Books by women: A reading list

In a recent post, I discussed trying to read books written by women. This led me to consider which women authors I would recommend, and I came up with a list of books by women that I think are entertaining and enlightening reads. Of course, I am not the only person to have come up with such a list, and if you are so inclined, you can find 50, 100, or even 500 more books by women to fill up your “to read” shelf.

Here is my list (my absolute favorite books are starred and my favorite women authors are bolded):

  • Kate Atkinson: Life After Life
  • Margaret Atwood: Cat’s Eye; The Handmaid’s Tale*; Oryx and Crake*
  • Jane Austen: Emma; Persuasion; Pride and Prejudice*
  • Charlotte Bronte: Jane Eyre*
  • Octavia Butler: Lilith’s Brood*; Parable of the Sower*; Parable of the Talents
  • Kate Chopin: The Awakening
  • Daphne du Maurier: Rebecca*
  • Jean Hegland: Into the Forest
  • Patricia Highsmith: The Talented Mr. Ripley
  • Shirley Jackson: The Haunting of Hill House*; The Sundial*; We Have Always Lived in the Castle*
  • P.D. James: The Children of Men*
  • Nancy Kress: Beggars in Spain
  • Madeleine L’Engle: A Wrinkle in Time
  • Anne Lamott: Bird by Bird
  • Ursula K. Le Guin: Always Coming Home*; The Dispossessed; The Lathe of Heaven; The Left Hand of Darkness*; The Unreal and the Real; The Word for World Is Forest
  • Harper Lee: To Kill a Mockingbird*
  • Erin Morgenstern: The Night Circus*
  • Audrey Niffenegger: The Time Traveler’s Wife
  • Flannery O’Connor: A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories*
  • Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar
  • E. Annie Proulx: The Shipping News
  • Mary Doria Russell: Children of God; The Sparrow*
  • Dorothy L. Sayers: Gaudy Night*
  • Sheri S. Tepper: Grass
  • Jo Walton: Among Others
  • Kate Wilhelm: Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang
  • Connie Willis: To Say Nothing of the Dog*
  • M.K. Wren: A Gift Upon the Shore*

How to consciously read books written by women…

Before I started journaling my reading, in 2001, I just read whatever caught my eye at the bookstore without any sort of plan whatsoever. Over the decade since I started journaling, I’ve gradually become more purposeful in my reading, and if I look back over my journals (now on LibraryThing), I can see a steady improvement in the books I choose to read reflected in higher ratings and fewer abandoned books. 

At the beginning of the year, I did an exercise where I identified my top 10 favorite books of all time. I noticed that 7 out of 10 books were written by women (and of the 3 on my list written by men, one of those men was gay), but in my general reading, I’m still reading 2 books by men for every 1 book by a woman, according to LibraryThing stats. I decided to get even more purposeful in my reading and read mostly women, choosing books that are similar to my top 7 favorite books/authors. I still have a lot of unplanned reads, but the deliberate planning has been helping me discover new-to-me authors and break out of my ruts. This month, for instance, I’m reading 5 sci-fi/fantasy books all by women I have never read before.

My goals to stretch even further would be to read more women of color and more authors from countries other than the US/Canada/Britain. I would also like to read more gay authors and more authors of color generally. As a former English major, I find that I have about had my fill of the white male voice, even though there are many white male authors whose books I enjoy. But I want to hear from some other voices and open up my world even more.

For further reading:

Book List: Big Books for Summer

Cover of "Under the Dome: A Novel"

Cover of Under the Dome: A Novel

Settle into your summer reading with one of these epic novels.

Summer is the perfect time to wade into a really big book. You know the books I mean, the kind that can double as a door stopper for a recalcitrant screen door or a small table to hold your drink on the beach.

Most of the time, I’m afraid to commit to such books. But in the summer, I have much more reading time available. All I want to do during the long, lazy days is escape into another world, and just stay there a while.

If you don’t mind the extra weight in your suitcase, consider carrying along one of these big books on your summer vacation. There’s something for everyone on this list, ranging from post-apocalyptic horror to epic historical fiction to parallel worlds.

The Passage by Justin Cronin: Last summer’s blockbuster is newly out in paperback. If vampires are your thing, don’t miss it. But be warned, these vampires are real monsters. They glow in the dark, have mouths full of sword-like teeth, leap out of the darkness, and are possessed by an overwhelming desire to rip your head off. The book spans 800 pages and 100 years, but you won’t be able to put it down.

Under the Dome by Stephen King: The master of horror is known for big books, and his latest novel is no exception. Spend your vacation trapped with the residents of Chester’s Mill, Maine, under a mysterious glass dome. In a very short time, all the rules of civilized society are thrown out the window. What ensues is murder, mayhem, and edge-of-your-seat suspense.

Anathem by Neal Stephenson: Dive into the enormously complex world of Arbre, complete with a 3,000-year history and even its own languages. Anathem has it all: big ideas in physics, mathematics, and philosophy melded with chases, fight scenes, explosions, mysterious space ships, conspiracies, and even a romance. Be prepared by the end to travel across cosmoses and following multiple conflicting story lines through quantum space. But it’s all great fun.

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry: Maybe you never got around to reading this Pulitzer Prize-winning classic. It has been re-released in a beautiful anniversary edition, so now is the perfect time to pick it up. Follow a huge cast of characters led by two legendary former Texas Rangers, Woodrow Call and Augustus (Gus) McCrae, who embark on one last folly: the first cattle drive from Texas to Montana.

Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh: Travel back to India at the height of British colonialism in this magnificently sprawling book. Each character in the large cast has a secret to hide; each one is in some way living as someone they are not. They are brought together by the intertwined strands of fate that direct their lives. Sea of Poppies is often funny, but it is also suspenseful, epic, and evocative of a long-ago time and place. The first installment in a trilogy, its cliffhanger ending will leave you wanting more.

Article first published as Big Books for Summer on Blogcritics.

Ah, nostalgia! Revisiting childhood reads…

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been revisiting favorite authors from my childhood, just rereading one or two of their best novels. I read a lot of mysteries back then, but I’ve fallen off in my mystery reading since. First, I reread some Agatha Christies: And Then There Were None and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. She was one of my favorite authors back then, and if I hadn’t read all of her books, I came pretty close. I think it’s becoming obvious that I did little other than read as a child. Well, I was that kind of kid.

My most recent reread was Dorothy L. Sayers’ Gaudy NightSuch an excellent book, and so much more rewarding to read now. Christie’s books are like bonbons, delicious and worth gobbling, but Sayers presents a more satisfying entree that needs to be savored.

Next, I’m thinking about revisiting Josephine Tey and P.D. James. Also, perhaps Martha Grimes and Ruth Rendell. I’m feeling a bit nostalgic about all of these terrific ladies who wrote/write detective novels.

(Most links go to LibraryThing, except the link to Gaudy Night, which goes to the full review on my book-journaling blog.)

Everyday Drinking by Kingsley Amis–Thoughts

Kingsley AmisIt seems like many of us avid readers have a fascination with what, and how much, some of our favorite authors could drink. There have been some wonderful love letters written to alcohol by some of our greatest literary talents.

Kingsley Amis was a prodigious drinker. We might almost call him a professional. His words on drinking have been gathered up in a little book: Everyday Drinking.

This is not a book for reading straight through as much as tippling from at odd times. But if you are at all fond of alcohol, it is a must-read.

There are actually three short books in this volume. The first, and best, section is Amis’s treatise on drink. It is quite funny, and some practical tips are scattered here and there. The second section reprints Amis’s newspaper columns on the subject of drink, and there is some repetition here. The final section contains several alcohol-related quizzes, which might be fun after having a few.

Keep this book by your bar, and remember to nip from it every now and then. It’s probably the only book on the subject you’ll need.

I guess these days we’re too health-conscious to drink like the masters did. Too many calories! The jury is out on whether this is a good thing for literature. But it sure doesn’t seem like being a writer is as much fun.

Accidentally reading about reptiles…

srpsnakeI realized with the first two reads of the year, I have an accidental theme going on: reptiles in my fiction! With Swamplandia! it was alligators; then there is a snake in The Burn Palace. Our upcoming book club read is set in Texas, so I wonder if a lizard will figure into the plot.

That got me wondering how many of my past reads featured reptiles, so I did a quick search. Snakes are by far the most common reptiles to show up in my book reviews and summaries. Going back in time, I see there were significant snake scenes in:

As for alligators and crocodiles, there is only Swamplandia! that I can recall. There may have been a crocodile in The Poisonwood Bible.

There are quite significant cosmic turtles in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, from which I’ve read Small Gods, and in It and The Dark Tower series by Stephen King. As for actual turtles, they don’t seem as common, although the Mock Turtle in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland certainly comes to mind.

I also can’t seem to find any books I’ve read with lizards in them, although there are dinosaurs of course in Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton and The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Would you be more or less likely to read a book with a snake in it? I’d rather meet one in fiction than in real life, that’s for sure!

Here’s a list of fictional reptiles from Wikipedia and a list of Reptiles in Fiction on LibraryThing, if you’d like to seek out even more reptiles in your fiction.

Vintage vs. Penguin: On being seduced by book covers…

Who cares what it's about? It is a very pretty book.

Who cares what it’s about? It is a very pretty book.

I have been rearranging my books, necessitated by a large Christmas haul of mostly beloved classics. I hate to admit it, but I mostly organize my bookshelves based on aesthetics– books all the same height together, for instance, or a publisher’s similar designs together. In this latest rearranging, I noticed how many black and white and silver books I had, and how nicely they go together on the shelf. Then I went through my husband’s books and picked out some of his b&w books that looked interesting. If I read them and like them, I may steal them to fill out my shelf.

I’ve always really been attracted to Penguins, especially from the Penguin Classics line with their black covers. Now I’m starting to notice that Vintage has some very attractive books, also mostly in muted or neutral colors. I have no trouble passing on books once they’ve been read, but those pretty books, they earn their place on my limited shelf space.

I do most of my reading on Kindle, but I still love print books, mostly just love looking at them and browsing through them. I especially love minimalist covers or anything that looks pulpy and vintage. What do you look for in a book cover?

Book cover: Nocturnes | Knopf Doubleday.