A couple of months ago I wrote about Five Novels by Female Authors. My original intention had been only to write about some of my favourite novels, and without plan or intention it transpired to be a list of my favourite books by women writers.
Then yesterday I posted a shelfie on Instagram of my recently read / to be read books, and noticed again they were all women writers.
Reading Men Reading Women
I’m not intentionally only reading women, I promise. But as I think about it now, I can’t remember the last time I read a book written by a man. A quick look at my GoodReads profile reminds me that I have read only one book by a male author this year : Garth Greenwell’s What Belongs To You.
I remember once loaning a book to a male friend to which, whilst written by a man, had a female narrator. He handed it back to me, saying he couldn’t finish it because of the female narrator. I was shocked, not to mention disappointed. What was so off-putting about a book with a female narrator? Why was it so ‘other’ to him ? Despite the recent trend in my reading habits, I can’t genuinely imagine never reading a book with a male narrator. How many of my favourite books would I have missed out on if I had done so ? If you’re only reading books with characters of the same sex, race, sexuality, as you – you’re missing out, big time. If the author has done a good job, you should be submerged into the world of the characters you are reading, regardless of your own personal identification. Fiction can create empathy and open up worlds of which you have no personal experience. That’s the beauty of it.
Having said that, there are so many great women writers around at the moment, that they are dominating my ‘to-read’ list (exception at the moment is Graham Norton’s new release, which I believe is excellent). And it’s still generally harder for women writers to get published, and to get recognition. Big literary prizes are still often dominated by men. Women’s writing is still often classified as ‘women’s writing’ rather than just, you know, writing. There can be battles over book covers and appealing to the ‘female reader’;a cover might have a much softer look than the content inside warrants, because publishers think women only want to read ‘chick-lit’. All of this means that we should continue to champion and shout about women who write.
What I read in 2016
So what has been on my female-centric list this year ?
Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche
Having wanted to read this for ages, I eventually did after a lovely friend picked me up a copy. It is as excellent as you would expect from Adichie, who manages to write about huge topics whilst also making you fall in love with her characters, who are complex and real. She tells stories of race, identity and belonging – underlined with an epic love story.
“Why did people ask “What is it about?” as if a novel had to be about only one thing.”
The Lesser Bohemians – Eimear McBride
I admit I struggled with this at the beginning as the prose style is unconventional – this book makes the reader work, which is no bad thing. As I persevered, I got drawn in to the tale of the young Irish female narrator, new to London, and her intense relationship with an older, damaged, man. Not since Hanya Yanighara’s A Little Life has a book had such an emotional impact on me – it turned me inside out.
Dept. of Speculation – Jenny Offill
Another book which I struggled with at the beginning (there’s a lesson here), but was worth sticking with, and I continued to think about it long after I had finished. It’s a portrait of a marriage, how relationships change over time, how your own identity changes. It’s honest, and at times grim, but there are moments of humour and light which stay with you . I like this quote as the narrator talks about her husband
“This is another way in which he is an admirable person. If he notices something is broken, he will try to fix it. He won’t just think about how unbearable it is that things keep breaking, that you can never fucking outrun entropy.”
Making It Up As I Go Along – Marian Keyes
This is a collection of essays, newspaper columns, travel journals and general musings from Marian Keyes. I’m finding it hard to write about Marian Keyes’ writing without descending into cliches, but it’s true to say that it is warm, witty, real and funny. As a reader you genuinely feel like you know her, that you would be the best of friends if you met. If I say this book is like a comfort blanket, it is not to belittle it . Marian’s writing makes you feel safe and seen – it makes the everyday important. If you haven’t been reading Marian Keyes, you really should be.
Other books on my 2016 women’s lit syllabus were:
You Should Have Known – Jean Hanff Korelitz – the story of a woman building a new life for herself and her child, after her husband goes missing.
Louise O’Neill – Only Ever Yours – a Margaret Atwood-esque dystopia where girls are bred at schools, the most beautiful chosen to be ‘companions’ to the men who pick them.
Tender – Belinda McKeon – captures beautifully the intensity of friendships in youth, following two students in Dublin.
The Long Gaze Back – Sinead Gleeson (ed) – a collection of short stories by Irish women writers.
The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins – blurb not required, I think we all know this book. I always enjoy a good thriller, and have nothing but respect for people who are able to write them.
Here’s to 2017 and more great books by women. I’d love to hear your recommendations in the comments.