For Feminist Book Fortnight I really wanted to write about the female writer, or book written by a woman, which has most inspired me but, truth be told, I struggled. Enid Blyton was the writer who made me fall in love with stories. Jodi Picoult is the writer whose books I always pre-order and eagerly anticipate. Cecelia Ahern always makes me cry, Jane Harper keeps me on my toes and Sarah Knight makes me want to stop giving a fuck and make shit happen. But Sylvia Plath was the first writer I came across where I was also fascinated by her real life and its impact on her work. She didn’t just write; she practically bled onto the page. Re-reading The Bell Jar (my most re-read book) at different stages of my life has only intensified my love of her work. From a teenager on the cusp of her GCSEs to a graduate coming out the other side of depression, the book’s impact on, and relevance to, my life has evolved over time.
I’m always interested to know which books are important to other readers and so I asked a few book bloggers and writers if they’d like to contribute to this post.
Jo from EditsOfJo
Nasty Women is a collection of essays that address what it is and what it means to be a woman in the twenty-first century. Published by the fabulous 404 Ink, Heather McDaid and Laura Jones, the collection was put together in response to the election of Donald Trump to the US Presidency. The book aims to make a stand against this and create a platform for voices speaking out against the hatred across the world and to demonstrate that real experiences still matter.
It is a challenging read but is thoroughly thought-provoking and hugely inspiring – the contributors tell their stories and explain their perspectives with such openness that it cannot fail to affect readers. The range of experiences are so diverse, covering subject matters like sexuality, race, religion and gender to name but a few – all things that are so incredibly relevant in 21st century society. Perhaps the most moving essay was Jen McGregor’s Lament: Living with the Consequences of Contraception. For me, this was one of the most powerful essays in the book – reading McGregor’s sense of betrayal by an act which was supposed to be liberating and freeing was difficult but also interesting to read.
A really brilliant read and one I would highly recommend.
Kaite from My Way by Starlight
Several years ago, one of my best girl friends recommended a book. It was Patricia (or Patty to those of us who’ve followed her website for years) Briggs’ first book in her Mercy Thompson series. Urban fantasy liberally sprinkled with smart alec responses, supernatural creatures, and one of the best protagonists I’d ever read. I then read the majority of the rest of Patty’s books as fast as I could find them. Whether urban or high fantasy, what shines to me is the humanity in her characters. She writes amazing women who have interesting professions (mechanics, soldiers), real worries (like paying the bills), and are flawed enough for readers to identify with them. However, what shone to me is that the strongest trait of these women is their tenderness, their empathy, and their love of their family.
In my formative years this spoke to me. While these heroines still went on amazing adventures, and kicked-butt and took names, the reason they were loved and worth reading was their gentler traits. It also spoke to me that these characters were hard working, and placed in areas near where I grew up. She also beautifully weaves our world, European myths, and Native American folklore together. I think the world should be filled by many more characters like those Briggs had dreamed up, who bring humor and love into their lives.
Nikki from Saturday Nite Reader
I started reading Jodi Picoult in 2006 when my friends read The Pact and said I should too. I wasn’t the avid reader I am now but picked up a book here and there. I read The Pact in a few days (wasn’t like me at all) and moved quickly onto My Sister’s Keeper – after those two novels I was forever hooked (this was the start of my love for reading). I have read all of Jodi’s books, except one Second Glance which is on my TBR this year! I needed to have all her books in hardcover and they are now the focal point of my bookshelf. I have rummaged used bookstores, Amazon and eBay to find every single last one. Why is she so important to me? Her stories take current events and provide multiple perspectives and arguments from both sides: her stories make you think and there is a level of empathy to gain for characters you may not agree with. Her stories always pull at the heart strings and there is more often a twist involved. She keeps me on my toes and can’t write a bad book in my eyes. I certainly have my favorites, but anything by her is worth a reread.
Author Kathleen Jowitt
‘Can girls be chauffeurs?’ Petrova Fossil asks in Ballet Shoes. ‘Lots are,’ comes the reply.
This is the 1930s, and the Fossil girls have more agency than almost any female character in children’s literature before, and plenty others since. They choose their own surname and take ownership of their own talents in their own right. ‘Nobody can say it’s because of our ancestors.’ Even where a talent can be attributed to genetics, it comes from the female line – Posy’s dancer mother. They take responsibility: they know that they are going to have to earn their own livings, and they know that it’s going to take hard work, money, and luck. And they’re aiming at the history books.
Ballet Shoes gives us a world where girls can be chauffeurs, women can be academics, and men are useful to have around the place, but can’t necessarily be relied upon. And for eighty years it’s been sitting on little girls’ bookshelves telling them that they can do anything.
Re-reading Streatfeild’s books as an adult, I’m struck by the sheer quantity of unpaid labour that is unstintingly devoted to talented children and to their education and training. The Academy’s fees are repaid from the girls’ earnings, but Doctor Smith and Doctor Jakes are giving their time and expertise for free, and Nana (like many of Streatfeild’s other Nana characters) has willingly gone without wages for years. It’s striking, too, how much of this unpaid labour is performed by women. ‘Twas ever thus. But at least in Streatfeild girls are always considered to be worth the investment.
Kathleen Jowitt is an author and trade union officer. You can find her at http://www.kathleenjowitt.com, and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @KathleenJowitt
Do join the conversation in the comments below: what book/writer has most inspired/influenced you?