Women authors for an Updike/Vonnegut/Roth fan?
December 9, 2017 8:07 AM   Subscribe

My friend and I were recently discussing books, and I jokingly mentioned he should try reading some women authors for once. He was a bit surprised to realize how little he'd actually read by women, and I was a bit stumped coming up with recommendations, as we typically read very different types of books. But the hive mind is great at this kind of stuff. Help me come up with suggestions?

Although he's an avid reader and pretty open to reading anything, he definitely gravitates towards white male authors. His favorites are John Updike and Vonnegut, he also likes Saul Bellow and Raymond Carver. Modern writers he's enjoyed include Phillip Roth, George Saunders and he's a big fan of Chris Ware. Can you suggest any women or POC writers that might appeal to him and break this reading rut?

I'm mostly a fantasy and YA reader, so not much overlap there, but he did enjoy the copy of Howl's Moving Castle that I gave him.
posted by nothing as something as one to Writing & Language (40 answers total) 60 users marked this as a favorite
He's never even read Atwood? She's a logical starting place: literary, tough, witty, readable.
posted by maudlin at 8:13 AM on December 9, 2017 [20 favorites]

Kate Christensen. (Not to be confused w Kate Atkinson!) Great deep character portraits, funny and human, should appeal to Updike lovers who are open to hearing another POV.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:14 AM on December 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

Alice McDermott, especially Charming Billy.
posted by holborne at 8:18 AM on December 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

If he's open to SF/fantasy, The Broken Earth (first book or the series) by N. K. Jemisin is another great choice. Smart, dense, rewarding read all the way through.
posted by maudlin at 8:19 AM on December 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Joan Didion was writing at the same time as Updike. Acerbic, really good with creating people. I admit I mostly read and re-read her nonfiction, but the novels are good.

Eudora Welty is a good choice, too, if you want books for which a sense of place is forefront and where you're looking at people as they flex their identities against their circumstance and community. I hate Updike with the fire of a thousand suns, but I think there's a tonal similarity there.
posted by crush at 8:24 AM on December 9, 2017 [3 favorites]

Hilary Mantel and Zadie Smith come to mind; they both might appeal to him (in very different ways).
posted by languagehat at 8:29 AM on December 9, 2017 [5 favorites]

Donna Tartt
posted by lunasol at 8:30 AM on December 9, 2017 [8 favorites]

just lay him down and pile Joyce Carol Oates short stories on top of him until he starts to wheeze. but stop before he suffocates.
posted by queenofbithynia at 8:46 AM on December 9, 2017 [15 favorites]

Angela Carter, Jeanette Winterson, Helen Dewitt, Jennifer Egan. Women crime writers can be incredibly appealing to men: Patricia Highsmith; Megan Abbott. Yiyun Li, especially The Vagrants.
posted by BibiRose at 8:47 AM on December 9, 2017 [5 favorites]

My Dad loved John Updike and he also loved Willa Cather (My Mortal Enemy was a favorite) and the middle period of Margaret Drabble (The Middle Ground). I don't think Margaret Drabble has held up that well but her middle books have a lot of fairly chewy stuff about British society and economics and they keep your brain spinning around on a page to page level much like Updike. I am trying to think of writers who (over)do visual description like Updike; there must be some.
posted by BibiRose at 8:58 AM on December 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Annie Proulx, especially The Shipping News.
posted by BibiRose at 9:01 AM on December 9, 2017 [7 favorites]

I've not read her myself, but I often hear Ann Beattie mentioned in the same breath as Carver in terms of style.

Since he liked Howl's Moving Castle, Dogsbody by Dianna Wynne Jones is also great.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - Half of a Yellow Sun
Aimee Bender - The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
Daphne du Maurier - My Cousin Rachel
George Eliot - Middlemarch (cheating a bit here ... I just think everyone needs to read this book)
Linda Hogan - Power
Shirley Jackson - The Lottery and Other Stories
Jhumpa Lahiri - Interpreter of Maladies
Doris Lessing - The Grass is Singing
Lorrie Moore - Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?
Iris Murdoch - Under the Net
Flannery O'Connor!!!!! FLANNERY O'CONNOR.
Grace Paley - The Little Disturbances of Man
Leslie Marmon Silko - Ceremony
Elizabeth Strout - Olive Kitteridge
Rosemary Sutcliff - The Mark of the Horse Lord
Kirsten Valdez Quade - Night at the Fiestas

For a ... Challenge (these 2 still spring to mind when I think about the most powerful books I've ever read)
Yvonne Vera - The Stone Virgins
Joy Williams - The Quick and the Dead

Zen Cho - Sorceror to the Crown
Ursula K. Le Guin Earthsea series
Sheri Tepper - Grass
Jillian Wiese - The Colony
posted by phonebia at 9:04 AM on December 9, 2017 [7 favorites]

Erica Jong
posted by brujita at 9:17 AM on December 9, 2017

Anita Brookner.
posted by FencingGal at 9:20 AM on December 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Seconding phonebia's Aimee Bender suggestion. I've only read one of her short stories ("Off") but I liked that one so much that this thread reminded me to order one of her collections.
posted by Gymnopedist at 9:25 AM on December 9, 2017

Another SF suggestion: James Tiptree, Jr. was the pen name of Alice Sheldon; Her Smoke Rose Up Forever is a collection of some of her best short stories.
posted by Bron at 9:29 AM on December 9, 2017 [3 favorites]

He's reading Updike and Roth and Bellow, *the* White Men Modern Authors. But tell your friend the best novel of the 20th century is Beloved by Toni Morrison. Not the best female novel or African American novel, just the best novel of the 20th C.
Also: Sherman Alexie Reservation Blues, Louise Erdrich Love Medicine, Elena Ferrante My Brilliant Friend, Edward P Jones The Known World, Alice Munro anything.
posted by velveeta underground at 9:45 AM on December 9, 2017 [9 favorites]

If he likes merciless social realism paired with very good sentence, as you you sometimes get from Roth and Bellow, and he's open to writing from a slightly earlier period, he should try Edith Wharton, especially The House of Mirth and The Custom of the Country. If, on the other hand, what he's digging about Roth and Bellow is the sort of jazzy Jewish-dialect dazzlingly-smart-but-for-a-purpose thing, I would point him towards Grace Paley; all the collections of short stories are great. And while Zadie Smith is not really like Roth or Bellow, I think she's the contemporary writer who hits the same tastes best.

Saunders / Ware / Carver are a bit of a different vibe. Aimee Bender, as suggested above, might be good. Maybe try Jenny Offill's "Department of Speculation" or Sheila Heti's "How Should a Person Be" -- both are short novels, kind of spare and economical, somewhat experimental but very much satisfying the classical demands of plot/character/prose. They wouldn't remind you of any of those three authors but I feel like they're in the convex hull.
posted by escabeche at 9:48 AM on December 9, 2017 [4 favorites]

Oh, hellyeah to Toni Morrison/Beloved.

Toni Morrison anything.
posted by phonebia at 9:57 AM on December 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

Alison Lurie is fun. Everybody else top-of-mind got a mention already. I came in here to say Iris Murdoch. Flannery O'Connor, of course.
posted by Don Pepino at 10:05 AM on December 9, 2017

Has he not read Flannery O'Connor? Or Carson McCullers? Those are mid-century women writers whose approach might chime with what he has already read.
posted by Frowner at 10:32 AM on December 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

For Updike: Shirley Hazzard, The Transit of Venus

For Vonnegut: Toni Morrison, Beloved and Joanna Russ, When It Changed.

For Roth: Iris Murdoch, A Severed Head

For Saunders: Jessmyn Ward, Sing, Unburied, Sing and Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven

For Ware: Alison Bechdel, Fun Home and Emil Ferris, My Favorite Thing is Monsters
posted by minervous at 10:40 AM on December 9, 2017 [4 favorites]

As someone who used to love Updike, I'd add:
Valerie Martin
Ruth Ozeki
Elizabeth Brundage
posted by lazuli at 10:43 AM on December 9, 2017

James Davis Nicoll has a set of lists of Twenty Core Works of [topic] That Every True SF Fan Should Have On Their Shelves; the lists have about 80-90% female authors. If there's a category on the list that he likes or is interested in, it's worth looking through the list.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:02 AM on December 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

I always thought Erika Lopez's Flaming Iguanas was very Vonnegut-esque (and is in some ways a critique of white male authors like Kerouac.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:08 AM on December 9, 2017

Patricia Highsmith. Unsettling short stories, psychological thrillers.
posted by glitter at 11:11 AM on December 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Sarah Waters. The Night Watch is a wonderful story set mainly during the London Blitz.
posted by night_train at 11:42 AM on December 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

Cynthia Ozick
Dubravka Ugresic
2nd George Eliot
Jane Smiley
Christina Stead
2nd Helen Dewitt
posted by rdnnyc at 11:46 AM on December 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

At least somewhat along the lines of George Saunders:
Heidi Julavits
Kelly Link
Karen Russell

Margaret Atwood is also a good choice (start him with Oryx and Crake), as is Naomi Alderman's The Power.

Alice Walker is also really wonderful.

Will also second Toni Morrison, Joan Didion's essays, Jeanette Winterson, Donna Tartt, Louise Erdrich, Hilary Mantel, and Emily St John Mandel.
posted by snaw at 12:20 PM on December 9, 2017

Definitely Mantel - her style can go up against any long-winded male narrative/historical/time-and-place capturing author and mop the floor with them. I'm looking at you, Updike. You to, Mailer. And even you, Thomas O'Brien (though I still like you).

I suggest Ann Patchett. Bel Canto, State of Wonder I've read and they are very good. Posession, by A S Byatt also.
posted by sol at 12:25 PM on December 9, 2017 [3 favorites]

For something very contemporary, Phillip Roth gave a great blurb to this year's Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss ("A brilliant book, I am full of admiration").

My formative reading was heavy on Roth/Updike/Vonnegut and I loved Forrest Dark. It's also potentially a good transitional book for someone not used to reading books with a woman protagonist, since roughy half of it is about the woman's father, who is very Rothian.
posted by mrmurbles at 1:18 PM on December 9, 2017 [3 favorites]

Penelope Lively.
posted by Xalf at 1:26 PM on December 9, 2017

Clarice Lispector. Mostly because everyone should read Clarice Lispector rather than because of any particular resemblance to the authors you listed.
posted by multics at 2:20 PM on December 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Roxanne Gay.

Lily King, Euphoria.

Liz Moore, The Unseen World.

Maybe Lionel Shriver?
posted by merejane at 2:25 PM on December 9, 2017

Katherine Dunn's Geek Love will change the way you look at people.
posted by flabdablet at 3:04 PM on December 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Most of the suggestions are fiction writers, and though I infer you're primarily after fiction, I just wanted to go ahead and recommend Kim Addonizio if your friend has any interest in poetry. God, she's good. Her collection Mortal Trash is excellent. Easily one of my favorite contemporary poets.
posted by Gymnopedist at 7:00 PM on December 9, 2017

2nding Joy Williams for his love of Carver and Saunders.
posted by tofu_crouton at 7:37 PM on December 9, 2017

Claire Messud--The Woman Upstairs
posted by Miss T.Horn at 10:27 PM on December 9, 2017

Didion is something of a one-trick pony as a novelist, but there is something about "Book of Common Prayer" which could appeal to a Carver fan, in my view. Also, it's a very good book.
posted by kensington314 at 8:19 AM on December 10, 2017

I wonder if "Geek Love" by Katherine Dunn might appeal to the Vonnegut fan in him.
posted by kensington314 at 9:10 AM on December 10, 2017

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