Thursday, March 8, 2012

International Women’s Day 2012

In honour of International Women’s Day we asked some of our authors to tell us their favourite book written by a woman:

Anna Krien, author of Into the Woods and Quarterly Essay 45 Us and Them:

Marilynne Robinson's debut novel Housekeeping is, essentially, the opposite of housekeeping. Fog and dust seem to emanate from its pages, and the image of a train moving like an eel to its final resting place in a lake on a moonless night has never left me. A story of women who cannot conform to society's expectations, not because of any radical rebellion, but because their veins and bones and thoughts are so very different to the ladies in the magazines.

Nikki McWatters, author of One Way or Another (forthcoming in April 2012): 

Helen Garner's Monkey Grip for its blistering expose of torn emotions and passions. This was a book that was a beautifully candid x-ray into a character and it was one of the first truly honest books I ever read.

Amanda Lohrey, author of Vertigo and Reading Madame Bovary:

My favourite book by a woman is Mary McCarthy's greatly underrated novel, A Charmed Life. It's about an intelligent, free-thinking woman faced with a complex decision about whether or not to abort her first pregnancy. McCarthy manages to use this dilemma to mount a critique of the modern notion of what it means to be rational, and the idea that we can ever be wholly in charge of our destiny. It's beautifully written, cleverly structured and stunningly resolved.

Steve Hely, author of How I Became a Famous Novelist: 

American writer Willa Cather, whose book My Antonia is about life and a woman's greatness of spirit on the hard plains of Nebraska. People had to help each other there, and a single woman's spirit could change the world around her.

Tanya Levin, author of People in Glass Houses and Crimwife (forthcoming in October 2012):

Head under the blankets, wide eyes drinking in the torch-lit pages of Are You There God, it's Me Margaret?, a ten year old me read about a group of friends. These girls, not much different from me, were worried about periods, and what would happen, if they ever arrived, that is. Discussion that did not officially take place anywhere else in 1981 filled the chapters as they spilled out pre-teen angst, a world that is still largely ignored. And with more Judy Blume, Deenie, Then Again Maybe I Won't,  (and even Forever, but don't tell my mum) a teenage me learned more about myself and how others around me were thinking. Armed with her fearless honesty, and insight into adolescent angst and its own range of hopes, joys, fears and questions, I knew others were wondering about much the same things as me. Judy Blume has dedicated herself to fighting censorship with truth. Like no other, she has educated and enlightened generations of young women and men, bringing them closer with understanding and honest information, despite what their parents may have wanted.

Kate Jennings, author of Snake and Trouble:

The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton. A novel of manners so potent that the wretched choices of Lily Bart will haunt any reader. Clever and strong-willed, Lily is caught in a deadly briar patch: the expectations of class and gender, the character flaw of vanity. Edith Wharton's caustic social observations are tempered by humor and empathy, by a generosity of spirit -- it's this that made her a great writer. Wharton said that she shared some of Lily's faults and that writing the novel freed her from her own passivity toward convention. And, one might add, to the larger concept of fate, so easily accepted, so readily given as an excuse. From then on, Wharton bucked fate and shaped her own story.

Benjamin Law, author of The Family Law and Gaysia (forthcoming in September 2012):   

True Stories by Helen Garner. So this is probably cheating: True Stories isn't so much a book than a collection of Helen Garner's non-fiction over 25 years. But goddamn, what a collection. In these stories, Garner ventures into morgues, gunshows, hospitals, sex ed classes and her own family history. For anyone who trades in longform journalism or memoir, reading this is like taking a long bath in magnificence. People always compare Garner to Joan Didion, but I think she's a different creature altogether, with incomparable spunk, warmth, wit and intellectual claws. (Also: I love the way she forensically examines her own follies.) As a writer, I keep this book on my desk. It's as vital as a dictionary.

Alice Pung, author of Unpolished Gem and Her Father's Daughter:  

My favourite book by a woman for the last few years is The History of Love by Nicole Krauss for its origami-like ingenious plot, warm and tender telling, and such likable, lonely characters.

Rachel Robertson, author of Reaching One Thousand:

One of my favourite books is Later the Same Day by Grace Paley, a wonderful collection of quirky short stories first published 1987. I love the humour and richness of her work and her very distinctive Jewish New York voice. When I first read it at age 22, it was a revelation.  I finally realised what people meant when they used the term “voice” in talking about creative writing. I also admire Grace Paley’s lifelong activism as a pacifist and feminist. And who could resist a short story titled, “In This Country, But in Another Language, My Aunt Refuses to Marry the Men Everyone Wants Her To”?

Ryan O'Neill, author of The Weight of a Human Heart (forthcoming in May 2012):

How do you write a novel in which the main character barely appears? Virginia Woolf answers this question effortlessly in a book where Jacob's absence reflects the disappearance of an entire generation during the First World War. In the hands of another writer, this could have been a soulless exercise in constrained writing. But I love Jacob's Room because it marries a unique conceit to an extremely moving story, engaging both the head and the heart.  Once read, it is never forgotten.  

Sonia Faleiro, author of Beautiful Thing:

Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc. LeBlanc's seminal book about poverty in urban America, is told through the story of two teenage Latina girls battling for survival in the Bronx. It inspired me to write Beautiful Thing, my book on marginalised dancing girls in Bombay, and is the one book I take the time to read every couple of years to remind myself of not just what great writing is, but what great empathetic journalism is.

Tim Richards, author of Thought Crimes:

In The Freud Archives by Janet Malcolm. Tempted as I was to choose Brenda Maddox's Nora, Sylvia Plath's  Journals, anything by Alice Munro, or Eva Hornung's Dog Boy – by many lengths the best Australian novel of the past twenty years – I'll settle for Janet Malcolm's brilliant forensic study of arch seducer and iconoclast Jeffrey Masson's subversions of the Freudians in Vienna. Malcolm's magnifying glass spares no one or nothing, least of all the source of her own curiosities  and obsessions. Big characters and big themes rendered in perfect prose.

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