Earlier this year I set myself a challenge to read at least fifty books by women in 2013.
This has been a really enjoyable challenge, though I’ve still found myself becoming distracted by reading a lot of men’s books also. Part of the reason for this is that I work in a comics shop, and the ratio of comics and graphic novels by men greatly outweighs those by women. That’s not to say that women don’t work in the industry. In my opinion, most of the best, freshest voices currently working in comics are women, but it’s still the case that most of the books people recommend to me there, and most of the new books that come in, tend to be written and/or drawn by men.
Last week at work was an unusually good haul, with several new books by women being released. Much has been made of The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg, but while I enjoyed the artwork and the ambience of the book, I found the writing somewhat disappointing. I was much more impressed by Blue is the Warmest Colour, originally written in French and now released in English. The storytelling in this was poignant and moving, if a little by-the-book. One of the things it does best is to really capture the sense of being a teenager: being uncertain of who you are and what you want.
I recommend reading both; the art styles are very different, but both are accomplished and a pleasure to look at.
So far this year I’ve read some great books and some terrible books. Luckily most of them have been closer to the former. Therefore I now come to you with an updated list of recommendations! In the last post I made about this, I tried to list 50 suggestions for women’s books, but could only come up with 40, and I was pretty ashamed of myself. So far this year I’ve read 52 books by women, so hopefully now I’ll have a slightly more rounded list of suggestions. This is an updated version of my previous list, so some of them are repeated. I guess that just means they’re doubly recommended!
Fifty Recommendations of Books by Women
(this time in alphabetical order with goodreads links!)
Case Histories (series) – Kate Atkinson
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
The Penelopiad – Margaret Atwood
Persuasion – Jane Austen
Britten and Brulightly – Hannah Berry
Sweet Home – Carys Bray
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
Killing Daniel – Sarah Dobbs
Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier
Like Water for Chocolate – Laura Esquivel
The Bone Doll’s Twin (series) – Lynn Flewelling
Carol/The Price of Salt – Patricia Highsmith
Strangers on a Train – Patricia Highsmith
The Talented Mr Ripley (series) – Patricia Highsmith
Reality, Reality – Jackie Kay
Interpreter of Maladies – Jhumpa Lahiri
The Dispossessed – Ursula LeGuin (easily the best book I’ve read this year)
Blue is the Warmest Colour – Julie Maroh
In Country – Bobbie Ann Mason
Poems – Anne Michaels
A Bride’s Story (series) – Kaoru Mori
Delta of Venus – Anais Nin
Stag’s Leap – Sharon Olds
Wide Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys
The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy
Persepolis – Marjane Satrapi
Dreaming the Eagle (series) – Manda Scott
Sleeping Keys – Jean Sprackland
The Colour Purple – Alice Walker
Oranges are not the only fruit – Jeanette Winterson
Written on the Body – Jeanette Winterson
Lighthousekeeping – Jeanette Winterson
Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolf
To The Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf
Anya’s Ghost – Vera Brosgol
How to Train Your Dragon (series) – Cressida Cowell
Old Bear Stories – Jane Hissey
The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Thief Lord – Cornelia Funke
The Worst Witch (series) – Jill Murphy
Sea of Shadow (series) – Fuyumi Ono
Wolf Brother (series) – Michelle Paver
Feasting the Wolf – Susan Price
The Sterkarm Handshake (series) – Susan Price
Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging (series) – Louise Rennison
Harry Potter (series) – J.K. Rowling
The Suitcase Kid – Jacqueline Wilson
Girls in Love (series) – Jacqueline Wilson
Why make all this fuss?
I think some would argue that drawing attention to the dearth of women’s books on most bookshelves can be a negative thing. Some would argue that books should just be allowed to stand alone.
I disagree. Recently I read a fantastic opinion piece by female stand up Bethany Black, who explained how much harder it is for a woman to get up and perform comedy. The opinions of the audience are already against her; the lack of female performers in their experience works against them wanting to see any more. They assume that because they haven’t seen many women delivering stand up, it must mean women are bad.
Maybe it sounds silly, but I think the same can happen with books. Everyone reads the big names, the breakthroughs, but I think it often doesn’t occur to most people to go looking for books by women. And similar to the comedy situation, there are just so many more books by men that are tried and tested. Nearly the entire literary canon of Britain is historically written by men. Almost all the classics on my shelf are by men. And of course, I want to read them; I’m fascinated by where our current literary trends have originated, but the more of them I read, the less books by women I have time to read.
I do not in any way mean to devalue books by men. Sure, the canon is male-dominated because women’s voices were marginalised but that doesn’t make the canon less good. I just want people to think outside it once in a while.