This International Women’s Day we’re celebrating the women in literature, particularly those whose work we’ve been reading over the past year in our Read of the Week feature.
Today the world celebrates International Women’s Day, recognising the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women and reinforcing the need for gender parity across the globe. Here at The Reader our workforce reflects the wider gender imbalance across the Voluntary Sector, with 63.7% female staff (a little lower than the national average of 68%) but that still stands in strong contrast with the traditional literary world.
“For most of history, anonymous was a woman.”
Were we to rummage through the hundreds of short stories, novels and poems we read in our Shared Reading groups each month we would no doubt find more male writers among the authors’s names – not because of their quality, but because, as Virginia Woolf put it, ‘for most of history, anonymous was a woman‘, and equally, women were anonymous.
Woolf states in her extended essay A Room of One’s Own, that historically, women did not have the same freedom to write as their male counterparts due to their relative poverty and restricted access to education. Women were wives, mothers, dutiful daughters but rarely writers- they were not at the same liberty as men to pursue any artistic inclinations or ambitions they might have had. Thankfully, since A Room of One’s Own was published in October 1929, things have changed but literary history still prevails as a male-dominated narrative.
This is nevermore apparent here on The Reader’s blog than in our Featured Poem series. Relying, as we do, on poetry that is out of copyright, our pool is restricted to writers who have passed away prior to 1947. And while there are many notable female writers, including Virginia Woolf, in that pool, there are many, many, many more men. But we strive to find a balance!
Thankfully our other weekly feature Read of the Week offers a greater opportunity to showcase our favourite writing from both men and women. Today we’re looking back at the women writers celebrated in this series.
O Pioneers! as recommended by Schools Project Worker, Kate:
Flaming like the wild roses,
Singing like the larks over the plowed fields,
Flashing like a star out of the twilight”
What drew me into this novel from the start was the contrast between the vast and the minute; wide American landscapes narrowed down to the smallest detail of a child’s dress. Together they paint a rich narrative picture of the land, and also the people of the novel who’ve come to make this landscape their own. Read more…
If you enjoyed reading Willa Cather’s O Pioneers! you might also like My Antonia and The Song of the Lark.
Olive Kitteridge as recommended by former Reader Leader, Alex:
“Had they known at these moments to be quietly joyful? Most likely not. People mostly did not know enough when they were living life that they were living it.”
Olive Kitteridge is made up of thirteen stories concentrating on the lives of residents in a fictional Maine town. In each of these chapters, often at the forefront but sometimes only ever in the background, is Olive Kitteridge herself, a retired seventh grade teacher. Read more…
If you loved Olive Kitteridge you might also enjoy My Name is Lucy Barton or Amy & Isabelle.
The Goldfinch as recommended by Head of Justice projects, Amanda:
“To understand the world at all, sometimes you could only focus on a tiny bit of it, look very hard at what was close to hand and make it stand in for the whole”
Exhilarating and profound, grim and beautiful, The Goldfinch is part edge-of-the-seat page-turner and part philosophical reflection. A bomb blast alters the life of the narrator who, cut loose by grief, stumbles through adolescence and young adulthood. He’s flawed and facetted and fascinating – illuminating the muddles we make and endure in life and the glimmering possibility that good can follow bad. Read more…
If you enjoyed reading The Goldfinch we think you’ll love The Secret History and The Little Friend.
Close Range: Wyoming Stories as recommended by former Reader Leader Lauren:
“…against its fixed mass the tragedies of people count for nothing although the signs of misadventure are everywhere. No past slaughter nor cruelty, no accident nor murder that occurs on the little ranches or at the isolate crossroads with their bare populations of three or seventeen, or in the reckless trailer courts of mining towns delays the flood of morning light.”
Close Range appeals to me for its superb writing – there isn’t a word in there that isn’t essential. And such superb writing gives my imagination full reign, something I appreciate in a story. But be forewarned… These stories are not for the faint-hearted. Read more…
If you enjoyed Annie Proulx’s short story collection Close Range we think you’d also like her novels The Shipping News or Barkskins.
Bodies of Light as recommended by Communications Assistant, Emma:
“The thing in her throat rises up so she can’t breathe. She heard her vocal chords roaring as she tries to suck air in … the kaleidoscope moves faster … her heart … banging on her breastbone like a fist on a window … This is it, madness”
Bodies of Light is a dark, brooding novel which manages to intertwine Pre-Raphaelitisim, the early suffrage movement, social injustice of nineteenth century working classes, mental health, struggles of postnatal depression and motherhood, and raises questions about emotional neglect and physical abuse all within the tortured mind of a young woman called Ally. Read more…
If you loved Bodies of Light we think you should also check out Sarah Moss’ Signs for Lost Children or Nightwaking.