Women Authors
April 30, 2005 1:30 PM   Subscribe

I would like to make an effort to read more books by women authors.

I can count of my fingers and toes the number I've read in my life, and this just seems wrong. I seem to only read books by old white men. I've been reading a lot of Saul Bellow, Jonathan Lethem, Raymond Chandler, Robert Charles Wilson, and James Hynes, so that's sort of the type of novel I'm into now. Suggestions please.
posted by corpse to Media & Arts (52 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Are you looking to read more books by women just because you are looking for a "female perspective"? Or do you want a "feminist POV"? Or do you want books that feature strong female characters? Or...???

Here are a few suggestions:

"A Place of Execution" by Val McDermid
"The Dress Lodger" and "The Mammoth Cheese" by Sheri Holman

Ruth Rendell, Margaret Atwood, Francine Prose are also worth checking out.
posted by luneray at 1:47 PM on April 30, 2005

Who have you read?
Some I love:
The Waves by V. Woolf (& others, but this is my top pick)
Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
Oranges are Not the Only Fruit by J. Winterson (& lots of her other stuff, too)
I found The Bell Jar (Plath) really meaningful when I read it, BUT I read it in 7th grade, and have not really checked it out partly for fear that it will not hold up.
oh, The Secret History by Donna Tartt is loads of fun, and well written, too. That also may match your preferred authors better than some of the others I listed.

I'll post more as I think of them...
posted by mdn at 1:48 PM on April 30, 2005

Jeez, is Jonathan Lethem old already?

If you like Lethem, you might like Patricia Anthony; start with Brother Termite.

She's not really similar to your mentioned male writers, but I liked Elissa Schappell's Use Me a lot.
posted by nicwolff at 1:50 PM on April 30, 2005

have not really checked it out ...
since then.

posted by mdn at 1:50 PM on April 30, 2005

Visible Worlds - Marilyn Bowering
Fugitive Pieces - Ann Michaels
Cat's Eye - Margaret Atwood
The Ghost Road trilogy - Pat Barker
The Cure for Death by Lightning - Gail Anderson-Dargatz

These are some I have read recently and enjoyed a lot. Fairly mainstream, solid novels with plots, beautifully written.
posted by Rumple at 1:52 PM on April 30, 2005

You might like Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson. It's perhaps one of the best books I've ever read. The content is great, but the style made me re-read great passages several times just to get hear it over again in my head.

In my opinion, most fiction has come nowhere close to understanding what love is. Not only do I feel that this book understands it, but it also had so, so much to teach me. It reminded me why we read in the first place. I'm not easily impressed.

Outside fiction, you might want to look at Rachel Carson's stuff.
posted by ontic at 2:04 PM on April 30, 2005

A brilliant collection of women's short stories, edited by a world famous feminist.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 2:08 PM on April 30, 2005

Oh, and if you can stomach trusting me, corpse, don't read summaries of Written on the Body before you read it. They actually take away from the experience of being pulled along by the author. A little weird to order a book without reading a summary, I know, but this may be one case where it's worth it.
posted by ontic at 2:08 PM on April 30, 2005

luneray: "Are you looking to read more books by women just because you arelooking for a "female perspective"? Or do you want a "feminist POV"? Ordo you want books that feature strong female characters? Or...???

Both really. The last books by women I read had to be in high school. A Raisin in the Sun, My Antonia,
posted by corpse at 2:15 PM on April 30, 2005

The greatest woman writer I know of is Jane Austen. Seriously. Those who shun her books because of presuppositions simply don't know what they're missing.

Persuasion is my favorite.
posted by koeselitz at 2:28 PM on April 30, 2005

I always liked Pam Houston, Sandra Tsing Loh, Anka Radokovich, Camille Paglia and Donna Gaines. But they're all almost like guys, so maybe that's not what you want.
posted by jonmc at 2:29 PM on April 30, 2005

My (perhaps somewhat English-grad-studenty) list would include:

Virginia Woolf: anything
Willa Cather: The Professor's House (better, I think, than My Antonia)
Charlotte Bronte: Vilette
Emily Bronte: Wuthering Heights
Jane Austen: Persuasion
Marilynne Robinson: Gilead (amazing, and new)
George Eliot: Middlemarch
Katherine Mansfield: collected short stories
Alice James: Diary Of
Gertrude Stein: Tender Buttons
Marianne Moore: Poems
Elizabeth Bishop: Poems
Alice Munro: any collection of short fiction
Joyce Carol Oates: Blonde
Lorrie Moore: Self-Help and Like Life (both short fiction collections, both fantastic)
Amy Hempel: Reasons to Live and Tumble Home (ditto)

These are some of my favorites from over the years, no matter the gender of the author. And whatever you do--please, please do not read Ayn Rand!
posted by josh at 2:30 PM on April 30, 2005

Did you like My Antonia? Willa Cather is great. That particular one is not one of my favorites, though - I'd recommend Death Comes for the Archbishop and a novella called "Old Mrs. Harris." Her short stories are good too.

I second the Pat Barker recommendation: Regeneration, The Eye in the Door, Ghost Road.

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf is one of my all-time favorites. I reread it every year or so. It's easy to get in to, compared to some of her later novels.

The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse by Louise Erdrich. It's the only one of hers I've read, and I liked it. I gather that many of her characters appear in more than one novel - not so much as sequels, but different perspectives on the same communities.
posted by expialidocious at 2:40 PM on April 30, 2005

I really enjoy Caroline Knapp- make sure to read her books in chronological order.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:01 PM on April 30, 2005 [1 favorite]

The Life and Loves of a She Devil by Fay Weldon (ignore the film that was made of it, although the BBC miniseries was pretty good, but in any case, read the book first): wickedly clever, dark humour and a bit of horror rolled into a psychological character study.

If you like dark and brutal police procedural-type thrillers, most anything by Minette Walters is great. She's a wonderful writer and her mysteries are enthralling, intelligent and grim. The same holds for Barbara Vine (Ruth Rendell's more evil nom de plume), to a slightly lesser extent.

Bombay Ice and Fish, Blood and Bone by Leslie Forbes are both wonderful (the former would be my first recommendation). Literary, well-written, intelligent and enthralling, and the former (half murder mystery set in India involving Bollywood and the hijra transvestite/transsexual community, half atmospheric near-travelogue) is one of my favourite books.
posted by biscotti at 3:08 PM on April 30, 2005

My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin. Australian autobiography - Outback story of a young woman's independence and desire for education in the late 19th century. Inspiring life but not too taxing a read. I loved it.
posted by peacay at 3:15 PM on April 30, 2005

I really like Dawn Powell's novels
posted by gnat at 3:17 PM on April 30, 2005

The Balkan Trilogy and The Levant Trilogy, by Olivia Manning (added bonus: these books were made into an excellent BBC series called Fortunes of War). Penelope Fitzgerald: The Blue Flower is a good place to start. Hilary Mantel: try Eight Months on Ghazzah Street. Also, I strongly second the Alice Munro recommendation -- she writes some of the best stories I've ever read.
posted by languagehat at 3:17 PM on April 30, 2005

Some good short fiction: Mary Gaitskill (Bad Behavior); Jayne Ann Phillips (Black Tickets); Jean Rhys (Collected Short Stories; her novels are also beautiful). A great novel: Ann Petry, The Street. Want to try some comics/graphic novels? I recommend Julie Doucet (New York Diary) and the amazing Dori Seda (a collection called Dori Stories).
posted by sophieblue at 3:19 PM on April 30, 2005

Flannery O'Connor's A Good Man Is Hard to Find is one of the best short-story collections ever.
posted by smich at 3:30 PM on April 30, 2005

Stories by Amy Hempel.
posted by dobbs at 3:32 PM on April 30, 2005

Some more contemporary novelists: Kate Atkinson, Beryl Bainbridge, Andrea Barrett, Andrea Levy, Jane Rogers, Joanna Scott, Mary Lee Settle (the Beulah Quintet--just lovely), Rose Tremain.

And from the 19th c., in addition to Josh's suggestions: Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Lady Audley's Secret (it's schlock, but fun schlock), Anne Bronte (The Tenant of Wildfell Hall), Elizabeth Gaskell (North and South), Margaret Oliphant (Hester).
posted by thomas j wise at 3:33 PM on April 30, 2005

some of my favorite female authors:
Joyce Carol Oates (I will read anything she writes- LOVE HER)
Margaret Atwood (Robber Bride, Cat's Eye, and Oryx&Crake are three of my favs)
Myla Goldberg (Bee Season kept me up all night- and I *always* fall asleep reading)
Zadie Smith (I liked Autograph Man better than White Teeth- White Teeth had a crap ending)
Sylvia Plath (I love The Bell Jar even though it has a bad rap.)
Lee Smith (Saving Grace- I think it's along similar lines as the new novel Gilead, which was mentioned earlier in this post)
Barbara Kingsolver (Poisonwood Bible and Prodigal Summer are my favorites)
Sandra Cisneros (The House on Mango St is brilliant- Caramelo is really great too!)
Alice Sebold (The Lovely Bones is one of those haunting novels you can't put down)
Patricia Cornwell (murder mysteries... I know, I know)
Louisa May Alcott (check out her "gothic thrillers")
well, there are tons of great suggestions besides mine...and, of course, this is by far not an exhaustive list of all the books/authors I love...!
Happy Reading!
posted by elisabeth r at 3:57 PM on April 30, 2005

A quote from one of my (male) literature professors.

"I used to hate reading Jane Austen. Now I think she's God."
posted by luneray at 4:01 PM on April 30, 2005

I've always preferred Jane Eyre, as far as Brontes go, and Orlando is my favorite Woolf. I couldn't make it all the way through anything else.

Isabel Allende is good if you can deal with magical realism. And I second Barbara Kingsolver -- she's one of my favorites ever.
posted by librarina at 4:39 PM on April 30, 2005

SF authors who are women and who've written at least one thing I thought didn't suck at the time: CJ Cherryh, Lois Bujold, Andre Norton, Connie Willis, Sarah Zettel, Anne McCaffrey, Ursula LeGuin, Vonda McIntyre, Octavia Butler, Pamela Sargent, Nancy Kress, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Mary Gentle, Eleanor Arnason, Maureen McHugh, Mary Doria Russell, Kathleen Goonan, Linda Nagata, Melissa Scott, Alison Sinclair, Brenda Clough, Shariann Lewitt.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:50 PM on April 30, 2005

Zora Neale Hurston. Their Eyes Were Watching God is a brilliant little book, full of dry humor and great writing.

On the Chandler-esque tip, I liked the cyberpunk takes of Melissa Scott's Trouble and Her Friends and Pat Cadigan's books Mindplayers, Synners and Fools. Cadigan was the only woman to be included in the groundbreaking Mirrorshades anthology, and is the only person to have won the UK Arthur C. Clarke award twice.
posted by mediareport at 5:38 PM on April 30, 2005

Jane Austen & Jane Eyre both made me want to stick pins in my eyes, though I am a sucker for some Wuthering Heights. That said, I'd recommend Muriel Spark (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is the most famous; I prefer Girls of Slender Means); Harper Lee (I read To Kill A Mockingbird long after school and adore it); Carson Cullers (A Member of the Wedding is both by a woman and excellent insight into girls); Simone de Beavoir (I liked Les Belles Images but it's out of print); and Natalia Ginzburg. Flannery O'Connor is pretty cool too. Oh, you may enjoy Mary McCarthy as well, given your tastes.
posted by dame at 5:46 PM on April 30, 2005

I can't believe I forgot Edith Wharton. Edith Wharton. She too does an excellent job on the woman's POV, mostly in the sense of depicting the structural limitations of late-nineteenth-century women. Summer always kills me, though there is also House of Mirth and Ethan Frome.
posted by dame at 5:58 PM on April 30, 2005

Without strong opinions here I wanted to let some comments flow in before commenting myself. Some good stuff here. My votes go to:

Margaret Atwood, (all of her stuff is good, I loved "The Handmaid's Tale" and it is particularly relevant for today - religious right takes over America);
Anne Tyler (she is more pop than intellectual, but really gets inside the head of a midlife woman - I love her books immensely)
Alice Munro (great short stories).
posted by caddis at 6:06 PM on April 30, 2005

What a great thread!
posted by sophieblue at 6:18 PM on April 30, 2005

Lydia Davis - excellent short stories, unbelievably good (Almost No Memory is fabulous)
Zora Neale Hurston - Their Eyes Were Watching God
Annie Dillard - read everything she's ever written or mentioned. The woman is amazing and writes books that are as close to perfection as I've ever encountered.
posted by heatherann at 6:47 PM on April 30, 2005

Carson Cullers

Carson McCullers, dame. Don't forget the all important "Mc." ;>
posted by jonmc at 6:58 PM on April 30, 2005

I'll second Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. If you're into sci-fi, a couple light but good introductions to the previously mentioned Connie Willis are Remake and Bellwether. Remake is especially good if you're into movies.

Willis actually feels very complementary to Hynes to me, but among my friends who have read both, I'm the only one who thinks that.. so your mileage, etc.
posted by Carol O at 7:17 PM on April 30, 2005

Sci fi: Connie Willis. VERY good, funny and moving work, also very realistic to anybody who works as a scientist or with scientists.
posted by By The Grace of God at 8:13 PM on April 30, 2005

Oh, if we're doing poems, too, the relatively unknown Denise Levertov.
posted by mediareport at 9:18 PM on April 30, 2005

Alison Lurie--especially Foreign Affairs--you're in for a treat!
posted by brujita at 9:43 PM on April 30, 2005

If you liked Lethem's Men and Cartoons (short stories with a fantastical bent), you might also like Judy Budnitz' Nice Big American Baby.
posted by xo at 11:19 PM on April 30, 2005

Top of my head, things I have truly loved only, in rough historical order:

The Awakening -- Kate Chopin
The Enchanted April -- Elizabeth von Armin
I Capture the Castle -- Dodie Smith
Out of Africa/Winter's Tales -- Isak Dineson
To the Lighthouse/A Room of One's Own -- Virginia Woolf
Their Eyes Were Watching God -- Zora Neale Hurston
The Art of Eating -- MFK Fisher
The Complete Stories -- Flannery O'Connor
The Lover -- Margaret Duras
The Shawl -- Cynthia Ozick
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek -- Annie Dillard
Cat's Eye/The Handmaid's Tale -- Margaret Atwood
The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories -- Angela Carter
Beloved -- Toni Morrison
The Poisonwood Bible -- Barbara Kingsolver
So I Am Glad -- AL Kennedy
posted by melissa may at 11:23 PM on April 30, 2005

Some additions/seconds that I've liked a lot:

Mavis Gallant - My Heart Is Broken
Kate Chopin - The Awakening
Anything by Virginia Woolf
Lisa Moore - Open
Yasmin Reza - Art / Desolation
Bronwen Wallace - People You'd Trust Your Life To
Rosemary Sutcliff - Eagle of the Ninth / The Silver Branch / The Lantern Bearers
Sherri S. Tepper - Northshore / Southshore

posted by RGD at 1:37 AM on May 1, 2005

I know the thread is about fictional writers but you have got to read Maya Angelou's autobiographical works. I tore through them with such speed and can read them over and over again.
posted by floanna at 4:10 AM on May 1, 2005

Yeah, I would second all of the things I suggested before (hahaha) and second Edith Wharton: The House of Mirth. Read the classics, I say!--They knew how to write some seriously entertaining novels. Austen is non-stop enjoyment.

If we're opening up the doors to non-fiction:

Hannah Arendt: The Human Condition and Origins of Totalitarianism
Elaine Scarry: Dreaming by the Book
Simone de Beavoir: anything
posted by josh at 6:17 AM on May 1, 2005

I'm surprised nobody has mentioned Patricia Highsmith.
posted by anathema at 6:27 AM on May 1, 2005

I like Gail Godwin, especially "Violet Clay" and "The Odd Woman".

Not easy reads, but worth the trouble.
posted by essexjan at 7:54 AM on May 1, 2005

Anything by Annie Proulx.

And a second for Geek Love!
posted by flabdablet at 8:47 AM on May 1, 2005

Do not miss Rebecca West's Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, a very long and totally riveting nonfiction book about a trip she took through Yugoslavia in the late 1930s. I'm a writer for a living, and practically every page of that thing has sentences I'm jealous of. Unbelievably good prose. (West's life story is really interesting, too.)
posted by 88robots at 10:46 AM on May 1, 2005

The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt is ridiculously good. I can't recommend it enough. It has zero to do with the Tom Cruise movie, but has alot to do with Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai".
posted by vito90 at 11:08 AM on May 1, 2005

Jon, I always always do that. Thanks. And, Josh, de Beauvoir's fiction is just as worthwhile as the nonfiction.
posted by dame at 12:27 PM on May 1, 2005

Obasan by Joy Kogawa, Fall On Your Knees by Anne-Marie MacDonald (nevermind that this later became an Oprah book), and Jasmine by Bharati Mukherjee.
posted by crapulent at 3:32 PM on May 1, 2005

I'm surprised no one mentioned Cynthia Ozick. I recommend these: Trust; A Novel and The Messiah of Stockholm (one of the better books I've picked up lately.) I'm looking forward to reading her new book, Heir to the Glimmering World - it got stellar reviews and is finally out in paperback.
posted by sophie at 4:08 PM on May 1, 2005

Possession by A.S. Byatt
posted by picklebird at 5:56 PM on May 1, 2005

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