I know at least 5 people whose New Year Resolution was to read more, come March you’ve read a couple of pages of Dickens (because you feel like you have to), you carry it around in your bag to make people think you’re reading it when actually you spend most of your time scrolling through BuzzFeed articles yearning to know what side of the cheese grater your personality suits most.
I love reading, I’m always in the middle of a book. It’s a great habit to pick up on the commute to work, Saturday mornings or in the weekday evenings. I’ve picked a few of my favourite reads by incredible women that I would highly recommend to anyone thinking of reading more this year.
The Handmaid’s Tale
This is an easy read in terms of language and style. In terms of the plot and theme, maybe not so easy. It’s a great one to start on, an absolute page turner and if you haven’t seen the TV adaptation yet, you should definitely read the book first! Atwood is one of my absolute favourites, a really accessible writing style but still manages to create the haunting, complex, near distant worlds.
2. Their Eyes Were Watching God
(I’m going to say this about literally all of these) but definitely one of my favourite books. I studied this in university, it was one of those books I read and there was so much in it, it became a little project of mine. The copy I have on my book shelf is battered with highlighter marks, circled words and there are probably more Post-It notes hanging out of it than actual pages. Again, Zora Neale Hurston has a really accessible writing style, there’s no pretence here, a story about a women’s pilgrimage to find freedom in happiness in post-slavery America.
3. Written on the Body
Jeanette Winterson = hero. Couldn’t put this one down, a really interesting exploration into sex and gender. The main character is nameless and genderless which I didn’t even realise until after I’d read the book (great literature student). I love speaking to people who have read this, it seems 80% read the main character as man but I read it as a woman without even realising, it opens a great debate into what has become a huge topic these days on gender and fluidity. Also it’s an easy read and fairly short.
4. Mrs Dalloway
I just couldn’t write this blog without my main woman. This book, start to finish is a complete delight, although I probably am a little biased. If you want to know what a funny, intelligent and engaging writer can do – look no further. You might find the language isn’t the easiest to follow, Woolf was one of the first modernist writers to adopt ‘stream of consciousness’ writing, meaning you read as the narrative plays out. It’s a sort of ‘live performance’ of the characters conscious. Published in 1925, Woolf makes it pretty clear as to what to expect from the story in the first line ‘Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself’, the rest of the book is essentially her absolutely killing it and running into her ex lesbian lover.
5. Milk and Honey
A very recent collection of poetry by Rupi Kaur is enlightening and eye opening. She tackles difficult themes, keeping her writing calm and controlled. The short extracts are all you need and can be interpreted in any way you want. Great if you’re like me and aren’t the biggest fan of epic or romantic poems like Keats or Byron.
6. The Common Reader
Another Woolf classic. The Common Reader is a collection of letters and essays by Woolf injected with thought provoking theories and of course humour and sarcasm. Actually made me laugh out loud but that is also possibly because I am a saddo. If you get on with it, you should also read A Room of One’s Own.
7. The Goblin Market
I surprised myself with this one. I’m actually not the biggest fan of poetry or the Victorian era but in the midst of Dickens, Carroll and Keats, Christina Rossetti offers up The Goblin Market which includes Maude Claire and No, Thank you John that explore female relationships, homosexuality and feminism. Some of the poems can be a little difficult to follow and it certainly isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
8. A Vindication of the Rights of Women
Some would argue the absolute bible of feminist literature. A difficult read in terms of structure and language but for its legendary status, it’s a must. Wollstonecraft ‘sets the record straight’ and challenges the attitudes towards a woman’s status in the 18th century. She writes how if women had an education, then they would be able to contribute to society – it seems pretty obvious but it was hugely controversial for its time.
Mary Wollstonecraft’s second best creation, Mary Shelley, writes one of the most recognisable and iconic pieces of literature in history. I read it first when I was about 16, wasn’t impressed at all (way too cool) but I re-read it for an essay in uni and after doing some digging into Shelley’s past through her diaries, it completely changed this book for me. I’ll let you read it and do your own digging (don’t want to spoilt it!) but it is an epic yet sad semi-biographical piece of writing.
10. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
A beautiful auto-biography by Maya Angelou on overcoming racism and trauma. An accessible style if you’re looking for a book for your commute but generally a difficult read.