Yesterday, as I sat in my seminar for The Novel 1730-1840, a thought occurred
We were discussing Mary Wollstonecraft, and our tutor continuously labelled her as a ‘female/woman writer’. Now at first, I didn’t think anything was odd about that. His label was entirely correct; she was a woman, and she was a writer. But then I started thinking… in previous seminars, he hadn’t labelled Horace Walpole as a ‘male/man writer’. So why did gender only come into play when discussing female writers?
There are so many wonderful, amazing, intelligent women who write the most beautiful novels, so why do we feel the need to whittle them down to a gender? The whole idea seems ridiculous.
With this in mind, I started thinking about my favourite books and realised that the majority of them were written by women. So maybe it’s just me who finds it odd that we label female writers by their gender, because I seem to read more novels by women than men. So does the need to label women writers by the fact they are women mean that not as many people read books by women? This thought terrified me, in all honesty.
In fact, it terrified me so much that, mid-seminar- I began making a list of books that everyone- not just women- need to read. Let’s end this whole ‘women writer’ label and simply call everyone, no matter what gender they may relate to, a writer. If you’re interested, here are the books I listed, in no order at all.
1: Pretty much anything by Caitlin Moran
Simply put, she’s a genius. Funny, relatable, the kind of person you can absolutely imagine chatting with over g&t’s in your local pub, Caitlin Moran is just wonderful. She somehow manages to discuss periods, sex, drugs, alcohol, awkward teenage years, and first kisses in a down-to-earth, completely hilarious way. How To Be A Woman is the type of book you’ll want to pass down to your younger sister (I certainly did after she told me, quite defiantly, that she wasn’t a feminist. After reading Moran, she changed her mind quite quickly) and that you’ll find yourself flipping through at various points of your life. Overall, I adore her.
2: Woman at Point Zero: Nawal El Saadaw
THIS BOOK. Now, it takes a lot to make me cry. I’ve never been the type to cry at baby animals, or movies (except Bambi, but doesn’t everyone shed a tear at that?) or even books. But this book hit me like a ton of bricks. I must admit, had it not been on a class syllabus last year, I probably never would of read it, but my god I am glad I did. It’s heart-breaking and empowering; it will make you want to tear your hair out in frustration at times. The plot focuses on the life on a female prisoner as she decides, days before her execution, to share her life story. it’s devastating, but it makes you feel so bloody proud to be a woman. If you read one thing from this list, make it this.
3: Gone Girl: Gillian Flynn
I advertised this book to my best friend as ‘the book to shove in your boyfriend’s face when he calls you crazy’. Because honestly, Amy (one of the two protagonists) is hands down the craziest bitch imaginable. And yet, I can’t help but love her. In a very (heavy emphasis on the ‘very’ here) twisted way, she is oddly empowering. Yes, faking your own kidnapping and planting evidence that blames your husband for foul play is a slightly over the top way to get revenge on him for cheating, but I genuinely think that Amy is just playing out every scorned woman’s wildest fantasies. Not that I’m saying we’re all sociopaths, but come on, we’ve all imagined fucking over an ex, haven’t we?
4: Everything Marian Keyes has ever written… EVER
Marian Keyes, you glorious woman. I have similar feelings for Marian Keyes that I have for Caitlin Moran. Marian Keyes writes in such a way that makes you feel everything she wants you to feel; reading her books is like going to therapy, you become so emotionally invested in her perfectly crafted characters that you start praying that they get their happy ending. And that’s the great thing about Marian Keyes’s books; her characters do get happy endings! All the time! It’s like sticking your brain into a tub of marshmallows, in the best way.
5: Valley of the Dolls: Jacqueline Susann
Once again, it’s an emotional one. I’m sensing a theme or emotional reads here, aren’t you? Evidently I enjoy reading about other peoples pain… anyway, this novel is a cult classic and for good reason. It’s everything a novel should be; it’s got drama, its got a selection of different protagonists (so you’re sure to relate to at least one of them, although I hope it isn’t Neely…) and its got bags and bags of emotion. It focuses on the lives of three young women as they climb the social ladder- some intentionally, some nastily- into bigger and better lives. I can completely understood why its stood the test of time, because the issues it deals with are still- if not more so- relevant in todays society.
6: The Argonauts: Maggie Nelson
Now, this is a slightly different kind of reading. Maggie Nelson writes from the heart, reflecting on motherhood and gender issues in an absolutely stunning way. Again, I probably never would have considered reading this if it hadn’t featured on a class syllabus, but I’m so glad I did read it. It’s amazing, haunting, so incredibly personal you almost feel as though you’re eavesdropping on a private conversation, yet at the same time so warm and welcoming. It’s such a beautiful read, from the way Nelson handles first-time motherhood, to the way she discusses her relationship with Harry Dodge. The fact that this is very much autobiographical makes the manner in which she handles various situations within the text even more amazing. It’s not everybody’s taste (my grandma nearly spat out her tea when I explained the premise to her) but I do think everyone should it at some time in their life.
So, there we have it. A very short list of some of my favourite books. I know some of you will be shocked that I, a literature student, didn’t include any of the classics but that is another list for another day. I’ll give you time to work your way through these before I throw another list at you…
the girl with all the words. xo