Are Books By Women Just a Bunch of PC Nonsense?

John Podhoretz is unhappy:

Even though this Esquire list is more than a year old, I couldn’t help myself. I clicked the link, expecting to find a wild list of obscure femino-socialist tracts that no one in the real world has ever read. Instead I got something…surprisingly ordinary. I’ll break the Esquire list into two lists. Here’s list #1. Every one of them is very well known, and most are part of the standard literary canon:

  1. The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton
  2. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
  3. As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner
  4. Beloved, Toni Morrison
  5. The Collected Stories of Katherine Mansfield
  6. The Color Purple, Alice Walker
  7. The Complete Poems, Emily Dickinson
  8. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
  9. Fun Home, Alison Bechdel
  10. Giovanni’s Room, James Baldwin
  11. The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
  12. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  13. The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
  14. Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh
  15. Heartburn, Nora Ephron
  16. In Cold Blood, Truman Capote
  17. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
  18. Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman
  19. The Liars’ Club, Mary Karr
  20. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
  21. Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert
  22. Mason & Dixon, Thomas Pynchon
  23. Middlemarch, George Eliot
  24. Moby-Dick, Herman Melville
  25. The Neapolitan Novels, Elena Ferrante
  26. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  27. Parting the Waters, Taylor Branch
  28. Play It As It Lays, Joan Didion
  29. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
  30. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark
  31. Ragtime, E.L. Doctorow
  32. Selected Stories Of Alice Munro
  33. Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen
  34. The Stories Of Vladimir Nabokov
  35. Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Joan Didion
  36. Sula, Toni Morrison
  37. Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
  38. Things Fall Apart, Chiunia Achebe
  39. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
  40. To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf
  41. Tristram Shandy, Laurence Sterne
  42. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe
  43. The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson
  44. The White Album, Joan Didion
  45. Underworld, Don DeLillo
  46. A Wrinkle In Time, Madeleine L’Engle

Here’s list #2. Some of these are obscure, while some are just lesser-known works by famous authors. Some of them I haven’t heard of, so I can’t judge them:

  1. Autobiography of Red, Anne Carson
  2. Bad Behavior, Mary Gaitskill
  3. The Ballad Of The Sad Café, Carson McCullers
  4. Balm, Dolen Perkins-Valdez
  5. Bastard Out Of Carolina, Dorothy Allison
  6. The Best Of Everything, Rona Jaffe
  7. Birds of America, Lorrie Moore
  8. The Boys of My Youth, Jo Ann Beard
  9. The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz
  10. Ceremony, Leslie Marmon Silko
  11. The Chronology of Water, Lidia Yuknavitch
  12. Citizen, Claudia Rankine
  13. The Collected Stories of Grace Paley
  14. Forgotten County, Catherine Chung
  15. The Group, Mary McCarthy
  16. Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage Alice Munro
  17. Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson
  18. Just Kids, Patti Smith
  19. The Leopard, Tomasi di Lampedusa
  20. The Lover, Marguerite Duras
  21. Memoirs of Hadrian, Marguerite Yourcenar
  22. NW, Zadie Smith
  23. Possessing the Secret of Joy, Alice Walker
  24. Redefining Realness, Janet Mock
  25. The Round House, Louise Erdrich
  26. Shadowshaper, Daniel José Older
  27. Silver Sparrow, Tayari Jones
  28. So Long, See You Tomorrow, William Maxwell
  29. Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison
  30. Stone Butch Blues, Leslie Feinberg
  31. A Thousand Years Of Good Prayers, Yiyun Li
  32. An Untamed State, Roxane Gay
  33. Walk Two Moons, Sharon Creech
  34. The Yellow Wallpaper, Charlotte Perkins Gilman

This list was explicitly put together by eight women as a response to Esquire’s ill-received 2015 “80 Books Every Man Should Read,” which contained exactly one book written by a woman.

It’s hard for me to find anything either suffocating or PC about this list. There are lots of standard-issue great books, along with the usual smattering of idiosyncratic choices that might or might not be especially widely read. That’s no surprise: every author or critic worth her salt carries around a mental list of personal favorites that they wish more people had read. The list is heavily populated by women, but not nearly so heavily as the original list was populated by men. The themes of these books are considerably different than the themes of the “Every Man” list, which is hardly surprising. And there are fewer pieces of nonfiction than there are on the men’s list.

Anyway, it’s a list that might not appeal to a lot of men. Them’s the breaks. On the other hand, maybe it provides some good ideas for novels to expand their horizons. You never know til you try.


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