Apparently I have a habit of running competitions that cause a lot of admin. But this time it’s admin of the good kind, because I now have a list of hundreds of brilliant books by women, as recommended by people in the competition entries. Perhaps reflecting my ‘lovely sexy nerd’ demographic, there are plenty of erotic and sci-fi suggestions on the list. There were also over 400 recommendations in total, with over 270 individual authors suggested and over 330 individual titles. There’s something for everyone: have a look.
Back story: a couple of weeks ago I learned of BellJarred’s dating criteria: she asked people on Tinder to only contact her if they had read five books by women. This seemed like an absurdly easy thing to do – surely anyone who reads on a regular basis must have read five books by women? But the responses she got were quite depressing, with people either complaining about her criteria or saying ‘well I’ve read Harry Potter and that’s seven books in total so is that OK?’
So I thought it’d be a nice excuse to get some book recommendations, and I launched a competition – all people had to do was comment with one book written by a woman. I was totally blown away by the number of entries, and I am bloody delighted that so many of you added yours in the comments.
But I was also a bit gutted that one of the immediate responses on Twitter (from men, not all men but certainly only men) was to either nitpick the criteria or point out that the fact that they couldn’t name five books most definitely didn’t make them sexist. One gent told me that he only reads popular science, and that area just happens to be dominated by blokes, so he couldn’t possibly be expected to have read books by women. Another explained that there are plenty of female authors in the romance genre, it’s just that romance isn’t his bag. One guy said that the Harry Potter books ‘should count’ because there are at least five of them: fulfilling the letter, if not the spirit, of BellJarred’s rule.
Here’s the deal: if you haven’t read any books by women, then I’m not saying you hate women, or even that you’re making a deliberate choice. But you live in a society which treats women and men differently – when it comes to publishing, fiction written by a woman is more likely to be packed and marketed to women. Women are less likely to get book contracts to write about pop science. They’re also less likely to become scientists in the first place, because of all the extra hurdles they need to leap over in order to reach the top. Issues like this affect all of us, and they don’t just affect the women whose books you aren’t reading: they affect you – because you’re missing out on brilliant things. Just as I miss out on great writing by women of colour because, again, they are less likely to get book deals/be marketed to me/be recommended by my peers.
We can’t suddenly fix the world in five minutes, but I’m a starry-eyed optimist and I think we can all make small changes to make things better for ourselves. And we can start by expanding our horizons a bit.
With that little waffle over, here’s a round-up of the recommendations, and you can download the full spreadsheet of all the unique recommendations.
Most recommended authors
These authors all received 7 or more recommendations:
- Angela Carter (7)
- Jeanette Winterson (7)
- Margaret Atwood (12)
- Ursula Le Guin (10)
These authors received 4 – 6 recommendations
- Ali Smith (5)
- Alison Bechdel (5)
- Isabel Allende (5)
- JK Rowling (5)
- Zadie Smith (4)
- Virginia Woolf (4)
- Sue Townsend (4)
- Dossie Easton (4)
- Donna Tartt (4)
- Anne Leckie (4)
Most recommended books by women
These all received 3 or more recommendations:
- Frankenstein – Mary Shelley (obviously, right?)
- Fun Home – Alison Bechdel
- Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell – Susanna Clark
- Possession – A.S. Byatt
- Room – Emma Donoghue
- The Bloody Chamber – Angela Carter
- The Earthsea Trilogy – Ursula Le Guin
- The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
- The Harry Potter series – J.K. Rowling
- The House of Spirits – Isabel Allende
- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot
- The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula Le Guin
- The World’s Wife – Carol Ann Duffy
- To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee
Honourable mentions go to some of the books that I’ve been wanting to read for AGES and haven’t got round to yet, for which this list has given me a kick up the arse:
- Melissa Gira Grant – Playing the Whore
- Margaret Atwood – The Handmaid’s Tale
- Wild Swans – Jung Chang
- The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton
- Bad Feminist – Roxane Gay
- The Drowning of Arthur Braxton – Caroline Smailes
- The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy
More honourable mentions to books that I have also read and went ‘OMG fucking YES this is an amazing one’
- Persepolis – Marjane Satrapi
- Wild Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys
- Tampa – Alissa Nutting
- A Fucked Up Life In Books – Bookcunt
And to the comp winner, chosen at random from all the entries: Sparkly Dust, who recommended The Hidden House of Mothers by Meera Syal.
The competition is closed now, but comments on this post will be open forever and ever, so if you have another book you’d like to recommend, or if you want to add your thoughts on any you’ve read from the list, then please do join in below.
Thanks all for being brilliant, and double thanks to the brilliant @wanktruffle, who went through every single comment on the comp post and put the book recommendations in a coherent order. I promise the next competition I run will be a simple ‘like this to win something’, if only to save on admin.