A year of reading women

365 days of women's lit

The story so far

with 19 comments

When the bongs sounded at midnight on New Year’s Day 2011, I was half way through Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. I mean, not literally right at that moment. Right at that moment, I was staggering around my friend Oli’s living room in Leytonstone, swigging something fizzy and aiming bleary kisses at some of my nearest and dearest. But upstairs, in my rucksack, was a copy of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall with a bookmark stuck somewhere in the centre pages.

I don’t know if you’ve come across a copy of Wolf Hall, but if you have you’ll know that it’s a serious hunk of tree. A doorstop. A tome, if you will. And as such, it ain’t the sort of reading matter you can whip through in an hour on your morning commute. In fact I was several weeks into the new year and several travel cards down before I turned the final page and read the last words (‘Wolf Hall’, in case you were wondering).

By that stage my birthday had been and gone, bringing with it a Kindle from the boy (lucky old me). I decided to take advantage of the rock-bottom classics prices to fill in a few gaps in my literary education and downloaded Iris Murdoch’s The Black Prince, followed by Stella Gibbons’ Cold Comfort Farm.

By the time I had made my way through these, February was under way and it occurred to me that I had spent the first month of 2011 reading exclusively women. Also, that this was really unusual for me: despite being a woman writer myself, I probably read four male authors for every female and have to confess to the vestiges of a sneaking, ingrained suspicion (where it comes from, I’m not quite sure) that maybe we girls just aren’t as good when it comes to picking up a pen.

So I made it my mission to devote 2011, the last year of my twenties, to reading books by women and trying to see what we have got to say to the world. Some of the books will be things that I have wanted to read for ages, others will be things I stumble across by chance (oh, and if you have any suggestions, please let me know). This is by no means systematic or scientific, but it will be my honest thoughts on women’s lit as I find it. I reserve the right to be partial, provocative and wrong.

About me

I graduated from Cambridge University with a first in English Literature and went on to do a master’s in Creative Writing at UEA. I worked for the Victorian Society, a heritage charity, for nearly four years before doing a course in sub-editing at the London College of Communication and jumping into life as a freelance writer and sub. Credits include features for the Australian, BBC Music Magazine and the South London Press, and I now work mostly on contract magazines at the Guardian.

I published my first novel, A Breathless Hush in the Close, through youwriteon in December 2008 and am now getting to grips with novel number two. Alongside this, I work as a freelance choral singer and soloist, appearing regularly as part of a professional octet at St Columba’s Church in Knightsbridge.

Picture: RobW_

Written by londonchoirgirl

March 18, 2011 at 10:19 pm

19 Responses

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  1. Well, you commented on my blog today, and perusing yours makes me think we are kindred spirits in more ways than one. I am in the midst of Wolf Hall right now – iPad version, so however large the tome, it weighs the same. Although I have read gaggles of books about the Tudor period, I find the perspective in Wolf Hall interesting. We’ll see how I feel by the time I get to the end. Thanks for stopping by my blog.

    Andra Watkins

    August 2, 2011 at 1:45 pm

  2. Hi, I’ve also come to your blog as a result of a comment on mine. I’ve enjoyed reading some of your reviews. Will doubtless be back. 8o)

    pictfamily

    August 5, 2011 at 9:18 pm

  3. Do you read YA lit by women? You may want to try Corvus, my second novel

    Lee Lowe

    August 6, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    • Hi Lee, thanks for the suggestion. Can’t say i’ve ventured into YA lit much, but perhaps I should give it a go…

      londonchoirgirl

      August 8, 2011 at 11:55 am

  4. May I suggest reading pretty much anything by Susan Cooper or Mary Stewart? Two women authors I’ve highly enjoyed.

    stuartblessman

    August 24, 2011 at 3:57 am

  5. Hi there,
    If you haven’t already, I’d recommend reading some Southern Gothic literature. It’s probably particularly noteworthy in terms of your project because it’s one of the few areas of twentieth century literature (that I can think of, anyway) where women writers have had (and are still having) as much impact overall as male ones. The big three are probably Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird, 1960), Carson McCullers (The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, 1940) and Flannery O’Connor (Wise Blood, 1952; A Good Man is Hard to Find, 1955). Of the three, I confess I’ve only read O’Connor so far (the other two are in my book queue) – I’d recommend her short stories most of all, in particular the collection ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find’. All three of them had pretty interesting lives, too, if you’re interested in writer’s bios.
    p.s. was interested to read your thoughts on The House of Mirth – that’s in the queue also. I should maybe bump it up a few places in your honour…

    David

    September 5, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    • Thanks David. I’ve reader the Harper Lee and the Carson McCullers (both great), but not the Flannery O’Connor. On the list it goes (am definitely going to have to up my pace before the end of the year!).

      Hope you enjoy the Wharton. Well worth a read.

      londonchoirgirl

      September 5, 2011 at 2:52 pm

  6. I think this is a really lovely idea for a blog and will definitely be keeping a watch out for new posts!

    bundleofbooks

    September 9, 2011 at 10:30 pm

  7. Are you going to read any Margaret Atwood? I’ve only read The Handmaid’s Tale, but The Blind Assassin is on my to-read list.
    Also a big fan of Diana Wynne Jones.

    I should take on this challenge some year. To date, I’ve read 41 books, only 9* were by female authors (a tenth book was translated by a woman).

    Beth

    October 5, 2011 at 7:05 pm

    • Thanks Beth, I’ve read quite a bit of Atwood before, so will probably give her a miss this year. Have never read Diana Wynne Jones, though, so I’ll add her to the list… (got to up my pace once my exams are over next week)

      londonchoirgirl

      October 5, 2011 at 7:40 pm

      • Diana Wynne Jones wrote mostly YA fantasy, but I love her books regardless. I have to recommend Howl’s Moving Castle–it’s one of my favorite books.

        Beth

        October 6, 2011 at 12:03 am

  8. Read Hen’s Dancing by Raffaella Barker. Nicely humorous with a sparse, poetical quality that is a pleasure to read.

    Bridget F

    October 18, 2011 at 6:37 pm

  9. Just found your blog via mine, and LOVE the concept! I know it’s late in the year, so perhaps your to-read list is full (isn’t it always?), but I’d strongly suggest GILEAD by Marilynne Robinson. Brilliant. Stellar. Beyond anything I’ve ever read. (Even if you’ve read HOUSEKEEPING, try this one!)

    It explores our humanity, what forgiveness and reconciliation really mean–and really take–and makes the ordinary elements of life, from the water spouting from a sprinkler to a little boy’s favorite shirt, absolutely extraordinary.

    youngmarriedmom

    October 18, 2011 at 7:42 pm

    • Thanks. Well, I do have lots of recommendations, but there’s always room for more. I’m likely to have a bit more time over the coming months as I’ve just finished a diploma, so I’m going to try to get through as much as possible. Watch this space…

      londonchoirgirl

      October 19, 2011 at 7:19 am

  10. Thank you for your advice on my blog. I think the theme of your blog is an excellent idea and I am inclined to agree with your sneaky, ingrained suspicion (which also applies to female stand-up comedians for some reason) and again, I have no idea where this has come from… Maybe reading works by female authors is the way to go to investigate this further. :)

    awritepalaver

    October 20, 2011 at 9:06 am

  11. Hello, I bounced over here through a comment you left on the guardian recommending Atmospheric Disturbances – I’m just planning to embark on a grand reading project for 2012, and I’m looking for good books to read. 2011 was a bit of a let down for me in terms of reading (my own fault of course) so I am attempting to read 40-50 books next year. Not all women, just what seems worth putting the time into. I hope to pick up a few good ideas here!

    schietree

    December 14, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    • Good to hear from you. I’ve found blogging about what I’m reading is a great way of sticking to a programme and also picking up some exciting ideas for books to read – I discovered the Galchen through a comment someone left on my blog. In fact, I’ve enjoyed the whole thing so much that I’ve set myself a nutty challenge for next year: trying to read a book from every country in the world (http://ayearofreadingtheworld.com/)… Good luck with your plans

      londonchoirgirl

      December 14, 2011 at 4:08 pm


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