“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.
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.
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.
… 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.