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Top 100 books women should read, from More magazine

January 28, 2010

Kate Chopin: No. 1?

Wondering what to load into your spanking new iPad reading device once it arrives? The good ladies — no offense, I’m assuming they’re ladies — over at (“Celebrating Woman 40+”) polled their editors for a list of 100 novels every woman should read.

Of course, the Luddites among you can always buy these books at a bookstore and read them the old-fashioned way. One page at a time.

Starting with the Classics, More’s editors mostly round up the usual suspects: Jane Eyre, by Emily Bronte; To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf; Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen; Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys; Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott; To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.

A conventional list, true, but credit is due for the mix of sexy, profound and downright challenging, in the case of Woolf. The editors get special points for naming The Awakening, Kate Chopin’s proto-modernist, proto-feminist novella as No. i.

The list deserves kudos, too, for including worthwhile books by men — Nabokov’s Lolita, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Alan Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country. But I think the editors may have missed an opportunity here. A list made up entirely of female authors would have been more provocative, and provided a valuable service.

Apparently only the first 21 books, the Classics, are up on the website so far. I’m pleasantly surprised by a few selections: Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook; Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin; The Arabian Nights. I’m gratified to see one of my very favorite books, Madame Bovary. Not sure in what universe Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying is a classic, though.

Let’s hope More becomes a little bolder as the editors fill out the rest of the list. Here’s a few I’d suggest: The Women’s Room, by Marilyn French; The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. Le Guin; Surfacing, by Margaret Atwood; Seven Gothic Tales, by Isak Dinesen; West with the Night, by Beryl Markham; Christy, by Catherine Marshall; Tracks, by Louise Erdrich; Wise Blood, by Flannery O’Connor; Regeneration, by Pat Barker; A Sport of Nature, by Nadine Gordimer: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, by Muriel Spark…

I’ll stop. What a great world of books we live in! Tell me what favorites you’d put on a list of books women should read? Just to make it interesting, let’s only name books written by actual female authors — deal?

30 Comments leave one →
  1. Tommy permalink
    January 28, 2010 12:43 pm

    Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar”

    George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) “Scenes of Clerical Life” and “Middlemarch”

    I have read all three of these and enjoyed them.

    Now, how about a list of books authored by women that men should read?

    • Tommy permalink
      January 28, 2010 4:15 pm

      Forgot the first Margaret or rather, Margaret the First. “The Blazing World” Margaret Cavendish.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      January 28, 2010 5:17 pm

      Excellent suggestions all, Tommy. I’m more than a little embarrassed to say I don’t know Margaret Cavendish. But whoo-hoo: That’s what these list are for, right?

      • Tommy permalink
        January 28, 2010 11:23 pm

        Yes, they are. I am glad to trade a Cavendish (who’s The Blazing World I strongly recommend to any science-fiction lover) in exchange for all the writers you have turned me on to. Cavendish was a very interesting author, well ahead of her time.

  2. January 28, 2010 3:20 pm

    Jane Austen is a wonder. So is George Eliot. But jumping the century, let me recommend one of the best books by a woman I’ve ever read. OLIVE KITTERIDGE by Elizabeth Strout. This is a woman whose knowledge of the human heart is almost supernatural. Alice Munro and Joyce Carol Oates are in that category as well.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      January 28, 2010 5:25 pm

      I’m no longer such a JCO fan, Duff, though 10 years ago I thought she was the greatest living American writer. Fodder for another conversation. I’ve heard great things about Elizabeth Kitteridge, but I haven’t had the chance to catch up with her. Ditto on Christina Stead, whose The Man Who Loved Children is supposed to be a wonder. I forgot Cynthia Ozick, a veritable magician with language and story. I recommend Dictation: A Quartert. I like Maryse Conde so much I’m going to devote an entire blog to her soon. So many, so very many great women writers. Oh: Edwidge Danticat. Wow.

      • January 28, 2010 10:30 pm

        Okay, Chauncey, Christina Stead, Maryse Conde, Edwidge Danticat – haven’t read them, but you’ve convinced me. AGAIN.

  3. rachel permalink
    January 28, 2010 3:42 pm

    Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

    Joyce Carol Oates’s short story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”

    Definitely, and this bears repeating, Marilyn French’s “The Women’s Room.”

    Milan Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being.”

    I’m partial to “Ten Thousand Lovers” by Edeet Ravel. That is a big that made a big impression on me.

    “Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth” by Xiaolu Guo.

    “The Beauty of the Husband” by Anne Carson. Poems. But a cohesive story. Just brilliant.

    I agree, that a list by purely female authors would have been an interesting thing. And it wouldn’t mean that women shouldn’t read male authors. It would just be interesting and frankly useful. I would consider myself a feminist and thinking about it I probably have more favorites my male authors, but why? A list of only female authors would help me explore greats that I haven’t yet come in contact with.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      January 28, 2010 5:28 pm

      Despite the wealth of great women writers — throughout history, but especially today — men still seem to get most of the attention, just like in grade school. Maybe I’ll write about some recent controversies on this point. You make excellent suggestions. I’m especially partial to Twenty Fragments.

    • January 28, 2010 10:27 pm

      Rachel, what an impressive list. I’ve read everything there except for Guo. I’ll go Google now and add that person to my list. I have a feeling I won’t regret it.

  4. Candice Simmons permalink
    January 28, 2010 4:00 pm

    How about Simone de Beauvoir?

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      January 28, 2010 5:32 pm

      Absolutely. And: Germaine Greer, Betty Friedan, Susan Sontag, Judy Blume, Gloria Steinem…

  5. Tommy permalink
    January 28, 2010 4:07 pm

    Thank you Rachel, I had forgot about “Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth” by Xiaolu Guo. I really enjoyed that book.
    I have judged you far too intelligent to be considered a feminist.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      January 28, 2010 5:33 pm

      Hey, watch it, pal. I’m a feminist (among other things).

  6. rachel permalink
    January 28, 2010 4:33 pm

    No,no. There is nothing wrong with being a feminist. I am proud to be a feminist. I’m just a feminist who thinks for myself. The kind that puts things through my filter, my processor. I think feminism is very important.

    • Tommy permalink
      January 28, 2010 5:02 pm

      I meant no offense, Rachel. I just don’t view you as a feminist. At least not a feminist of the ilk I have run into. This is a discussion that would probably be best held elsewhere, a discussion I’d enjoy. Feminism has become synonymous with misandry in my head, and I believe it is a term that barricades more than paves the way for equality.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      January 28, 2010 5:36 pm

      I’m willing to let some women express their bitterness (well justified, let me say) with patriarchy through active man-hatred, but true feminism is actually humanism. Patriarchy has damaged men as much as it’s damaged women. I learned that from Marilyn French, by the way. I had to opportunity to meet her three or four times in the years between 1980 and her death last year. And I read The Women’s Room and The War Against Women.

      I agree this is a big topic.

  7. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    January 28, 2010 5:36 pm

    Oh, yeah: Barbara Ehrenreich.

  8. Marla permalink
    January 28, 2010 8:50 pm

    I feel a need to chime in and highly recommend one of my all-time favorite author’s Annie Dillard.

    Her major works include:

    · 1974 Tickets for a Prayer Wheel
    · 1974 Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
    · 1977 Holy The Firm
    · 1982 Living By Fiction
    · 1982 Teaching a Stone To Talk
    · 1984 Encounters with Chinese Writers
    · 1987 An American Childhood
    · 1989 The Writing Life
    · 1992 The Living
    · 1995 Mornings Like This: Found Poems
    · 1999 For the Time Being
    · 2007 The Maytrees

    I’d also like to recommend newcomer, Kathleen Kent’s, “The Heretic’s Daughter’!


    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      January 29, 2010 11:22 am

      Dillard’s an outstanding suggestion, thanks.

      • Marla permalink
        February 1, 2010 2:23 am

        Welcome! Keep up the outstanding work!!

  9. Connie permalink
    January 29, 2010 8:46 am

    I posted a link to this liston my blog too; I’m trying to figure out why “Cry, The Beloved Country” is a book all women should read. I mean, nothing wrong with it; it’s a good book. It’s just an odd choice. Most of the others are fairly reasonable: yes, everyone should read Middlemarch (LOVED IT) and P&P (though really, read Persuasion, too). It may be too early to say, but I might throw Lorrie Moore’s A Gate at the Stairs on there, especially if I can knock off the 25 suggestions of poetry and add 25 more novels. I thought it was that good and exceptionally revealing about the inner lives of modern day youngwomen. Or so I imagine, anyway.

    As for Fear of Flying, I feel life is too short for ANY women to bother with that.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      January 29, 2010 11:25 am

      I found Cry the Beloved Country odd, too, and not only for women. Is it a good book? Maybe a great one. But incredibly pretentious, mock poetic and, in its way sentimental. South Africa gave us Gordimer and Coetzee, too, so I can’t see why to bother with Paton.

  10. Kelly Cherry permalink
    January 30, 2010 12:15 pm

    More Muriel Spark. Margaret Drabble. Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook. Iris Murdoch. Anything by A. G. Mojtabai. Eudora Welty’s stories. Flannery O’Connor. Elizabeth Spencer. Cynthia Ozick. Grace Paley. I’ll stop here but there are others. And many, many poets too. I’m interested in the list of women writers men should read, but would that list be drawn up by a woman, or a man?

    • Tommy permalink
      January 30, 2010 3:13 pm

      Well I was hoping some of the brilliant women who frequent this blog would draw up a list of books about/by women they believe men should read.

      • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
        February 1, 2010 2:22 am

        Yes, that’s a capital idea. And I know the perfect woman to do it, although she’ll be lost in a pigskin fever until after the Superbowl is over…

      • Tommy permalink
        February 16, 2010 11:56 am

        Okay, the PooperBowl is over. Please help this guy out with a list. I don’t think I am breaking any of the Guy Codes with an admission of being clueless. Guy Codes protect our secrets.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      February 1, 2010 2:21 am

      Dorothy Parker. James Triptree, Jr. (Alice Bradly Sheldon). Clarice Lispector. Colette (!). Martha Gellhorn.

  11. Kelly Cherry permalink
    February 2, 2010 1:23 pm

    Colette for sure. And the standard nineteenth- and early twentieth-century writers, of course. But surely also the great books by men.

  12. Bettina Pedersen permalink
    August 30, 2012 1:35 am

    Please note that Charlotte Bronte wrote Jane Eyre. Emily Bronte wrote Wuthering Heights.

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