Help me drag my uncle out of the literary dark ages!
July 29, 2009 4:04 PM   Subscribe

My uncle recently mentioned to me that he's never read any book written by a woman. Apparently this is because he doesn't think they'll be any good - he seems to think women can only write romance novels. I find this both horrific and hard to believe, but he seemed serious. So, Hive Mind, I need your help in drafting a list of the very best books written by female authors. Help me teach him the error of his ways!

I've checked out a few previous questions, but I am somewhat hampered in my list-making by the fact that many of the obvious classics (and most of the books that sprang to my mind) are books that I think he will not enjoy, e.g. the works of the Brontë sisters or Jane Austen, or even Toni Morrison.

Specifically, he likes crime novels and thrillers, and fast-paced storylines without too many descriptive passages. (Or, as he put it, books "where it doesn't take the author three pages to describe a table.") So suggestions vaguely along those lines would be especially appreciated. I immediately suggested Agatha Christie and Patricia Cornwall to him, but crime is not generally my preferred genre so I'm having trouble coming up with much else.

The books do not have to be thrillers, but I suspect he will abandon anything too romance/family-orientated. So no Pride and Prejudice or The Thorn Birds, please. We're coming up with a list for a rather conservative, old-fashioned, golf- and rugby-loving Englishman in his late sixties. (So no Tipping the Velvet either!)

So, AskMeFites, please fire away!

(Also, I'm well aware of how sexist and misogynistic my uncle may seem, and I'm not interested in hearing any commentary on that, thank you. I myself want to batter him over the head with something heavy until he sees the error of his ways, but he IS family and I love the guy. So if I can rein in my violent urges, then I hope AskMeFi can too.)
posted by badmoonrising to Writing & Language (92 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
Patricia Highsmith
The Secret History (maybe too highfalutin)
posted by Bookhouse at 4:06 PM on July 29, 2009

posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:07 PM on July 29, 2009 [8 favorites]

He'd probably like PD James.
He might like Margaret Atwood.
posted by lampoil at 4:10 PM on July 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

The books of Kate Atkinson may fit. Start with Case Histories.
posted by lunasol at 4:10 PM on July 29, 2009

Also, S.E. Hinton, famous for Rumble Fish and The Outsiders. They're Young Adult novels, but they're great.
posted by Bookhouse at 4:11 PM on July 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Flannery O'Connor is soooooooo awesome and there's nothing even remotely "lady-like" about her writing.
posted by dhammond at 4:12 PM on July 29, 2009 [3 favorites]

Patricia Highsmith. She wrote The Talented Mr. Ripley and Strangers on a Train. They're considered crime classics, although they're not exactly fast paced. Karin Slaughter is a very successful crime novelist, although I've never read her, so I can't say if she's any good or not. And, if you're looking for something really hard-boiled by a woman, let me recommend Money Shot by Christa Faust. It's very fast paced and violent, but it is set in the adult entertainment world, so it may not be for everyone.
posted by dortmunder at 4:14 PM on July 29, 2009

Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
posted by twins named Lugubrious and Salubrious at 4:15 PM on July 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

Mary Higgins Clark!

(but, word - disturbingly, when looking at my bookshelves, I have very few women penned books. I've got MHC, some Tami Hoag (romance MYSTERY novels...), the standard bronte, alcott, austen, and wharton, and very few others.)

I also enjoyed The Secret History (and own it!) but I'm not really convinced that it's a great novel, so, maybe pose it further down on the list, where he can get to it after he's been convinced of great women writing...
posted by firei at 4:16 PM on July 29, 2009

If your uncle is so sexist that he refuses to believe that women lack the innate human ability to tell a story, then he may find reason to dislike Patricia Cornwall's enormously popular Kay Scarpetta novels, since the lead character is a female medical examiner who often butts heads with chauvinistic cops. In later books, her niece comes out as a lesbian. But the novels are fast-paced and bloody.
posted by hhc5 at 4:17 PM on July 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Well, there's always JK Rowling.

Ann Rule? Respected true crime author.
posted by bz at 4:17 PM on July 29, 2009

Ann Rule is not my taste but she writes a lot of True Crime sorts of books if your uncle is into that sort of thing. Otherwise, yeah I think Cornwall is a really good starter as well as possibly Tess Gerritsen who writes medical thrillers. Gravity is an especially good one.
posted by jessamyn at 4:18 PM on July 29, 2009

The first and third "Earthsea" books by Ursula LeGuin. (The second one is terrible.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:18 PM on July 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Alice Munro writes psychologically perceptive short stories, and her most recent stories are dark and a little violent.

Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys, is pretty cool. Jean Rhys' biography, by Lillian Pizzichini, must be a pretty good read, too.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:18 PM on July 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ruth Rendell.
posted by box at 4:18 PM on July 29, 2009

Sara Paretsky. Carol O'Connell's Mallory series, especially Stone Angel.
posted by rtha at 4:18 PM on July 29, 2009

I just read Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson by Lyndsay Faye and enjoyed it immensely.
posted by scody at 4:19 PM on July 29, 2009 [3 favorites]

Wait a second, he likes crime novels and he's never read any Agatha Christie? I mean, sure, her novels are highly mannered and have no sex or violence, but Hercule Poirot is a classic of the genre.
posted by sonic meat machine at 4:19 PM on July 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oh yes, Patricia Highsmith is excellent. Strangers on a Train is so disturbingly good.

For nonfiction, get him Joan Didion's We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live. She's so smart it's unreal.
posted by mixer at 4:21 PM on July 29, 2009

A huge number of my favorite books are written by women, but it's true that they're very character driven, and it sounds like that's not what he likes.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:22 PM on July 29, 2009

Oh, and what about Edith Pargeter (aka Ellis Peters, of Brother Cadfael reknown)?
posted by scody at 4:23 PM on July 29, 2009

If he enjoys crime fiction, what about Kathy Reichs, Martina Cole or Patrica Cornwell?
posted by afx237vi at 4:27 PM on July 29, 2009

Jean Rhys' biography, by Lillian Pizzichini, must be a pretty good read, too.

It's 100% unadulterated garbage of the very highest order.

Jean Rhys is a fantastic writer though. Start with Wide Sargasso Sea.
posted by fire&wings at 4:33 PM on July 29, 2009


Regeneration by Pat Barker. It's excellent.

It's not a thriller; it's definitely literary fiction. But oh, it is excellent.
posted by Neofelis at 4:34 PM on July 29, 2009

Do they have to be fiction? I'm reading Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, by Mary Roach, who also wrote Bonk (science & sex) and Spook (science & the afterlife). Then there are historians like Doris Kearns Goodwin and Sarah Vowell, and activist writers like Arundhati Roy (who has written incredible award-winning fiction but writes mostly -- and powerfully -- about the real world).
posted by headnsouth at 4:38 PM on July 29, 2009

Octavia Butler. Sci-fi, yes, but definitely gripping stuff.

Scottish crime novelist Denise Mina is pretty gritty.
posted by vickyverky at 4:38 PM on July 29, 2009

Various mystery-type authors I enjoy:

Val McDermid; Minette Walters; Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine (tends to psychological, ignore most of her recent stuff); Berverly Connor; Tana French; Carol O'Connell. Maybe Laurie King's standalone novels.

Val McDermid writes psychopath novels, the other tend to be less bloody.
posted by jeather at 4:40 PM on July 29, 2009

Wait a second, he likes crime novels and he's never read any Agatha Christie? I mean, sure, her novels are highly mannered and have no sex or violence, but Hercule Poirot is a classic of the genre.

Eeh. There's a basic divide in crime fiction between "cozies" and "noir/hardboiled." (Yeah, it's lazy and not totally accurate, but there it is). A fan of thrillers is no more likely to like Christie than my elderly aunt is going to enjoy James Ellroy.
posted by Bookhouse at 4:41 PM on July 29, 2009

Might be useful suggestions in one of the several previous questions asking for female authors of thrillers, "books a real man would like", etc.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:44 PM on July 29, 2009

Swedish author Helene Tursten has written an excellent series centred around the character Detective Inspector Irene Huss. A warning: although I don't think the author's graphic depictions of violence are gratuitous, these books are not for the faint-hearted. The second in the series is called The Torso, to give you an indication.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:46 PM on July 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Kate Wilhelm!
posted by rabbitrabbit at 4:50 PM on July 29, 2009

Okay, I feel all sexist because I just walked down three bookshelves and wow, there really is a huge male-heavy balance to the whole thing, especially if I skip over the Lee and LeGuin in ye dusty olde fantasy corner. I'd never noticed that fiction was such a swinging dick club.

So after rejecting a dozen that definitely have a female "voice", I am left with exactly four.

Zadie Smith's White Teeth. Heck of a book, and I don't think it "sounds" like it comes from a woman's pen. Two grizzled old men as main characters, anyway.

Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eye. Atwood is a clever feminist but it's not overt.

Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley, especially if he doesn't know the twists from the film. Reasonably different, anyway.

I also read Evelyn Anthony's Mind Games start-to-finish on an overseas flight once. A straightahead James-Bond style spy thriller, not high art but not awful, either.
posted by rokusan at 4:52 PM on July 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Some great suggestions here (PD James, Ruth Rendell and Patricia Highsmith in particular, but would Ripley's ambiguous sexuality be an issue? He's certainly not straight in the first book, but it's less apparent in the sequels).

Ruth Rendell also writes excellent, engaging thrillers as Barbara Vine - far less focus on the police procedural than when she writes under her own name. I highly recommend The Blood Doctor, to start with.

The first few books written by Kathy Reichs were good but after that they became hackneyed and trite (Bare Bones was the last one I tried to read and it was tough to finish), so stick with her earlier works. Sara Paretsky's VI Warshawski is a tough, hardboiled Chicago PI, so if he likes that sort of character those books would be perfect.

I'll also add Minette Walters - her novels are bloody, psychological and very, very dark.
posted by goo at 4:53 PM on July 29, 2009

Maybe try offering James Tiptree, Jr -- see how he likes it, and if he gives a positive response, jump up suddenly, point at him accusingly, and say, "AHA! James Tiptree is actually the pen-name of Alice B Sheldon, a woman!"
posted by AzraelBrown at 4:54 PM on July 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

How about Elizabeth George, who (according to NoveList), "brilliantly blend[s] the traditional classic British Mystery with today's crime novels? Here's a brief introduction to her work and some other read-alike women authors.
posted by gargoyle93 at 4:55 PM on July 29, 2009

A lot of great books mentioned above but how about "The Sparrow" by Mary Doria Russell?

I'm just rereading it after 10 years and wow, it really is perfectly engrossing summer reading.
posted by readery at 4:59 PM on July 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

I came in here to recommend James Tiptree, Jr., but it looks like I've been beaten to the punch. Consider this a second vote, then, if your uncle has any taste for science fiction.
posted by lekvar at 5:02 PM on July 29, 2009

Elizabeth George is way too description-y. I love her books; she writes incredibly well. But if the uncle likes thriller-type books (Clancy? Lee Child? Etc.?) he's going to hate George even if her first name was Ed. The genre he apparently likes is not deep in good writing - I love me some brain candy, and I have plenty of Lee Child and his ilk on my shelves, but the more literary mystery/procedural/noir/thriller writers probably won't go down with him, whether they're written by men or women.
posted by rtha at 5:13 PM on July 29, 2009

Introducing him to Ayn Rand would probably silence him on this one point, but may not be a good idea in the long run.
posted by contraption at 5:21 PM on July 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

The Falco Mystery Series by Lindsey Davis. The series is set in ancient Rome and all of them are a fun read. They are not great literature but they are enjoyable and interesting.
posted by calumet43 at 5:21 PM on July 29, 2009

Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone series ("A is for Alibi", "B is for Burglar", etc.) - "T is for Trespass" is the most recent one.
posted by candyland at 5:23 PM on July 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

How can he possibly like crime novels and have never read a book by a woman? That's crazy talk!

For fast pace/easy on the description, Mary Higgins Clark really is quite good. Total brain candy. Ditto Agatha Christie (sure, it's "mannered", but she does a great plot). Maybe P.D. James, Ruth Rendell. Seconding Minette Walters--I particularly enjoyed "The Scold's Bridle".

I adore Ngaio Marsh ("Light Thickens" is so very good!) and Dorothy Sayers, but that might be too descriptiony. Totally gripping plotlines, however. Not a fan of Elizabeth George.

If you did go sci-fi, there's always Andre Norton--some pretty classic olde schoole action stuff.
posted by Go Banana at 5:26 PM on July 29, 2009

Seconding the Sue Grafton series.
posted by SLC Mom at 5:33 PM on July 29, 2009

What about Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird?
posted by runningwithscissors at 5:38 PM on July 29, 2009 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow, everyone! Thank you all so much for taking the time to peruse your bookshelves.

There are so many great suggestions here - if I hadn't been a little rude about him in the question then I'd just print this off and hand it to him, but as it is I think I'll have to edit it slightly!

From this and previous questions, it looks like the common threads are Patricias Highsmith and Cornwall, PD James, Zadie Smith, Margaret Atwood, Ruth Rendell (I never knew her alter ego was Barbara Vine!), Minette Walters and James Tiptree Jr. So I'll start him on those and then provide him with a followup list from the rest of your suggestions. (Also, I think I'll be having an Amazon spree myself!)

I won't mark a best answer as you've all been very helpful. So thanks again!
posted by badmoonrising at 5:42 PM on July 29, 2009

I'd also suggest Nevada Barr, who writes mysteries based on national parks. There's not much long flowing description, a fair amount of action, and smart characters. I also second "Regeneration" by Pat Barker, as well as the two other books in the trilogy. As far as another best book by a woman, "To Kill a Mockingbird" immediately comes to mind. There are definitely other great female writers, but I'd stick with the genre he already knows he likes to ease him in.
posted by questionsandanchors at 5:50 PM on July 29, 2009

I'd suggest tricking him! Find a good book by a female author under a pseudonym and loan it to him. "Hey, check this one out! I like the author, he's really good!"

After he reads it and likes it, he will have unknowingly refuted himself.
posted by dualityofmind at 5:51 PM on July 29, 2009

Poppy Z. Brite would make an interesting bridge author. Just don't start him out with Exquisite Corpse.

OK, nevermind, let me throw in a vote for George Sand.
posted by medea42 at 5:54 PM on July 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

I would strongly oppose Margaret Atwood, she single handedly turned some of my friends off reading in general in high school and then again in University.
posted by Iax at 5:56 PM on July 29, 2009

Joyce Carol Oates: She’s a genius, her macabre stories are fascinating… and the lady wrote a book about boxing, fer Chrissake.

Shirley Jackson: Another brilliant unsentimental author.

Does your uncle have a dry sense of humor? If so, I’d highly recommend Florence King’s “Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady.” ....It does contain about two pages of 1950's-style lesbian sex. But it’s erudite and witty as hell and Florence King's about as frilly as an anvil and as politically correct as Oliver Cromwell. (This book is Old People Approved!--My parents loved it.)
posted by applemeat at 5:59 PM on July 29, 2009

thirding Sue Grafton. Kathy Reichs is a maybe... her character (in the books not the tv show) is very academic, and may not be the style your uncle enjoys.
posted by carmen at 5:59 PM on July 29, 2009

Response by poster: Oh, to answer a couple of questions:

The suggestions don't have to be crime or thrillers. In fact, a few more recommendations from other genres would be fantastic for after I've enticed him away from his male-only bubble. Or, as rokusan so wonderfully put it, the swinging dick club.

I have no idea if he likes non-fiction, but I'll pass along any particular recommendations.

(Also, AzraelBrown, I'm dying to do that if just to see the look on his face.)

Cheers folks!
posted by badmoonrising at 6:00 PM on July 29, 2009

J.D. Robb aka Nora Roberts! I love her books!
posted by Sassyfras at 6:03 PM on July 29, 2009

Accordian Crimes
posted by DelusionsofGrandeur at 6:06 PM on July 29, 2009

I'd be remiss not to mention Alexandra Fuller's "Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight," an exciting, bittersweet, and often harrowing memoir about her childhood as a white settler in Rhodesia. (No lesbian sex, but lots of machine guns.)
posted by applemeat at 6:12 PM on July 29, 2009

A couple of points, from reading the suggestions, as I like some of the books and authors here, but I'm not sure your uncle would, for the following reasons:

I think you'll want to take Mary Higgins Clark off of your list as her books are VERY predictable--just find the close family friend and that's the killer pretty much every time.

I adore J.D. Robb's Death series, as mentioned by Sassyfras, and it does have the kind of terse, gritty crime description that might appeal to your unclle, BUT if he isn't comfortable with a female author, he might not care for the Eve Dallas, the female protagonist--or the strongly sexual scenes with her husband, Rourke, told from her viewpoint.

I DO like the suggestion of Regeneration by Pat Barker, above, because Pat is such a gender neutral name that if you don't tell him, your uncle might not know a female wrote the book until you tell him (after he's finished it).
posted by misha at 6:24 PM on July 29, 2009

Nth-ing Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy--it's all about men, returning UK veterans of the First World War, and all my male reader friends adore it.

Ruth Rendell is one of the best writers of police procedurals ever. If your uncle likes Ed McBain, he should like Ruth Rendell. Her protagonist, Inspector Wexford, is a well-realized character with whom lots of the men I know identify.

Cynthia Harrod-Eagles is also a strong writer of police procedurals, with a complex male protagonist in Inspector Bill Slider.

The single best noir writer working today, in my and many other people's opinion, is Megan Abbott. I recommend her book Queenpin.

If he were my uncle, I'd give him a dust-jacket-free hardback of We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. Shriver is a woman, despite her usually-male first name, and this book is an astonishing take on the life of a troubled teenage boy. It would be interesting to see what he thought of the book before knowing Shriver's gender.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:41 PM on July 29, 2009

dhoyt is spot on about Flannery O'Connor. I'd also suggest Carson McCullers and Katherine Ann Porter.
posted by emelenjr at 7:19 PM on July 29, 2009

I was trying to find a way to recommend Katherine Dunn's Geek Love, but I think your uncle might choke on the stripper with a tail.

So, if I can't quite recommend one fearless and dark writer, I'll just add my vote to the Minette Walters box, plus recommend Mo Hayder, particularly The Treatment, or maybe Tokyo.

None of these women are afraid to get their brain dirty, and Hayder's books are gorgeously full of people who are good but broken or bad but understandable, and nobody is from central casting.
posted by Sallyfur at 7:54 PM on July 29, 2009

I second Octavia Butler, not sure about Kate Wilhelm, depends a lot on the book (I love her stuff, but a lot of at least the earlier books include quite a bit of 'social commentary" he may not appreciate.

I'd suggest Dana Stabenow, the Kate Shugak series is wonderful, the Liam something series is also good. All set in Alaska.

Linda Barnes has a series with Carlotta Carlyle as PI, similar to Sue Grafton's Kinsey Milhone series.

and PJ Tracy's series (starts with Monkeewrench) is really wonderful. Written by a mother/daughter team. Good luck.
posted by judybxxx at 8:02 PM on July 29, 2009

oops, I should mention that P. J. Tracy's series has two male cops and a female software genius as detectives. Lots of scary stuff, too.
posted by judybxxx at 8:04 PM on July 29, 2009

Oh, well, as far as female authors are concerned you just can't beat Evelyn Waugh!

Seconding Shirley Jackson though, really.
posted by turgid dahlia at 8:12 PM on July 29, 2009

Second Joyce Carol Oates, she got the short shrift in this thread. Witty, insightful, not fluffy. I read The Tattooed Girl , you might want to try one of her other novels with less of a caretaking theme. However the writing style is perfect for men.
posted by crazycanuck at 8:32 PM on July 29, 2009

O Pioneers! by Willa Cather
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 8:42 PM on July 29, 2009

"... you just can't beat Evelyn Waugh!"

That's a joke, right?
posted by bz at 8:59 PM on July 29, 2009

K. J. Bishop's The Etched City is pretty fantastic. It's fantasy but not dragons & elves fantasy. More like alternate old west in a desert landscape with a touch of exotic religions.
posted by chairface at 9:02 PM on July 29, 2009

Keeping Watch, by Laurie R King
Seconding We Need To Talk About Kevin
I'd recommend Atwood's Oryx & Crake, but possibly only that one. Her styles vary wildly, but O&C is easily her best.
Kindred, by Octavia Butler.
posted by 8dot3 at 9:06 PM on July 29, 2009

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
The Stone Diaries, Larry's Party and others by Carol Shields
Lots of murder mysteries and detective fiction by Anne Perry, (who really did murder someone in real life!)
I don't like the fiction of Anne Rice, like Interview With a Vampire, but I'll mention her anyway.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 9:24 PM on July 29, 2009

Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible is definitely not crime/thriller/mystery. But it is fantastic.
posted by 6550 at 9:32 PM on July 29, 2009

Lionel Shriver's book We Need to Talk about Kevin, mentioned above, would be a great GOTCHA book if you tore off the author photo...

Patricia Highsmith's got a short story collection with a title that might amuse you. I'd concur with those who have said the Ripley books or Strangers on a Train would be a good start, though.
posted by gnomeloaf at 9:47 PM on July 29, 2009

It's science fiction, but "To Say Nothing of the Dog" by Connie Willis might be just the thing. It's a clever time-travel romp, a comedy of manners, and a fun breezy read.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:55 PM on July 29, 2009

Would an Englishman of his age not enjoy the historical writing of Antonia Fraser? She also writes deytective fiction, but I've not read any of that - seems it's well regarded.
posted by Abiezer at 9:59 PM on July 29, 2009

You know, I haven't seen her on the list yet, so I'll toss in Jan Burke - she writes from the perspective of a spunky journalist with a cop husband. It's not terribly heavy fare, but I find them to be really fun reads - I started with , which is a great grisly one.
posted by oreonax at 10:10 PM on July 29, 2009

Sigh. Preview, oreonax, preview. it's the book Bones....
posted by oreonax at 10:10 PM on July 29, 2009

Seconding Connie Willis and Lindsey Davis - great storytellers, both of them, and their books are so much fun.

Jane Smiley might be worth a shot - Moo and Good Faith are the ones that spring to mind, and she's written a crime novel called Duplicate Keys that I haven't read yet.

I would approach Atwood and Oakes with caution - while they're two of my favorite writers, my experience is that they're highly polarizing. Oakes is absolutely gripping when she's on her game, though. Of Atwood's novels, I agree that Oryx & Crake sounds like the best fit for your uncle's taste.
posted by EvaDestruction at 11:08 PM on July 29, 2009

Yea, please don't recommend Atwood. She (Cat's Eye) almost put me off reading and I average a book a day.
posted by jacalata at 11:46 PM on July 29, 2009

So I get the sense that he isn't interested in books focusing on traditionally feminine themes like family, romance, or domestic life. That's cool, I'm a woman and I can actually relate to this feeling, but it does seem to rule out a lot of the awesome women novelists who come to mind (Nadine Gordimer, Jeannette Winterson, Toni Morrison, Arundhati Roy, Barbara Kingsolver, Louise Erdrich, and many others).

I do think its harder to find women authors who focus on conventionally masculine themes. A few ideas: The Cutting Room by Louise Welsh is a great, literate, thriller, and features a male protagonist if that helps your uncle relate (very masculine male homosexuality is one theme in the book, so if uncle is very homophobic he might balk). I second Sara Paretsky for lighterweight but engaging mysteries and LeGuin for intellectual SciFi (the Dispossessed works well for non sci-fi/fantasy fans).

Taking a different approach, and if you can get him to try it, Housekeeping was supposedly written as a counterpoint to Moby Dick - which is supposedly The Quintessential American (ie: Masculine) Novel, and from what I've read, the author was expressly trying to make female and feminine themes as compelling as masculine themes generally are in American literature (she doesn't take the 30 pages that Moby Dick would to describe a table, but the book is not action packed either). If he's open to avant garde, Kathy Acker was fucking insanely macho yet deeply explores (exposes?) themes of domesticity and family.
posted by serazin at 12:04 AM on July 30, 2009

Doris Lessing's "The Good Terrorist" is a thought-provoking look at the Thatcher years - I think a thoughtful conservative could easily stomach it. (But then, a thoughtful, literate person who has made it to middle age without reading a book by a female author strikes me as doubtful.)
posted by treyka at 12:26 AM on July 30, 2009

To add onto oreonax's comment, Jan Burke's book Bloodlines also got me into reading her collection. Great crime/mystery novel which takes place over a couple generations. Definitely worth reading if that's a genre of interest.
posted by galimatias at 5:04 AM on July 30, 2009

I don't read much of the genre, but I've found Fred Vargas' (yes, a woman named Fred) crime novels to be quite enjoyable.
posted by james.nvc at 6:19 AM on July 30, 2009

If you're looking for more Sci-Fi type authors, try Lois Bujold (Miles Vorkosigan/Naismith series) or C. J. Cherryh.

Bujold's books are along the lines of space opera and mystery combined.

I've never really heard anything bad about Cherryh's novels although I've only read her "Rider at the Gate" and "Cloud's Rider" novels.
posted by aedra at 6:44 AM on July 30, 2009

Seconding Ayn Rand. I can't imagine another author who could better dispel your uncle's myths about how women write.
posted by amandarose at 7:05 AM on July 30, 2009

I have a friend who has this same attitude and it drives me crazy. As a writer myself, I know he's full of dog-doo. The odd thing is, he's a very good amateur musician and has no compunctions at all performing sings written/sung by women. So although I have no specific suggestions for you aside from maybe Barbara Tuchman (The Guns of August, perhaps), I'll be watching this thread with interest.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 7:06 AM on July 30, 2009

annie proulx
grace paley
harper lee
alice munro
flannery o'connor
shirley jackson
posted by timory at 7:59 AM on July 30, 2009

Ayn Rand came to mind immediately but then I re-read the part about where your uncle disdains long descriptive passages. Although her work doesn't have too many long descriptive passages, it does have numbingly long diatribes.
posted by bz at 8:14 AM on July 30, 2009

A few excellent nonfiction writers off the top of my head, often writing about manly men doing manly things:

Caroline Alexander
Patricia O'Toole
Jessica Mitford
Jane Jacobs
Louise Richardson
Mary Roach
Dava Sobel
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:14 AM on July 30, 2009

Seconding Jessica Mitford, Willa Cather and Katherine Ann Porter.

Has anyone mentioned Eudora Welty?
posted by applemeat at 8:32 AM on July 30, 2009

Non-fiction warbook to suggest here, but I thought Barbara Tuchman's Guns of August was an excellent military history book written by a female author.
posted by gushn at 9:24 AM on July 30, 2009

The Good Earth.
posted by rahnefan at 10:49 AM on July 30, 2009

Seconding Ayn Rand. I can't imagine another author who could better dispel your uncle's myths about how women write.

I'm not sure that it's a good idea to suggest to Sexist Uncle that turgid, humorless screeds are exactly the apotheosis of women's writing, though.
posted by scody at 10:59 AM on July 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

On the other hand, if he's really as misogynistic as the OP suggests, he might well enjoy Ayn Rand's rape-fantasy narratives.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:40 PM on July 30, 2009

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (Lionel isn't the author's real name - I assure you she's a woman!)
posted by just_ducky at 4:58 PM on July 30, 2009

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