I thought that it might be about time for another positive post rather than a rant; I wanted to do a little celebratory piece. So being a great lover of literature, I thought that it was about time I wrote about great female writers that I admire; who have inspired me and made me cry, laugh and just feel. Here are my top ten brilliant women that you really should read.
- Jane Austen- Apart from the facts that she is pretty funny (y’know- for a woman) and her books are entertaining, she wrote books about women. Strong women. And she tells their stories sympathetically. This is no mean feat for someone of any gender writing in the early nineteenth century, where women were considered property and not really of much consequence. Start off with ‘Emma’ and work your way up to ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and beyond.
- Charlotte Brontë- I say Charlotte because she wrote ‘Jane Eyre’, which is one of my all-time favourite books ever! For its feminist credentials see above, but also because she had the guts to create a heroine who isn’t beautiful, or talented or especially clever; she’s just your average girl. What she is is tough, a strong woman who has the balls to say, ok I’m not beautiful or special, but that doesn’t mean I don’t matter. She made the point that women should be valued as people in their own right, not in terms of their attributes, physical or otherwise. Now I love books, but I’m the first to admit that there are many important books that I haven’t read yet, but this is the earliest one I’ve come across that states this message and has stayed in the canon of the classics.
- Kathryn Stockett- You must read ‘The Help’. Again, this is one of my favourite books I’ve ever read. It deals with an enormously important period in history , through the eyes of the people at the bottom of the social pecking order: black housemaids. I love the solidarity of the female characters and in the same breath I’m ashamed by the pinpoint-accurate portrayal of the tendency of women to persecute each other out of jealousy and insecurity. The characters are beautifully imagined and the story aims to give a voice to those who were never heard. It highlights the power within all of us to effect change, even in the seemingly smallest of ways. The film adaptation is actually pretty damn good too- it really did deserve all the hype.
- Lionel Shriver- She is one of the most fiercely intelligent writers I have ever had the pleasure of reading, and she seems like the kind of woman I’d love to sit down, have a beer and shoot the shit with. I’ve read ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’ (incidentally, another decent film adaptation) and ‘So Much for That’ to date and, without a hint of exaggeration- they are brilliant! I fully intend to read the rest of her back catalogue as soon as I can. ‘So Much for That’ tackles the subject of terminal illness. It’s a book that should be completely harrowing, and in places it is, but at the same time is utterly uplifting too. ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’ tackles the taboo subject of a mother who does not love her child. It is a challenging book to read, but ultimately rewarding; devastating and enlightening in equal measure . I think your response to the main character, Eva Khatchadourian, depends very much on where you stand in the woman’s-right-NOT-to-have-children debate, and I believe Shriver was villified over the subject when the book was first published; but it’s a subject definitely worth exploration. Both of these books had me dealing with pretty much the full spectrum of my emotions, but it was definitely worth the challenge.
- Dawn French- Her novel ‘A Tiny Bit Marvellous’ is a highly enjoyable read, but by extension, her work with comedy partner Jennifer Saunders is also worth a mention. Two women who are unashamed about what they do, and easily hold their own in the male-dominated arena of TV comedy, and have done so for more than twenty years. Respect is due.
- Candace Bushnell- I know this is a bit controversial, seeing as ‘Sex and the City’ and everything to do with it is the very definition of chick lit (when I said I was a lover of literature, I really meant I’m a terrible literary snob- I mean really terrible; friends have fallen out with me over it- honest! ) and I intend to dedicate a whole post debating the feminist credentials of the series at a later date. However, if Bushnell is responsible for inspiring the whole phenomenon known as SATC, then she is responsible for inspiring my ‘don’t tell me I can’t do it just because I’m a woman’ attitude from a fairly young age. In my eyes, that wins her a place on this list.
- Caitlin Moran- Her book ‘How to be a Woman’ is a must-read for the modern feminist- and everyone else too in fact. I know a lot of people are raving about this book, but there is a good reason for that. It’s spit-out-your-drink funny, but also thought-provoking (and in places disgusting- the woman single-handedly made up my mind for good not to have children!) I can genuinely say that this book has had a profound effect on my life. It didn’t change things, but it damn well made me see them a whole lot clearer. Things are starting to take off for Moran now- a TV series and another book are on the way- and quite rightly so. She is also quite regularly funny in her role as a columnist for the Times and even more frequently on twitter (@caitlinmoran). As for ‘How to be a Woman? Read. It. Now. Seriously. Do it!
- Grace Dent- although her book ‘How to Leave Twitter’ is brilliant on its own, with many actual lolz via her razor-sharp observations, Dent is one of my favourite current writers more for her work as a columnist. (She also gives good tweet- @gracedent). Her work is reliably acerbic, and I do like my humour cutting. With the beehive, heels and the retro styling, this is one terrifyingly formidable woman. You get the impression she could make balls shrivel with one withering stare. I want to be like that when I grow up.
- Mary Shelley- Another woman ahead of her time. Although she was apparently inspired to write ‘Frankenstein’ for one of the most insipid, wussy reasons I’ve ever heard- she had a nightmare after reading an article about an experiment Darwin was conducting where he tried to reanimate worms using electricity, at least she wasn’t too scared to write the book! She wrote a terrifying novel about the potential effects of messing with nature. About men who played at being God. There are several very interesting feminist interpretations of the novel, including a discussion of the importance of ‘The Mother’ and also from the perspective of being kept as an outsider in a male-dominated society. It is a brilliantly conceived novel and when I first read it I felt a strong connection to it, and relished in the study of it, dissecting it like Victor Frankenstein’s corpses. It is one of the books that really inspired a love of the study of literature in me, in fact, I think I enjoyed reading the criticism of the book almost as much as the book itself.
- J.K. Rowling- There are many female writers that I love; whose work has moved me and made me think and I’m not going to have space for them all in a top ten. However, I feel that J.K. deserves a place on my list. Now wait a minute and hear me out (sheesh- and I thought I was a literary snob.) I liked reading the Harry Potter novels. Ok, so they’re not Earth-shatteringly original or technically brilliant, but they are enjoyable. The main point being that millions of people agree with me on this, making her one of the best-selling fiction writers of all time. I think that a wee lady from Edinburgh who manages to take herself from being an unemployed single mother to one of the most successful authors of our time deserves a mention in a feminist blog. Here’s to J.K. and showing the world what determination and believing in your ideas can lead to.
- A special honourary bonus place goes to E. L. James. Just kidding. I really am a literary snob.
Thanks for sticking with this ‘til the end, but who doesn’t love a good old top ten? I’d love to know which ones you agree and disagree with. In fact, why not do your own top ten (or three, or five, or seven- anything will do) in the comments section? Go on, who can resist?