The New Vanguard

This is one of the 200 lists we use to generate our main The Greatest Books list.

  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

    The novel follows a young Nigerian woman who emigrates to the United States for a university education. While there, she experiences racism and begins blogging about her experiences as an African woman in America. Meanwhile, her high school sweetheart faces his own struggles in England and Nigeria. The story is a powerful exploration of race, immigration, and the complex nature of identity, love, and belonging.

  • The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel

    "The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For" is a compilation of comic strips that provide a satirical take on contemporary lesbian life, politics, and social issues. The book is a blend of personal and political content, focusing on the lives of a diverse group of women, their relationships, and their struggles. The comic strips provide commentary on various aspects of the LGBTQ+ experience, including identity, community, and activism.

  • Outline by Rachel Cusk

    "Outline" is a novel that follows the story of a woman who travels to Athens to teach a writing seminar and engages in a series of conversations with various people she encounters. These include fellow authors, students, and locals, each of whom share intimate details of their lives, allowing the protagonist to reflect on her own experiences and emotions. The book explores themes of identity, storytelling, and the complexities of human relationships.

  • The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante

    "The Neapolitan Novels" is a four-part series that explores the intricate and lifelong friendship between two women from Naples, Italy. The series spans several decades, beginning in the 1950s, and provides a detailed examination of the women's lives, struggles, and the societal pressures they face. The narrative delves into themes of identity, friendship, love, violence, and socio-political changes in post-war Italy. The series is known for its rich character development and vivid portrayal of female friendship.

  • American Innovations by Rivka Galchen

    "American Innovations" is a collection of short stories that reimagines classic tales from a female perspective. The stories are narrated by a range of women, from the young to the old, who are all dealing with life's unpredictable turns and challenges. The narrative explores themes of identity, loneliness, and the often surreal experiences of everyday life, all while maintaining a sense of humor and whimsy. The book offers a fresh, contemporary take on traditional storytelling, blending the mundane with the fantastical in unexpected ways.

  • Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday

    This novel consists of two seemingly unrelated sections. The first part is a love story between a young American editor and a much older, famous writer. The second part is about an Iraqi-American economist detained by immigration officers in London. The two narratives converge in a surprising way, exploring themes of power imbalances, injustice, and the complexity of human relationships.

  • How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti

    This novel is a semi-autobiographical exploration of friendship, art, and the question posed by the title. The protagonist, a young playwright, struggles with her art and personal life, navigating complicated relationships and seeking answers about how to live a good and meaningful life. The narrative blends elements of fiction, memoir, self-help, and philosophy, resulting in a unique and thought-provoking exploration of identity, creativity, and the human condition.

  • The Vegetarian: A Novel by Han Kang

    This novel tells the story of Yeong-hye, a dutiful Korean wife who, after having a disturbing dream, becomes a vegetarian, a decision that disrupts her marriage and sets into motion an increasingly grotesque chain of events at home. As her rebellion manifests in ever more bizarre and frightening forms, Yeong-hye spirals further and further into her fantasies of abandoning her fleshly prison and becoming - impossibly, ecstatically - a tree. The book is a darkly allegorical, Kafkaesque tale of power, obsession, and one woman’s struggle to break free from the violence both without and within her.

  • The Flamethrowers: A Novel by Rachel Kushner

    Set in the 1970s, the novel follows a young woman known only as Reno, who moves to New York with dreams of becoming an artist. She becomes involved with an older, established artist who is a member of the city's avant-garde scene. The story also delves into the world of Italian motorcycle racing and radical politics, exploring themes of art, feminism, love, and betrayal. The narrative shifts between Reno's experiences in New York and Italy, and the history of a radical movement in Italy.

  • Her Body and Other Parties: Stories by Carmen Maria Machado

    "Her Body and Other Parties: Stories" is a collection of short stories that weave elements of psychological realism and science fiction to explore the realities of women's lives and the violence inflicted upon their bodies. The narratives range from a woman refusing to let her husband remove a green ribbon from around her neck, to a salesclerk in a mall making a horrifying discovery within the seams of the store's prom dresses. The book centers on women's experiences in their bodies, touching on themes of sexuality, gender, and the dynamics of power.

  • Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

    "Dept. of Speculation" follows the story of a woman navigating her life as a writer, a wife, and a mother. The novel explores her journey through marriage, motherhood, and the struggles of maintaining her own identity amidst these roles. It also delves into the hardships of dealing with infidelity and the complexities of love and relationships. The narrative is presented in fragmented pieces, reflecting the protagonist's scattered thoughts and emotions.

  • Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh

    "Homesick for Another World" is a collection of short stories that explore the lives of various flawed and eccentric characters, each struggling with their own personal demons and insecurities. The narratives delve into the dark, often uncomfortable aspects of humanity, with themes of loneliness, self-loathing, and the desperate search for connection and meaning. The stories are set in a variety of locations, from small towns to big cities, and each presents a unique perspective on the human condition.

  • NW: A Novel by Zadie Smith

    This novel follows the lives of four Londoners - Leah, Natalie, Felix, and Nathan - as they navigate adulthood in the diverse, vibrant, and sometimes volatile neighborhood where they grew up. The narrative explores themes of identity, class, friendship, and the complex nature of urban life, intertwining the characters' stories in a way that reflects the interconnectedness and fragmentation of city living.

  • Salvage the Bones: A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

    Set in a poor rural community in Mississippi, this novel follows the story of a pregnant teenage girl named Esch and her three brothers as they navigate their lives in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina. Their mother is dead and their father is a neglectful alcoholic, leaving the siblings to fend for themselves. The book explores themes of poverty, racism, and survival, showcasing the resilience and strength of the human spirit in the face of adversity.

  • Mislaid by Nell Zink

    "Mislaid" is a novel that explores themes of race, gender, and sexuality in 1960s Virginia. The story follows a white woman who, after leaving her husband, assumes a new identity for herself and her daughter as African Americans to avoid being found. The book delves into the complexities of identity and the societal constructs of race and gender, providing a satirical look at the absurdities of these classifications.

About this list

New York Times, 15 Books

Our critics chose 15 remarkable books by women that are shaping the way we read and write fiction in the 21st century.

Added over 5 years ago.

How Good is this List?

This list has a weight of 30%. To learn more about what this means please visit the Rankings page.

Here is a list of what is decreasing the importance of this list:

  • Limited to 25 or less years
  • Limited to 1 Gender(Author or Audience)

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