10 books every woman should read in their 40s.

Your 40s is a time for reflection and reevaluation. 

For looking back at the life you've built and seeing what's missing. And finally letting go of all the things that were holding you back. 

It's the perfect time to pick up books by women who have been there before you, women who are going through the same thing, and women who have something to teach you. 

Here are 10 books every woman should read in their 40s: 

The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller

Image: Penguin Books Australia/Mamamia.  


(Content warning: This book deals with sexual assault and may be triggering for some readers.)

The Paper Palace follows the story of 40-something Elle Bishop, who was raised by eccentric, divorced parents in the 1960s and 1970s. 

After her parents divorced, a string of step-parents and step-siblings and step-grandparents came in and out of her life, causing all sorts of childhood trauma. 

The one constant in her life was her mother's family holiday home - a rundown house and collection of cabins they called 'The Paper Palace', on the banks of a pond at Cape Cod. 

Elle's family spent every summer there, and that's where she met her best friend Jonas. 

Although they are destined to be together, a traumatic experience from Elle's childhood and a secret keeps them apart for decades. 

Until the night of the party. 

In The Paper Palace, Miranda Cowley Heller creates a world you never want to leave and characters who you become genuinely invested in. 

It's an epic love story, a coming-of-age story, and a tale that explores the impact of childhood trauma and the power secrets hold over us. 

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

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In Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng explores what happens when two women from vastly different backgrounds are thrust into each other's lives. 

Set in Shaker Heights, a picture-perfect, insular community in Ohio, the novel follows the story of the Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. 

Matriarch Elena Richardson is used to playing by the rules and keeping secrets. She has the perfect marriage, home and children. And everything is just as it should be. That is until Mia Warren, a freelance artist and single mum, and her teenage daughter Pearl, move to Shaker Heights and into the Richardson family's rental. 


While the rest of the Richardson family are drawn to Mia and Pearl, Elena becomes determined to uncover the secrets of Mia's past, but in doing so, she sends chaos into her own life. 

Little Fires Everywhere is a brilliant novel about identity, the weight of secrets, the pull of motherhood, and how trying to be perfect can end up destroying everything. 

I Give My Marriage A Year by Holly Wainwright 

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Lou and Josh have been together for 14 years. They share two kids, a mortgage, careers and plenty of history. 

But Lou isn't sure whether her marriage is even worth trying to save. 

After a particularly painful Christmas break, she sets herself a challenge. Every month, for the entire year, Lou will set a different test for their relationship. From daily sex to brutal honesty, these tests will help Lou decide whether she should stay with the man she's built a life with, or bravely wander out into the unknown. 

Holly Wainwright's third novel is a brutally honest look at marriage, infidelity, and the ties that bind us.

Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason 

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Sorrow and Bliss follows the story of 40-something Martha. 

Martha has always felt that there was something different about her. Her husband, Patrick, has loved her since she was 14 and just wants to be with her. Even after she tells her she doesn't think she'll ever want kids. 

By the time Martha finds out what is wrong, it doesn't really matter anymore. Patrick is gone, and it's too late to get the only thing she's ever really wanted. 

Meg Mason's novel is a dark, and funny, and poignant coming-of-age story for anyone who's ever felt a bit different. 

Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes

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As an introvert, a mum of three, and one of the most successful women in Hollywood, Shonda Rhimes had every reason to say no to the never-ending invitations that arrived in her inbox. 

She was happy being a 'no' person. 

Then came Thanksgiving 2013, when Shonda's sister Delorse muttered six little words at her: You never say yes to anything. 

So Rhimes decided to spend a year saying yes. 

Profound, impassioned and laugh-out-loud funny, in Year of Yes Rhimes reveals how saying YES changed - and saved - her life. 

I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron

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I Feel Bad About My Neck is a candid, hilarious look at getting older and dealing with the tribulations of maintenance, menopause, empty nests, and life itself.

In it, Nora Ephron, the writer behind When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle, writes about everything from how much she hates her handbag, to all the skincare she puts on her face, to how much she hates her neck. 

Wickedly funny and searingly honest, I Feel Bad About My Neck is a book that has stood the test of time. 

We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

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Whenever a friend tells me they're not sure whether they want to have children, I always jokingly (kind of) respond: "Have you read We Need To Talk About Kevin?"

When Lionel Shriver's book first came out, it went the 2003 version of viral. Women would bike around the streets of New York with it in their baskets so they could pass it onto their friends. 

It captured an entire generation who were living in the aftermath of Columbine and other mass school shootings, and questioning the role of nature versus nurture in those tragedies. 

The book follows the story of Eva, an American woman who never really wanted to be a mother. 

After her son Kevin is born, she struggles to bond with him and begins to wonder whether there's something wrong with him. 


Years later, after Kevin commits an unspeakable crime, Eva is left to pick up the pieces and to reflect on how Kevin became such a monster.

Dancing with the Octopus by Debora Harding

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One Omaha winter day in 1978, when Debora Harding was just 14, she was abducted at knifepoint, thrown into a van, assaulted, held for ransom, and left to die.

But what if this wasn't the most traumatic, defining event in her childhood?


Dancing with the Octopus is unlike any memoir I've read before. It’s the telling of a true crime but it’s so much more than that.

It’s a memoir about family and the damage the people who are meant to love us the most can do to us. It’s a love story between a daughter and an emotionally unavailable father. It’s a coming of age story. It’s a powerful narrative about forgiveness and restorative justice and understanding why people do bad things. It’s also just so beautifully written. 

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

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Alice Howland is only 50 when the life she has worked hard to build starts slipping away from her. 

She's a cognitive psychology professor at Harvard and a renowned expert in linguistics, with a successful husband and three grown children, when a diagnosis changes her life forever. 

Unable to care for herself, Alice struggles to find meaning and purpose as her concept of self gradually slips away. But Alice is a remarkable and determined woman, and despite the growing challenges she's facing, she's still Alice. 

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

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Several days before Christmas in 2003, author Joan Didion and her husband John saw their only daughter, Quintana, fall ill with what seemed at first flu, then pneumonia, then complete septic shock. She was put into an induced coma and placed on life support. 

Days later, the night before New Year's Eve, the couple were just sitting down to dinner after visiting the hospital when John suffered a massive and fatal coronary. In a second, John was dead and Joan's partner of over 40 years was gone. 

Their daughter pulled through only to suffer a massive hematoma. 

The Year of Magical Thinking is Didion's attempt to make sense of the "weeks and then months that cut loose any fixed idea I ever had about death, about illness... about marriage and children and memory... about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself." 

Keryn Donnelly is Mamamia's Pop Culture Editor. For more of her TV, film and book recommendations and to see photos of her dog, follow her on Instagram and  TikTok

Feature Image: Mamamia. 

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