Some women writers: a reading list for the misogynist/myopic, courtesy of Twitter

some women writers

To be going on with…

I wrote yesterday about the coincidence in my reading of Ben Lerner’s über-useless-man novel Leaving the Atocha Station and Elaine Showalter’s A Jury of Her Peers and its upshot that I’m going to spend a few months reading women writers, instead of my usual men-heavy regime, just to see if I can separate out my own prejudices and inclinations from the institutionalised sexism of publishing at large.

I asked for recommendations and suggestions, and Henry Krempels asked me to post what people came up with, so here they are, in alphabetical order.

Where specific titles were suggested, I’ve listed them.

Where the writer was un- or little-known to me, and I Googled them, I’ve added any links I found useful or interesting, for the benefit of the similarly ignorant.

49 names were suggested on the first day of asking, and more have been coming in. I’m listing all suggestions, which obviously risks making the list diffuse and unwieldy. Later posts will try to make some sense of it all.

Nicola BarkerDarkmans (I have this, I’ve tried it, I haven’t really liked the earlier stuff of hers that I’ve read.)

Joan Barfoot – Gaining Ground – author website:

Djuna BarnesNightwood (Likewise, have it. Tried it. Not sure it’s my thing.)

Rosalind Belben – piece by flowerville

Sybille Bedford – ‘fansite’:

Elizabeth Bowen – short stories, The Last September, The Death of the Heart, To the North. (I think I must have read a story or two, but this is a clear omission)

Jane Bowles – I’ve read, and enjoyed.

Christine Brook-Rose – a recent TLS blog

Anita BrooknerHotel du Lac

Fanny Burney

Marie Calloway – Calloway’s tumblr. (I recently read her controversial story ‘Adrien Brody’ on the recommendation of Sam Riviere. Worth another look I think, perhaps along with the Sheila Heti, if what I’m after in part in all of this is an answer to the question: is female consciousness different to male?)

Anne Carson – New York Times profile


Barbara ComynsWho Was Changed and Who Was Dead – Asylum review

Lydia Davis – Love, love, love

Helen DeWitt: Lightning Rods. Multiple recommendations. I had a copy, but gave it away as a present. They loved it.

Joan DidionPlay it as it Lays (I’ve read the journalism, but never the fiction. May well turn up.)


Marguerite Duras – The Sailor from Gibraltar (well, I’ve read some (The Lover) but years ago. Will browse.)

Jennifer Egan – A Visit from the Good Squad (Read and reviewed. See note below.)

George EliotMiddlemarch (It’s on the shelf. Lord knows, it’s on the shelf.)

Elena Ferrante – career-long review in The New Yorker:  have already ordered Days of Abandonment. 

Paula FoxDesperate Characters, The Widow’s Children (Guardian profile, Paris Review interview)

Mary Gaitskill – ‘fansite’:

Stella Gibbons

Amy Hempel

AM Homes – Music for Torching, May We Be Forgiven (I’ve read a few stories,  and started at least a couple of the novels. Did I finish The End of Alice? Not sure. Wasn’t blown away, in any case, although I know her reputation.)

Rachel IngallsBlack Diamond, Mrs Caliban (Invisible Ink piece for Independent on Sunday)

Eowyn IveySnow Child 

Shirley JacksonWe Have Always Lived in the Castle (Have read The Lottery. Haven’t I?)

Tove Jansson – The Summer Book. As mentioned in the post, I was given Art in Nature for the same birthday as A Jury of Her Peers. Started reading. (See comment below)

Elfriede Jelinek – a page of links to essays etc

Anna Kavan – ‘fansite’: (Another absolutely fascinating-looking and, I think, entirely new-to-me writer.)

Barbara Kingsolver

Chris Kraus (publisher page at Semiotext(e) and an interesting reading from Yale Union)

Doris LessingThe Golden Notebook (started it once, I’m sure) Also The Fifth Child and Canopus in Argos

Deborah Levy (I’m a long-time fan, Beautiful Mutants is a favourite book, and I’ve written on it here.)

Clarice LispectorHour of the Star (a very high probability, this)

Penelope LivelyMoon Tiger

Carson McCullers (I have had The Heart is a Lonely Hunter on the shelf for years. May well come down.)

Hilary MantelBeyond Black (Read and enjoyed, for the first half – thought it repeated itself rather. But very impressive.)

Claire MessudThe Emperor’s Children

Herta Müller (I already have The Appointment lined up)

Murasaki Shikibu – The Tale of Genji

Marie N’Diaye

Maggie Nelson (short interview at

Katherine Mansfield (Well, I’ve read a fair bit. Brilliant, of course.)

Toni MorrisonJazz

Alice Munro – (Read a few stories. Not enough)

Anaïs Nin (Again, read a bit, but years ago, when, you know…)

Joyce Carol OatesBlack WaterRape a Love Story (I’ve read one or two, but they haven’t encouraged me to read more.)

Edna O’Brien

Flannery O’ConnorThe Violent Bear it Away (Never read beyond the most famous stories. Not sure how I’d deal with a novel. Therefore…)

Yoko OgawaThe Diving Pool and The Housekeeper & The Professor (I’ve read Hotel Iris, oh my.)

Sharon Olds – Poetry Foundation biography)

Iris OwensAfter Claude – Bookforum piece (Sounds brilliant.)

Helen OyeyemiMr Fox

ZZ Packer (Have read a little)

Grace Paley (Have read a little, I think… *said faintingly*)

Edith Pearlman (I have Binocular Vision by my bed. Discussed briefly in yesterday’s post)

Ann QuinBerg (Lee Rourke’s piece in The Guardian)

Dorothy RichardsonPilgrimage (

Marilyn RobinsonHousekeeping (I’ve got Gilead lined up, unless it would be wrong to read them that way around.)

Mary Robison

Ali SmithLike

Rebecca Solnit –  The Faraway Nearby

Muriel SparkThe Driver’s Seat (I love, and have read a fair amount of Spark.)

Christina SteadThe Man Who Loved Children

Elizabeth Taylor – Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont

Sigrid UndsetKristen Lavransdatter

Luisa Valunzuela (Paris Review interview)

Eudora Welty – stories.

Edith WhartonThe House of Mirth (On the shelf, lined up.)

Sarah WinmanWhen  God was a Rabbit

Virginia WoolfThe Waves (read, many years ago)

Thank you to everyone who has sent suggestions: NatashaLehrer; badaudeseventydysseanjcostelloSTomaselliIanCurtin1byers90MagsIrwinno1_emilyhenrykrempelsyolacraryTwitchelmoreluizasaumabensixesqIsabelAshdown

I’m not going to set myself targets or live-tweet the whole thing or anything silly. I’m just going to read as normal, picking up what’s to hand, answering the call of the books on my shelves, in bookshops and charity shops and on Twitter, flicking open, browsing and reading on when my attention is caught – but it’s going to be women only for the months of May, June and July.

And I’ll add to the list if more suggestions come in.


    • Jonathan Gibbs

      I’ve not read that, but I read three of her stories from ‘Art in Nature’ over lunch. Two of them were so-so, but ‘The Cartoonist’ I thought was splendid. A very dry account of a young cartoonist taking over a long-running strip from the original creator, who burned out, and whom no one at the paper would talk about. He becomes obsessed with him and tracks him down.
      “It was their eyes,” said Allington without turning round. “Their cartoon eyes. The same stupid round eyes all the time. Amazement, terror, delight, and so on – all you have to do is move the pupil and an eyebrow here and there and people think you’re brilliant. Just imagine achieving so much with so little.”
      And this from the woman who made The Moomins!

  1. Abigail

    Maybe you’ve read it already but if you haven’t this should be on your list: ‘A Visit from the Good Squad’ by Jennifer Egan. I think Muriel Spark would have loved that novel – and I note you love Muriel Spark. Egan’s novel is so sharp it won the Pulitzer Prize in 2011 but don’t let that put you off.

  2. Ms Baroque

    Read the wonderful & effervescent Fanny Burney (protegée of Dr Johnson, without whom no Jane Austen etc) for the way she can skewer someone in two lines of dialogue; & read Hilary Mantel’s masterful, sardonic, heartbreaking and very funny ‘Beyond Black’. And I’m very excited about this book I’ve been reading in proof, ‘The Faraway Nearby’, by Rebecca Solnit.

  3. ombhurbhuva

    Elizabeth Taylor’s Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont
    or anything by her. blog. Sleek, sharp, witty. She has some volumes of short stories also.

    • Jonathan Gibbs

      Thanks, Jonathan. I’ll add them to the list. Adler is sort of there already (I mentioned her in my previous, explanatory blog post, April reading). Welty I know, a little. Cather and Erpenbeck are known unknowns, Diane Williams an unknown unknown, so thank you.

      And, by the way, congratulations on ‘Nostalgia’, a thoroughly enjoyable and surprising book. I didn’t mention it in my review (still forthcoming) but it does that authorial revelation thing near the end (avoiding spoilers, but *you* know what I mean) so, so subtly… it made me almost throw the book across the room from sheer pleasure.

      I’m holidaying in Italy this summer for the first time, and we’re heading right into ‘Nostalgia’ territory; it will be with me, certainly in spirit, and possibly in fact also.

      • Jonathan Buckley

        Very glad you enjoyed Nostalgia – and I think that as an admirer of Lydia Davis (as am I), you’ll get a lot of pleasure from Diane Williams. The place to start, I’d say, is Excitability – an extraordinary collection.

  4. Voula Grand

    Some suggestions Jonathan! Doris Lessing at her very best: The Fifth Child (a short book, and some say the inspiration for Lionel Shriver’s “Kevin”) and her amazing series, Canopus in Argos, five volumes of speculative fiction.

  5. Sean O'Siadhail

    Hi, I’m really pleased to have found this blog! This year I decided to make sure that 50% of the books I read were by women so these suggestions are very interesting and helpful. So far I’ve read ‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle’ (really liked it but had read a bit of Jackson and suspected I’d like it a lot), The Dispossessed (first time reading Le Guin and it would be the last if I went by this book), The Vet’s Daughter by Barbara Comyn (brilliant, compelling), The Talented Mr. Ripley (enjoyable), The Driver’s Seat (loved it), Lightning Rods by Helen De Witt (can’t understand what people seem to see in this), Wise Blood (uneven, but some wonderful and memorable bits), A Visit from the Goon Squad (liked it a lot), I Capture The Castle (it was ok but a bit long and twee).

    I’ve stockpiled Munro, Davis, McCullers, Lessing and some others for the rest of the year but will bookmark this page for ideas!

  6. heathesaurus

    What a fabulous list! Thank you so much for taking the time to do the research for those of us who have taken up the challenge to read women’s writing this year. I’ll definitely be coming back to this post later.

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