Stephanie Staal was an idealistic undergrad at Barnard when she first read the feminist classics in a woman's studies course. Back then, she found Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique "a mildly interesting relic from another era." Fast forward 10 years—she's now a wife and mother who's traded the stability of full-time work as a journalist for the flexibility of freelance—and things feel a little different. Now, rereading Friedan elicits a new reaction, ultimately leading her back to her alma mater to re-enroll in the same Feminism 101 class. What follows is Reading Women: How the Great Books of Feminism Changed My Life—a very personal examination of her experience as a wife, mother and woman, done alongside a new generation of young graduates ready to take on the world. Here are five novels that she loves.
The Passion by Jeanette Winterson The Passion (1997)
By Jeanette Winterson

"A friend passed along this book to me the summer after I graduated from college. "You will love it," he said. And I did—and still do, every time I reread it. A magical fairy tale of love and war set during the Napoleonic Wars, the story is told in the alternating voices of Napoleon's cook Henri, who eventually makes his escape from military life, and Villanelle, the gender-bending, gambling daughter of a Venetian gondolier who falls in love with a married woman and loses her heart to her—literally. For a fairly slim book, Winterson delves deep into issues of sex, violence, identity, and of course, passion. Gorgeously written, evocative and provocative, this book always tops my list of must-read recommendations."
From the book Reading Women by Stephanie Staal. Reprinted by arrangement with PublicAffairs (, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2011.


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