Near the beginning of every year, I set aside a month dedicated to reading authors I have never read before. The reason is to keep my book choices from becoming stale as I stick to the same set of “canonical” writers. So far this month, I have completed four books:
Pete Beatty’s Cuyahoga, a tall tale of Cleveland, Ohio (the city of my birth) set in 1837.
Angela Carter’s The Sadeian Woman and the Ideology of Pornography, a study of how the Marquis de Sade’s fiction morphed into modern-day porn.
Martha Gellhorn’s Travels with Myself and Another, a travel classic by a famed war correspondent and former wife of Ernest Hemingway.
Nic Pizzolatto’s Galveston, a superb, but bleak neo-noir novel about a hit man on the run to a city about which he has fond memories due to an early relationship.
It’s still early in January. I am currently reading Megan Abbott’s Die a Little and have plans to read works by George Meredith, William Beckford, Walter Kempinksi, Sam Wasson, Lászlo Földényi, Ben Loory, Elizabeth Hardwick, among others. According to past experiences doing this sort of thing, I will end up liking about half of the Januarius finds enough to read other works by them.
One result is that I find myself reading more books by women authors, which is a good thing.
I dedicated last month to reading books only written by women. On March 5, I posted a TBR (To Be Read) list from which I would choose the titles I would undertake to read and review. As was typical, I wound up reading about half the books on the list, adding to them some last-minute choices. Here is the list of what I read:
Celeste Ng (United States), Little Fires Everywhere **** †
Joyce Carol Oates (United States), The Man Without a Shadow ****
Ludmilla Petrushevskaya (Russia), The Time: Night ****
Patricia Highsmith (United States), The Black House (Short Stories) *****
Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Mexico), Gods of Jade and Shadow ***** †
Colette (France), The Pure and the Impure ****
Eve Babitz (United States), L.A. Woman ****
Sofi Oksanen (Finland/Estonia), The Purge **** †
Rosario Santos—Editor (Bolivia), The Fat Man from La Paz (Short Stories) **** †
Clarice Lispector (Brazil), The Hour of the Star *****
There wasn’t a stinker in the bunch, and four of the choices were superb (Woolf, Moreno-Garcia, Highsmith, and Lispector). Five of the books marked with a dagger [†] were by authors I had never read before (Ng, Robinson, Moreno-Garcia, and Santos). On my original TBR list, I thought I had never read any Ludmilla Petrushevskaya before, but I was mistaken.
I will continue to read more books by women authors than I have in the past, though I may not repeat the intensity of March’s reading project. It was an interesting experiment, as all the choices were pretty high quality.
This Month I Am Reading Only Books Written by Women, Such as Virginia Woolf
I read a lot of books, but I feel I have not given women authors their due. So far, I have read Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere and am within a few pages of finishing Joyce Carol Oates’s The Man Without a Shadow. Ng is new to me, but I have always loved Oates, though I haven’t nearly enough of her prolific works.
Among the books I will be selecting from for the rest of March (in no particular order):
Something by Svetlana Alexievich, most likely Secondhand Time [Russia]
Rosario Santos’s The Fat Man from La Paz: Contemporary Fiction from Bolivia*
Ludmilla Petrushevskaya’s The Time: Night* [Russia]
Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead* [USA]
Simone de Beauvoir’s The Ethics of Ambiguity [France]
Patricia Highsmith’s The Black House [USA]
Dorothy B. Hughes’s In a Lonely Place [USA]
Selma Lagerlof’s The Saga of Gosta Berling* [Norway]
Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse [England]
Clarice Lispector’s Hour of the Star [Brazil]
Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Gods of Jade and Shadow* [Mexico/Canada]
Marie NDiaye’s Three Strong Women [France]
Dawn Powell’s The Locusts Have No King* [USA]
Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive* [Mexico/USA]
Invariably, I will not read some of the above and likely add some other writers, such as Charlotte Brontë, Willa Cather, Madeleine Albright, or Helen Hunt Jackson. It all depends on how I like the books I have selected.
Books marked with an asterisk [*] are by authors I have not yet read.
With a title like “Women Writers,” one might expect some heavy duty mansplaining about how women don’t really understand what life is about. Well, you won’t find it here. Even though, in the past, I have complained about fiction written by women being too “relationshippy,” I am beginning to appreciate the vision of the better women writers. Oh, there are plenty of distaff hacks, but I’m not talking about them here.
I have over the last few months read several novels written by women that managed to rock my world. They include:
Olga Grushin, The Dream Life of Sukhanov
Rachel Kushner, The Flamethrowers
Anne Bronte, Agnes Grey
Virginia Woolf, Orlando
Marie NDiaye, La Cheffe and My Heart Hemmed In
Tara Westover, Educated
Consequently, what I have decided to do is devote the entire month of March to reading about a dozen books by women authors, half by authors I have never read before, the other half by old favorites such as Ursula K. Le Guin, Joyce Carol Oates, Charlotte Bronte, and Patricia Highsmith. I haven’t decided which books yet, but there’s time to put the list together and let you know.
Currently, I am working my way through Olga Grushin’s The Dream Life of Sukhanov, a novel written in English by a Russian writer about a Soviet art magazine editor in the mid-1980s whose life comes unglued because of all the changes that are taking place just before the collapse of the Communist Party. At one point, the main character, Anatoly Pavlovich Sukhanov, muses to himself: “No, never again would he dare to accept any certainty with that bovine sense of simply receiving his due….”
Similarly, I plan to reject that similar “bovine sense” of underestimating women writers as a matter of course.