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This Book
July 29, 2014 4:12 PM   Subscribe

"Back in May 2014, the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction launched the #ThisBook campaign. The aim was simple: to find out which books, written by women, have had the biggest impact on readers." The results were announced today. Check out the final Top 20, agree or disagree on Twitter, or discuss your personal lesser-known favourites on the Guardian's Books Blog.
posted by billiebee (36 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yo Audrey Niffenegger, I’m really happy for you, I'mma let you finish but Virginia Woolf had one of the best literary careers of all time...
posted by rabbitbookworm at 4:21 PM on July 29 [7 favorites]


Needs more Ancillary Justice.
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:21 PM on July 29 [2 favorites]


I Capture the Castle yeaaahhhhhhhhhh.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 4:22 PM on July 29 [3 favorites]


Yeah, Woolf's a surprising absence--perhaps because there's not one obviously Most Important Woolf novel? I'd have liked to see Elizabeth Gaskell on the list--of the great Victorian novelists she seems to me the one who is inexplicably relegated to second rank. I would also have liked to have seen Alice Munro on the list--but then it's the kind of project that's going to get some odd additions and omissions by its nature. Was there a rule that no author could figure more than once or did it just work out that way? No doubt any author likely to figure twice also suffered from vote-splitting (the Woolf problem, again).
posted by yoink at 4:28 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


I may be the only person in the anglophone world, but I never liked To Kill a Mockingbird. Part of that was probably that I had to read it for school; part that the story really didn't interest me. It felt like Learn-About-Jim-Crow-light, compared to the books I'd already read about racism.

Also, they clearly didn't survey Canadian women, or there would have been more L.M. Montgomery. I wouldn't say she's the most brilliant Canadian writer, but she's certainly influenced many.
posted by jb at 4:29 PM on July 29 [7 favorites]


I feel like most of those are a little obvious. Do people always vote for Mockingbird because they feel they have to?

But, both I Capture the Castle and The Secret History are on there, quite unexpectedly. My faith in humanity is restored.
posted by Jess the Mess at 4:33 PM on July 29 [2 favorites]


jb: I didn't like Mockingbird, but I read The Heart is a Lonely Hunter recently which is thematically similar and pretty awesome (and of course also by a female author).
posted by edeezy at 4:37 PM on July 29 [2 favorites]


The Secret History remains one of my all-time favorites. In fact, I can't think of a more favoritey favorite, so it must be THE favorite.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 4:37 PM on July 29


I may be the only person in the anglophone world, but I never liked To Kill a Mockingbird. Part of that was probably that I had to read it for school; part that the story really didn't interest me. It felt like Learn-About-Jim-Crow-light, compared to the books I'd already read about racism.

I came on to say something similar. So make that two.

I didn't dislike the book by any way shape or form. It was just, a good book I read one week - but not one that had any greater impact on me.

I'll have to ponder my own list of books-written-by-women that have had an impact on my (the survey appears to have been aimed to all readers, not just women ... but I could be wrong here).
posted by kanewai at 4:46 PM on July 29


"We Need to Talk About Kevin" was definitely entertaining, but it limped along in places and it doesn't seem particularly important, impactful, or life-changing. (Maybe it convinced a lot of people not to reproduce?)

Like it definitely should not rank above "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings" just in that list alone.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:49 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


The criterion is personal "impact" and not "quality," so Woolf's absence is not all that shocking to me. "Life-changing" is about as subjective as you can get...

I'm probably the only woman in history who strongly disliked The Golden Notebook.
posted by thomas j wise at 4:56 PM on July 29


I was really pleased to see "Beloved" on there. I read it for the first time at 17, having never heard of Toni Morrison, when my then-boyfriend was studying it at University. I took the same course the next year and I couldn't wait to be able to talk and write about it. It just blew my mind, it's so beautiful and haunting, as well as being the foundation for my understanding of race issues in America given that I was a white girl from Ireland. Twenty years after I first read it, it still calls to me from time to time and I feel a tightness in my chest just thinking about it now. If you can fall in love with a book that was The One for me.
posted by billiebee at 5:00 PM on July 29 [3 favorites]


Do people always vote for Mockingbird because they feel they have to?

I think this might be a little uncharitable. To Kill a Mockingbird is probably one of the most widely read "literary" novels in the USA. I would have been surprised if it hadn't been at or near the top of the list.

You can't vote for a book you haven't read. Or you can, but it would be lying.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 5:22 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


I'm... a little bit worried about how The Secret History has changed people's lives. Were these readers headed down a path of accidental murder in their increasingly cultish and insanely classist bachanals, and this was a useful cautionary tale? Did they take the novel instead as inspiration? Small elite (but with not top tier academics) private liberal arts college professor personality cults is a context that many readers just really relate to? I somehow read a different book that got maliciously or accidentally bound in the same cover?
posted by eviemath at 5:27 PM on July 29 [6 favorites]


Interesting. I think for me (a dude), a lot of those novels are awesome and some among my favorites, but I would never consider something like The Secret History 'life changing.' An incredible novel, so good, but life changing? Like, isn't that kind of scary? Though of course who am I to say what is life changing for anyone, let alone women, and I get that.

Too bad about Middlemarch being so far down, but I guess it's nice it made a popular list at all.
posted by Lutoslawski at 5:28 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


I never liked To Kill a Mockingbird.

Oh come sit beside me!
posted by IndigoJones at 5:29 PM on July 29


Also is this where I say I'm a little embarrassed by how much I loved The Time Traveler's Wife? Like, wept for maybe a week loved.
posted by Lutoslawski at 5:31 PM on July 29 [3 favorites]


You can't vote for a book you haven't read. Or you can, but it would be lying.

Maybe that's why The Handmaid's Tale only made it to #2. There was a time when high school kids typically had to read To Kill a Mockingbird but somehow I doubt Atwood's book was ever on many H.S. reading lists.

I remember a college acquaintance saying that Gone with Wind had changed her life. I didn't dare ask how and decades later the thought still creeps me out.
posted by fuse theorem at 5:33 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


No Love for Fay Weldon?
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:35 PM on July 29


Also no Ursula K Le Guin (and a general lack of sci fi, which I guess I get). But bummer. Not that it matters. But man, somewhat arbitrary lists, you know they really bring out MY OPINIONS.
posted by Lutoslawski at 5:40 PM on July 29 [4 favorites]


Also is this where I say I'm a little embarrassed by how much I loved The Time Traveler's Wife? Like, wept for maybe a week loved.

Well, you're definitely not alone. I sobbed like a child reading that book, and while I can now think back critically about it and know that it's far from perfect, I fucking loved that book on first read. I still like it, I just recognize that the romance is actually kind of creepy. Not sure I'd classify it as life changing or making a huge impact on me though.
posted by yasaman at 5:44 PM on July 29


Frankenstein...
posted by edgeways at 6:03 PM on July 29 [3 favorites]


Tangentially related: In 1999 Le Monde asked their readers "what (20th Century) books have stayed in your memory?" This remains one of my favorite reader polls ever - it created an amazing list, and one that was a bit more personal than the lists of best / favorite / most awesome / most popular works, etc.

Bringing it back to the OP, here are the fiction works by women that made the top 100:

The Abyss (L'Œuvre au noir) - Marguerite Yournecar*
Gone with the Wind - Margaret Mitchell
Bonjour Tristesse - Françoise Sagan
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd - Agatha Christie
Les vrilles de la vigne - Colette
The Wonderful Adventures of Nils - Selma Lagerlöf (first woman to win Nobel Prize in lit)
A Room of One's Own - Virginia Woolf (is this fiction?)
Tropisms - Nathalie Sarraute

* One of my favorite authors ever. I wish she were better known in the US.
posted by kanewai at 6:07 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


I love To Kill a Mockingbird (book and movie both) and I think it definitely had an effect on the way I see the world. Maybe because I didn't have to read it for school; we had it in our house and I think I was 10 or so when I first read it. I completely identified with Scout.

Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior is on my personal list (yes, it's a memoir, whatever).
posted by rtha at 6:22 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


There was a time when high school kids typically had to read To Kill a Mockingbird but somehow I doubt Atwood's book was ever on many H.S. reading lists.

My experience & observation is the opposite. Handmaid's Tale was taught with heavy-handed feminist polemic, Mockingbird was word of mouth, not assigned.
posted by headnsouth at 7:02 PM on July 29


I remember a college acquaintance saying that Gone with Wind had changed her life. I didn't dare ask how and decades later the thought still creeps me out.

It's a shame you didn't ask how, because I wonder what the answer would be, and I'll bet it would be interesting! I also enjoyed the book, though surprisingly the movie did a good job clearing away a lot of inconsequential minutiae, like the brood of children Scarlett had in addition to little Bonnie Blue Butler.

Love her or hate her, there s no question Scarlett O'Hara was a strong female protagonist. She's described as attractive, but not so beautiful that she put the other women to shame; rather, her charm and charisma were what had the men flocking around her. She is resourceful, smart, and hard-working. She doesn't let conventional notions of morality and 'a woman's place' keep her from getting what she wants. Her biggest weakness was the way she allowed her (unrequited) love for a man who was completely wrong for her to influence her for far too long. I don't think it is that surprising some women might identify with her.

I like the idea of less-than-conventional choices on a list of books that have made an personal impact. To Kill A Mockingbird? Faugh.

And I want to know more about the reasoning for the top picks! How did Pride and Prejudice make such an impact on readers' lives? Did they determine not to marry to save their family from poverty? Realize they were too quick to judge people in their own lives? Or is it that they wanted to write like Jane Austen, be as witty as Lizzy?
posted by misha at 7:06 PM on July 29


I want to know more about the reasoning for the top picks!

The associated website, thisbook.com, has a few background pieces like that, e.g. Gwendoline Christie (the actress who plays Brienne of Tarth) on I Capture the Castle.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 7:21 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


Also, how can anyone pick just one genre?! So MANY books by women had an incredible impact on me:

Best Children's Book: The Witch of Blackbird Pond
Most Affecting And Disturbing Book to Read As A Young Woman: We Were the Mulvaneys
Best Book You Absolutely, Positively Should Not Read As A New Parent: The Deep End of The Ocean
Best Book to Read to Get Over Your Inevitable Depression After Having Read The Previous Two Books: Good in Bed
Best Fantasy/Alternative History/Dark Erotica: Kushiel's Dart (I don't care who you are, 'Love As Thou Wilt' is a powerful concept!)
Best...Gothic Romance, maybe? Tie between A Bloodsmoor Romance and Rebecca
Best Mystery: Any one of Agatha Christie's that basically turned the entire genre upside-down like The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, And Then There Were None, Murder on the Orient Express, and of course, Curtain
Best Sci-Fi: McCaffrey's Restoree
posted by misha at 7:42 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


Kutsuwamushi: "To Kill a Mockingbird is probably one of the most widely read "literary" novels in the USA. I would have been surprised if it hadn't been at or near the top of the list."

Lutoslawski: "I would never consider something like The Secret History 'life changing.' An incredible novel, so good, but life changing? Like, isn't that kind of scary?"

I think sometimes by "life-changing" people mean "Book that turned me into a reader of serious fiction by making me realize fiction could BLOW MY MIND" and both of those books are pretty good at that. It is a lot more interesting to ask people WHY those are the books they found life-changing.

I still don't understand "We Need To Talk About Kevin," though.

Incidentally, I was never assigned "Mockingbird" in high school, and we read a novel a month. I somehow managed not to read it until I was 24 (and in law school) and I was torn between rage that nobody had made me read it before now because it was SUCH AN AMAZING BOOK and gratitude and delight that I was having the chance to experience it for the first time as an adult. Reading the greats of Western Literature in high school is so important because it forms your taste and exposes you to ideas and to the beauty of the written word, but having a perfectly-formed novel unfold in front of you as a more emotionally-mature adult reading for pleasure is a whole different experience ... the rose rather than the rosebud.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:51 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


We Need to Talk aBout Kevin was profound in how it refused to sentimentalize motherhood, that it was rigious in its refusal of those roles.
posted by PinkMoose at 8:44 PM on July 29


So happy to see Little Women (and I too wish the Anne books had made it). If we're talking biggest impact, frankly, I would pick the Alice books too.
posted by sallybrown at 8:48 PM on July 29


The Handmaid's Tale terrified me as a teenager. A lot of feminist-centric dystopia owe themselves to that.

I'm one of those who would place Pride and Prejudice fairly high. I think what I took most from it was the idea that when people were honest with each other, they both could change. I'm always baffled at how people miss Darcy's transformation as a result of Lizzie's words to him, and what that meant in terms of their relationship - few other books have an example of a man changing for a woman not because he wants to "get with her" but because he recognizes that she was right and he was wrong. Heady stuff for a budding feminist.

Two other major transformative books for me: Howl's Moving Castle, by Dianne Wynn Jones and Fool's Run, by Patricia McKillip. Forgotten Beasts of Eld by McKillip is another that re-aligned what I thought was right and wrong, and basic building blocks of relationships; McKillip is awesome for that. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett was another major one, though no one can be as perfect as Sarah; she set the building blocks for my belief that what we do even when no one else sees is the most important thing.

My mom's transformative book was a very old fairytale called Daughter of the Stars, which I have somewhere. It was the first book she had ever read in which the women had adventures - in this case the titular Daughter of the Stars, second, and her daughter.
posted by Deoridhe at 9:36 PM on July 29 [4 favorites]


I was hoping for some Flannery O'Connor.
posted by ersatz at 12:16 AM on July 30 [2 favorites]


My most influential women writers would probably be Andre Norton, Ursula Le Guin, and Dorothy Dunnett, none of whom are on this list (although Le Guin really ought to be, she's enormously influential). Dunnett has been very influential on a significant percentage of readers and writers, but she's still not as well known as, say, Hilary Mantel.
posted by suelac at 8:52 AM on July 30


Well, you're definitely not alone. I sobbed like a child reading that book, and while I can now think back critically about it and know that it's far from perfect, I fucking loved that book on first read. I still like it, I just recognize that the romance is actually kind of creepy.

I consider Time Traveler's Wife to be one of my favorite books, even though it has my top two pet peeves in fiction that would normally make me hate it, and a third plot element I really dislike, and yeah, it's inadvertently weird on the part of Henry even though he has zero control or direction over the fact that he was visiting Clare as a kid. But damn if the love isn't so strong and the whole thing isn't fascinating.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:47 PM on July 30


It's a shame you didn't ask how, because I wonder what the answer would be, and I'll bet it would be interesting!

You may be right but I just can't get past the Civil War and slavery parts, or the glorification of a woman who supported those things. However, my regard for Margaret Mitchell rose a bit after I recently happened to catch a replay of PBS' American Masters episode about her. I had no idea that during the 1940s she anonymously funded scholarships for students at Morehouse College.
posted by fuse theorem at 11:10 PM on August 3 [1 favorite]


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