20 books by women that men need to read
Men don’t read books by women, so research says. Well if that’s the case, here’s a few damn good places to start.
Common publisher knowledge is that men don’t read books written by women, particularly fiction. And a survey a few years ago by Goodreads confirmed it, with male authors accounting for 90% of the books men read. The reasons for this may be ignorance or misogyny or even – maybe – because of the gender marketing of book publishers. But the point is that there’s no good reason for men not to, we may simply not be exposed to enough choice, which is part of the purpose of our new Book Club of Man, which aims to just present more reading choices to men than Sir Alex Ferguson’s autobiography. So here are our picks of the books by women that men should read – obviously, there’s so much more that we could have included, but every one of these is a killer…
1) Just Kids (2010) – Patti Smith
A memoir Smith’s early life in New York with the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, discovering punk, music, art, and filthy apartments. As befitting Smith this is raw, real and tender, with bone marrow of sheer poetic brilliance.
2) Delta of Venus (1977) – Anais Nin
Her most famous piece of erotica, a collection of stories she wrote during her time with Henry Miller in the 40s when you could earn quick money for pornographic writing. Collected as Delta of Venus and finally released in the 70s it’s an essential window into female desire, and bohemian life in Paris, and a few things you’d never think possible.
3) Strangers on a Train (1950) – Patricia Highsmith
Hard to pick only one of hers, but we’ll go for Strangers on a Train, just because its talked about less than the Tom Ripley books these days, and we’re contrary like that. Highsmith’s debut novel is about two men who meet on a train and ‘trade’ murders – you kill mine, I’ll kill yours – and it remains the perfect noir.
4) Don’t Look Now (1971) – Daphne Du Maurier
Short story by the exceptional and unclassifiable Du Maurier. Later adapted by Nicholas Roeg into the classic film, the book itself is no less powerful, heart-breaking and haunting in every sense. John and Laura take a holiday in Venice after the tragic death of their daughter, but meet a couple of psychic twin sisters who tells them their daughter’s spirit is trying to warn them about…something. Brilliant and terrifying.
5) The Goldfinch (2013) – Donna Tartt
We’ll go for The Goldfinch over The Secret History, since the former won the Pulitzer, and who are we to argue with those guys? An epic, strange, tragic and addictive thriller about a kid who survives a terrorist bombing in the Museum of Modern Art clutching a Dutch masterpiece painting which may have some answers to his life and way out of criminality. Quit your job and read it now.
6) Music For Torching (1999) – A M Holmes
Startling and deeply unsettling work by the American author about a couple who decide to burn their house down. Holmes is the best chronicler of American suburban dysfunction since Richard Yates and will similarly shock you to the core.
7) Persopolis (2000) – Marjene Satrapi
Graphic autobiography of Satrapi about her childhood in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. It powerfully shows the upheaval in a country through the eyes of a young girl, trying to understand the regime of the Shah and the rise of socialism. You may have seen the film version, but get back to the book for the full visual and intellectual impact.
8) Everything That Rises Must Converge (1965) – Flannery O’Connor
Always labelled as a Southern Gothic writer because of her grotesque characters, actually her stories read very naturalistic in these grotesque times. This collection of short stories is the perfect introduction to her world of racial disharmony, disability, sarcasm, violence and absurdity. One of the greatest, ever.
9) Wishful Drinking (2008) – Carrie Fisher
Very funny and very moving memoir by Fisher about her relationship with her mother, the actress Debbie Reynolds, and her relationship with addiction. Features a thousand one-liners like, “I feel I’m very sane about how crazy I am.”
10) Frankenstein (1818) – Mary Shelley
Sparked by a horror writing competition between Shelley, her husband Percy and Lord Byron in 1814, ‘Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus’, became a much more ambitious thing in her hands – this is not some tacky horror, but written, like Dracula, in a ‘real’ way, based on genuine scientific experiments at the time, as well as alchemy and occultism. As such, the story of Victor Frankenstein and his creation still feels weirdly modern.
11) Blood and Guts in High School (1984) – Kathy Acker
If you want a challenge, get your teeth into this experimental work – a punky collage of cut-ups, dreams, multiple narrators, letters, illustrations, and all manner of meta self-awareness. It’s the story of a girl living through hell in Mexico, New York, and Tangiers. A classic of outsider fiction, and a lesson in what society can do to girls on the margins.
12) Swing Time (2016) – Zadie Smith
Our favourite of Smith’s, about two girls growing up on estates in London, falling in love with music, falling in and out of friendship, and travelling the world, while trying to reconcile with the past. But any neat summations can’t prepare you for the scope of this book; all of life seems to be in it.
13) Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968) – Joan Didion
Collection of journalism essays in the 60s by the legendary writer, including her experience hanging out with the LSD-addled hippies in Haight-Ashbury. Fans of the New Journalism blokes, like Tom Wolfe and Hunter S Thompson, will see that Didion knocks them all into a cocked hat. Oh, and Bret Easton Ellis is a shameless copyist of hers too.
14) To Kill a Mocking Bird (1960) – Harper Lee
Some classics you just can’t get away from. The stone-cold classic story of Atticus Finch is the classic school-taught book which most people would never go near again, but if you do, appears to have changed in meaning entirely (or maybe it’s you).
15) S.C.U.M. Manifesto (1967) – Valerie Solanas
Solanas was the women who shot Andy Warhol, and the inventor of S.C.U.M., which stands for the Society of Cutting Up Men – and this manifesto aims to overthrow the government and eliminate men. So yeah, this looks like a fun read for fellas, but actually it is, and not in a right-on ‘Hey I’m a Feminist, you should screw me’ way. It’s whip-smart, anti-authoritarian and extremely funny, as it pulls apart the behaviour with men in entirely accurate and witty ways. Self-excoriation has never been this fun.
16) Collected poems (2016) (unpublished in her lifetime) – Emily Dickinson
Short, dark, brutal, Dickinson’s poems were written in the 1800s but are perfect for our attention deficit, anxiety-riddled times. Her work into your spinal column. Check this, and how it’s the suffering in silence, unreconciled men today all over:
A not admitting of the wound
Until it grew so wide
That all my Life had entered it
And there were troughs beside-
17) In a Lonely Place (1947) – Dorothy B Hughes
Made into a famed noir by Nicholas Ray and starring Humphrey Bogart, this novel is about a ex-airman in post-WW2 Los Angeles who roams the city at night and gets involved in trying to catch a woman-hating serial killer. A precursor to Silence of the Lambs et al, it’s one of the greatest hardboiled detective fiction novels.
18) Out (1997) – Natsuo Kirino
Kirino is the leading light of a new wave of female writers of Japanese detective fiction. Her most famous book, Out, is a shocking and intense story about Tokyo factory workers who collude in the murder and dismemberment of one of their husbands, and make enemies with a yakuza. An aggressive and bizarre feminist noir, it will knock you off your feet, then chop you up into little bits.
19) The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961) – Muriel Spark
Her best known work, about a Scottish teacher who goes rogue and starts teaching her children about love and art and defying convention, much to the annoyance of the uptight headmistress, who wants her fired – but as her behaviour changes towards the girls she teaches, one of them is destined to betray her. It makes Dead Poet’s Society look like Grange Hill.
20) Geek Love (1989) – Katherine Dunn
Seek this out, it’s quite unbelievable. Set in the world of a travelling carnival it’s narrated by Olympia a hunchbacked albino dwarf, one of the results of her parents decision to breed their own freak show by altering the genes of their kids. Another one of the kids is Chick, the apparently normal baby who secretly possesses telekinetic powers. Sound familiar??
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