Gabby Padilla's 10 Favorite Books Written by Female Authors

Gabby Padilla's 10 Favorite Books Written by Female Authors

This past year, a lot of my time was spent working my way through my reading list. Although I also had quite a few contemporary titles on it, a significant number of items were classics I've been putting off for years. It came as no surprise that they were often about, if not written by, white men. 

So when I would find a book written by or about a woman that was considered a classic, it felt like a rare treat. Now that I'm looking for new stuff to read and recommend, I'm glad to let the women and people of color take over my virtual bookshelf. So I thought I'd make a list of a few of my favorites; from memoirs to essays, I hope you find something that speaks to you the way these 10 books have to me.

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Gabby Padilla
  • Lisa Brennen-Jobs
    Small Fry: A Memoir

    Gabby Padilla

    I find stories about family dysfunction so fascinating, all the more when a family member involved is somewhat of an icon. We love to talk about brilliant men and their work and legacies, but we don't often hear about how they are as people, as fathers, as husbands. Even then, when they're not very nice people, brilliant men tend to get a free pass. 

    This memoir is written by Lisa Brennan-Jobs, the eldest daughter of Steve Jobs. She talks about her parents, who were separated before she was born, and how her father refused to acknowledge her existence until he had to take a paternity test for child support. She talks about eventually having a relationship with him and how odd it was to be his daughter while her mother struggled financially. 

    What I appreciate about her storytelling is that it didn't feel like a mere exposé; she didn't write about her childhood to make him out to be a terrible person. She understands the complexities of their relationship and, even at a young age, was able to see him with such empathy. 

    Her writing stays with you, and you probably won't see Steve Jobs the same wayーsorry, SJ fans! But whatever conclusions there are to be made about her father, she leaves them up for you to decide.
  • Margaret Atwood
    The Handmaid's Tale: A Novel

    Gabby Padilla

    I had preconceptions about this book, and I have to admit I put off reading it for a very long time. I finally read it a few weeks ago, and I was so glad to be proven wrong. I thought it would be long and difficult to get through, but it turned out to be one of the most engaging books I have ever read. 

    It had especially triggering moments like rape and suicide, but Margaret Atwood was so disciplined and precise about her writing that even the heaviest of chapters weren't exceedingly draining. Although very extreme, she makes you imagine a world that has successfully taken away a woman's right to choose. 

    Gilead is every feminist's worst nightmareーhandmaids turned into ornamental, baby-making machines in the name of God, and those who misbehave are punished or killed. So when heroines like Offred appear, you're relieved and completely invested in her making it out alive.

    It's a gripping story that will consume you from the very beginning. I wish I had read it sooner. A huge plus is the book has also been adapted into a series on Hulu and already has 3 seasons ready for you to binge-watch when you finish reading it.
  • Joan Didion
    The Year of Magical Thinking

    Gabby Padilla

    This is a sentimental pick. It's a great book, but the main reason it stayed with me is that it was one of the few books my father made me read when I was younger. 

    I remember reading it in a day or two because I was instantly smitten with her writing. I had never read anyone who wrote like her beforeーI'd even read her grocery lists if she would let me! Then I reread it a second time, after my father passed away, and it felt like therapy. 

    The whole book is an honest and raw reflection of her grief. It helped me process and put into words the things I couldn't even begin to wrap my head around. That alone has made me so grateful for her work. 

    If you are going through or have gone through something similar, I highly recommend it. But even without knowing loss, I still think it's so beautifully written and one of Joan Didion's best works.
  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
    Americanah: A Novel

    Gabby Padilla

    The book starts with Ifemelu preparing to return home to Nigeria after years of living in the US. It then takes us back and reintroduces us to her younger self: the very opinionated, idealistic teenage girl who eventually meets an equally ambitious Obinze. 

    Their romantic relationship develops and continues until the university strikes happen. Uncertain of their future in Nigeria, Ifemelu is forced to consider pursuing a life in the US instead, where Obinze plans to follow. 

    In the course of their separation, their plan falls apart, and time passes until they both end up leading completely different lives and realities. Many years later, Ifemelu eventually returns to Nigeria and revisits the remnants of her previous life with Obinze.

    I would be doing Americanah a disservice if I reduced it to being a mere love story. Yes, it is also about two people who are brought apart by their circumstances but more importantly, it is about an immigrant woman's journey towards selfhood.
  • Jia Tolentino
    Trick Mirror

    Gabby Padilla

    Have you ever needed to pause while reading something because you're so in awe of how a person's mind works? I had a lot of those moments with this book. 

    From her relationship with religion and drugs to the rise of athleisure to bandwagon feminism; this thoroughly researched collection of essays feel like a sharp punch in the gut. 

    She carefully deconstructs modern society and skillfully lays it all out for us to reexamine as if saying, "There, take a good look at you." But there's no tone of condescension in her writing since a lot of these points were drawn from her own experiences and upbringing. 

    If you're interested in an insightful cultural critique that'll leave you with something to think about for days, get a copy of this book. Prepare to join the Jia Tolentino fan club when you're done with it too.
  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
    Purple Hibiscus

    Gabby Padilla

    Set in post-colonial Nigeria, Purple Hibiscus follows the story of Kambili, who lives a very sheltered, conservative life. Her father is a well-respected factory owner and philanthropist in their community, while her mother is an obedient housewife who takes care of her and her brother Jaja. 

    Both siblings follow a strict routine and schedule, their daily lives revolving around school and church. As you get to know this family more, you discover that the tension at home is caused by her father, who is an extremely repressive religious fanatic. Her mother, though well-meaning, is powerless next to her tyrannical husband and often gets the brunt of his abuse. 

    That is the world that fifteen-year-old Kambili knows. So when her aunt takes her and Jaja to her seemingly unconventional home as the political climate in Nigeria worsens, she's introduced to an entirely different kind of household. It's a heart-wrenching coming of age tale about family and the sense of freedom that unconditional love and acceptance grants a child. 

    I enjoy Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's work so muchーshe made this list twice. Her storytelling is always so rich and intricate, and you end up learning a lot about Nigeria's culture and history through her books.
  • Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀
    Stay With Me

    Gabby Padilla

    Imagine waking up one morning to find your mother-in-law at your front door with a random woman in tow. She informs you that this stranger has been decided to be your husband's second wife and that all three of you must live under the same roof. Since you've been unable to have a successful pregnancy after years of marriage, a second wife will have to step in and fulfill this duty for you. 

    This is the nightmare that Yejide is presented with at the beginning of this book. Jumping between two timelines, Ayobami Adebayo masterfully tells the story of Yejide and Akin as they struggle to keep their marriage while honoring their families and long-held traditions. 

    I burned through this book and spent the rest of the day thinking about Yejide and all women like her. Stay With Me is a sobering reminder of the oppression women still face in the name of tradition and the desperate lengths people will go to to keep their families intact.
  • Maya Angelou
    I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

    Gabby Padilla

    This is one of the most powerful autobiographies I've ever read. It amazes me how someone can revisit all these dark parts of her life and come back to tell this story with such honesty, compassion, and a total lack of jadedness. 

    That's what makes Maya Angelou such a remarkable person and writer. In her book, she talks about her struggles with race, sexual abuse, abandonment, and poverty. 

    You're there with her the entire time, hoping against hope that this young girl perseveres and makes it through. Spoiler alert: she does! Whether you're already a fan of her work or not is irrelevant, this gem of a book deserves to be read by everyone.
  • Madeline Miller

    Gabby Padilla

    As much as I enjoyed learning about Greek mythology, it never really piqued my interest enough for me to read about it outside of school. So when my sister kept pushing me to read this book, I was still a bit resistant. 

    Then I read it and fell in love with Circe and Madeline Miller's work. This book is a retelling of Circe's origin story. The daughter of Helios and Perse, Circe grows up to be an overlooked nymph living under her father's shadow. In her loneliness and desperation, she later discovers her power of witchcraft, whichー surprise, surpriseーthreatens Zeus and leads to her exile on a deserted island. 

    From its feminist undertones, which you don't normally get a lot of in Greek mythology, to its humor and heart, the book will have you rooting for Circe from the very beginning. 

    This book has so much to offer its readers, so whether you're a Greek mythology geek or someone looking for a story about adventure, magic, and female heroines, you're bound to find something to love about it too.
  • Caroline Hau
    Tiempo Muerto

    Gabby Padilla

    Tiempo Muerto was a book my director asked me to read in preparation for a film we were about to do together. I was mainly very excited about the fact that some parts of it were set in my hometown, Iloilo. It was very cool to find places from my childhood on the pages of a book I was readingーthis wasn't something we non-Manileños were used to. 

    It didn't take long before I found myself drawn into this story about the return of two women from entirely different realities. Racel is an Overseas Filipino Worker from Singapore who comes home to search for her mother, Nanay Alma, who has gone missing after a massive typhoon. Lia, an heiress from the prominent and questionable Agalon family, looks to escape the fallout of her messy divorce and flies back to the Philippines. 

    Upon discovering the news about her yaya, she, too, sets out for the island of Banwa where both women are eventually reunited. This homecoming forces them to reckon with the ghosts that haunt them as they unearth family secrets and old woes. Though both characters are separate in their struggles, they still end up circling back to the woman who raised them. 

    It's impossible to tell a story about family and privilege without acknowledging the Philippines' wealth disparity and deep-seated history of systemic corruption and impunity, and Caroline S. Hau delves right in as she expertly weaves all these themes together with her extensive researchーshe even touches on Philippine mythology and folklore.

    I enjoyed this novel so much despite me not wanting it to end where it did. It's also been a while since I've read contemporary Filipino fiction, and this book was a delightful reminder of what I was missing out on.