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On The Way Back From Office: A List of Books For Working Women

But who is going to tell my story?

Biographies, mémoirs, self help and fiction- a grab bag of pertinent reads for women in the workplace


Whether you read and agreed with Lean In, or read and disagreed with Lean In, chances are it made you bemoan the dearth of literature that speaks to your experiences as a working woman (unless you are a model,  or a writer , or tough brassy public prosecutor – in which case there are plenty of books for you).

That is probably why we debate endlessly over every interview Indira Nooyi gives, or celebrate even the mediocre movies made about women like Mary Kom. The truth is that when you read for an escape, there are plenty of books to choose from, in English and the vernacular. But if you want a book that makes you nod  in agreement from experience, or grimace as you remember your worst impulses, then there is a yawning gap in the bookshelf. Here are some books you can start with:

1. Bossypants by Tina Fey
“Some people say, “Never let them see you cry.” I say, if you’re so mad you could just cry, then cry. It terrifies everyone.”

Why you should read it:  Tina Fey tells you that it is OK to be a woman and be unsure about work, and to be a bitch, and to want success – all at once. And she is hilarious when telling you how to do it ‘all’.  She is not the lifestyle guru you look for inspiration from, but that crazy friend who gives you the best advice ever over too-sweet margaritas. A must read for everyone who wants to be a “boss woman” but is not afraid to admit that she is also a little bit intimidated by the idea.

2. Suits: A Woman on Wall Street by Nina Godiwalla

Why you should read it: This is the Indian American author whose book you need to read next . Described at the time of launch as “Devil Wears Prada” meets “Liar’s Poker”, we identified with this book a lot more than either of the former two. Nina uses her experiences at Morgan Stanley to both describe the ingrained sexism in Wall Street and also examine its lure, without refusing to blame anyone or be a victim.  If you’ve ever had to force a laugh over an off-colour joke, or bend backwards to enter an old-boys’ club, then this is the book for you.

3. Then We Came To The End by Joshua Ferris
“We loved killing time and had perfected several ways of doing so. We wandered the hallways carrying papers that indicated some mission of business when in reality we were in search of free candy. ”

Why you should read it: The definitive book on the banal pleasures and miseries of working in a dead-end job in this recession era. More than any other work of literature, it looks at the ‘social’ aspect of work, the friends we make, the petty office gossip and the relentless mundanity of a work week.  It helps that the women characters are drawn with as much care as the men.

4. Wild Company: The Untold Story of Banana Republic by Mel and Patricia Zeigler

Why you should read it: This fascinating romp by the founders of the Banana Republic is essential not just for their views on fashion and retail and entrepreneurship but also because of the fascinating insights it provides into working with your partner.  Sometimes all you need is someone with a shared passion to achieve the skies. It helps that Mel Zeigler was a journalist before an entrepreneur and his considerable writing talents make this book immensely readable.

5. I Remember Nothing by Nora Ephron
“I look as young as a person can look given how old I am.”

Why you should read it: Because Nora looks at getting old and out of fashion, and at losing friends, and at all the securities related to ageing in her inimitable style. If you find yourself out of place at parties, or worry about those laugh lines around you eyes, or wonder whether life has been fair to you for the past 35 (0r 45, or 55 ) years, then this book is for you.

6. The Widow Clicquot by Tilar. J Mazzeo
“The world is in perpetual motion, and we must invent the things of tomorrow. One must go before others, be determined and exacting, and let your intelligence direct your life. Act with audacity

Why you should read it: Your work day is done and the children are asleep. This is perhaps the time you pour yourself a glass of wine and reflect on the day that went by?  Why not add the biography of the eccentric Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin to the menu?  A remarkable women from the Napoleonic era, Barbe-Nicole built the Veuve Clicquot-and indeed the “champagne”- brand internationally through war, bad harvests and other calamities in an environment where women were rarely involved in businesses! Her prescient business sense is indirectly responsible for that bubbly in your hand, and for that we raise her a toast!

7. Drive: The Surprising Truth about what Motivates Us by Daniel Pink
“Carrots & Sticks are so last Century. Drive says for 21st century work, we need to upgrade to autonomy, mastery and purpose.”

Why You Should Read it: Because it’s not always about the money, honey. Whether you manage people, or get managed by strictures that still insist on old-world incentives, this popular business book (and how we normally detest their creed), will give you an abundance of ideas on how to build motivated teams. What’s more, the lessons apply just as well to teaching your kid how to complete her math homework or getting you to the gym, as they do to ensuring your team produces great copy!

8. Quiet: The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain
“So stay true to your own nature. If you like to do things in a slow and steady way, don’t let others make you feel as if you have to race. If you enjoy depth, don’t force yourself to seek breadth. If you prefer single-tasking to multi-tasking, stick to your guns. Being relatively unmoved by rewards gives you the incalculable power to go your own way.”

Why You Should Read It: Now we are not one of those people who believe that all women employees are necessarily introverts. But whether gregarious or circumspect, we’ve never come across a woman worker who hasn’t been told to be more assertive or aggressive. A lot of it is just because of the prevalent stereotypes about how women work, and what “aggression” constitutes. But if you look beyond that, Susan Cain’s Quiet Revolution provides plenty of ammunition for the next time you want to let someone know that you are assertive enough, thank you.

9. A Life Less Ordinary by Baby Halder 
“If a writer starts worrying about what he or she has left out or forgotten, they might not be able to write even a single line.”

Why You Should Read It: They say it takes a village, and chances are that trusty maids and nannies are part of the village that help you balance your personal and professional life precariously. This ground breaking work by Baby Halder – a domestic worker who toiled hard through day and recorded her experiences every night – is a must read.  Referred to as the Indian Angela’s Ashes, the book, originally written in Bengali, has been translated into multiple languages, including a wonderful English translation by Urvashi Butalia. Essential reading if you want to know more about the lives of the ‘invisible’ working women.

10. Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates 

Why You Should Read It:  We don’t need to tell you why you should read this one! This book began as a project by Laura Bates that allowed women (predominantly from the US and UK) to recount instances of everyday sexism that they grappled with. The stories will surprise you, and leave you aghast. But perhaps what is most frightening are the stories that will remind you of the sexism you’ve experienced and internalized. Read this book for the depressing and yet oddly empowering realisation that you’re not alone.

My Big Red Bag brings original content inspired by life’s joys and passions. Find more fun lists and features in our Literature section, and stay tuned to our latest content by following us on Twitter and FB!

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