BRIDGET WHELAN writer

Muse, News and Views

A list of the most influential books written by women – how many have you read? Any favourites missing and have they all earned their place…?

Here’s  The top 20 most influential book written by a woman as voted by the public on twitter (must admit I missed that campaign) with To Kill a Mockingbird at number one. It was organised by the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, the UK’s only annual book award for fiction written by a woman (and once called The Orange Prize).
How many have you read? And is your favourite here?
I’ve read 18 and by chance bought Doddie Smith’s I Capture the Castle today because I’ve heard so many great things about it. The other one I haven’t read is Middlemarch. George Elliot has kind of passed me by, although I have read and enjoyed Silas Marner.

The one that had the biggest impact on me? Probably The Handmaid’s Tale.
The one I like best – Little Women but The Golden Notebook is a close contender – I’ve never read any of Doris Lessing I didn’t like….
Best of the list (and probably best on any list) is Beloved by Toni Morrison in my opinion.
And the one I like least? Wuthering Heights. Heathcliffe is a man with serious mental health issues..
Best books written by a woman
Who should be on this list and isn’t?
Jeanette Winterson for Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, 
Edna O’Brien (but it would be hard to choose just one of her novels)
Kate Atkinson.

What about you? Got any strong likes or dislikes?

 1) To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

2) The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

3) Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

4) Harry Potter – J. K Rowling

5) Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

6) Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

7) Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier

8) Little Women – Louisa May Alcott

9) The Secret History – Donna Tartt

10) I Capture the Castle – Dodie Smith

11) The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

12) Beloved – Toni Morrison

13) Gone With the Wind – Margaret Mitchell

14) We Need To Talk About Kevin – Lionel Shriver

15) The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger

16) Middlemarch – George Eliot

17) I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou

18) The Golden Notebook – Doris Lessing

19) The Colour Purple – Alice Walker

20) The Women’s Room – Marilyn French

photo credit: The Bees Knees Daily via photopin cc

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9 comments on “A list of the most influential books written by women – how many have you read? Any favourites missing and have they all earned their place…?

  1. Luanne
    July 30, 2014

    I’ve read 15 and embarrassed I haven’t read the others, although I did try Lessing and could never get into her work.

    • bridget whelan
      July 30, 2014

      And do you feel vaguely guilty because you aren’t into Lessing? Feel that way about a lot of writers and books (but not Wuthering Heights!) and George Elliot is probably just pure laziness on my part because I am sure I would get on with her. We shouldn’t beat ourselves up – not every author is for everyone – and hey! 15 out of 20 isn’t anything to be embarrassed about!

  2. catdownunder
    July 30, 2014

    Not particularly keen on Doris Lessing myself – not sure why. Don’t care for Wuthering Heights either.
    And gave up on The time traveller’s wife – just too unlikely.

    • bridget whelan
      July 30, 2014

      I don’t think there’s any wrong with The Time Traveller’s Wife that a good editor couldn’t fix – just too long. Whole middle section that’s pretty repetitive. Or do I want things to be be too zappy…?

  3. Lane Ashfeldt
    July 31, 2014

    Here’s one that is not too long – Bonjour Tristesse by Francois Sagan (they kept the French title in translation). Bit of a period piece now but then some of these are even more so. And how about ditching Little Women in favour of one of Kathy Acker’s books… maybe Blood and Guts in High School (1984)?

  4. bridget whelan
    July 31, 2014

    I don’t know either of these books – thank you so much for the recommendations. The list is a bit dated, isn’t it? A bit nostalgic…

  5. Rachel Rose
    August 1, 2014

    I prefer Persuasion to Pride and Prejudice; I find Maya Angelou quite egotistical: my all time favourite novel is Possession; I really like Jojo Mayes – but maybe she’s not deep. No Virginia Woolf? I like some of the later Louisa May Alcott series e.g Good Wives; and what about Anne of Green Gables, if we’re going with children’s books? I found the Women’s Room quite dreary – definitely too long; I did read the Golden Notebook as a teenager, but not sure I’d have the patience for it now – but I do love some of Lessing’s other novels like The Summer Before the Dark. One of my favourite authors is Ursula K. Le Guin – I found her novels mind-stretching – my 17 year old son is just beginning the Dispossessed – a novel I re-read at least once a decade – and I think influenced my adult choice to live in Community. And how about some Crime Fiction – the alphabet series with Kinsey Millhone as the detective? And I love Isabelle Allende, and Maxine Hong Kingston, who opened my eyes to other cultures. I could go on…. interesting topic…R

  6. bridget whelan
    August 2, 2014

    You are right!! How could I have missed it – no Virginia Woolf!!!
    If this is about works that influenced readers and writers then she has to be up there…and women writers have excelled in both the magic realism and fantasy genres.
    And as for gritty who-dun-its. Well, that’s almost a feminist genre all by itself from Agatha Christie and P.D. James to Patricia Highsmith and Val McDermid:and many, many more.
    And what does influence really mean?
    Yes, I love Jane Austin but probably the women who have influenced me have been closer to home…more integral to whom I am…a Kate Bush song…? An Eda O’Brien sentence, a Maeve Binchey sensibility..;and then something left field like a lyric from a 12th century pastoral by anon (who must have been a woman, so hard-working, so self-effacing…)

  7. jeansasson
    September 8, 2014

    All are wonderful choices and great books…

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