Looking back, looking forward (part 1)

So here we are: almost at the close of women’s history month. At the beginning of the month I challenged myself to highlight the work of some supercool women writers throughout March.

I guess I have a reasonably good track record of reading books by women; when I went to look at the books I’ve tracked through Goodreads (which is by no means a comprehensive list of everything I read) just under half of all the books there were written by women.

But one of the challenges I encountered in putting together my list of women authors to discovered was to find women who were under the radar enough to feel meaningful as a recommendation: sure I could tell you to read Margaret Atwood, or Toni Morrison, or Virginia Woolf, etc etc etc. But the thing is, y’all already know these ladies. These are big names, canonical names, the women who are already widely culturally acknowledged. It’s no surprise that these writers are on my reading list, it’s no surprise that I’d recommend them because they’re genuinely great. But getting a wider readership for writers of that type doesn’t feel like the nut that needs to be cracked.

All of which is a long winded way of saying: I felt I needed to challenge myself this month too, to break beyond the limited roster of women writers who gain cultural currency and so in addition to my “Discover a woman writer” series of posts, I set myself a personal challenge: to spend March reading books written only by women authors.

See below the line for all I discovered:

Books:

Girls in Peril by Karen Lee Boren (Goodreads review): This is a slim novella set in small town 1970s America, focused on the summer in which a group of young girls feel their friendship tested for the first time. I think I’d categorize it as compelling enough: it has some flaws, but at this length it feels churlish to get too hung up on that, and the positives outweigh many of my complaints.

The Next Time You See Me by Holly Goddard Jones (Goodreads review): So this got the Gillian Flynn stamp of approval and you can pretty much see why: a  thriller that is more focused on the psychologies of crime than on a traditional murder mystery would be. I found this an intensely satisfying read – excellent reading for a commute (which is actually a really strong recommendation for me, I don’t mean that in a disparaging way at all).

After Birth by Elisa Albert (Goodreads review): This is probably my favourite book I’ve read so far in 2015. Not for the faint of heart, this book about motherhood is part rage-filled rant part-philosophical diatribe on the status of women and motherhood today. As I mentioned in my goodreads review, there’s something so shocking and refreshing about reading women’s visceral anger that just really did it for me.

Audiobooks:

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay: LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE. Sassy, smart, shocking – Gay’s essays are the kind of writing that make me want to fist pump, or roar. I also burst out laughing several times while in transit, which was kind of embarrassing, but whatever. The audio version of this was also just a knockout, perfectly narrated. Highly recommended.

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard: I have a soft spot for dystopian YA, so sue me. This book had a promising premise, and I was pretty engaged for the first little while. However, as the book progressed it travelled way to far into tropesville even for my tastes, and I just found myself disengaging from a plot that felt as though it had been cribbed from the Dystopian YA Novel twitter account. (I also figured out the big plot twist really early and seeing as I’m pretty gullible that’s not a common reading experience for me – I’m not really a fan of knowing what’s coming so that could have been another factor in how I responded to this book)

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins: The thriller du jour! I listened to a book podcast that was scathing about this book which I found pretty surprising as I thought it was pretty ace, to be honest. When I’m not listening to audiobooks about medieval history (which, yeah, is apparently my audiobook niche), I really like listening to genre fiction: it tends to be easier to dip in and out of I find – good for travelling to and listening to before I go to bed. This book had me hooked enough that I was listening to it in lieu of doing anything else. A tense novel about three monumentally screwed up women, where no-one can be trusted, and there’s a juicy mystery to be resolved: what’s not to like?

In progress: 

Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

Thrown by Kerri Howley

I wasn’t familiar with most of these authors before I discovered them this month, and their writing has confirmed the full scale and breadth of what women write about, how they express themselves. By pushing myself to find books by women writers I actually developed a huuuuuuge reading list for myself, and I had a really fun month discovering works I might have missed had I been chasing the more newsworthy books of the month.

Image credit: Alice Hampson

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