A Woman’s Work: Books on Women, by Women

What better way to commemorate International Women’s Day than by dedicating your reading quota to books by women, about women?

From 1909, March has been the red-letter month for recognizing and celebrating the accomplishments of women, including their contributions to history and the very fabric of our social identities. Commemorating International Women’s Day can mean different things to different people — but for the bookworm collective, it may be just the right time to add more women authors to your personal reading list. Here are some recently published books, written by women on women from all walks of life.

Such a Fun Age

Kiley Reid

Going into 2020, Kiley Reid offers up her striking debut novel, Such a Fun Age, which has immediately (and rightly!) been cited as an exhilarating new voice in fiction. The novel — often described as a big-hearted page-turner — follows young babysitter Emira and her well-intentioned employer Alix, as they grapple with issues of race and privilege in their own particular and society-sanctioned ways. This unfolds after Emira, who is black, is very publicly accused of kidnapping her charge. The book features undeniably modern social commentary — which enrages the reader at some points, but also brims with empathy in others — just as it dwells on the many ways in which we’re guided or compelled to navigate adulthood, personal relationships and transactional arrangements.

 

Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl

Andrea Lawlor

Andrea Lawlor debuted last year with their novel Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl, a coming-of-age story told against the backdrop of ’90s queer subculture and identity politics. The novel follows hero(ine) Paul, a 23-year-old queer bartender who also happens to be a literal shapeshifter, who can transform their body and gender at will. This ability allows Paul to traverse rigid social boundaries, and on a larger scale, turns the novel into a celebration of gender fluidity. Mortal Girl skilfully answers the public’s call for more queer writing and Lawlor has responded. “I hope this book can be one book among many; a book that depicts a particular scene, a particular moment, a particular but not representative queer way of being a person,” the author says.

 

Burn It Down: Women Writing About Anger

Edited by Lilly Dancyger

Remember Gone Girl and how it exemplified a masterful display and dissection of a woman’s rage? Remember the heroine’s biting screed about being the cool girl? Burn It Down: Women Writing About Anger, edited by Lilly Dancyger, is made up of such confessions, manifestos and battle cries — a “ferocious collection” in whole. Its impressive roster of women writers include Leslie Jamison, one of our favorite essayists, who recounts how she’d always assure people that she didn’t feel anger; Lambda Literary Jeanne Córdova Prize-winner Melissa Febos, who shares how there is power in female anger; and Evette Dionne, who tears apart the “Angry Black Woman” stereotype. “Women are furious,” reads the book jacket, “and we’re not keeping it to ourselves any longer.” There’s something incredibly cathartic about the reading experience — prepare to take a highlighter to the pages.

 

Topics of Conversation

Miranda Popkey

Another debut novel here, Miranda Popkey brings the slim but emotionally hefty Topics of Conversation. The book focuses on women and “the stories they tell each other, and the stories they tell themselves”. There are words on shame and love, and infidelity and self-sabotage, in a lyrical and intelligent language that recalls the work of Jenny Offill (Dept. of Speculation and Last Things) and Lydia Davis (Can’t and Won’t and Varieties of Disturbance). The novel is almost entirely written as a woman’s conversations with other women in which 20 years of the unnamed narrator’s life are unravelled. What’s particularly impressive is that it’s about someone who isn’t super-appealing: The book’s protagonist is caught in the flux of undesirable emotional states, and she doesn’t always triumph against them. Popkey’s novel is a gratifying addition to a growing collection of works that features women who eschew conventional likeability — a cross so many literary heroines have had to bear.

 


Eyes On The Prize

The United Kingdom’s Women’s Prize for Fiction is one of the literary world’s most prestigious citations. It’s given to the best full-length novel, written in English by a woman of any nationality. So, if you resolve to read the works of more women authors, it may do you good to consult the roster of past winners. The selection includes Lionel Shriver, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ali Smith and Eimear McBride. Last year’s recipient was the widely praised Tayari Jones, for her writing in An American Marriage — the story follows the shared lives of a middle-class African American couple, following false accusations of a heinous crime.

Written by

Sasha Martinez

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