Don Levy

The Next Chapter: They Have Stories To Tell: On Female Authors

Don Levy

I didn’t mean to read 6 books by female authors in a row. After I read Little Women, I had planned to read Hawksmoor by Paul Ackroyd. It was the first book on the book club organized by Duncan Jones as a tribute to his dad, David Bowie but I found it a dense book to get into, despite it being short, so I picked up Mansfield Park by Jane Austen in an effort to read all 6 of her books. I’m happy but I feel I left David Bowie down.

Still, I don’t regret reading so many female writers in a row. In the era of #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, it’s hard to ignore the contribution woman have made to literature. You can’t ignore the works of the Bronte Sisters, Virginia Woolf, and Willa Cather, among others. I also think people are leaning towards other writers besides “dead white guys” like Charles Dickens, D. H. Lawrence, and Ernest Hemingway. I saw on Goodreads once a woman claiming that Saul Bellow was “a privileged white guy”, even though he was Jewish and probably felt anti-Semitism in his lifetime. Still, there are some “dead white men” whose work seems dated. John Updike comes to mind. He’s a great writer but I don’t understand his obsession with adultery. A number of years ago I read his 1967 book Couples. It takes place from the Spring of ’63 to the Spring of ’64 in the fictional New England town of Tarbox. There is adultery and wife swapping going on in this small suburban New England town. The main character, Piet Hanema, is a contractor who cheats on his wife Angela with a pregnant Southern lady named Foxy. What are the odds? It has turned me off his work

Here is are some novels by female authors you might like. I don’t think there is any wife swapping in any of them:


The Group

The Group by Mary Mc Carthy is a 1963 novel that follows 8 Vassar graduates from the class of 1933. The book must have shocked some people. In one story, Dottie Refrew looks to get a diaphragm for birth control so she can have premarital sex with her boyfriend. In another chapter, Priss Hartshorn is browbeaten by the nurses at the hospital after the birth of her son to feed him formula instead of breastfeeding him. It also deals with adultery, suicide, and lesbians. Something for everyone.


House of Mirth

House of Mirth (1908) is a classic American novel by Edith Wharton. It’s one of her famous NYC novels that take place at the turn of the century. Lily Bart is a 29-year-old socialite who hasn’t married yet. She is well connected from birth but her parents’ death left her with very little money. Time is not on her side and Lily’s indecision on who to marry leaves her to come to a very tragic end. A powerful book.


Their Eyes Were Watching God

Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) is a classic of African American literature written by Zora Neale Hurston. It follows Janie Crawford, who winds up in 2 bad marriages before she meets “Tea Cake”, a younger man she takes as a lover. They run off together to the Everglades where tragedy strikes. Tea Cake sometimes beats Janie to prove that she’s his property but still this book is worth reading because it’s a powerful look at one woman’s search for a man who will be her equal.


Out of Africa

Also published the same year was Out of Africa written by Karen Blixon, pen name Isak Dineson. I’m sure many people have seen the film with Meryl Streep but the memoir of Blixon’ s years in Keyna is a moving book worth reading.


The Namesake

Finally a book I think is a modern classic is Jhumpa Lahiri’s 2003 book The Namesake. A Bengali couple moves to America and the father names his son Gogol, after the famous Russian writer. The father has a good reason why he names his son a non-traditional Indian name. This is a great book about identity. What’s in a name anyway?


Although I have read a lot of great female writers, I know I have more work to do. I have only read only 2 books by Joyce Carol Oates and 2 books by Barbara Klingslover. There are also a lot of female writers I haven’t read. My Facebook friends suggested that I read the works of female writers I haven’t read such as Simone Dr Beauvior, Maya Angelou, Alice Munroe, Margaret Atwood, Mauve Binchy, Murial Spark, and Fran Lebowitz, among many others.

In her great acceptance speech at the Oscars she made all the female nominees stand up and she said: “They have stories to tell “. So do female writers and their work is worth seeking out and reading.