Anna Buckley
March 08, 2017 12:18 pm

A good writer is a good writer, regardless of gender (or lack thereof). My point in writing this piece is not to argue matters of merit, but of representation.

I’m a lady with a Bachelor’s degree in Writing, Literature & Publishing, and my bookworm tendencies were fostered from a young age. As a kid, my most worn-in and dog-eared novel was National Velvet by Enid Bagnold. I admittedly was very into horses back then, but more notably, I felt a connection to the young, heroic female lead. I found myself identifying with her ways of thinking, and investing myself in her own well-being.

Then I went to college and read predominantly male writers like Anton Chekov, John Milton, and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Yes, those male authors, and all other classic male authors, contributed immensely to the art form that is writing, in all of its varying genres and forms. I respect and revere them.

Because of the male-dominated booklists handed out in nearly every literature class I took in college, I found myself seeking out male authors on my trips to used bookstores. Contradictorily, I was reading Fitzgerald and Salinger, while learning what it meant to be a woman in the 21st century.

Meanwhile, the Woolf and Angelou stories that I left untouched on those shelves held the knowledge I actually needed to hear at that time in my life.

Meanwhile, the Woolf and Angelou stories that I left untouched on those shelves held the knowledge I actually needed to hear at that time in my life.

I can’t tell you which book specifically turned the tides for me, because it wasn’t just any one novel. More importantly, it was a shared recognition between my fellow female friends and myself that we were feeling unfulfilled by our choices in reading material.

It was about giving ourselves permission to seek literature outside of the typically lauded canon.

I can honestly say that once I started adding more female authors to my book selection, I felt more fulfilled. It’s not that I had been totally in the dark about the talented, brilliant female authors of literary history. I read Emily Brontë, Arundhati Roy, Harper Lee, and others in high school. But I had fallen into the white-washed, male-dominated curriculum of my college (save for my one Gender in a Global Perspectives course) and female-penned literature wasn’t as readily recommended or discussed.

As a writer myself for the college newspaper, the section I managed was referred to as “Wifestyle” instead of “Lifestyle,” by the Editor in Chief, which should further hint at the environment within which I existed.

In 2012, Roxane Gay conducted a study in which she and her colleagues pointed out a glaring glass ceiling that exists for women and writers of color. Here’s a passage from their findings:

Further evidence exists to hint at a massive gender gap in the publishing industry. Ruth Franklin writes in the piece “A Literary Glass Ceiling?”: “It is sobering to realize that we may live and work in a world still held in the grip of unconscious biases, no less damaging for their invisibility.”

Luckily, however, many publishing houses have declared that they are dedicated to closing the gap. According to VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, in 2010, only 38 percent of books reviewed were written by women in The New York Times Book Review. In 2013, women comprised 45 percent of those reviewed, and in 2014, 47 percent were reviewed.

Personally, it took a conscious decision to stop reading books penned by white men and to start reading more literature that I could identify with. And doing so has opened me up to a world of moving literature that has expanded both my world view and my understanding of my own self.

When I read Roxane Gay’s Difficult Women, I felt physically sick from the injustices her characters experienced. When I read Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, my heart ached for her experience as a widow with a hospitalized daughter. And now, as I read Zadie Smith’s On Beauty, I feel as though I’m in good company, learning how to be myself in a country that respects white men first and foremost.

So, in the spirit of celebrating female authors, here are six novels written by women that I believe every woman (or man, or gender nonconforming person!) should read in their lifetime.

1NW

Quote from the novel:

“Not everyone wants this conventional little life you’re rowing your boat toward. I like my river of fire. And when it’s time for me to go I fully intend to roll off my one-person dinghy into the flames and be consumed. I’m not afraid.”

2Men Explain Things to Me

Quote from the novel:

“Every woman knows what I’m talking about. It’s the presumption that makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; that crushes young women into silence by indicating, the way harassment on the street does, that this is not their world. It trains us in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men’s unsupported overconfidence.”

3The God of Small Things

Quote from the novel:

“And the air was full of Thoughts and Things to Say. But at times like these, only the Small Things are ever said. Big Things lurk unsaid inside.”

4A Room of One’s Own

Quote from the novel:

“Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.”

5I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Quote from the novel:

“She comprehended the perversity of life, that in the struggle lies the joy.”

6The Second Sex

Quote from the novel:

“No one is more arrogant toward women, more aggressive or scornful, than the man who is anxious about his virility.”

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