15 Stirring Book Recommendations For Women Who #Persist

These real and fictional heroines were warned. They were given an explanation. Nevertheless, they persisted.
Books for women who refuse to be well-behaved.
Books for women who refuse to be well-behaved.

“She was warned. She was given an explanation,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) stated. “Nevertheless, she persisted.”

He may now be regretting those unintentionally inspiring words, as political opponents have since latched onto them as a rallying cry.

McConnell was referring to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who took the floor on Tuesday, during consideration of Sen. Jeff Sessions’ nomination for attorney general, and read aloud from Coretta Scott King’s 1986 statement in opposition to Sessions’ nomination ― at the time, for a federal distract court judgeship. McConnell invoked a little-known Senate rule, which bars senators from “imput[ing] to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator,” to remove her from the floor.

King’s letter read, in part: “Anyone who has used the power of his office as United States Attorney to intimidate and chill the free exercise of the ballot by citizens should not be elevated to our courts.”

Women opposed to the Trump administration’s agenda, including Sessions’ nomination, quickly took to Twitter to celebrate Warren’s persistence, along with that of other iconic women in history.

There’s little more powerful than a strong female role model to uplift and inspire women, who are often expected to take up less space, make less noise and cause less friction. Like the oft-(mis)quoted slogan coined by historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, “Well-behaved women seldom make history,” Warren’s perseverance in pointing out injustice and McConnell’s troubling explanation for silencing her can remind women that being pretty and amenable aren’t the ultimate feminine virtues ― sometimes, circumstances demand stubbornness, disagreeableness and disobedience.

Need more inspiration to fight off looming protest fatigue, or to counter the sneaky voices in your head that urge you to be nice rather than principled? History and literature are full of women who, nevertheless, persisted. Here are 15 books by and about women who refused to conform or to falter in the face of adversity ― perfect to stack on your nightstand and dip into whenever you need your soul soothed and your mind motivated by the stories of strong women.

The persistent woman who was the original target of McConnell's critique, Warren is an accomplished author -- and the fight for a fair economic system is a clear through-line in her work. In A Fighting Chance, she looks back on how her own story formed her beliefs and advocates passionately for those at the bottom of the economic ladder.
Henry Holt
The original author of the words that gave rise to McConnell's objection, Coretta Scott King is a civil rights icon in her own right. In this recently published autobiography, sewn together from taped conversations that took place prior to her death, King reflects on her marriage to Martin Luther King, Jr. and her unwavering, lifelong commitment to confronting racism and injustice.
Maya Angelou was a survivor, full stop. Her many books of poetry and autobiography are rousing testaments to her resilience, as well as her wisdom and wit. Just the title of this collection -- also a refrain from one of her most beloved poems -- is inspiring. The whole book of poetry is bursting with hard-won confidence, self-love and passion.
Penguin Classics
Dorothea, the heroine of Middlemarch, doesn't have the advantages of modernity on her side. Her outlined role is to marry well and be a hostess and wife; her philanthropic ambitions, which consume all her energy, are disdained by her peers. Ultimately, she can't achieve her goals independently, but she doesn't give up even in the most disheartening circumstances: Instead, she stays idealistic and steadfast, marrying a true intellectual companion who becomes her partner in a quest to better the world.
Random House
Haitian-born Danticat tells the story of two women, mother and daughter, who separately immigrate to the U.S. and attempt to build lives for themselves despite numerous obstacles and profound trauma. Though not always hopeful, Breath, Eyes, Memory offers a moving, eye-opening portrayal of an immigrant experience and of strong women with powerful wills to survive.
Many have already been turning to Harry Potter for comfort and inspiration in recent months. If you're not rereading the whole series but want a quick jolt of feminist inspo, jump straight to Prisoner of Azkaban. Overburdened with coursework and a top-secret time-travel decide, Hermione still manages to take charge in the grimmest of moments and save her friends' skins.
Atwood's classic, which will soon be adapted into a Hulu series starring Elisabeth Moss, has been getting plenty of play recently. Which is convenient, because it's one of the most iconic stories of a woman smartly, relentlessly resisting a totalitarian regime bent on her utter subjugation.
Gessen's advice to Americans on surviving autocracy captivated opposition to the new president — and is seeming particularly prescient ("Believe the autocrat. He means what he says") after a sally of executive orders from the Trump administration. She turned those talents to profiling Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot for a 2014 book, sketching a compelling portrait of a group of determined dissidents resisting Vladimir Putin's harsh rule. (These women got arrested for their art, and they didn't waver; talk about persistence.)
Random House
This memoir, which was widely acclaimed and a fixture on The New York Times bestseller list upon its publication, uses literature as a frame for reflecting on the author's life in her homeland, Iran, and the conditions that ultimately drove her to emigrate, after dealing with rising restrictions on women's rights in post-revolution Iran.
Harper Paperbacks
A groundbreaking, kickass black woman journalist and activist, Ida B. Wells was the daughter of slaves and spearheaded a movement to end the horrific practice of lynching in the U.S. "I felt that one had better die fighting against injustice than to die like a dog or a rat in a trap," she once wrote.
Go Set a Watchman deflated our national anti-racism literary icon, Atticus Finch. When Lee's half-century-delayed follow-up to To Kill a Mockingbird arrived, it depicted a more bitter, compromised, older Atticus who defends Klansmen to his more worldly grown daughter, Scout. In this way, though, the novel is more realistic than optimistic, and centers on Scout's struggle to commit to the fight against injustice.
Crossing Press
Audre Lorde's fiery speeches and fierce writing cast an unvarnished eye on the historical silencing of women, especially black women. But she also celebrates the strength that they have often found -- to simply remain alive in a world that brutalizes them, but also to resist, speak and love themselves.
Beacon Press
In this sci-fi novel, a young black woman travels back and forth in time from 1970s to the antebellum era, where she encounters her ancestors -- a slave owner and an enslaved woman he's kept as a concubine. Butler highlights not only the strength of her heroine, but the historical resilience of the African-American people.
Haven't heard of Hidden Figures? There's that acclaimed film adaptation starring Taraji P. Henson, but also the original nonfiction book it's based on, which tells the story of three unsung black women who engineered John Glenn's orbit of the Earth. Despite unthinkable institutional racism and sexism, these women pursued their dreams and made history -- and were promptly erased.
Random House
Nović's novel of a girl who is orphaned and involved in unspeakable horrors while attempting to flee the Yugoslav Wars takes on new poignancy in the present political context. Born in New Jersey, Nović has deep family roots in and has frequently traveled to Croatia. Her account of a girl caught up in a violent war and transformed into a refugee is tender and all-too familiar at this moment.

What book spurs you to keep fighting, even in moments of adversity? Let us know in the comments!

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