Questioning Arts and Culture: How to be well-read without reading anything by a man.


Let me begin with this: I don’t check the comments on these articles so won’t be reading your nOt aLL mEn responses. That said:

In 2018, an Uxbridge bookseller admitted that men tell them, several times a month, that they ‘don’t read books by women.’ The 2020 GCSE English Literature course texts have an average of 25.4% written by female authors (AQA, Edexcel, and OCR). ‘What we consider “great literature” continues to be shaped by men because too many men only consider other men to be worthy competitors’ – Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett.

Considering this endemic, I wrote a list to prove that we cannot call ourselves ‘well-read’ without reading female authors – and there are so many more I could have included…

  1. Pride & Prejudice (Jane Austen): A classic love story that set the fire under the “enemies to lovers” trope.
  2. The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood): The game-changer that turned the dystopian tide, worryingly “speculative” of modern America. 
  3. Brick Lane (Monica Ali): Told through the eyes of two Bangladeshi sisters navigating East London as wives in “two kinds of love.”
  4. How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents (Julia Alvarez): How four sisters begin to forget their Spanish and Dominican homeland.
  5. Children of Blood and Bone (Tomi Adeyemi): Magic once flowed through the soil of Orïsha until it was stolen; a stunning twist on the Salem Witches trope. 
  6. Little Women (Louisa May Alcott): Far from the “girl’s book” her publisher requested, Alcott explores universal themes that last a lifetime.
  7. The Power (Naomi Alderman): Teen girls discover an immense physical change – “and, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly” – what if power was in the hands of women?
  8. The Silence of the Girls (Pat Barker): Bringing to life the women behind the scenes of ancient history: the women of the Trojan War.
  9. Noughts & Crosses (Malorie Blackman): A book considering an alternate society where the “colourless” were once slaves to the dark-skinned ruling class.
  10. Frankenstein (Mary Shelley): The founding mother of Science Fiction – and it begins here.
  11. Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte): A love story that is surely beyond its time, as toxic and gripping as they come.
  12. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte): Revered as a classic feminist text – “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me.”
  13. White Teeth (Zadie Smith): Following two unlikely friends, this book “revels in the ecstatic hodgepodge of modern life” in Jamaican, London, and Islamic culture.
  14. The Bloody Chamber (Angela Carter): Carter is “the literary godmother of such contemporary masters of supernatural fiction as Neil Gaiman […] and J.K. Rowling”; this book spins the familiar fairy tales into something dark and sensual.
  15. The Red Tent (Anita Diamant): In the Bible, we are given a hint of their lives, but now the women are here and telling their story.
  16. Lifeline (Abbey Lee Nash): A gritty novel that deals with substance abuse and mental health in young adults superbly.
  17. Interview with the Vampire (Anne Rice): “She redefined what vampire means.”
  18. Vox (Christina Dalcher): When the government gives women only 100 words a day, how can they make themselves heard? 
  19. The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Emily M. Danforth): Heart-warming, tear-jerking, unforgettable: a tale exposing America’s LGBT conversion camps.
  20. The Bell Jar (Sylvia Plath): An intensely realistic and emotional descent alongside a woman falling into the grip of insanity.
  21. Feminine Gospels (Carol Ann Duffy): A collection of poetry that writes a woman’s Bible, as told by history’s forgotten.
  22. A Room of One’s Own (Virginia Woolf): Perhaps the most authentic catalogue of what it means to be a woman in literature.
  23. The Laugh of the Medusa (Hélène Cixous): Written during the second wave of feminism, this essay coined the term, Écriture féminine.
  24. Outlander (Diana Gabaldon): The year is 1945, and we’re standing with a combat nurse. Until it’s 1743 and she’s thrown into Scotland’s bloodiest war.
  25. For Today I Am a Boy (Kim Fu): Peter is given the Chinese name Juan Chaun. Peter is his father’s only son. Peter was meant to embody the ideal of masculinity. But Peter is a girl.
  26. The Yellow Wallpaper (Charlotte Perkins Gilman): A chilling insight into the ‘rest cure’ prescribed for post-natal depression; based on the author’s own experiences. 
  27. The Girl on the Train (Paula Hawkins): “Between an alcoholic, a liar, and a cheat, who can you trust?”
  28. You (Caroline Kepnes): A terrifying exploration into how vulnerable we are to stalking and manipulation in this new age of social media. 
  29. Their Eyes Were Watching God (Zora Neale Hurston): A quest for identity – “no mean feat for a black woman in the ‘30s.”
  30. Poems of Sappho: Alongside Homer and Virgil, Sappho is a classical hero of poetry, the original lesbian of Lesbos. 
  31. To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee): The unforgettable dialect novel of a race trial in Alabama. 
  32. Wolf Hall (Hilary Mantel): “A darkly brilliant reimagining of life under Henry VIII.”
  33. Circe (Madeleine Miller): There is a danger for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods. 
  34. Who Fears Death (Nnedi Okorafor): In a post-nuclear-holocaust Africa, a girl is born with hair and skin the colour of sand, named Onyesonwu, ‘Who Fears Death?’ 
  35. My Sister’s Keeper (Jodi Picoult): A novel that raises vital ethical questions about a girl conceived as her sister’s bone marrow transplant.
  36. If I was Your Girl (Meredith Russo): A trans girl navigating high school, by a trans author.
  37. Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold): Murder and its aftermath, as told by the victim…
  38. Black Beauty (Anna Sewell): Passed from hand to hand, Black Beauty recounts human life as he sees it, uncensored and in awe.
  39. Oroonoko (Aphra Behn): A tale of love, bravery, and slavery in 1680s Africa.
  40. The Help (Kathryn Stockett): “In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town.”
  41. The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt): Described as Dickensian, this brings grief and passion to a new literary light.
  42. The Hate U Give (Angie Thomas): A stunning drop into the racist riptide between two worlds in volatile America.
  43. The Colour Purple (Alice Walker): Rape, poverty, and racism told in a modern classic.
  44. Tipping the Velvet (Sarah Waters): A historical love story between two women behind the stage.
  45. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (Jeanette Winterson): A satirical narrator is torn between Church, family, and the woman she loves.
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