven't. The book was going fine up 'til Galt's radio address.

You could throw in some Jane Austen: "Pride and Prejudice","Emma", and "Persuasion" are good. "From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E, Frankweiler" by E.L. Konigsburg is good, with a strong girl character in Claudia. And I LOVE "The Westing Game", a good whodunit with a bunch of good characters, among them Turtle Wexler, who rises above her social climber of a mom and gets to the heart of the mystery.