Wednesday, July 21, 2010


I don't read many female writers. I discovered this when I sat down with my new mentor to talk about what books I'll read for the next year.* He asked me what I liked to read. The only woman on that list was Willa Cather.

I got a little upset about this. With further thought I dredged up Flannery O'Conner, Annie Proulx, Carson McCullers, and Jane Austin. Which all together, is a pretty miserable list when you consider how many books I read in a year. And out of those women, how many are still alive and producing material? One.

So I started asking other writers in our program to see if they could suggest anything. From those suggestions I decided on Toni Morrison's Beloved, Nicole Krauss' The History of Love, and Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assasin.

Does this mean something? It feels like it might, although I've got no clue what that is.

I like books with adventure, strong plots, clever language, and beauty. I know for a fact that women must write books like this, but why is it so hard for me to think of them? Why is it that the writers who pop into my head are Haruki Murakami, David Mitchell, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Herman Melville?

* The way that UAA's MFA program is structured, each student is paired with one mentor for each of the three years of the program. The student and that mentor decide on a reading list of three books per month and the student sends the mentor between 25-35 pages of creative writing once a month as well as critical responses to the books read. The pairing of the mentors and mentees occurs in the midst of our two week residency. The day when the pairings are released is like a combination of:
  1. Christmas morning.
  2. The first day of school.
  3. A blind date.
This year I'm paired with David Stevenson, the director of the program.


  1. there's a kickass new Library of America omnibus of Shirley Jackson stuff (Amazon) just crying out to be read.

  2. Some suggestions that sort of meet your citeria:
    Sarah Waters - Fingersmith
    Anything by Anne Carson
    Mary Doria Russell - The Sparrow
    Judith Moore - Fat Girl (essays and memoir, left a big impression on me)

    I really don't read enough by women authors either. Maybe I do when it comes to nonfiction, which I read far more of these days, but not in fiction.

  3. Oooh, some good new suggestions!

    I LOVED The Sparrow, although Children of God was a little less exciting.

  4. Hi Erin -- I recommend:
    Meg Wolitzer, especially The Wife;
    Lionel Shriver, especially We Need to Talk About Kevin;
    Zoe Heller, especially What Was She Thinking? (Also called Notes on a Scandal); and
    Zadie Smith, especially White Teeth.

    Needing a topic today, and having spent last evening talking about gender with another writer, I decided to blog about this, too, and shared your evolving list in the post. If you want to weigh in with more comments, please do!

  5. And having said all that, the books I'm really drooling to read soon are two by David Mitchell, which might say something about my own leanings toward male writers.

  6. David Mitchell is a new obssession of mine as well and the amount of attention and focus I've given him in the last three weeks is part of what made me question my reading list.

    Thanks for suggestions! I'm definitely planning on reading Zadie Smith's White Teeth this year.

  7. i'm partway through wolf hall by hilary mantel and loving it. might be worth taking a gander at.

    loved the blind assassin. loved loved loved.

  8. Hi Erin: I enjoyed meeting you at the UAA residency. Here are a few more contemporary writers in addition to the ones listed above:
    Laura Pritchett (Sky Bridge, Hell's Bottom, CO)
    Antonya Nelson (everything)
    Anne Michaels (Fugitive Pieces)
    Jhumpa Lahiri
    Happy reading! --Wendy Scher

  9. Here are a couple favorites, although they don't have large numbers of books:

    Beryl Markham, West with the Night
    Sena Jeter Nasland, Ahab's Wife

    Barbara Kingsolver, especially Poisonwood Bible

    Why do I listen to music weighted toward female artists and read literature weighted toward male authors? I don't know the answers.

  10. Sandra Cisneros is another great one. Also, check out the list for the Orange Prize...many wonderful writers there.