On Reading Books by Women

There was an excellent article about reading in the Financial Times this week. Alice Fishburn wrote about her experiment of only reading books by women for a year. It got me thinking about my reading this year and reader, I have mostly really read books by women. Now, I am not sure how conscious a choice this has been, but I really have to think good and hard to remind myself of male authors I’ve read this year.

One reason to start this blog was to write about women writers and introduce interesting books I’d read – I often found myself recommending books for friends anyway, so I thought I might as well put all recommendations here. I was also growing increasingly frustrated at only seeing male writers being promoted – I have written about the “Top Books to Read This Year” – lists that make the rounds on social media, and very often only list books by men. 

This is not to say that I don’t appreciate male writers, or enjoy reading them. There are great many of them, of course. Overall I’m a big proponent of reading any books – we live in a world where most people only ever read whatever their social media algorithms feed them and opinions have long bypassed science as source of facts. So no judgement there. Read whatever you can get your hands on.

I like reading women because I feel I can relate. Nora Ephron and Joan Didion have hugely different styles, yet I feel strangely connected when I read them. Same with the odd couple of Joyce Carol Oates and Fran Lebowitz. Totally different, in many ways polar opposites, yet they kind of resonate with me. 

Most of feminist non-fiction clearly is written by women, and the genre continues to be an eye-opener in so many ways. Rebecca Solnit, Jessica Valenti, Roxane Gay and Siri Hustvedt continue to impress, no matter how many re-reads on. I am not sure whether my reading women is an expression of feminism or simply personal taste. I like reading gung-ho radical feminist literature every now and then for perspective and education. 

One thing I have noticed in my usual choice of authors is that while they are very female, which apparently already counts as a diverse choice, actually it is far from it, as most female authors I have read recently are white (this is also the case with my selection of male authors). One recent exception and a positive surprise was Oyinkan Braithwaite’s My Sister, the Serial Killer, which I finished two weeks ago and can recommend as it is hilarious. 

Thus, I kind of wonder whether my reading only white, Western women actually counts as a social media silo-phenomenon on a literary level?

While I’ve read most of this year’s trendy must reads, such as Ottessa Moshfegh’s Year of Rest and Relaxation, Rachel Kushner’s The Mars Room and Olivia Laing’s Crudo and some other indie-ish recent releases,  there are, however, always the perennial classics one yearns to go back to. For me one such book must be Donna Tartt’s Secret History. I don’t care to know how many times I’ve read the book. I love it and I read it every year, usually during the Christmas break. This is possibly because I got my first ever copy of the book for Christmas when I was seventeen. 

I have a reading plan for the upcoming Christmas break, and it is to read the entire oeuvre by Angela Carter. For some weird reason I am not much acquainted by her books and after reading her biography ​The Invention of Angela Carter by Edmund Gordon I came up with this game plan. I am heading off to Scotland soon and have a stash of Carter at the ready: The Bloody Chamber and Love, both of which are modest soft covers that will likely take me to about Leicester. For urgency I have also Angela Carter’s Book of Wayward Girls & Wicked Women. It is a collection of stories by other authors as well, such as Katherine Mansfield and Colette.

The rest of the Carter-books must be purchased once I arrive at the destination, and I hope not to get too distracted by everything else on offer. Well-laid plans are known to gone haywire once I enter big UK booksellers. 

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