Read More Women

“Well, I’d read more female authors if only I knew of any.” – ancient bro proverb

So, I got the idea for this post from the wonderful Hannah while we were brainstorming what I should do for International Women’s Day.  The idea behind this post is essentially ‘if you liked x book by this male author, try y book by this female author.’  I tend to find that with people who don’t read female authors the excuses are either ‘I don’t know any’ or ‘they don’t write about the kinds of things I’m interested in,’ so we are here to remedy both of those misconceptions.

If you liked The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne, read Tin Man by Sarah Winman.

Tin Man is essentially a more compact (and more British) version of The Heart’s Invisible Furies, but they each offer the same kind of heart and heartbreak.  Set in the 20th century in Ireland and England respectively, these are both coming of age novels that feature a protagonist coming to terms with his sexuality while living in a deeply conservative society.  I didn’t think Winman would be able to break my heart with her short little novel in the same way Boyne did with his 500 page epic, but she rose to the challenge.

If you liked All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan, read Tender by Belinda McKeon.

Featuring two of my favorite contemporary Irish writers, All We Shall Know and Tender are striking, beautifully written novels about passion and obsession and different kinds of love.  If you like the feeling of near-claustrophobic tension that you get from Donal Ryan’s novels, you need to pick up Tender immediately.

If you liked East of Eden by John Steinbeck, read Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.

… I know, it’s a weird comparison on the surface, but hear me out.  Both novels are multi-generational family sagas that span the 20th century, though one takes place in the US and the other takes place in Korea and Japan.  But despite the differences, the thematic conceits of these two books are surprisingly similar, focusing on religion, family ties, and whether children are irrevocably shaped by the sins of their parents.

If you liked Bright Air Black by David Vann, read Medea by Christa Wolf.

This one’s a bit obvious: both are retellings of Euripides’ Medea.  But, the interesting thing about these two books is that their approach to this character couldn’t be any more different if they tried.  Vann’s Medea is savage, unhinged; Wolf’s Medea is composed, calculating.  Both interpretations remain fiercely loyal to the original story, in their own way, and even if you loved Vann’s approach to this character you’ll probably still be deeply moved by Wolf’s politically-driven retelling.

If you liked The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman, read The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose.

These two novels look at contemporary art through very disparate lenses, but if you’re an art lover, both are valuable reads.  The Italian Teacher is mostly set in the 20th century and focuses on the career of a fictional artist, while The Museum of Modern Love features a fictionalization of the real-life performance artist Marina Abramovic, but both novels are written by authors with clear love and passion for the subject matter, rather than using art as an underdeveloped backdrop for their stories.  If you were drawn into Rachman’s fictional melodrama, you’ll undoubtedly be riveted by Rose’s stranger-than-fiction novel.

If you liked The Overstory by Richard Powers, read Lab Girl by Hope Jahren.

I read both of these books very close to one another and I had the same problem with each of them: I don’t care about trees.  But!  The good news is that if you are into tree books, these are about as good as it gets.  The Overstory is a novel which centers on a group of environmental activists, and Lab Girl is a memoir by a research scientist, and both are written with a searing love and passion for nature that I can’t help but to admire, even if it isn’t to my own personal taste.  If The Overstory whet your appetite for this kind of story, Jahren’s memoir is a fantastic nonfiction counterpart.

If you liked On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan, read When I Hit You by Meena Kandasamy.

Both of these books are about the failure of a marriage; in one because the two parties are unable to communicate with one another, in the other because of a severe case of domestic abuse.  But the similar thread lies in the way the female protagonist of each novel has deeply internalized and given into certain social pressures that she was raised to adhere to.  Both are quiet, perceptive, hard-hitting novels about all the ways in which a society can fail women when it comes to marriage.

If you liked Grief is the Thing With Feathers by Max Porter, read The Trick is to Keep Breathing by Janice Galloway.

Both authors provide alarmingly incisive commentary on the grieving process – Grief is the Thing With Feathers is more abstract while The Trick is to Keep Breathing is much more literal, but both are deeply introspective novels that are quietly affecting.

If you liked Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman, read The Pisces by Melissa Broder.

If you like your romance novels to be all at once crude, sensual, obsessive, literary, and unorthodox, chances are you’ll enjoy both of these books.  They don’t have a whole lot in common on the surface (Call Me By Your Name is a gay romance set in the Italian Riviera; The Pisces is a strange love affair between a woman and a merman in contemporary Los Angeles), but both chronicle the destructive nature of love with razor sharp precision.  And both have lush beach settings, if you’re into that kind of thing.

If you liked The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides, read The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker.

Both are sort of dreamy, hypnotic books about something going desperately wrong in small-town America, chronicling both the phenomenon (in one, suicide, in the other, illness), and tying in social commentary that contextualizes the characters’ realities.  (I’d also add that The Dreamers is good and The Virgin Suicides is not good, if you want my personal opinion.)


Happy International Women’s Day!  Which pairs of books by a male and female author would you add to this post?  Let me know!  Suggestions absolutely welcome.  Let’s chat.

52 thoughts on “Read More Women

  1. This is such an amazing post. Yay female writers! I completely agree with your comparison of East of Eden and Pachinko — I loved both books and am on the hunt for even more multi-generational family novels!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love it!
    I really like the way you went about with the comparisons and I am so glad you decided on this post idea. I am still thinking about a SFF post like this but it will take me forever to finish writing it. I do not read that many male authors…
    I did not know that Museum of Modern Love is inspired by Marina Abramovic. I adore her and now I really want to read that book. I also own her memoir and really should get around to finally reading it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was a GREAT post idea, thank you again! I probably could have come up with others if I’d spent some more time on this, but I guess I could do a round 2 at some point. You should definitely do a SFF one. Maybe you can use authors you haven’t read? Like, you can kind of get the gist of an author’s general vibe sometimes without reading them…

      But yes, it’s inspired by her and it’s about the performance she did in MOMA in 2010 called The Artist is Present. It’s SO good. I really want to read her memoir as well. She is brilliant!

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  3. Great idea for a post! Having just finished The Heart’s Invisible Furies, I’m especially keen to read Tin Man, but all these sound interesting and their cover art’s really well done.

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    • I really hope you enjoy Tin Man! It’s less humorous than THIF too, I did forget to mention that, but it feels similarly epic in scope (despite its short length) and it’s so emotionally devastating and moving.

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    • ‘How can I fit Tender in here?!’ is a good rule of thumb for me while writing this kind of post tbh! It was SO good. Also did you see that Irish Times article about the best recent books by women where John Boyne called Tender his favorite Irish novel of the 21st century – high praise!!!

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  4. This is so good, I like how you take a read both approach instead of read one over the other. Nothing’s really coming to mind for me right now, looking at my bookshelf, I would say if anyone likes the Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, they should read some Hilary Mantel… Same kind of intellectual historical fiction. But I think Mantel is probably more commonly read than Eco these days?

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    • Ohh nice one! I actually haven’t read either author (I feel the shame deeply re: Eco since my undergrad major was Italian Lit) but I’m looking forward to both. Intellectual historical fiction is a great sub-genre. That was the other challenge of this post, choosing female-authored counterparts that are less often read than the male ones I chose…. not sure I always succeeded BUT it was a fun exercise.

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  5. What a fantastic idea for a post. I hate this weird tendency some men have to write off female authors, I’ve never understood that. Or just to say in a blanket statement that they don’t like them (a real, gross thing I’ve heard, sadly.) And your line about not caring about trees really made me laugh!

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    • Right?! I’ve heard that ‘I don’t read women’ line too, which men always sound weirdly proud of – like, congrats for writing off half the earth’s population…?

      My hatred of tree books makes me feel distinctly un-literary at times but my god do they ever bore me. Walden was probably the most excruciating reading experience of my life 😂

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      • Ugh, I know, WHY is that something they seem proud of? I can’t believe they even feel comfortable expressing that, like listen to yourself!!

        I’m right there with you about tree books…I’ve discovered a few nature-based books/writers I do like, but when it’s one I don’t get on with, it’s a boredom like no other. It’s so funny you mention Walden, I ended up in a Thoreau class in college, I just needed it to fulfill some requirement, and after the first class I was like NO WAY and immediately registered for something else to cover it 😂 I’m sorry you had to endure that!

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      • That’s so funny 😂😂 I had to read it in high school for an American Lit class and I SUFFERED. I was also in my ‘I hate Vermont I hate nature why can’t I live in civilization like everyone else in the world’ phase so reading this man waxing eloquent about trees for several hundred pages was excruciating. I am so glad you were able to bail 😂

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      • That makes so much sense, I think you have to gain some perspective on where you are before you can appreciate it, and having someone else harp on about something you don’t at all connect with is just maddening!

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      • Yes, absolutely! It wasn’t until I went to college across the country that I realized trees and mountains weren’t so bad after all 😂 But having THE BEAUTY OF NATURE crammed down my throat as a teenager was just too much.

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  6. I always, always recommend Helen Dunmore to people who say they like Ian McEwan and Graham Swift and those kind of ’80s/’90s Brit-bros; she was writing in the same time period, has the same classy restraint, and gets less of the recognition. (I also send her novel Exposure to people [men] who say they like Robert Harris.) Louise Doughty’s Black Water is an excellent book for fans of either Graham Greene or John Le Carre – same colonial-politics-flavoured sense of espionage and tension, much better female characters.

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    • I’ve never read Helen Dunmore but I feel like the universe is conspiring to get me to change that because she has been cropping up in SO MANY conversations recently. I hadn’t heard of Black Water but I’m off to look that one up – sounds intriguing.

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  7. This is such a wonderful idea for a post and a lovely way to celebrate International Women’s Day! I love family sagas, so I really need to read Pachinko soon. It sounds wonderful. I think another great recommendation for fans of East of Eden might be The Invisible Mountain by Carolina De Robertis, it’s about three generations of women in Uruguay and I loved it.

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    • Thank you!! I haven’t heard of The Invisible Mountain but that sounds like something I definitely need to look into. And yes, you should absolutely read Pachinko, I think you’d love it!!

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  8. Brilliant post! I do love the way you write about books – I always want to happily add them to my TBR with absolutely no regard to our difference in tastes.

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