This summer I set out to read only books by women. This was not hard to do, though I struggled once or twice to maintain my commitment when I came across the occasional intriguing title by a man. They could wait. I’ve spent most of my life reading books by men. Most of us have, given that the “classics” we are usually required to read in high school and college are selected from the male-dominated canon of Western literature.
Here on Words & Spirit we are especially interested in highlighting books by women. There is so much wonderful literature that it’s impossible for one person to read all of it, and our hope is that our team of staff, interns, board members, and friends can, by sharing the titles they’ve enjoyed, help you pick out a book or two you might like. Words & Spirit is a resource for readers. We also exist for writers, though.
Given the sheer volume of books released each year, and the reality of the still largely male dominated publishing industry, we still need dedicated spaces to lift up women’s work, to honor their accomplishments by reading and reviewing that work, and to engage thoughtfully with their creations. Organizations like VIDA: Women in the Literary Arts work to highlight the gender disparity in the publishing industry, and the stories they share as well as the concrete numbers they analyze each year make it clear that publishing has a long way to go. Book lovers, book writers, book editors, and everyone else involved in this vast literary landscape – we all have a long way to go.
Here is a start: a place to share the books that have delighted and moved us, made us laugh or made us cry – sometimes both in the span of a single chapter.
Here are some of the titles that made my summer days bright:
Laurie R. King, Dreaming Spies: King has taken Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and created a woman to match him in wit and wisdom every step of the way. Because of these stories that combine history, feminism, and page turning mystery, I feel confident naming King’s Mary Russell as my one of my earliest feminist role models, from the time I first read The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (the first book in the series) at 15. This latest volume lives up to the legacy King has created with previous books. Begin with this new book, or at the beginning of the series, but either way, if you like mysteries you will want to meet Ms. Russell.
Toni Morrison, God Help the Child: Morrison’s newest novel is a complicated, moving consideration of colorism. Lyrically crafted prose and an unwillingness to shy away from harsh truths make this, as always with Morrison, a must-read. Morrison’s work creates the space for readers to encounter the world in a new way, and to return to ourselves with a forever altered understanding of who we are, who we are not, and the overlapping communities we move through each day.
Carrie Snyder, Girl Runner: A fictionalized account of the 1928 Olympic games, the first in which women could compete in track events. Girl Runner is a rich, exciting, and at times heartbreaking tale of a young women making a way for herself, and of the pleasures and perils of the body itself. Girl Runner is a perfect read for any athlete, not to mention aspiring athletes, as well as those content to admire from the sidelines.
Mardi Link, The Drummond Girls: This is a story about friendship. It is a story about love, about heartbreak, and about the relationships that carry us through the highs and inevitable lows of a lifetime. The Drummond Girls made me laugh until I cried, cry until I laughed, and then it made me start looking for a beach house to rent next summer with my best lady friends, because above all else Link reminded me that friendship is a priceless gift, meant to be cultivated and held onto, no matter what comes.
Rainbow Rowell, Landline: I love a good love story. But Landline is different – Landline isn’t about two people falling in love, or at least it is not only about two people falling in love. It is the tale of two people wondering whether, or how, they can stay in love, years after that first blush has faded. Rowell beautifully weaves past and present into a rich narrative about life, about change, and about how to love when you no longer know how you got to where you are – not to mention where you might go next. Sometimes a landline to your past self is what you really need to find a way forward.