Friday, June 3, 2011

Fast Five Friday

My last post was about gender bias in reading. I was responding to a list put out by Esquire, 75 Books Every Guy Should Read. The list included one woman, which is utterly absurd.

Even more absurd were the recent comments by VS Naipaul. In an interview with the Royal Geographic Society, Mr. Naipual said there are no women writers who he considers his equal. Apparently female authors are too sentimental for Mr. Naipaul. In fact, Ol' VS insists he can tell if a book was written by a man or a woman in the first one or two paragraphs. Try this little quiz and see if you can too. Full disclosure, I took it this morning and got 5 out of 10.

All this talk of gender and reading this week got me thinking about my favorite books. I admit that many of my favorite books are written by men. Let those of us free of bias throw the first stone. I have read many great books written by women, and I will continue to search out female authors. I am, after all, a work in progress. It seems fitting that this week's Fast Five be my top five books written by women.

5) Case Histories by Kate Atkinson: This is a literary detective novel. The detective, Jackson Brodie, deals with his own family troubles as he investigates three gruesome crimes that ripped families apart.

4) Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison: We follow the protagonist, Milkman, on his journey to find his identity as a black man in 20th-century America. As the title of the book implies, Morrison's writing is truly lyrical.

3) The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri: Immigration is a central theme of this book. A Bengali couple moves to the US, and the story focuses on the religious, social, and ideological conflicts that arise between the parents and their son.

2) Geek Love by Katherine Dunn: This book is twisted, and I mean that in the best way possible. Al and Crystal run a traveling circus. When business goes bad they start breeding their own freak show. As social commentary, this book feels more relevant to me now than it did the first time I read it.

1) To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: This isn't just my favorite book written by a woman, this is my favorite book, period.

Alright people, let's hear it. What are favorite books written by women? Doesn't have to be a full top five, could be just your favorite, whatever works for you. If you happen to take the quiz, I'd also love know how you did.


  1. Not my top five, just five that come to mind while away from my bookshelf:
    To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, YES!!!
    The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst
    gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson
    The End of Alice by AM Homes
    Room by Emma Donoghue

    I'm missing loads, I'm sure. Toni Morrison's Beloved is at least an honorable mention...

  2. Again not top five but the first to come to mind:
    Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
    Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
    Tess by Thomas Hardy
    Room by Emma Donoghue
    Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
    (Hmmm, only one bloke in that lot!!)

  3. allison: I haven't read Parkhurst, Jackson, or Homes-thanks for the recommendations. I finished Room the other day, great book.

    Selina: Two votes for Room-that one seems to have struck a nerve. I have read JE and P&P, but not the Hardy or Du Maurier.

  4. Yay, Tim. But since you already named To Kill a Mockingbird, here are a few of my other favs.

    Wolf Hall by Hillary Mantel. The woman is a genius at historical fiction.
    The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant.
    Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
    The Good Earth by Pearl Buck
    The Giver by Lois Lowry

    Only five?

  5. Ooh LG Smith - The Giver is definitely a great one!

    Tim - I don't know enough about your reading style to really recommend anything to you, but Homes is very twisted and pretty gross. I'd suggest Jackson first, then Parkhurst, then test out Homes.

  6. I wanted to comment on the audacity and misogyny of the British commentator, but am really not sure what to say. This seems to be a common and recurring theme in the publishing world - even the NYTimes Book Review prefers to review books by men wiht a landslide ratio.

    It's a sad commentary on the way the world works. It's changing, but sometimes not fast enough.

  7. Sea Biscuit--Laura Hillenbrand
    Out of the Dust--Karen Hesse
    Harry Potter 1, 2, 3...--JK Rowling
    To Kill a Mockingbird--Harper Lee
    Family Outing--Chastity Bono

    Oh, I took the test and grabbed a 7 out of 10 even while reading just the first one or two lines of each passage (but I related more to the women's prose, it made me feel all tickly and sentimental inside, AND I LIKED IT.)

  8. I have too many favorites to list just five.

  9. I scored 4 out of 10... apparently I have sloppy thinking and clearly need to read more books written by men.

  10. My favorite is 'West With the Night' by Beryl Markham.

  11. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand.

    To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

    Did you ever see the movie version of the Namesake? Pretty good.

  12. Ha ha! I took the test and guessed that the first paragraph (written by Mr. Naipual himself) was a female! He's an ass. And he writes like a woman!
    So many great books, Tim. So hard to pin down my top five. To Kill a Mockingbird's on the list. In Cold Blood, The Sound and the Fury, Slaughterhouse Five, Angela's Ashes, The Sun Also Rises, The Illustrated Man... Uh oh, better stop here... not doing the female writers any favors!
    But I do read plenty of them. One of my favorites is also James's (Seattle Dad)-- Markham's West With the Night. (Its one of my favorite memoirs, too.)
    (Btw- great posts on gender bias in the literary world.) ;)

  13. Oops, neglected to say... my favorite books by female authors: Harper Lee's sole novel, Girl with a Pearl Earring, Song of Solomon, To the Lighthouse, Atlas Shrugged.

  14. Dang it! I got 5 out of 10. I was hoping for either 10 or zero. Trust my instincts or never trust my instincts. Yet again, I'm just average.

  15. Wow, I didn't know about Naipaul's comments. What the hell?? I'm shocked, but I suppose I shouldn't be.

    Great list. I haven't read Atkinson, I'm curious to check that out. Love all the Toni Morrison I've read.

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  17. (made an error the first time)
    Thank you for the list and resisting gender bias. I have one name: JK Rowling
    Anyone who can get 6th grade boys to read big, fat 600+ page books is a genius. Never heard of Naupal doing that!

  18. To Kill a Mockingbird is such a great book. I'm currently rereading Harry Potter before the final movie.