When I picked up this book, my first thought was, "Is this white woman going to understand what it's like to be a person of color in this country?"
My New Years resolution back in 2014 was to read only books by women for a year, and I think it was the only resolution I’ve ever made and stuck to. Last year, I read 68 books, all written by women. While my reading preferences skew heavily toward contemporary fiction, I also read a lot of biographies and memoirs as well as a few self-help books.
I didn’t have some sort of specific or moral goal when I decided to read only the work of women for a year. Rather, I just thought, “I’m a woman and a writer and I’d like to support the work of other women writers.” I feel like the literary world is still so heavily dominated by men and I wanted to focus on ladies for a bit. I thought it might help me discover some books I might not have found had I not embarked on this female-centric mission.
It was a great year for me, reading-wise! I discovered a couple of my new favorite books, including “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed, “How Should a Person Be?” by Sheila Heti and more. I adored Heti’s book in particular for its exploration of female friendships.
Throughout my year of reading, I found myself falling in love again and again with the voices in these books. I tend to approach books the way I approach relationships— I’m tediously apprehensive at first, prone to mistrust and judgment, but I fall in love quickly.
In fact, I think what I’m always looking for in relationships is what I’ve found my whole life in books — a quiet and tender escape, a cache for my often-overwhelming wealth of emotions. Reading stories of women by women provided me a sense of solidarity and stillness in a year that was otherwise defined by sadness and chaos for me.
Until I began reading only women’s work, I didn’t realize how badly I needed them. While studying English in college, we read primarily the works of men. Poetry and literature syllabi alike all slanted heavily toward men’s writings in our curriculum and I don’t remember thinking twice about it. If I were to list all my favorite works of literature, men would probably still dominate the list. (Unless we’re speaking strictly poetry, in which case it would likely be 80% women.)
Good literature should transport you, regardless of the narrator’s gender. I’ve found myself time and time again in the voices of men throughout the years. Who can honestly say they didn’t identify with Holden Caulfield during their angstier, teenage years? I’ve read “On the Road” more times than I can count. Jeffrey Eugenides has written some of my favorite novels of all time. Junot Diaz’s “This Is How You Lose Her” is one of only a few books to make me cry in public. This is to say, I’ve loved many a book written a dude.
But there is something I’m looking for that I can only find in the voice of another woman. Last year was a difficult one for me, and if I hadn’t clung to the voices of the women I was reading, I might have found myself totally lost.
After a friend passed away, I devoured Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking.” During a rough breakup, I tore through, “A Return to Love” by Marianne Williamson. I felt a consistent sense of overwhelming gratitude for the women’s voices I had known and the ones I was newly discovering.
I also rediscovered in myself an excitable and feverish love of reading and writing. During the past several years, my creative impulses have felt a bit stifled by the likes of office jobs, relationship woes, and the general tediums of life as an adult.
I remember, though, last spring after reading Maggie Nelson's "Bluets," I sat down and wrote for hours. I hadn't done that in years, and it was satisfying and thrilling in a way I'd almost forgotten. Maybe it was just the quality of books I chose or maybe it was because they were written by women, but something about last year awoke in me a sense of creativity I'm still buzzing from.
Now, several months into 2015, I’m still primarily reading work by women and I have a feeling that might never change. I’ve shifted my reading habits, and in the process, bettered my life.
Finding my self in the voices of women and finding a refuge in their wisdom helped reignite my love of reading, and helped me survive a year when I might not have otherwise kept my head up. And for that, I am thankful.
- Do you tend to read the work of men or women more? Does it matter to you?
- Who are your favorite female writers? Let's just talk about books. I want to talk about books.