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  • Writer's pictureScott Russell Morris


In 2019 (and really, starting even a few months before that, but not intentionally) I only read books written by women.

Writing a post like this, I feel like I should tell you some grand revelation I had during this super radical experiment, but the only revelation is that no revelation was needed. I know that there is a general, pervasive culture among some readers suggesting that what women write is somehow “women’s literature” or that, for some genres, we need to change to scope of the genre to include female authors. But if these ideas weren’t rubbish before, they certainly are now. Along these lines, a passage from Jenny Spinner’s anthology Of Women and the Essay has stuck with me all this year: “Most of [the women’s] essays fit easily into the main narrative of the development of the modern essay…The essay form need not contort itself to accept these women as they were or are.” She was talking about the essay genre only, of course, but this is likely true for all the fields commonly thought of as male-dominated. Female authors have been there all along and it isn’t a lack of quality that has kept them from our attention, but a lack of attention that has kept them from being included in the canon.

Buildings on a Cliff in Italy

That being said, most of my selections weren’t classics. My reading list is opportunistic: Since I live in Korea and I am too cheap to pay for my own books very often, my selections were mostly what I could get from the limited English library here on campus, a library app I have since lost access to, and what Amazon let me have for free (plus a few books I had already on my Kindle or brought with me to Korea). Which is to say, I mostly had access to classics (ie, white dudes) and current best sellers (still mostly men, but luckily, lots of great books to choose from!). I was intentionally trying to read just for fun, but also widely (two graduate degrees in the essay genre and I was ready to get some fantasy novels out again!). So, there are some politics, history, science, and even romance in the mix. There is a general lack of “literary fiction” because—it may be career suicide to admit this here—but I find it rather boring. I want a memoir with full honesty or I want the world to be magical, anything in between just confuses me. I only read two books of poetry, which was a bummer because I didn’t much enjoy either, but I think I could have selected better. I’ll seek out more poetry and politics this year.

Where it got difficult to read women was when I looked into specific, academic fields. For example, having recently moved to Korea, I asked historian friends for recommendations about Korean history, but only got male-written text. (To be honest, I didn’t search much for this, only went on recommendations.) I did find a book of translations of classic Korean literature with a female translator, but all but one of the original authors were male. Similarly, I am currently researching red squirrels for an upcoming project: Not a single one of the books on red squirrels has a female author, even though they are all co-authored. (Again, honesty: I think there are only three books dedicated to red squirrel ecology in English, and all three have one author in common…)

Which is to say, it’s easy to find top-notch, female-authored popular literature in any number of fields. But it is still difficult to find female authors and anthologists in a number of specialized fields. However, I am happy to note that in my field (creative nonfiction) there are LOTS of great female authored/edited texts, and in 2020 I will only be assigning female authored/edited books to my students (some are anthologies that have male authors, and I’ll still provide individual texts from men, but the books they’ll buy all have a female author/editor.)

As for a reading list, it is below. A brief list of books I really enjoyed (alphabetical by author), and then everything else, also alphabetical. There may be others I forgot to write down…

I Especially Recommend

All the Birds in the Sky, Charlie Jane Anders

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism, Robin DiAngelo

The White Album, Joan Didion

Hunger, Roxane Gay

All the Rage: Mothers, Fathers, and the Myth of Equal Partnership, Darcy Lockman

The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman, Margot Mifflin

The Beekeeper, Dunya Mikhail

Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, Caroline Criado Perez

Radical Candor: How To Get What You Want by Saying What You Mean, Kim Scott

Of Women and the Essay, Jenny Spinner

You, Me, and the Violence, Catherine Taylor

Educated, Tara Westover

The Rest

Children of Blood and Bone, Tomi Adeyem

Little Women, Louisa May Alcott

The Siren, Kiera Cass

The Mouse and the Motorcycle, Beverly Cleary

Washington Black, Esi Edugyan

Sometimes, Maria Fralick

I’ve Got My Eyes on You, Mary Higgins Clark

Faithful and Virtuous Night, Louise Glück

Thin Air, Lisa Gray

Fool’s Assassin, Robin Hobb

Fool’s Quest, Robin Hobb

Assassin’s Fate, Robin Hobb

Lab Girl, Hope Jahren

The Sun and Her Flowers, Rupi Kaur

Future Perfect: A Skeptic’s Search for an Honest Mystic, Victoria Loustalot

Flat Broke with Two Goats, Jennifer McGaha

Gulp: Adventures in the Alimentary Canal, Mary Roach

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Barbara Robinson

For Love of Politics: Bill and Hillary Clinton, The White House Years, Sally Bedell Smith

The Vine Witch, Luanne G. Smith

The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, Kate Wilhelm

The Common Reader, Virginia Woolf

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