This list is not as diverse as I wish it could be. It’s still very white, and there isn’t a super great representation of queer and trans* folk. It sort of ended up being both a reading list for David Gilmour and a list of my favourite books by women. Writing this has been a great exercise for me, and has illustrated pretty clearly that I need to expand my own reading repertoire – I do love women writers, but I still tend to favour white, cis-gender women. Helloooooo to my own cultural bias.
I didn’t include any Alice Munro or Virginia Woolf because Gilmour says that he likes both of those authors, and I don’t have multiple books by the same author. Those were some rules that I arbitrarily made up for myself.
Please feel free to add to this list or to fangirl with me over how much you love some of these books. Fangirling is the best!
1. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Ohhhh, books about Ordinary People set against the backdrop of Serious Historical Events, you get me EVERY. DAMN. TIME.
2. Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood
The best book that I’ve ever read about the nearly-invisible cruelties that little girls practice on each other, and the lifelong fallout of that sneaky, subtle bullying.
3. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
One of the best depictions of depression and suicidal ideation in classical literature.
4. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
My friend Jesse said it best: Alison Bechdel’s memoirs are like magic. You read them, and they’re technically about her, but somehow you end up learning about yourself?
5. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Shut up, I don’t even care, I fucking love this book. DO NOT LOOK AT ME LIKE THAT.
FEMINIST KING ARTHUR, Y’ALL
6. Villette by Charlotte Brontë
I don’t care if Jane Eyre is your favourite book of all time, I swear to you that this book is better.
7. Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown
I have four words for you: Lesbian. Coming. Of. Age.
In the south.
8. Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
Oh good lord I am such a sucker for dystopian fiction it is not even funny.
9. My Ántonia by Willa Cather
Sort of like Little House On The Prairie for grownups. Except for the fact that Little House On The Prairie is totally for grownups too.
10. Chéri by Colette
In which a young, beautiful man (who loves silk robes and pearls) is kept and petted and spoiled by a woman twice his age, and then has to deal with her departure when he gets engaged to a much younger woman. Maybe one of the best role reversals in literature? Anyway I love Colette so much.
11. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
Like Jane Eyre except better, spookier and more accurate in terms of how creepy and skin-crawly the Mister Rochester character is. You guys, MISTER ROCHESTER IS AWFUL.
12. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
Probably the weirdest book I’ve ever read and that’s saying something.
13. Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg
I think this is my favourite novel about transgender experience?
14. The Butterfly Ward by Margaret Gibson
This weird little book of short stories found its way into my hands on my birthday about ten years ago. I’ve never read anything else by this author – never even seen anything else by her – but some of the stories in this book haunt me still.
15. The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
I don’t even care if you liked the movie. Suck it up and read the book.
16. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
The book that made me realize that I needed to cultivate better, stronger friendships with women. Friendships where I felt empowered instead of competitive.
17. The Woman Warrior: Memoirs Of A Girlhood Among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston
I don’t even know how you could see this book’s title and not immediately need to read it
18. The Namesake by Jumpha Lahiri
If you read this book while you are pregnant you will suddenly begin obsessively stock-piling baby names as if there might be some kind of baby name shortage.
19. The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
I read this as a very impressionable teenager and was hooked.
20. Small Island by Andrea Levy
Race and class in post-war London how does that sentence fragment not make you tingle with excitement even a little?
21. Fall On Your Knees by Ann Marie MacDonald
I have read this book so many times and it is so painfully near to my heart that I don’t even know what to say about it. Frances Piper is one of my favourite fictional characters of all time ever.
22. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Thomas. Cromwell. THOMAS CROMWELL. MARRY ME THOMAS CROMWELL.
As a post-script, I think that, as David Foster Wallace would say, this was Hilary Mantel’s way of imposing her phallus on the consciousness of the world seriously thought what does that even mean.
23. The Group by Mary McCarthy
A lovely, weirdly prescient little midcentury gem about a group of friends and how their lives diverge after college. A lot of discussion about how fucking hard it is for women to have it “all” – if that’s even possible.
24. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
If this book doesn’t give you Feelings I am pretty sure that means that you don’t have a soul.
25. The Street by Ann Petry
A single mother living on her own 1940s Harlem. Do I have your attention yet?
26. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
As if this was not going to be on this list. Have you even met my blog.
27. Clay Walls by Kim Ronyoung
Faye, a second generation Korean-American, says at one point that reading is, “just a way for me to see how other people live. I haven’t found a book yet written about the people I know.” And then Kim Ronyoung wrote that book.
28. The God Of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
This one took me two reads to love, but love it I do.
29. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
Speculative fiction gives me a total boner.
30. Push by Sapphire
Ohhh this book made me break out into a sick sweat. Maybe one of the best reminders of my privilege that I’ve ever had?
31. Memoirs Of An Ex-Prom Queen by Alix Kates Schulman
Another one that took me a while to love – I felt like the main character was so privileged and whiny. And then I realized that that was kind of the point, and also that those things didn’t take away from her experiences.
32. Caucasia by Danzy Senna
Probably the first book to really make me think about race – definitely the first time I ever questioned the idea of being colour-blind, and my first encounter with the idea of passing privilege.
33. Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
The most painfully accurate description of what it’s like to be a white, lower-middle-class girl.
34. A Tree Grow in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
I don’t even care if this is a YA book, it’s balls to the wall one of my favourite books. BALLS TO THE WALL.
35. White Teeth by Zadie Smith
One of those epic books that spans several generations and several families, except this one explores race and class in 1980s England. And it’s so unbelievably good.
36. Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff
I don’t even care that this book is super dated, it is the book that made me fall in love with historical fiction and also bromance.
37. Angel by Elizabeth Taylor (no, not that Elizabeth Taylor)
Probably the most selfishly awful, incredibly unlikeable protagonist I’ve ever encountered (and that’s including Holden Caulfield), but.
38. A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews
Heartbreaking and darkly funny and also Miriam Toews is one of the best human beings on this planet maybe.
39. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
Spoiler alert: it wasn’t so innocent. Also you will want to punch Newland Archer a bunch. But it’s good, I promise.
40. Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson
Scary Evangelical Christian Lesbian Coming Of Age. No but seriously.