But What If Instead You Didn’t Read Another White Dude

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So it’s Women’s History Month, and you’d like to read some female authors. “But where do I start?” You cry. Your high school reading list was a long line of white dudes and your college syllabi weren’t all that different, and you can only reread Pride and Prejudice so many times. It’s okay: we’ve got you covered. As a starter pack, here’s a few famous books by male authors, paired with a book by a female author you could read instead.


Jack Kerouac, On the Road ? Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

Kerouac’s famous stream-of-consciousness ode to the beat generation is one of the classic travel narratives of American literature. Solnit also contemplates travel, but from a very different perspective. Her book addresses the issues of wandering, being lost, and the uses of the unknown. Less a work of theory than a conversation with a friend, Solnit draws to the heart of what compels us to wander – “a series of peregrinations, leading the reader to unexpected vistas.” (New Yorker) 


Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms ? Djuna Barnes, Nightwood

Ernest Hemingway’s first novel is about the romance between an expatriate ambulance driver and an English nurse, thinly based on his own experience during World War I. Nightwood, published in 1936, is also a modernist novel focusing on Robin Vote and the American Nora Flood, two women seeking inner peace in their relationship with each other. Djuna Barnes dwells on both the glory and isolation that come with being an outsider, and her novel is also based partly on Barnes’ own life.


Jonathan Franzen, Purity ? Rachel Cusk, Outline

Franzen’s most recent novel focuses on the journey of young woman Pip (real name Purity) and her journey to figure out her identity. Rachel Cusk’s novel, told in ten conversations, draws a spare portrait of a novelist teaching creative writing in Athens, seeking to come to terms with a tragedy in her past. Her elegant prose and highly intelligent writing create a compelling portrait of how we hide ourselves from others.


Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian ? Gil Adamson, The Outlander

Like Cormac McCarthy’s dark, hyper-violent Western, The Outlander takes place in the early 19th century in southern Alberta. About a woman who flees into the wilderness after murdering her husband, Adamson also dwells on the hardships and brutality of the American West, but from the point of view of a female protagonist trying to escape her vengeful pursuers, retreating ever deeper into the wilderness of both the mountains and herself.


John Updike, Rabbit, Run ? Elizabeth Strout, My Name is Lucy Barton

Updike is well known for writing portraits of the lives of the small town middle class. My Name is Lucy Barton is a book about the relationship between an estranged mother and daughter and the complicated love between them. Her style is undramatic and never sentimental, focusing on that which is often unspoken and only implied to create a subtle portrait of two small town women.


Norman Mailer, An American Dream ? Joan Didion, Play It As It Lays

Frequently both called authors of “creative nonfiction”, Norman Mailer’s book follows a decorated war-hero as he descends into murderous insanity, while Joan Didion writes about an unfulfilled New York actress telling her story from a psychiatric institute after a mental breakdown. Joan Didion dwells compellingly on themes of alienation and the breakdown of the elite, and the disintegration of American culture and morals.


Charles Bukowski, The Pleasures of the Damned, Poems 1951-1993 ? Anne Sexton, The Complete Poems

Anne Sexton’s deeply personal, confessional poetry can be compared with Bukowski’s writing on his relationships with women, alcohol, and writing. Anne Sexton’s poetry was frequently daring, dwelling on taboo topics such as abortion, menstruation, adultery, and drug addiction in a dramatic, sometimes rough voice.


John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath ? Carola Dibbell, The Only Ones

In the 30s, John Steinbeck addressed economic injustice in his story of a family of Dust Bowl migrants struggling to make their way. Carola Dibbel writes a modern day story grappling with modern inequality, set in a near future plagued by disease and disparity, centering around a woman who finds herself at the mercy of dubious experimentation just to survive.


Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land ? Octavia Butler, Lilith’s Brood

Instead of picking up Robert Heinlein’s science fiction story about a strange man from Mars who teaches Earthlings his customs, try Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis Trilogy (published in one volume as Lilith’s Brood) about Lilith Iyapo and the Oankali, an alien race seeking to save the Earth by merging with mankind, and the struggles of humankind of maintain their own culture and identity while mercing with another species. Lilith’s Brood exhibits all of Butler’s deep understanding of human strengths and flaws.


George R.R. Martin, A Song of Ice and Fire ? Robin Hobb, Farseer Trilogy

An epic fantasy that, like the A Song of Ice and Fire series, features complex and treacherous politics and deeply flawed characters, Robin Hobb’s series tells the story of a prince’s bastard son, trained as an assassin, who finds himself caught up – and overwhelmed by – the intrigues of the powerful people around him – all while the strange menace of the Red Ship Raiders continues to threaten the Six Duchies.

Signal boost for women.