Non Fiction Women No Longer
February 13, 2007 10:39 AM   Subscribe

Help me to let go of my bias against women's fiction. What fiction books written by women would a "real" man like?

A friend of mine recently suggested a thriller written by a woman and actually took it out of the library for me. I read the first page and got no further, the bias had set in.
I can't describe it, but I find offsetting, something in general about how women write fiction. This does not necessarily apply to non-fiction though it does apply to memoirs as well. One exception to this was Saving Fish From Drowning by Amy Tan.

If pushed to describe it, I would say that women's fiction wanders from outside narrative to the interior feeling state far too easily. I like the story line to be present throughout despite being eclectic, whimsical, funny, or what have you. I like thrillers, travel writing, current life.

My friend now calls me the misogynist. Is there hope for me? Any suggestions for authors I might like?
posted by Xurando to Writing & Language (76 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Handmaids Tale, its even about women's issues!
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:43 AM on February 13, 2007

In my opinion, you should address your bias by examining yourself and your beliefs instead of by trying to select individual works which are compatible with your world view but just happen to fall into the category of the few woman-authored books you don't find offputting.

I mean, read what you wrote: I can't describe it, but I find offsetting, something in general about how women write fiction. This is not about women writers; it's about you and your desire to judge a book based on the fact that it was written by a woman.
posted by jcwagner at 10:44 AM on February 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

This thread discussing women's writing that could be mistaken for men's writing might be helpful.
posted by amber_dale at 10:45 AM on February 13, 2007

Anything by James Tiptree Jr.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:46 AM on February 13, 2007

Well, if you're into SciFi/Fantasy, there's Ursula Le Guin, but sometimes she is misogynistic, too (not that you are necessarily being misogynistic here). Charlotte Bronte's Wuthering Heights is pretty awesome.

I'll be interested to see the other answers here, as I have the same problem: almost all the novels I read are written by men (unlike, say, poetry).
posted by taliaferro at 10:47 AM on February 13, 2007

Well in this day and age you've likely seen the movies already even if you haven't read the books, but surely you've heard of SE Hinton, author of the Outsiders, Rumble Fish, Tex, et al? All are written with a male as the protagonist.

I didn't know SE Hinton was a woman until years later.
posted by poppo at 10:49 AM on February 13, 2007

*delete ",too"*
posted by taliaferro at 10:49 AM on February 13, 2007

umm, Harry Potter?
posted by taliaferro at 10:50 AM on February 13, 2007

Damn dirty ape beat me to it. Handmaid's Tale is a damn good book.

My tastes run towards SF, and all of these are SF writers: Lois McMaster Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan series is light reading, but fun. Sherri Tepper is more of a "big idea" writer. Old-timer C.L. Moore was known more for her short stories, which might be a bit too "interior" for your tastes, but are still interesting.

I could dig up some more, but those are the ones that come immediately to mind.
posted by adamrice at 10:50 AM on February 13, 2007

My brother and a couple other "real" men I know enjoyed Barbara Kingsolver's Poisonwood Bible. Margaret Atwood is a good recommendation, too - my whole family reads her, men and all.

The imaginary men I know don't read.
posted by routergirl at 10:50 AM on February 13, 2007

posted by smorange at 10:52 AM on February 13, 2007

For travel writing: Rebecca West's Black Lamb and Grey Falcon is on the long side, but has absolutely beautiful writing throughout.

For current (or contemporary) affairs: Joan Didion. Knopf just put out a hardcover collection of her non-fiction that's comprehensive and affordable, called We Tell Ourselves Stories In Order to Live.

For fiction: consider writers from the 20th century American South. Carson McCullers and Flannery O'Connor are the first women who come to mind.
posted by Prospero at 10:55 AM on February 13, 2007

Response by poster: routergirl: You're on to something I did read and like Poisonwood Bible.
posted by Xurando at 10:56 AM on February 13, 2007

If you like fantasy, try out some of Plaidder's work. It's written by a woman, and is very much from a woman's POV. There are a few lesbian sex scenes, though, if you're into that sort of thing.

Chapter one of the first book.
posted by Solomon at 10:57 AM on February 13, 2007

Patricia Highsmith, yo.
posted by Skot at 10:58 AM on February 13, 2007

In the sci-fi realm, seconding anything by Ursula LeGuin. Also check out Octavia Butler. I also immensely enjoyed 'The Time Travelers Wife' by Audrey Niffenegger.
posted by gnutron at 11:01 AM on February 13, 2007

In Sci-Fi: Pat Cadigan, Octavia Butler (very much science fiction written by a real woman, but if you are a "real man", etc...).

Food/Travel Writing: MFK Fisher, one of my all time favorite writers.

Fiction: Flannery O'Connor (the Queen and Empress of my literary heart.)

In the thread amberdale linked someone suggested "The Epicure's Lament" by Kate Christensen which is one of my favorite books of the last several years.

There are, of course, many more.
posted by Divine_Wino at 11:01 AM on February 13, 2007

Response by poster: Also, Joan Didion's Year of Magical Thinking was an exception to my statement about memoirs. Is there anything about the books I've identified that sets them apart from "womens fiction"?
posted by Xurando at 11:01 AM on February 13, 2007

i love nicola griffith, who's a terrific noir writer.
posted by sdn at 11:04 AM on February 13, 2007

Mo Hayder would have enough gore and kinky sex to please any man's man, I think (being more of a girlieman who loves Jane Austen myself I can't be 100 % sure).
posted by NekulturnY at 11:05 AM on February 13, 2007

Can you be more precise about what books you like? If you name some male authors you read, perhaps we could tell you some female authors who have similar styles.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:06 AM on February 13, 2007

The many diaries of Adrian Mole were all written by a woman, and make bizarrely good reading, especially since they're all set in the male psyche. Depends if you like comedic, diary form though.
posted by wackybrit at 11:06 AM on February 13, 2007

Two suggestions. One that you'll love and one that you'll hate.

1. Heather Woodbury's What Ever
2. Penelope Lively's Moon Tiger. Lively does all of the things you hate and more, but she does them in such a fuck-you way that you might just give in.

This question made me think quite a bit about my own reading habits, and I realized I actually don't read a lot of fiction by women, but most of my favorite poets are women.
posted by roll truck roll at 11:07 AM on February 13, 2007

Yes to Flannery. Wise Blood is manlier than just about everything.
posted by jtajta at 11:08 AM on February 13, 2007

It was with that book, her first, that Hinton made her name, both figuratively and literally. Upon the release of 1967's The Outsiders, at the recommendation of her publisher, Viking Press, Susan Eloise became "S.E."

"With the subject matter of The Outsiders," Hinton explains from her Tulsa home, "the publishers thought that the first reviewers would see [my name] and say, 'Well, a girl wouldn't know anything about this,' and would read it with that kind of bias, so they're the ones that suggested using my initials."

Perhaps I shouldn't have even told you SE Hinton was a woman in the first place.
posted by poppo at 11:09 AM on February 13, 2007

"Beloved", by Toni Morrison. One of the most articulately grotesque books I've ever read.

Also you might like Jeannette Winterson's very dry take on things. "The Passion" and "Sexing the Cherry" are both pretty phenomenal.

If the titles of all of these books seem kind of rapturous and girly to you, please do not be misled. Reading a few pages of any of them should hook you and allay your misgivings.
posted by hermitosis at 11:12 AM on February 13, 2007

Response by poster: Some male authors I like: Lawrence Block, Barry Eisler, William Gibson, John leCarre, Paul Theroux, for starters
posted by Xurando at 11:16 AM on February 13, 2007

Iris Murdoch, Mary Gaitskill, Rikki Ducornet, Cynthia Ozick, Doris Lessing, GetWithItDude, Mary Caponegro, A.M. Homes, Beth Nugent, etc.
posted by mattbucher at 11:19 AM on February 13, 2007

Barbara Comyns, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Shirley Jackson.
posted by OmieWise at 11:21 AM on February 13, 2007

The aforementioned The Time Traveler's Wife and also Oryx and Crake (or really anything) by Margaret Atwood.
posted by Plutor at 11:26 AM on February 13, 2007

Maybe seek out novels by women with male protagonists, written in the first person? Jane Smiley's excellent Good Faith comes to mind.
posted by staggernation at 11:38 AM on February 13, 2007

Dorothy Sayers.
Eudora Welty.
posted by goetter at 11:38 AM on February 13, 2007

S.J. Rozan's "Absent Friends," or Wally Lamb's "I Know This Much is True"
posted by jbickers at 11:40 AM on February 13, 2007

OK, that last one was a bit of a mistake - I was thinking of authors who are considered "chick lit" that are of high literary value. Clearly, Wally Lamb is not a woman. I'm a dumb guy.
posted by jbickers at 11:41 AM on February 13, 2007

SF authors that I didn't notice mentioned already who are XX and don't write mushy girly stuff about having weepy conversations with your mother about your vaginas include:

Elizabeth Moon
Andre Norton
Brenda Clough, arguably
Justina Robson
Nancy Kress
Linda Nagata
Melissa Scott
Sarah Zettel
CJ Cherryh
Mary Gentle, but I haven't read anything of hers
Vonda McIntyre
Ann McCaffrey, if you like crap
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:41 AM on February 13, 2007

I don't have any specific author suggestions, but I feel like a double-blind study is in order here. Try to find out whether you can really tell the author's gender just by reading the story. This would require a friend to doctor up some books for you to keep the authors' names secret, and of course you'd have to avoid looking them up for yourself. (This suggestion is inspired by my complete astonishment upon hearing just now that SE Hinton is a woman. And on preview, Andre Norton is a woman, too? Now I just feel ignorant.)

I'm a girl, and I never noticed until today that my bookshelf is filled at least 85% with male authors. Perhaps we have similar taste.
posted by vytae at 11:45 AM on February 13, 2007

My dad, who is not usually a fan of any sort of fiction, really liked Pat Barker's World War I trilogy. The books are actually a lot about feelings and other internal stuff, as befits a series in which one of the main characters is a shrink and most of the other main characters are his patients, but men seem not to mind so much when they've got the nice manly war backdrop to make them feel secure in their masculinity. I used to work at a bookstore, and I actually don't think I ever encountered anyone who didn't like Regeneration.

I do think it's worth considering whether this is an issue with books by women or with your ideas about books by women.
posted by craichead at 11:49 AM on February 13, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions so far. I will check out Nicola Griffith for sure. Here is the epitome of a "Real Mans" read: Robert Wilson's the Bruce Medway Series. The first chapter of A Darkening Stain is the best writing ever from my perspective I doubt that there is an equivalent written by a female writer.
posted by Xurando at 11:54 AM on February 13, 2007

I quite liked We Need To Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver. Yes, that's by a woman.
posted by antifuse at 11:57 AM on February 13, 2007

Another thing if you don't mind historical fiction is Rebecca Pawel's Death of a Nationalist, set in Spain immediately after the Civil War.
posted by craichead at 12:02 PM on February 13, 2007

nthing Handmaid's tale and The Time Traveler's Wife.

Agatha Christie seems to fit also.
Jhumpa Lahiri writes some good short stories.
And it's a graphic novel, but Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi is excellent.
posted by SBMike at 12:04 PM on February 13, 2007

I'd recommend you give Alice Munro a try, if you haven't already. She's exactly the sort of thing you claim not to like.
posted by Nahum Tate at 12:11 PM on February 13, 2007

Poppy Z Brite.
posted by Iron Rat at 12:31 PM on February 13, 2007

Wow, this is an sf-centric place. Poster didn't even mention sf, but that's what half the commenters are recommending.

The first name that comes to mind is Olivia Manning; give The Balkan Trilogy a try (war, politics, black humor). You might also try Hilary Mantel ("She has several points in common with [Graham Greene]: she is the blackest of black comedians; she can make your flesh creep with horror and especially with the apprehension of it; and she often sets her story against a background of sinister political tyranny") and Penelope Fitzgerald. And I second Rebecca West and Flannery O'Connor.
posted by languagehat at 12:36 PM on February 13, 2007

Anything by Evelin Sullivan. Her books are amazing. I particularly recommend Games of the Blind and The Correspondence.
posted by jayder at 12:49 PM on February 13, 2007

I just finished reading The Furies, by Janet Hobhouse.

Amazing, tragic, yet utterly compelling.
posted by Chrischris at 1:23 PM on February 13, 2007

I recommend Annie Proulx, outside of Brokeback Mountain. Trust me on this one.
posted by matkline at 1:25 PM on February 13, 2007

Time Traveler's Wife: Yes!

Also, The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. If you liked the Poisonwood Bible, Kingsolver has a ton of other books you could dip into, too.
posted by routergirl at 1:42 PM on February 13, 2007

I don't think you're a misogynist. I have a mild version of the same problem.

Out of ones mentioned here that I've read, I like Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood -- at least Margaret Atwood when she's not writing the same book over and over again -- and Penelope Lively, but I'm not sure I buy that they're what you're looking for.

Sue Townsend -- of 'Adrian Mole' fame -- is worth a look, though.

Hitting the library and browsing magazines for non-fiction articles by women who write fiction might be a good way to ferret out what you're looking for.

But I don't think you're terribly alone on this one.
posted by kmennie at 1:47 PM on February 13, 2007

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl
Geek Love by Katharine Dunn
posted by ultraultraboomerang at 1:48 PM on February 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

second Lionel Shriver
If you can find Game Control in a used bookstore or a library, get it.
posted by xetere at 1:51 PM on February 13, 2007

If you're into sci-fi, you should check out Karen Traviss, both her original works and her contributions to Star Wars canon.
posted by Merlyn at 2:21 PM on February 13, 2007

Seconding Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Absolutely fantastic novel, like a more adult version of Harry Potter. Footnotes for verisimilitude, politics, war, idiosyncratic humor, and behind all of the writing: the massive, looming mythology of the Raven King. I can't get enough of it, and a movie is apparently in the works.
posted by synaesthetichaze at 2:21 PM on February 13, 2007

Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God.
posted by kirkaracha at 2:32 PM on February 13, 2007

Donna Tartt? The Little Friend and The Secret History, I have heard both of them described as psychological thrillers and at least one is about murder...
posted by white light at 2:46 PM on February 13, 2007

-1 to The Handmaid's Tale since I am guessing it embodies a lot of what you don't like about female writers. It's a fine book, but it's certainly not a good place to start if "that style" of writing puts you off.
posted by Hildago at 2:55 PM on February 13, 2007

And another -1 for The Handmaid's Tale because I hated it.

How about Martha Grimes's Richard Jury mysteries?
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:26 PM on February 13, 2007

I went on a mission last year to read more female novelists. I loved Eat the Document by Dana Spiotta, How to Breathe Underwater by Julie Orringer (short stories), and The Effect of Living Backwards by Heidi Julavits.

Nick Hornsby recommended Orringer in his Believer column The Polysyllabic Spree (also a compilation). Heidi Julavits happens to run with the same crowd.
posted by juliplease at 3:34 PM on February 13, 2007

If you like fantasy, but not the overly genrized stuff:

Seconding Mary Gentle, particularly Ash: A Secret History. She's the friend of a friend, and writes medieval warfare better than pretty much any male writer I've come across.

-1 to Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Tries to be fantasy and comedy of manners and alternate history, and doesn't succeed in any of them (although I'm aware that public opinion is against me on that one).
posted by Paragon at 3:58 PM on February 13, 2007

The short stories of Kelly Link. The short stories of Kathe Koja.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:03 PM on February 13, 2007

another for pat barker. given the name, pretend it's a bloke if you like :)
posted by ascullion at 4:34 PM on February 13, 2007

and minus one for lionel shriver
posted by ascullion at 4:34 PM on February 13, 2007

I've been thinking about this question all day, hoping to come up with some ideas for you, but I'm still not sure I understand the question. Most folks seem to be recommending female writers who write "guy stuff" (war/hard SF/noir - and I'll nth the rec for Nicola Griffith), but I'm not sure that's (entirely) what you're getting at. Looking at the list of writers you've liked, I find myself thinking that both Block and LeCarre move "from outside narrative to the interior feeling state" - though I don't know about "far too easily." Literature is such a subjective thing. There are great recs in this post, though, so good luck, and if I think of something not already mentioned that I think fits your criteria, I'll be back.
posted by rtha at 6:09 PM on February 13, 2007

If you think you'd like hilarious, world-weary takes on sex and sin in high society, try the New York novels of Dawn Powell. She was a hard-living, hard-drinking bohemian who took a lot of shit from critics for her finely observed, unsentimental, often scathing yet very human approach to her flawed characters. I loved The Happy Island (1938) and The Wicked Pavillion (1954), and am looking forward to soon devouring The Locusts Have No King, The Golden Spur, A Time To Be Born and Turn, Magic Wheel; they're all supposed to be a sharp-eyed hoot. She died n obscurity in 1965, but her work had a major revival 30 years later; all of her stuff should be easy to find.

Oh, and seconding Pat Cadigan and Zora Neale Hurston, and I've heard fantastic things about Katherine Dunn's Geek Love.

I feel like a double-blind study is in order here.

Seconding that. Probing your question more deeply: Is it that you simply don't like reading about a female protagonist? Could that be the major element of what you're describing as "women's fiction"? If it's so hard for you to describe, then maybe you should start considering the possibility that the categories you're starting with need some work - i.e., that they really don't apply as rigidly as you think they do.
posted by mediareport at 7:00 PM on February 13, 2007

Like vytate, I also recommend a blind-test. Give a friend $10 and ask them to buy you a second-hand book and to tear off the cover and title pages before giving it to you.

I think I once had your prejudice. When I started thinking about a blind test, however, I found I wasn't at all confident that I could reliably pass one! (I never actually did one.)

Speaking of prejudice, try Pride and Prejudice. I found it smart and funny, and I'm a boy. (I'm assuming you are a boy too, since your friend calls you "the misogynist" (though I suppose girls can be misogynists too).)
posted by hAndrew at 7:16 PM on February 13, 2007

vytae, not vytate; I beg your pardon.
posted by hAndrew at 7:17 PM on February 13, 2007

Willa Cather.
posted by josh at 7:27 PM on February 13, 2007

Seconding Annie Proulx. Her writing is spare, graphic, relentless, and poetic. She reminds me a bit of hemingway, but less drunken. Two things for the record: whoever said "outside of brokeback mountain" clearly did not read the last short story in a group of many in Wyoming Stories or they are weird and homophobic. I'll not rant...erfh...really want to.

I Nth flannery O'connor. Takes a bit to get used to her cadence, but so amazing. as a feminist woman who reads mostly male authors (fiction, people) , i seem to be in the opposite boat as this guy. So in the end, hey, we like what we like, eh? I think there is something "heroic" about male authors that women don't often want to write about, or ...well, yeah. Except I always find the heroic so satisfying to read.

I also really love Rebecca West and Jeanette Winterson and Zora Neale Hurston but i suspect the OP is not really looking for this stuff...Doesn't mean you shouldn't at least try. Hey, It might get you laid? Um..kinda kidding...
posted by metasav at 11:25 PM on February 13, 2007

Seconding Patricia Highsmith.
P D James also if not mentioned yet...that children of men movie is based on a book of hers; haven't seen the movie so I don't know if that's a positive or not, but the trailer seems somewhat male-actiony.
posted by juv3nal at 12:58 AM on February 14, 2007

Siri Hustvvedt's What I loved has crime, sex, weird hospitals, death and ends up like a thriller.
posted by Sijeka at 5:09 AM on February 14, 2007

nth-ing Nicola Griffith and Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy.

great thread - however it's come about, it's provided me with titles to add to my library list. Thanks.
posted by nnk at 7:54 AM on February 14, 2007

Oh , yeah, Dawn Powell is great, I like her NYC novels better than her Ohio novels, but all are good.

No one asked me, but I think the idea of a double blind study is ridiculous. It isn't wrong to have ideas about a sub-set of fiction that you don't want to read. It's a crowded market and there's plenty of good stuff out there. You could read from this thread for a year and be fine.
posted by OmieWise at 8:17 AM on February 14, 2007

It isn't wrong to have ideas about a sub-set of fiction that you don't want to read.

Sure, but if you're immediately discarding "fiction books written by women," that's a pretty big subset.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:26 AM on February 14, 2007

I have to fourth Octavia Butler. I'd start with The Parable of the Sower. It has some very tense thriller type elements. It has a great sequel as well, Parable of the Talents.

I discovered her through Fledgling a short time before she died. Made me so disappointed that she wouldn't be creating any more wonderful books because I chewed through her entire offering rather quickly and have already started to reread them.
posted by subtle_squid at 11:39 AM on February 14, 2007

Sapphire's Push
Dorothy Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina
posted by Aghast. at 12:21 PM on February 14, 2007

The Secret History, by Donna Tartt, is an excellent thriller, beautifully written, has a male protagonist and is tough as nails and not at all womany.
posted by pollystark at 8:51 AM on February 15, 2007

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