Nothing on my bookshelf was written by a woman. Help!
October 24, 2012 8:08 PM   Subscribe

I looked at my bookshelf recently. Nearly every writer on there is dead and male. I should rectify this. Which books by women, living or dead, might I like? Details inside.

As I said, I looked at my bookshelf recently and found that most of the books on it are by dead white men. Those books by women which I could easily turn up were:

The complete poems of Emily Dickinson;
The complete poems, 1927-1979, of Elizabeth Bishop;
Seven Gothic Tales, by Isak Dinesen;
Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen;
Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen;
Ann Beattie's New Yorker stories;
and Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison.

These are good books, but there are only seven of them to the dozens of books by men which surround them, and two of them are by the same writer.

Just so people can get an idea of the kind of thing I like, here's a sketch of my bookshelves.

Beside the Austens are a complete Milton, a complete Donne, a reprint of the first edition of Leaves of Grass, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and a César Vallejo anthology.

Near the Dickinson and the Bishop are a complete Shakespeare, Infinite Jest, a Spanish Don Quixote with English notes, the Fagles translations of the Aeneid and the Odyssey, and the Lattimore translation of the Iliad.

Near the Dinesen are the complete prehumous poetry of Wallace Stevens, The Sheltering Sky, Election, Stephen King's On Writing, Rabbit, Run, Byron's Don Juan, anthologies of Octavio Paz, Robert Lowell, and Pablo Neruda, and The Dream Songs by John Berryman.

Near the Beattie are Nine Stories and Franny and Zooey, John Updike's early stories, Sixty Stories by Donald Barthelme, Volpone and Other Plays by Ben Jonson, Dead Souls, Wordsworth's Prelude, Nabokov's short stories, Petersburg by Andrei Bely, and Tristram Shandy.

Song of Solomon is in a chaotic bucket in which I can see Lush Life and a pulp-fiction anthology.


So what women should I be reading right now?
posted by Rustic Etruscan to Media & Arts (51 answers total) 68 users marked this as a favorite
Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
posted by milarepa at 8:13 PM on October 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

Willa Cather
Carson McCullers
Flannery O'Connor
posted by anotheraccount at 8:13 PM on October 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

I like many of the books you listed, particularly the more contemporary ones. You might enjoy works by...

Marilynne Robinson - Gilead won a Pulitzer but I think Housekeeping is her stronger work. Good not too long novels that are aching with a sense of place.
Shirley Jackson - known for her short story The Lottery has written some other terrific magazine pieces and We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a gripping story about a weird family and how they fit into their town.
Carson McCullers - Many good short stories and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is a classic novel with a great sense of place.
posted by jessamyn at 8:15 PM on October 24, 2012

Zadie Smith
Margaret Atwood
posted by mannequito at 8:18 PM on October 24, 2012 [6 favorites]

Something about your list made me think Virginia Woolf.
Also Alice Munro.
posted by medusa at 8:20 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, anything and everything by Alice Munro.

You may also dig Joan Didion's nonfiction (if you're into that).
posted by sallybrown at 8:22 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Jhumpa Lahiri is one of my favorite writers.
posted by insectosaurus at 8:30 PM on October 24, 2012

Stuff I've liked of late:

Binocular Vision - short stories by Edith Pearlman

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer (her short story collection, How to Breathe Underwater, is great too)
posted by backwards guitar at 8:31 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh and if you want something a smidge lighter for the beach or whatever, Vanity Fair and The Group are sprawling and juicy and Susan Isaacs is fun.
posted by sallybrown at 8:33 PM on October 24, 2012

Seconding Margaret Atwood. I particularly like The Edible Woman, Alias Grace, and The Blind Assassin. Her short fiction collection, Wilderness Tips, was also enjoyable.

Louise Erdrich, particularly Tales of Burning Love.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.

The short story "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

E. Annie Proulx's The Shipping News.

George Eliot, particularly The Mill on the Floss.

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery. (This is most definitely not an Anne/Emily book.)

The Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy by Sigrid Undset.
posted by xyzzy at 8:33 PM on October 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

I have similar tastes to yours, though i think I trend a bit more contemporary than you. So looking at my bookshelf...

Karen Russell's Swamplandia! was my favorite book last year. A bit magical realism, and then... well, not to spoil it let's just say it goes in a direction you won't predict. It's a stunning debug; I really look forward to seeing where she goes from here.

Nicole Krauss (The History of Love, Great House) is Jonathan Safran Foer's wife but don't let that turn you off: she's a much better writer than he is. History of Love is in turns tragic and hilarious; I loved it.

Zadie Smith's White Teeth blew me away, and On Beauty was also pretty great. Her new one (NW) is sitting in my to-read pile, and I'm very much looking forward to it.

Jennifer Egan's A Visit From The Good Squad is great, one of the most refreshing original works I've read in a while. Yes it's quite popular so it gets a fair bit of snark (and her weird Twitter experiment didn't help the cause), but Good Squad is popular for a reason.

I love everything I've ever read by Margaret Atwood — and wow is she prolific, it's a list too long to put down here. The Handmaid's Tale is her best-known, and as good a place to start as any. The Blind Assassin is my favorite (and quite popular too).

If you happen to like science fiction, Octavia Butler writes amazing feminist sci-fi, a real rarity. The Parable of the Sower was a revelation to 16-year-old me, proving that it was possible for genre fiction to have a real progressive core.

I think of Anne Lamott as more of a non-fiction writer — Bird by Bird was an influential part of my writing education — but she also puts out great fiction. I have Crooked Little Heart here right now, so I guess start there. I'm sure I've read a few others as well. Lamott has a such a great poetic voice even in her prose.

That about covers my favorites, at least the ones I can find right now. Enjoy!

[On preview: Oh wow, some great suggestions from others that I've forgotten: Virginia Woolf. Alice Munro. Jhumpa Lahiri. Joan Didion. Ann Patchett. All fantastic.]

[On second preview: oh my goodness, I'd be remiss if I didn't at least mention Joyce Carol Oates. Talk about prolific....]
posted by jacobian at 8:34 PM on October 24, 2012 [11 favorites]

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
posted by carsonb at 8:35 PM on October 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

- Willa Cather's The Professor's House is wonderfully sad, a portrait of depression, and very different from her other stuff, if you're not into frontier life.

- Quicksand by Nella Larsen (Harlem Renaissance).

- The Talented Mr. Ripley (and other books) by Patricia Highsmith. (Seriously, she's a genius, honored as a great psychological writer in Europe. Oh, Europe.)

- Toni Morrison's Beloved is her big masterpiece, of course, and definitely my favorite of hers.

- Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte. One of my favorite novels of all time.

- Frankenstein, Mary Shelley.

- The Female Man, Joanna Russ. Feminist sci-fi, like nothing else I've ever read.

- "The Yellow Wallpaper," Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Delightful, skin-crawling gothic short story.

Edith Wharton, Flannery O'Connor, Kate Chopin (The Awakening), Shirley Jackson (prefer her novellas to her short stories).
posted by stoneandstar at 8:38 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and everyone loves Donna Tartt's The Secret History, it's kind of a cliche for "readable contemporary spooky crime fiction" recommendations. Ursula LeGuin, for more female sci fi.
posted by stoneandstar at 8:41 PM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh my god, Joy Williams and Jean Rhys.
posted by indognito at 8:43 PM on October 24, 2012

I submit My Ántonia, by Willa Cather.
posted by cairdeas at 8:47 PM on October 24, 2012

Lately I've been reading:

Rebecca Solnit - A Paradise Built in Hell. Nonfiction about the spontaneous communities that arise in the wake of disaster.
Lorrie Moore - um, I read everything by Lorrie Moore. She writes fiction, mostly short stories, but also a few novels. A Gate at the Stairs is particularly lyrical and funny.
Annie Dillard - Teaching a Stone to Talk. Meditative essays on the natural world.
Anne Carson - Plainwater, Autobiography of Red. Both usually shelved as poetry, but they're so much more.
Lydia Davis - The Collected Stories. Genre- and mind-bending short stories.
posted by guybrush_threepwood at 8:48 PM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Going by your other books, maybe Aphra Behn for drama; Barrett Browning for poetry; perhaps Ann Radcliffe for gothic novels. Sarah Ruden's translation of the Aeneid is getting rave reviews, including one which claims it's the first since Dryden to be a work of poetry in its own right. (It's also the first complete translation of the Aeneid by a woman.)
posted by lesbiassparrow at 8:48 PM on October 24, 2012

How exciting! I realized this two years ago and went on a women only binge (extreme, but fun). I started with these lists:

75 Books Every Woman Should Read (some male authors on the list, but mostly female)

100 Best 20th Century Books By Female Authors

Of course, there are glaring omissions, but it's a great place to start.
posted by murfed13 at 8:49 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro, yes yes yes.

The Diviners, by Margaret Laurence.

Miriam Toews--in particular, A Complicated Kindness and Irma Voth.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:50 PM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Considering that much of what what you've listed I have as well - some of them by virtue of my grandmother's Reader's Digest Condensed Books collection - I've always loved Pearl S. Buck. My favourite is the Exile, though the Good Earth is the classic.

And your question made me want to see if Betty Smith ever wrote anything besides A Tree Grows in Brooklyn - but for me, it's as satisfying a read as Pride and Prejudice. I think I re-read both of those books every couple of years.

I'll also agree with the Willa Cather suggestions as well as Carson McCullers' The Member of the Wedding.
posted by peagood at 8:51 PM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

The Good Earth - Pearl S. Buck
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
The Secret History or The Little Friend - Donna Tartt
posted by sharks don't eat potatoes at 8:55 PM on October 24, 2012

You like mid-century American short stories. Yet you do not have a book by Grace Paley on your shelf. Problem solved, friend.

Alice Munro is also a correct answer. And since you like Infinite Jest and Tristram Shandy, I'll go out on a limb and suggest Jaimy Gordon's very strange Shamp of the City-Solo, which is not really like anything else, but is unlike anything else in sort of the same way those two books are unlike everything else.

Since you like Lowell (and other post-war American poetry besides), why not Sylvia Plath? The actual reason she's famous is not because of her life story, but because she's good.
posted by escabeche at 9:09 PM on October 24, 2012

Margaret Drabble and A.S. Byatt. Helen DeWitt. Annie Proulx: Postcards, even more than The Shipping News. Hilary Mantel. Yiyun Lee, The Vagrants.

I think Ruth Rendell, when not writing the Wexford series, is writing some of the best fiction today. She sometimes writes as Barbara Vine.

Not for everyone, and her books vary a lot, but Rebecca Goldstein.
posted by BibiRose at 9:10 PM on October 24, 2012

And if you want a contemporary American poet, Rae Armantrout, though it's not clear to me that you would necessarily like her given the poets you like.

Oh, and: I grew up on Sixty Stories and feel reverence towards it and I sort of see Miranda July's book of stories No One Belongs Here More Than You as a modern analogue. I'm not sure I can defend that stance, but it seems worth a try.
posted by escabeche at 9:12 PM on October 24, 2012

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel.
posted by oflinkey at 9:12 PM on October 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

right now? we' have six days until Halloween...Frankenstein!
posted by sexyrobot at 9:13 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the recommendations, everyone. I like the sound of Carson McCullers.

escabeche: I've actually got a book of Stephen Burt's, Close Calls With Nonsense, that made Rae Armantrout sound cool. I bought the Lowell and the Berryman on Burt's recommendation. I've liked her work in the New Yorker. I'll have to read some collections of hers.

Continuing the response to escabeche: I read The Bell Jar in high school and enjoyed it. It was the school's book, so I returned it when that unit ended. I haven't read much of Plath's poetry beyond "Daddy" and "Mad Girl's Love Song," so I should clearly read her collected poetry next.

lesbiassparrow: That translation of the Aeneid looks great. Thanks for the tip.

Enough threadsitting. Thanks again, all.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:01 PM on October 24, 2012

All of Margaret Laurence
Erica Jong
Alison Lurie
Robb Forman Dew
Gloria Naylor's The women of Brewster place and Linden Hills
Dorothy Allison
Emma Donohue
Amy tan.....
posted by brujita at 10:27 PM on October 24, 2012

Most of my favorite books that happened to be written by women have already been noted, but here are a few more:
How Many Miles to Babylon by Jennifer Johnston
Excellent Women by Barbara Pym
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (I liked The Bean Trees and Pigs in Heaven better, but I like the way Poisonwood looks on my bookshelf)
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
The Giver by Lois Lowry
posted by kbar1 at 10:41 PM on October 24, 2012

nthing Alice Munro. Her stories, were I to describe them to you, would seem utterly mundane and boring, but there's something about them that really works.
posted by LionIndex at 10:57 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I actually wrote a book about this. THAT SAID.

A few top ones to get on now:

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
Possession, A.S. Byatt
The Kristin Lavransdatter series, Sigrid Undset
I Capture The Castle, Dodie Smith
Anything by Colette
Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
Cold Sassy Tree, Olive Ann Burns
Tipping The Velvet, Sarah Waters
The Portable Dorothy Parker
Daisy Fay and The Miracle Man, Fannie Flagg

I also heartily underscore A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Rebecca.
posted by mynameisluka at 11:17 PM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Barbara Comyns - The Skin Chairs, Our Spoons Came from Woolworths, Who Was Changed, others.
Diana Wynn Jones - Charmed life and everything else she ever wrote - if you wished Narnia was a less sanctimonious place, or Hogwarts had better dialog...

American outsider poet Anne Waldman
20th century Russian poet Anna Akhmatova
posted by Abinadab at 11:25 PM on October 24, 2012

Joan Didion's Year of Magical Thinking is gripping and beautiful and made tears stream down my face

also, Sandra Cisneros!
posted by dottiechang at 1:10 AM on October 25, 2012

I submit Nicola Barker. Darkmans is fantastic. And her newest book, The Yips, was longlisted for this year's Man Booker.
posted by Ziggy500 at 2:17 AM on October 25, 2012

The Orange Prize for Fiction has been running since 1996 and is for women only. You can see the shortlists and winners for each year here.

Also: British writer Hilary Mantel (mentioned by Bibirose) has become the only female writer to win the UK''s most prestigious literary prize, the Man Booker Prize, twice - for Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies.

I'd also recommend Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things - a bit tough to get into but worth it.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:34 AM on October 25, 2012

You sound like you have similar tastes to me. I'm sure some of these have been recommended already, but here goes:

Lydia Davis
Sheila Heti
AM Holmes
Amanda Davis
Alice Munro
Angela Carter
A S Byatt
ZZ Packer
posted by Life at Boulton Wynfevers at 2:53 AM on October 25, 2012

I'm still working on fixing the gender imbalance on my own bookshelves.

Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Christina Stead, The Man Who Loved Children
If you like historical fiction, Mary Renault.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is short, clever, and very complex. Also, there's an excellent 1969 movie starring Maggie Smith.
posted by betweenthebars at 5:10 AM on October 25, 2012

Doris Lessing's Children of Violence series
posted by fuse theorem at 5:14 AM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Angela Carter
Jeanette Winterson
Phillipa Gregory's -- hear me out -- Zelda's Cut
posted by mibo at 5:53 AM on October 25, 2012

Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook.
posted by mareli at 6:54 AM on October 25, 2012

If you'd like something a little lighter, I would suggest Dorothy Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey mystery novels. Sayers wrote in the 1930s; she was Oxford-educated and totally brilliant, and her books are clever, complex, and a great deal of fun.
posted by nonasuch at 7:32 AM on October 25, 2012

Marguerite Yourcenar.
posted by BibiRose at 7:44 AM on October 25, 2012

Oh, man, George Eliot. Somehow I skipped her when I was younger and now I sort of feel like I could be happy just reading Middlemarch over and over again indefinitely.
posted by yarrow at 10:10 AM on October 25, 2012

Virginia Woolf - if I could only recommend a couple of her works they would be Orlando and A Room of One's Own.
posted by frobozz at 10:15 AM on October 25, 2012

Jhumpa Lahiri. The Interpreter of Maladies is a wonderful starting place.
posted by thenewbrunette at 11:29 AM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Three books that really captured by imagination recently are:

- Property by Valerie Martin.

- We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver.

- Room by Emma Donoghue
posted by Clambone at 12:08 PM on October 25, 2012

vote 2 for God of Small Things.
posted by bukvich at 8:17 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Edith Wharton and Elizabeth Gaskell.
posted by mosessis at 6:34 AM on October 26, 2012

The Lacuna -- Barbara Kingsolver -- (NYT review here)
The Lacuna is so, so beautiful, a tapestry, a huge story with so many smaller stories interwoven, it's written stunningly well; I'd stop, hold the book closed, a finger holding the page, close my eyes, shake my head, huge beauty in my hands, only slowly open it to read more. It's like an exquisite meal, the tastes and textures so wonderful, there is no way you wish to rush through it; you want to savor it, remember it tomorrow, and after that, too.
posted by dancestoblue at 7:04 PM on October 31, 2012

My suggestions:

If you've read Plath's poetry, give Anne Sexton's a try. Her book Transformations is your best bet for an intro, I think - it's an anthology of way-fun reinterpretations of classic fairy tales.

Nthing Edith Wharton, with a further suggestion to try her short fiction in particular. Some of it is very, very witty (and one story in particular, "Xingu," I fell so much in love with I've actually adapted it into a play).

Also nthing Dorothy Parker.

There's a contemporary Irish poet, Nuala Ni Dhomnaill, who's worth tracking down - you'll most likely find her in anthologies, as she chiefly writes in Gaelic and thus doesn't have quite so much play here, although her work gets translated often enough that she often finds her way into "A Collection of Contemporary Female Poets" kinds of books. One of her poems has one of the sexiest descriptions of the effect of a kiss that I've ever read in my life.

Although, speaking of which, "a collection of female poetry/short fiction/etc." anthologies may be something to consider; you'd be exposed to a lot of different writers that way, and could meet one in particular whom you especially like and can track down more.

Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek blew my mind.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:16 AM on March 6, 2013

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