Female Authors I Should Read?

Does anyone have any recommendations for female writers I should read?
This seems an odd question, perhaps, but I’d guess that less than five percent of the books I own are written by women, and I really need to change that. I’m not consciously discriminating against female authors, but I must be doing so unconsciously, and that’s a bad thing both for me and for those writers I’m ignoring.

Partly, that’s because of the type of stuff I read. Recently, I’ve mostly been reading books about science, early 20th century political essays, stuff tangentially related to Doctor Who, and hard science fiction, none of which are fields that are especially dominated by women.

As a guide to what I’m currently reading, I’m currently in the middle of eight different books, some of them books I’ve read many times before:
Ahistory by Lance Parkin
Some Remarks by Neal Stephenson
Newtons Sleep by Daniel O’Mahony
The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes
The Clicking Of Cuthbert by P.G. Wodehouse
Utopia Of Usurpers by G.K. Chesterton
Causality: Models, Reasoning And Inference by Judea Pearl
and a collection of Greg Egan short stories

These are all, in their own different ways, very ‘masculine’ books, but they’re the kind of books I like. Does anyone have any suggestions as to books by women that might be to my taste? I tend to read for ideas first, prose style and plot second, and character development very, very far down the list…

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20 Responses to Female Authors I Should Read?

  1. Paddy says:

    I read Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson a few months back (on Phil Sandifer’s recommendation). Not a bad one, in my hallowed opinion.

  2. S. Barrios says:

    i’m a yooge fan of Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt / it does not concern deranged criminalesque enterprises and features a, eh, open “confessional” tone. in short, it is like nothing else she wrote and, quite fittingly, was originally published pseudonymously. and though you’ve likely read it, Kelly Link’s Stranger Things Happen. and, gosh, anything by Anna Kavan, the British Modernist who slipped thoo the cracks ..

  3. prankster36 says:

    It’s a fantasy book, so it may not be your bag, but I have reservations about the genre too, yet I really enjoyed Susannah Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. It’s got a level of density and conceptual focus that you find in good SF, rather than being the usual kind of epic slog. I’d describe it as sort of a cross between David Foster Wallace and Neil Gaiman, done as a Victorian-era pastiche.

    A comic rather than a prose book, but Carla Speed McNeil’s “Finder” is one of the great unsung treasures of the indie comics scene. She calls it “anthropological SF”, though it’s actually not even close to being hard SF; the world she creates is more fantastical and comic book-y and tends towards being a warped satire of our world, but the focus is squarely on people, usually in the form of rather intimate character studies set against this surreal backdrop. What I really love about it is the level of formal and narrative invention on display–it strikes me as being up your alley.

    • S. Barrios says:

      (this sounds *fantastic* / what is a recommended entry-point for the Finder novice? thanks !)

      • Thoapsl says:

        I second the suggestion of Finder, it’s excellent. The first thousand or so pages (comprising several separate stories, with related continuity but also very readable separately) were recently re-released as “The Finder Library Volume 1” & “The Finder Library Volume 2” – good value, well worth it!

        For other women writers, I imagine you (Hickey) might like Scarlett Thomas’s “The End of Mr Y”: the blurb includes the phrase “psychokinetic metaspace”.

        Plus I’d always recommend classics like Daphne Du Maurier (The Birds, Rebecca), Virginia Woolf, Carson McCullers, Wuthering Heights … and poetry by Gertrude Stein (experimental linguistic deconstruction) and Dorothy Porter (narrative poetry), if you’re willing to give that sort of thing a shot. Or just randomly wander through a bookstore? (Also, keep in mind that a fair number of women writers get pigeonholed as ‘Young Adult’ when they’re not necessarily that…)

        • Holly says:

          Scarlett Thomas is an excellent suggestion; I have “The End of Mr. Y” and another of hers (I think it’s called “The End of the Universe” or something?) and I just adore both of them; I’ll try to make Andrew read them :)

    • Holly says:

      We have got Jonathan Strange &c, and it is very good; I can highly recommend it.

  4. Rachel Kate says:

    Hm — it’s tricky for me because your interests are in the exact opposite order of mine, but two female fiction authors I’m quite fond of who might be worth looking into are Jeanette Winterson (Sexing The Cherry is my favorite) and Octavia Butler (I haven’t read enough of her work yet to make a specific recommendation, but I’ve loved what I’ve read so far). Oh! And Margaret Atwood if you haven’t tried her work already (Cat’s Eye is my favorite, but I haven’t read The Handmaid’s Tale yet)

  5. Tam says:

    Like you, I mostly read books by blokes, but female authors I like include Patricia Highsmith, (who’s an acquired taste but very good at mapping out the nastier parts of the human psyche and showing how normal people can justify doing very bad things to themselves) and Doris Lessing, (one of the best chroniclers of the events of the 20th century). And, I’m not sure if it’d be to your taste, but my very favourite book is ‘The Worst Date Ever’ by Jane Bussmann, (who wrote stuff like Smack the Pony and South Park) which simultaineously manages to be the funniest and most heartbreaking book I’ve ever read

  6. flipdog says:

    I’m currently reading Doris Lessing ‘The Sirian experiments: report by Ambien II of the five.’ I would never have considered it but that it was recommended by Robert Anton Wilson in the same sentence as a recommendation for VALIS by Phil Dick (I’ve got the latter already). It’s a very interesting book, and it has a lot of good ideas.

  7. Wesley says:

    I’m seconding the recommendation of Octavia Butler; start with Dawn or Wild Seed. Ursula Le Guin would also be an obvious choice for SF. In the same genre I recently enjoyed God’s War by Kameron Hurley (which kept my attention despite being set in the kind of grim world that usually turns me off) and My Dirty Little Book of Stolen Time by Liz Jensen (a time-travel novel with a unique and often very funny voice). You might also try The Slynx by Tatyana Tolstaya.

    In Doctor Who, J. T. Colgan’s Dark Horizon was much better than I expected given the new series books’ track record.

    Beyond that I’m not sure what to suggest in your chosen genres–lately I’ve mostly been reading history, detective novels, and any fantasy that isn’t remotely “epic” or “urban”.

  8. Jennie says:

    I second (or third) Octavia Butler and Margaret Atwood. Also seconding Ursula Le Guin, has some good hard sci-fi in among her fantasies. Tanith Lee wrote some stuff you might like (including Blakes 7)

  9. Octavia Butler – Parable of the Sower, being one I would personally recommend; Ursula leGuin (at least Left Hand of Darkness); Anne McCaffrey maybe in a small dose (The Ship Who Sang for an example of her SF); avoid Margaret Attwood if at all possible (yes I know, a controversial assertion if ever there was); favourite female SF author – Katherine McLean who wrote in the 1950s and 1960s, part of the whole Asimov, Heinlein wave and really should be a lot better remembered than she is – SH based on games theory of all things: a real talent.
    Also Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein obviously, except I would hope you’ve already read that.

  10. Debi Linton says:

    You say Sherlock Holmes, and all I can think is that if you’re reading early 20th century literary ancestors of Batman, then you should probably add The Scarlet Pimpernel to that.

  11. Karl says:

    Already recommended, I’ll endorse Octavia Butler (I’d start with Parable of the Sower) and Susanna Clarke. Maybe Margarat Atwood and Ursula LeGuin – I like them, but they do tend to be love them or hate them authors, for LeGuin try Left Hand of Darkness.

    Others in the SF/fantasy fields which is most of what I read:

    Mary Doria Russell – read Sparrow, a book about a first contact scenario going horribly wrong, truly excellent
    Emma Bull – urban fantasy, I especially liked Territory set in the Wild West.
    Elizabeth Moon – hard SF
    Lois McMaster Bujold – hard SF, also the fantasy Chalion series which is absolutely awesome
    Sharon Shinn – fantasyish SF, similar to Anne McCaffrey, but I like Archangel better than anything than McCaffrey has written.
    Paula Volsky – non-traditional fantasy, try Illusion set during the French revolution
    Vonda McIntyre – more non-traditional fantasy, try The Moon and the Sun set during the time of Louis XIV
    Kage Baker – time travel
    Naomi Novik – Napoleanic fantasy
    Audrey Niffeneger – The Time Traveler’s Wife, more pop fiction than SF, but I thought it was good.
    Madeleine L’Engle – A Wrinkle in Time series if you missed them as a kid, stands the test of time.

    Other fields:

    For classics if you didn’t have to read them for school the Bronte sisters are worth reading, especially Jane Eyre.

    African-American fiction forms its own marginalized genre, if you’d like a taste try some Alice Walker (A Color Purple is well worth reading) or Gloria Naylor who isn’t quite as well known but also excellent (I liked Mama’s Day and Baileys Cafe).

  12. Karl says:

    as a P.S., one of my favorite web comics is female authored,

  13. Liz W says:

    In the science category, I have Natalie Angiers’ “The Canon” and “Natural Obsessions: Striving to Unlock the Deepest Secrets of the Cancer Cell” on my to-read list. This list of science books by women might also help: http://somanybooksblog.com/2011/12/19/science-by-women-the-list/.

    On early 20th-century politics, Emmeline Pankhurst’s “My Own Story” is worth a read and available as a free e-book, as are some of Millicent Garrett Fawcett’s books. You could also try Christabel or Sylvia Pankhurst.

    For SF, the classic recommendation would be James Tiptree Jr. (Alice Sheldon), and see also the suggestions at http://www.mikebrotherton.com/2009/03/21/women-writing-hard-science-fiction/. I’ve also heard good things about Madeline Ashby and Tricia Sullivan.

    For “tangentially related to Who”, the first things that come to mind are Mags Halliday’s and Kelly Hale’s Faction Paradox novels, but I’m guessing you’ve either already read those or already decided they’re not for you. Several people have also recommended Kate Orman’s Bernice Summerfield books to me, but I haven’t got round to trying them yet.

  14. Tony Harms says:

    There is a lot of stuff here and i havent had time to go through it all and know that im not duplicating.
    I would suggest Hilary Mantel with her two books about Thomas Cromwell and if you want “oooooooofantasyoooooo” her “back to black” . Fact is that “fantasy” is a self limiting genre – for example, I would suggest “the Tombs of Atuan” if you really havent read any Ursula Le Guin (hard to believe). OK, what about Dion Fortune, still available from libraries and someone who actually knew what they were talking about? or if its mainstream, Jane herself (bless the god who made her and all the things she made). I am keen on Mary Renault for many reasons – and if you are keen on politics Ayn Rand ( Read “We the Living” first so you can see this is a real novelist before you read the debatable books). The fact is that Wimmen are actually the best writers there are – all the way down the line.

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