Chick lit has a bad reputation for being anti-feminist, trashy and unoriginal, but not all female-featured literature is a waste of time. From contemporary books that have been made into popular films to classic literature by critically respected authors, chick lit can serve to boost your mood, offer witty social commentary, and help you deal with real-life issues with a modern sensibility. Whether you're wanting to take a break from your online college reading list or need a fun — but substantial — beach read, here are 50 chick lit novels that are worthwhile reads.
Learn more about 19th-century China, WWII London, and other eras throughout history as you read these stories about independent women going against the grain.
- Emma: by Jane Austen. Matchmaker Emma Woodhouse is the popular rich girl in town but has no idea how to handle her own love life. This novel has been turned into several films and even adapted for modern-day audiences as the movie Clueless, starring Alicia Silverstone.
- Memoirs of a Geisha: by Arthur Golden. This hearbreaking story about survival in 1930s Japan reveals the last days of the sometimes cruel but mobilizing geisha culture in Kyoto.
- The Other Boleyn Girl: by Philippa Gregory. Read about the Boleyn sisters' role in English history, from producing an heir for Henry VIII to splitting up the Catholic church in this novel.
- Atonement: by Ian McEwan. The misinterpretations of a 13-year-old girl turn an unlikely love affair into a hopelessly determined relationship for her older sister in this movie set in the 1930s and during WWII.
- Gone With the Wind: by Margaret Mitchell. This guilty pleasure is also considered one of the most important and successful books of the 20th century, and the story of Scarlett O'Hara and the Civil War was turned into an Ocar-winning film.
- Snow Flower and the Secret Fan: by Lisa See. Read about two friends during oppressive but culture- and tradition-rich 19th-century China: Lily and Snow Flower.
- Jane Eyre: by Charlotte Bronte. This classic novel tells the story of a self-sufficient but romantic governess in 19th-century England.
- Anna Karenina: by Leo Tolstoy. Passion, loyalty, society and family all come into play in this dramatic epic novel that is considered one of the greatest works of fiction of all time.
- The Bonesetter's Daughter: by Amy Tan. Read about Chinese history from LuLing's personal records, as read by her daughter to understand where her mother came from.
- Lady Chatterly's Lover: by D.H. Lawrence. This formerly censored novel about an illicit affair is considered high-brow smut by some, but also offers a historical look at domestic life in rural England.
These classic chick-lit books have made bestseller lists for years and deserve your attention.
- Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: by Anita Loos. This classic spoof was turned into a movie starring Marilyn Monroe as Lorelei Lee, who's really a jet-setting call girl.
- Breakfast at Tiffany's: by Truman Capote. This classic novella is a bittersweet, glamour-filled tale about lost souls trying to find their place in New York.
- Bergdorf Blondes: by Plum Sykes. Sykes cleverly but gently mocks her socialite characters' seemingly superficial lives in this novel about privileged Manhattan twentysomethings, in a style similar to Loos' Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
- Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married: by Marian Keyes. This second book by hugely successful Irish writer Marian Keyes is a rowdy story about Lucy's romantic adventures and her tumultuous relationship with her London flatmates.
- Valley of the Dolls: by Jacqueline Susann. This book about 1960s show business revealed an underworld of cat fights, adultery, drugs, alcohol abuse and total scandal.
- Pride and Prejudice: by Jane Austen. One of the most-read books of all time, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is also a critics' favorite.
- Something Borrowed: by Emily Giffin. This story — and cautionary tale — about an affair is really a story about friendship.
- The Joy Luck Club: by Amy Tan. Four mothers and four daughters — who don't always get along — share their stories of immigration, growing up in China, and life in San Francisco in this popular novel.
- Summer Sisters: by Judy Blume. Blume writes for an adult audience in this novel about two friends summering on Cape Cod.
- The House of Mirth: by Edith Wharton. Read as independent-minded socialite Lily is sabotaged by the more conservative women in her circle and ends up on drugs.
- The Jane Austen Book Club: by Karen Joy Fowler. Fowler's instantly popular novel is the perfect indulgence for Austen lovers.
- Rachel's Holiday: by Marian Keyes. Another popular Keyes novel, Rachel's Holiday is about an Irish girl forced back home from New York City and into rehab by her dysfunctional but loving family.
- Chasing Harry Winston: by Lauren Weisberger. Three friends — Emmy, Leigh and Adriana learn to change their expectations of "happily ever after" in this novel set in New York City and exotic locations around the world.
- The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing: by Melissa Bank. Fourteen-year-old Jane Rosenal spends a summer trying to figure out how to fall in love.
- The Bridges of Madison County: by Robert James Waller. Read the story about a short but intense love affair between a visiting photographer and a farmer's wife. The Clint Eastwood-directed film was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar.
Pop Culture Phenomena
These books haven't just been made into films: they're veritable pop culture phenomena in their own right.
- Bridget Jones's Diary: by Helen Fielding. This underdog novel inspired a sequel and two movies starring Renee Zellwegger as British singleton/top journalist Bridget Jones.
- The Devil Wears Prada: by Lauren Weisberger. The character Miranda Priestly is supposedly based on real-life Vogue editor Anna Wintour in this fashion insider's book that was turned into a movie, starring Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway.
- In Her Shoes: by Jennifer Weiner. Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette starred as two sisters in the film version of this moving story about family, self-confidence and forgiveness.
- The Nanny Diaries: by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus. This novel about a worked-to-death young nanny on New York's Upper East Side was adapted into a film starring Scarlett Johansson and Laura Linney.
- Sex and the City: by Candace Bushnell. This novel about four successful friends in New York City inspired the award-winning TV show that's now a pop culture phenomenon.
- Peyton Place: by Grace Metalious. This 1956 novel about New England resulted in a TV show that spawned the prime-time soap.
- Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood: by Rebecca Wells. This is the first novel of a series of books about a group of friends from Louisiana. In this story, we're introduced to two generations of women and their adventures in love and raising children.
- Gossip Girl: by Cecily von Ziegesar. This series of young adult novels about scheming prep school kids from New York's Upper East Side reached mainstream popularity and cult-hit status when it was turned into a TV show on the CW.
- Confessions of a Shopaholic: by Sophie Kinsella. Isla Fisher starred in the film version of this book about a girl with a spending problem who finds her true calling in the magazine industry. Four other novels round out the series.
- The Notebook: by Nicholas Sparks. This is one of Sparks' most popular novels and helped jumpstart the career of Rachel McAdams, who was featured in the movie.
These books prove that chick lit can be smart, too. Keep reading for stories about modern-day marriage, plus-size heroines, and colonialism.
- Mrs. Dalloway: by Virginia Woolf. Woolf's study of relationships between women and men, and between women and each other, results in a commentary on English society as it tries to become progressive.
- Good in Bed: by Jennifer Weiner. One of the first chick lit novels starring plus-size women, Good in Bed tells the story of Cannie, who recognizes herself as the subject for her ex-boyfriend's magazine column.
- Trading Up: by Candace Bushnell. Bushnell's novel explores the less-talked-about type of party girl: the one who gets paid for her services behind the scenes.
- Baby Proof: by Emily Giffin. Read about a couple's first years of marriage and the debate over whether or not to have a baby.
- A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: by Betty Smith. Even though this book's heroine is an adolescent girl named Francie, the book is a classic — though historically controversial — story about the sometimes harsh working-class existence of a family in New York.
- Wide Sargasso Sea: by Jean Rhys. This novel was Rhys' response to Charlotte Bronte's depiction of women — particularly the insane Bertha — in Jane Eyre. Sargasso Sea tells the story of Antoinette Cosway, a privileged Creole living in Jamaica who marries an Englishman.
- L'Affaire: by Diane Johnson. Read about cross-cultural differences and even rivalries in this book about a Californian who becomes mixed up in a family affair in Europe.
- Jemima J.: A Novel About Ugly Ducklings and Swans: by Jane Green. Jemima has very low self-esteem and starts using online dating sites as a way to fulfill her romantic needs without subjecting herself to criticism.
- The Help: by Kathryn Stockett. Read stories about "the help," African American women who raise white children in 1960s Mississippi in this novel.
Read these books to learn about the journeys these women took in the name of self-discovery and enlightenment.
- The Painter from Shanghai: by Jennifer Cody Epstein. Chinese painter Pan Yuliang worked hard to become educated in Europe, but when she returns to China in the midst of the modern revolution, she struggles to complement her traditional roots with her new Western aesthetic.
- The Secret Life of Bees: by Sue Monk Kidd. A teenage Lily Owen travels away from her abusive, neglectful father to find out about her dead mother's past, and she is eventually taken in by four African American, bee-keeping sisters.
- Eat Pray Love: by Elizabeth Gilbert. A woman travels the world in search of true enlightenment in this book beloved by Oprah and turned into a movie starring Julia Roberts.
- Open House: by Elizabeth Berg. This is another novel about recovering from a divorce that made it to Oprah's Book Club.
- Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination: by Helen Fielding. This spoof on James Bond features an accidental journalist turned spy hero named Olivia Joules who must question her Rules for Living as she works on the story of her life.
- My Sister's Keeper: by Jodi Picoult. A pre-teen refuses to donate any more or her organs to save her cancer-stricken sister's life in this novel about a family set on survival.