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Psych Me Up
August 4, 2010 2:14 PM   Subscribe

Can you recommend a few strong lady stories?

Preparing to go on a grueling trek, I'm in need of stories of inspirational women. (I'm finding myself addicted to a badly written tv show and I think the only reason is that the main character spouts science and kicks the butts of people twice her size.)

Format is open -- anything printed (books, essays, comics/graphic novels, short stories.) Genre unimportant -- biography, fiction, sci-fi, etc. I tend to pick up post-modern fiction when left to my own devices. Ideally, this would be something off the beaten track so that the people going with me would not have read it and we can share it. I'd like something that's not available only in hard cover because I may haul it up a mountain. Thanks!
posted by *s to Media & Arts (34 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
Anne LaBastille: Woodswoman
posted by ryanshepard at 2:19 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Smilla's Sense of Snow, Peter Hoeg. Smilla is pretty much a boss.
posted by quadrilaterals at 2:26 PM on August 4, 2010


I think Queen Elizabeth I kicks ass, and this is my favorite (fictional) story about her.
posted by olinerd at 2:30 PM on August 4, 2010


Lady Godiva
posted by hal_c_on at 2:39 PM on August 4, 2010


Any of the Modesty Blaise series would be great. The books, not the graphic novels.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 2:40 PM on August 4, 2010


Joan Barfoot: Gaining Ground. About a woman who leaves her family to live in total isolation and nearly total self-sufficiency. (I think this is also published under the title "Abra" in the US)
Lindsay Davis: The Course of Honor. Not too heavy but very good novel from the author of the Falco Roman detective series about a historical figure who rises from slavery to financial independence and gets the guy on her own terms.

And anything by Dervla Murphy - an incredibly tough and hard-headed woman, if occasionally a bit self-righteous, who after a gruelling adolescence cycled from Ireland to India, worked in a Tibetan orphanage, travelled with a young daughter through Southern India (this one is particularly flavoursome and not too hardcore) and trekked across Ethiopia with a mule and and and
posted by runincircles at 2:48 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


The short story "A Worn Path" by Eudora Welty - not even remotely similar to ass-kicking ladies on TV shows but fits the bill all the same.
posted by deep thought sunstar at 3:13 PM on August 4, 2010


Re-read the Odyssey and the Iliad, keeping your eye on Athena. She always gets short-shrift in the movies, but the goddess kicks some serious ass in the original epics.
posted by kanewai at 3:15 PM on August 4, 2010


The Colour Purple by Alice Walker
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
The Red Tent: A Novel by Anita Diamant
posted by angelaas525 at 3:16 PM on August 4, 2010


I've always thought that one of the greatest woman characters ever written into literature exists in Jane Austen's greatest work, her novel Persuasion. Of her main character there, Jane Austen herself commented that "she is almost too good for me;" I really believe that she represents everything great women – and human beings in general – are capable of, and she is strong in the face of what is I think the most intense and personal tension in any of Austen's novels.
posted by koeselitz at 3:27 PM on August 4, 2010


Mary Kingsley's, Victorian explorer of the Congo's Travels in West Africa. Sample:

"I made a short cut for it and the next news was I was in a heap, on a lot of spikes, some fifteen feet or so below ground level, at the bottom of a bag-shaped game pit.

It is at these times you realise the blessing of a good thick skirt."

There's a new bio as well.


Isabella Bird's books are wonderful too, especially A Lady's Life in the Rockies.

And, Beryl Markham's West With the Night.

The Little House on the Prairie books are full of Pluck and Grit, if you haven't read them they're really great books.
posted by Erasmouse at 3:29 PM on August 4, 2010


What the Body Remembers by Shauna Singh Baldwin
Icy Sparks by Gwyn Hyman Rubio
posted by angelaas525 at 3:30 PM on August 4, 2010


Anything by Tamora Pierce. It's YA, but REALLY good kickass girl characters.

Dorothy Gilman's Mrs. Pollifax books are Mystery/Adventure stories about a little-old-lady spy that are fun.
posted by Caravantea at 3:33 PM on August 4, 2010


I love Olivia Butler's novels — all of 'em.

I also enjoyed Manda Scott's Boudica series.
posted by angiep at 3:34 PM on August 4, 2010


Here is a well put together list (alt link) I came across that has many good books in it with strong female characters and descriptions of those books. (Compiled by Penni Cyr, Librarian).
posted by angelaas525 at 3:45 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, I have some more trashy suggestions.

These aren't great novels by any means, but the JD Robb In Death series is a vice of mine, in large part because her main character, Eve Dallas, is most definitely a strong woman.

I also love the (very different) detective at the center of The Number One Ladies' Detective Agency series, who is truly self sufficient and strong willed.

Finally, it is hard to find a smarter or more fearless woman in literature than Miss Marple, Agatha Christie's deceptively harmless looking detective.
posted by bearwife at 3:50 PM on August 4, 2010


Carson McCullers seems to me to provide a perhaps-melancholic version of this.
posted by rhizome at 3:57 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Matter, a sci-fi/space-opera novel by Iain M. Banks. Only downside it's 593 pages in hardcover, so it's a pretty big brick of a paperback.

Pushing Ice, by Alastair Reynolds - sci-fi by way of human dynamics when shoved aboard a spacecraft. The main protagonist and antagonist are both women, and they're both pretty kickass.

The Jane Whitefield series (written by Thomas Perry) is about a woman who helps people disappear when they have no other choice. She's very kickass, and the books are thriller/mystery. (One caveat - I'd skip the first book... I thought the characterisation was weak.)
posted by zennish at 4:04 PM on August 4, 2010


Seconding Dervla Murphy.

And jeer if you like, but Dagny Taggart in Atlas Shrugged is ultra-competent, disciplined, and fearless.
posted by Joe Beese at 4:09 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Fuck fiction!

You wanna be inspired?

Holding the Line: Women in the Great Arizona Mine Strike of 1983
By Barbara Kingsolver...who was kind of an ass kicker back in the day.

And yeah, it should be mandatory for every man and woman who has ever thought that women are not vital to the ALL aspects of the labor movement.
posted by hal_c_on at 4:59 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I liked Madeleine Albright's memoir, Madam Secretary. And I don't usually auto-/bio-/memoir.
posted by Yoshimi Battles at 5:17 PM on August 4, 2010


> don't usually like...
posted by Yoshimi Battles at 5:18 PM on August 4, 2010


Strong woman hero? try to find better than Ellen Ripley... especially in the second Alien movie
posted by Redhush at 5:22 PM on August 4, 2010


Pamela Watson's Esprit de Battuta - she rides her bicycle across Africa alone and it's amazing.
posted by honey-barbara at 5:27 PM on August 4, 2010


One of the seminal books of my teenage years was Woodswoman.
posted by Miko at 5:34 PM on August 4, 2010


It's pretty well not on the beaten path, but there's the sci-fi space opera Honor Harrington series by David Weber. BAEN has made a habit of releasing a CD inside the first-edition hardcover of the books, and you can download the content (with BAEN's permission I might add) from a website called the Fifth Imperium. Bonus: His latest book just came out. If you have some kind of electronic reader, this will give you plenty of books to peruse as there's more than just the HH books. (The BAEN Free Library might be of interest as well, as there are more obscure books tucked away in there.)
posted by Heretical at 6:41 PM on August 4, 2010


Irk, I mis-recalled the URL ... here's the REAL Free Library. My bad.
posted by Heretical at 6:44 PM on August 4, 2010


Strong lady stories are pretty much all Marion Zimmer Bradley wrote. She's got some fun feminist/female-centered reinterpretations of popular historical myths and legends.

Robert Heinlein also wrote female characters who were simultaneously kick-ass and teenage boys' wet dreams -- very smart and competent at everything while also very sexy/sexual/fertile.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:03 PM on August 4, 2010


Cowboys Are My Weakness by Pam Houston is a fantastic collection of short stories about different women primarily working and living in the outdoors. A few years ago, a friend mentioned she brought it down the Grand Canyon on a raft trip and would read the stories out loud around the campfire at night. But I bet your friends weren't on that Canyon trip.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:21 PM on August 4, 2010


West With the Night by Beryl Markham

from the Amazon page:
Born in England in 1902, Markham was taken by her father to East Africa in 1906. She spent her childhood playing with native Maruni children and apprenticing with her father as a trainer and breeder of racehorses. In the 1930s, she became an African bush pilot, and in September 1936, became the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west.
posted by anotherkate at 12:49 AM on August 5, 2010


Nthing Octavia Butler, particularly her Exogenesis series and Parable of the Sower/Talents.

If you're looking for something a bit vintage, I have a soft spot for Harriet Vane, in Dorothy L. Sayer's pre-WW2 detective novels about Lord Peter Wimsy - particularly in 'Have His Carcase', 'Gaudy Night' and 'Busman's Honeymoon'.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:08 AM on August 5, 2010


Amy Bloom's Away is one of my favorite books because the prose is beautiful (I'm an English major, so I'm picky) and the heroine is a hardcore badass. It's about this 22 year-old woman who survives the pogroms in Russia, loses her family, gets separated from her toddler daughter, and immigrates to New York City in 1924. Over the course of the book she travels across the country, usually alone, on the quest to find her daughter. Bloom is mainly a short story writer, but her prose and narrative in Away is stunning. I picked it up on a whim one rainy Saturday evening and didn't put it down til eeeeearly Sunday morning, with nary a break in between.
posted by zoomorphic at 8:09 AM on August 5, 2010


Recommending The Orchard: A Memoir by Adele (Kitty) Crockett Robertson. Tough times, a strong woman, and a true story.
posted by kbar1 at 12:32 PM on August 5, 2010


Jane Yolen's Sister Light, Sister Dark comes to mind.

Connie Willis writes strong female characters. To Say Nothing of the Dog, Bellwether, and The Doomsday Book are good places to start.
posted by batmonkey at 1:58 AM on August 6, 2010


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