Well, I love a good book list challenge.
Danyl from Dimpost has written a list of 50-odd must-read novels to recommend to people. The difference with his list is that he omits anything too long or ‘hard’ that might turn out to put people off:
A few weeks ago I was arguing about lists of essential or ‘must-read’ books with Wallace Chapman, and it got me thinking. When I was in my late teens and early twenties I sought out lists of ‘Greatest Novels of All Time’, and tried to work my way through them. I read some great books (although many of them are no longer listed on lists of Great Novels, because literary fashions change and many things that were Great in the 1990s are no longer Great). But I mostly failed to read lots of difficult books, like Satre’s Nausea and Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow which are still considered great but which I also think, with the benefit of hindsight, were completely ridiculous books to recommend to general readers interested in expanding their literary horizons.
… I’ve read the first volume [of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time] and thought it was sometimes brilliant but mostly intensely boring, and when I disclose this to fellow Proust readers they almost always sigh with relief and agree. It is, I think, the least helpful book you could possibly recommend to someone.
I’m a sucker for a book list, so I clicked through and read his list. We have slightly divergent taste in books, but I’ve read a fair number of his entries.
But it was immediately clear to me that this was a list full of Pākehā/white male authors. Danyl acknowledged the lack of ethnic diversity in the post, but didn’t mention that the list was 5:1 written by men.
He’s called it a provisional list, though, so when I pointed that out, he said he’d be interested in seeing a list of matching books by women that would fit the criteria.
Again, I love a good book challenge. So here I am at 2am (feverish baby, feverish mama) picturing my bookshelves, an ocean away in Wellington, and picking out a reading list for Danyl and anyone else who wants to broaden their reading.
I arrange my bookshelves differently every time I move house. When we were first married, and got fabulous new bookshelves as a gift from M’s university friends, I filled them up by gender of author, almost exactly 50/50, as it turned out.
I found that very pleasing. Men and women are about 50/50 in the population, right? Much of what I’ve learned about the world has come via fiction, and it would be a shame to miss out on seeing things through the eyes of both women and men.
Pamela Clark has written a fantastic list of 35 practical ways men can support women and feminism, and reading women authors is part of the scene:
3. Consume cultural products produced by women.
In whatever your interests are — French cinema, astrophysics, baseball, birdwatching — ensure that women’s voices and women’s cultural products are represented in what you are consuming. If they are not, make an effort to seek them out.
I can help with the seeking out bit! Here’s my list of accessible, shortish, excellent novels by women, just from what’s on my bookshelf.
(Oh, and you might also like this list of TV shows with strong female leads.)
I’ve got my own preferences and biases, of course, so I’ll also recommend a few other links at the bottom for following up things I haven’t necessarily read myself. In particular, I’ve hardly read a thing offline since I had my daughter, so I’m a little out of date.
While writing the list, it struck me that I could think of very few novels from Africa or the Indian sub-continent that were short, so it may be that the stories women and men from those places tell are by nature told over more pages. Then I realised that the short novels on my bookshelves were far more likely to be written by men. So I have been a bit looser than Danyl on length, lest it skew the list, but I’ve still omitted wonderful books that require a bit of hard work for many readers.
My main criterion is not how fast you can read it but how hard it is to put down. Millions of children and adults have cheerfully devoured 700-page Harry Potter books, so I don’t think size is the main issue. This is a list of brilliant books that are not ‘difficult’. Enjoy. And please add to the list in the comments below.
59 (or so) Brilliant + Accessible Books by Women
Carol Shields: Unless
Emma Donoghue: Room
Barbara Kingsolver: The Poisonwood Bible
Jane Smiley: A Thousand Acres
Toni Morrison: Beloved
Mildred D Taylor: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
Patricia Grace: Tu
Sia Figiel: Where We Once Belonged
Tessa Duder: Alex
Margaret Mahy: The Changeover
Elizabeth Knox: The Vintner’s Luck
Fiona Farrell: Book Book
Kate de Goldi: The 10pm Question
Fiona Kidman: Ricochet Baby
Andrea Levy: The Long Song
Tahmina Anam: The Golden Age
Mary Ann Shaffer: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Marilynne Robinson: Gilead
Curtis Sittenfeld: American Wife
Lionel Shriver: We Need to Talk About Kevin
Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice
Edith Wharton: The Buccaneers
Elizabeth Gaskell: Wives and Daughters
Stella Gibbons: Cold Comfort Farm
Muriel Spark: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
AS Byatt: Possession
Geraldine Brooks: Year of Wonders
Ann Patchett: Bel Canto
Kate Atkinson: Case Histories
Annie Proulx: The Shipping News
Valerie Martin: Property
Nicole Krauss: The History of Love
Jhumpa Lahiri: Interpreter of Maladies
Alice Walker: The Color Purple
Zora Neale Hurston: Their Eyes Were Watching God
Jane Didion: The Year of Magical Thinking
Louise Erdrich: Tracks
Attica Locke: Black Water Rising
Helen Garner: The Spare Room
Melina Marchetta: Looking for Alibrandi
Mardi McConnochie: Coldwater
Anne Brontë: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
Margo Lanagan: Tender Morsels
Harper Lee: To Kill a Mockingbird
Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid’s Tale
Jean Rhys: Wide Sargasso Sea
Arundhati Roy: The God of Small Things
Daphne du Maurier: The King’s General
Georgette Heyer: Venetia
Janet Frame: To the Is-Land
Catherine Chidgey: In a Fishbone Church
Dodie Smith: I Capture the Castle
Michelle Cooper: A Brief History of Montmaray
Kate Duignan: Breakwater
Lian Hearn: Across the Nightingale Floor
Elizabeth Strout: Abide with Me
Margaret Craven: I Heard the Owl Call My Name
Elizabeth Berg: The Pull of the Moon
Anne Tyler: Ladder of Years
UPDATES (books I do indeed recommend but accidentally omitted and have been reminded of since publication)
Audrey Niffenegger: The Time Traveler’s Wife
Rachel Joyce: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
8 More Lists to Diversify Your Reading
So what do your bookshelves or e-reader indexes look like? Is it time to diversify? In what direction?
This is part of an occasional series of book lists. Some others are: