Though I remain convinced that this year's sweeping Twitter trend, “#readwomen2014,” was the agitated invention of my personal two good friends over a literary-minded meal one day – this movement, whatever its genesis, is gaining plenty of traction. The idea is this: in response to the hundreds and hundreds of years wherein penis-toters dominated literature, science, politics, you name it – we ladies will now do a bit of reclaiming and make a point to read only books written by women for the whole calendar year. The #readwomen2014 experiment is also meant to highlight female writers who, for whatever reason, have a tendency to be looked over. In favor of, say, Jonathan Franzen.
Flavorwire has already gone to the trouble of making a fifty-book long suggestion list (in case you don't know where to start on your own lady book quest), but I'm responding in modified kind. Because the truth is, there are so very many women writing – yesterday and today – who've been obscured by the dusty trails of Bukowski and Miller and Kerouac. (Who were great, and wonderful, but arguably none too clued in to that whole “women having a brain” thing.)
So without further ado, some books you should read...
IF YOU LIKE TO GIGGLE ALL THE SUBWAY RIDE HOME...
Image courtesy of booksrekindled.com
Julie Klausner's I Don't Care About Your Band isn't just an example of wonderful marketing-by-title; it's every other date everyone has ever been on, amirite? Ms. Klausner's voice is sharp, incisive, and wonderfully snarky. This one's easy and fun.
Image courtesy of artishinton.blogspot.com
This is a throwback, but Fran Lebowitz remains one of the glorious god-mothers of the whole sassy women talking about their dates phenom – and her compilation memoir, The Fran Lebowitz Reader, lives up to any hype. Lebowitz's lists and brief musings make for quick, jolly reads. For your fast-paced metropolitan life.
IF YOU LIKE LONG TALKS ON THE BEACH...
Image courtesy of PowerhouseArena.com
Michelle Orange's This is Running for Your Life is a favorite of mine from 2013. Ms. Orange is inquistive; her language echoes her thinking in that it wraps around and around an idea without making straight for a conclusion. Reading her book feels like having a conversation with an especially intelligent friend. “The Uses of Nostalgia and Some Thoughts on Ethan Hawke's Face” is the lovely opening essay, and you can find an early draft of it here.
Image courtesy of Litlife.typepad.com
I'm a verging-on-creepy fangirl for Zadie Smith (hey, maybe you are, too...), but would like to point out her sometimes neglected non-fiction work: Changing My Mind. Her musings in this book are divided into sections: Seeing, Reading, Being and Remembering. Smart and charming, this is a good read for those with rainy days and windowsills.
Image courtesy of thefoodinista.wordpress.com
Joan Didion's Slouching Towards Bethlehem is an all-time-favorite-desert-island book for me. Both an ode to and a eulogy for elements of the sixties' counterculture, Didion's voice is plaintive but witty. I read her essay, “Goodbye To All That,” every few months, and find it different each time.
IF YOU LIKE GETTING CAUGHT UP. SO CAUGHT UP...
Image courtesy of smh.com
New-ish writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie made a big splash with her fourth novel Americanah – about a woman who emigrates from Nigeria to live in the United States and effectively experiences racism for the first time. Pieces a love story, pieces an odyssey. The main character Ifemelu (and particularly her snappy blog about race relations) is a sharply-drawn narrator, and very fun to follow.
Image courtesy of threeguysonebook.com
Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend – just recently translated into English from the Italian – is to be the first in a trilogy about a set of childhood best friends growing up in post-war Naples. And with this gripping first installment, Ferrante has captured perfectly that peculiar alchemy of envy, loyalty and adoration that can bind two kindred spirits together. Funny, sad, wise.
Image courtesy of heidiwdurrow.com
The Girl Who Fell From the Sky is by turns a thriller, a tragedy, and an astute commentary on American race relations. Newcomer Heidi Durrow tackles the often-looked-over territory of being biracial in America with her new book. Be on the look-out for Durrow's new podcast: "The Mixed Experience."
Image courtesy of poetry.rapgenius.com
Amy Hempel's short stories (go on, get the whole compendium) are alternately terse, funny and strange. If you wish to be convinced of the power to a tightly coiled short story, follow the suit of all my creative writing teachers and read this (aloud, to a class...)
IF YOU AREN'T ASHAMED! OR, HAVE A KINDLE...
Image courtesy of coverbrowser.com
For reasons that are slightly difficult to explain from a feminist vantage, one of my favorite books is Pamela des Barre's tell-all memoir about being one of the first American groupies. I'm With the Band has all the juicy celebrity tid-bits you'd expect – but they concern Keith Moon's constitution in the sack, or certain very sexy liaisons with all the members of Led Zeppelin. If you need more convincing, know that Des Barres was allegedly one of Kate Hudson's influences for the character Penny Lane in Almost Famous. Lots of good stories here.
Image courtesy of silverpetticoatreview.com
Though I am now an adult, every so often I reread Gail Carson Levine's Ella Enchanted. Because I can. If you missed this the first time around, I'm not going to explain it to you – save that this spin on an old-school fairy tale is just maybe the most. Fun. Ever. High quality YA.
IF YOU REALLY MISSED THEM THE FIRST TIME...
Image courtesy of leiturasmarginais.blogspot.com
Surprise: Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway holds up. From the first scene of the novel (a kind of tracking shot through a London thoroughfare) through all the small, meaningful increments in Clarissa Dalloway's day, the language is unmatched and the story's spool...stellar. Go get it. Or better, read it again.
Image courtesy of Janeausteninvermont.wordpress.com
Jane Austen's Emma is not everyone's favorite, but it is the inspiration behind the movie Clueless. More importantly, though, no one crafts an unlikable/likable character like Jane Austen. Her bossy, imperious Emma is a dear friend of mine.
It should go without saying that there are dozens more books worth your attention! Some on my own rangy to-read list include Rebecca Mead's upcoming exploration of George Eliot's Middlemarch, and – ahem – George Eliot's Middlemarch. There are Karen Russells and Jennifer Egans and Sloane Crosleys out there; there are Monica Alis and Sheila Hetis, Toni Morrisons, Harper Lees, Muriel Sparkses! Not to discredit the Salingers and the Fitzgeralds, the Shteyngarts, the Eugenideses(eses?)...but don't forget to think of your reading life as a great big constellation, composed of a wide swatch of humans experiencing. And hey, when I experience – I'm a woman.
Share your own recommendations below!
Initial image courtesy of lmlrn.com