Tuesday, March 27, 2012

25 Novels to Honor Women's History Month

Until the ladies finally receive equal coverage in history textbooks and classrooms, March commemorates Women’s History Month as a reminder that the Y chromosomes of the world don’t hold a monopoly on innovation and change. Bibliophiles hoping to commemorate the occasion can play their part by reading and promoting influential, award-winning, and just plain great literature from female authors. The canon has already made progress in adding them to syllabi and reading lists, but plenty more needs doing before women receive the same analysis as their male contemporaries. Give one (or, preferably, more) of the following novels a read in order to make this goal an actuality.

  1. The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu

    Seeing as how a woman wrote the first-known literary work in the modern novel format, picking up this sensuous classic is a more than appropriate way for bibliophiles to commemorate Women’s History Month. Deeply psychological, it boasts hundreds of characters shedding light on what life was like for the upper class in Heian Japan.

  2. The Color Purple by Alice Walker

    Heroine Celie represents the oppression levied on women, African-Americans, and the poor during the Great Depression, and her Pulitzer-winning story of finding a voice amongst the abuse continues inspiring audiences today. At once tragic and triumphant, The Color Purple undeniably stands as an American literary treasure.

  3. Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector

    This oft-overlooked modernist superstar (outside of South America, anyways) scored immediate attention for her dreamlike prose reflecting a semi-autobiographical novel. She earned a Graca Aranha Prize at age 23 as a result, and critics compared her favorably to the likes of fellow modern authors James Joyce and Virginia Woolf.

  4. The Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif

    The Map of Love weaves a postcolonial love story set in Egypt while revolutionaries strike back against their British overlords, appealing to fans of romance, drama, and sociopolitical commentary alike. 1999 saw Ahdaf Soueif receive a nomination for the Man Booker Prize, and while she did not receive the award, she still vaulted herself into literary history for her sharp take on imperialist inclinations.

  5. Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko

    Tayo, the protagonist, returns from World War II – where he personally experienced the Bataan Death March – and struggles with what might very well be post-traumatic stress disorder as well as his biracial (Laguna and white) identity. Leslie Marmon Silko’s haunting classic illustrates the very real difficulties mixed-race individuals experience, so often rejected by both sides for circumstances beyond their control.

  1. Their Eyes were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

    Despite hurtful rumors, a painful series of relationships, and traumatic loss, heroine Janie Crawford returns to her South Florida home holding her head high. She provides readers – particularly high-school girls – with a great role model who lets other people’s judgments roll right off others’ backs as she pursues her own goals and learns her own lessons.

  2. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

    One doesn’t necessarily have to enjoy the horror or science-fiction genres to appreciate how much Mary Shelley contributed to them – and, in kind, pop culture as a whole. The pallid, thoughtful creation found in the original novel holds little in common with the more familiar green lumberer, but still raises the very same ethical and existential questions.

  3. The Waiting Years by Fumiko Enchi

    Noma Literary Prize winner The Waiting Years explores the marginalization and victimization of women trapped as concubines, with its eye turned largely toward the psychological and sexual trauma. In addition, the book also sensitively delves into how degrading wives tasked with selecting their husband’s women on the side feel every day they feel forced aside.

  4. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

    Sandra Cisneros receives more attention for her poetry, but this lyrical background more than obviously marks her prose. Popular coming-of-age tale The House on Mango Street sees a young woman dreaming of a way to escape her Chicago ghetto and eventually coming back for her beloved family.

  5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

    Literature doesn’t get more Southern Gothic than this dearly beloved classic of a young, Depression-era Alabama girl who learns firsthand the unjust class and race divides present in her small town. Harper Lee’s only novel continues inspiring readers who hope to find the way to shut down social divides for good.

  1. Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya

    While India phases into a more industrialized nation under British colonialism, a nascent, loving family dependent on tenet farming struggles to survive and stay together. It offers up both an evocative story as well as a sobering commentary on the ravages economic transitions take on traditional lifestyles and cultural mores.

  2. The Awakening by Kate Chopin

    Seeing as how it was published in 1899, The Awakening predated the feminist movement, but anticipated many of its primary tenets touting gender equality. Ultimately tragic, the novel follows a woman who pursues her own desires in a sympathetic, naturalistic fashion and juxtaposes it with a more traditional peer in a provocative social commentary.

  3. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

    Marjane Satrapi’s nonfiction graphic novel compared and contrasted her life in Iran during the revolution and her brief expatriate experience in Europe. At home, she feels crushed beneath rigid totalitarian, theocratic laws; abroad, classmates and other contemporaries treat her as if a Third World curiosity (or worse) rather than a very real human being.

  4. Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg

    Though released in 1993, Stone Butch Blues takes place before the Stonewall Riots as a necessary insight into the time period’s game-changing LGBTQ culture. Its youthful central character presents provocative questions about gender, gender expression, gender identity, and sexuality when after running away from home to explore the butch and femme scene.

  5. The Lilith’s Brood Trilogy by Octavia Butler

    Science-fiction’s first lady boasts a heavily embraced brew of aliens, feminism, traditional religious tales, and gender in her trilogy of novels about the last remaining humans and their relationship with extraterrestrials. Hybridization with a race of genetics aficionados seems to be the only way to preserve what’s left of mankind, and one woman serves as the matriarch.

  1. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

    Readers who love themselves a good mystery should treat themselves to this classic example of the genre, with a creepy narrative tracing a woman’s quest to learn more about her mysterious new husband’s first wife. What she discovers proves twistingly terrifying and tragic – a visceral thrill that still manages to pose even more questions once the obsession wanes.

  2. Touba and the Meaning of Night by Shahrnush Parsipur

    Shahrnush Parsipur penned Touba and the Meaning of Night after four years imprisoned in Iran for publishing offensive literary content, using it as a boiling discussion of experiences beneath a radical regime. Through magic realism, she covers eight decades in the nation before, during, and after the Islamic Revolution with amazing – and frequently horrifying – insight.

  3. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

    Mothers and daughters remain a prevalent theme in literature aimed at women, but Amy Tan’s take on the subject transcends this unfortunate bibliophiliac ghetto to appeal to multiple audiences. Along with its heavy emphasis on family, the novel also delves into cultural experiences of Chinese women who immigrated to America and their daughters for whom a duel ethnic identity proves understandably difficult to navigate.

  4. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

    Considering current battles waged over women’s health and rights these days, this dystopian read from 1985 seems eerily, tragically relevant. Margaret Atwood imagines a cruel, theocratic America where radical Christianity reduces women to home- and baby-makers … and absolutely nothing else.

  5. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

    Between World Wars, Clarissa Dalloway spends a day planning a party in Virginia Woolf’s subtle, heavily influential modernist masterpiece peering into mental illness and sexuality (though the two do not overlap). It’s a shockingly psychological – even existential – inquiry into the corners of the human mind so often demonized in the early 20th century.

  1. Oranges are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

    Hailing from a staunch Pentecostal background, the protagonist of this semi-autobiographical novel struggles with its clashes against her burgeoning lesbian identity. Jeanette Winterson earned international praise, a permanent spot in the LGBTQ literary canon, and a Whitbread Award for her revealing tale.

  2. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

    When the Nobel Prize committee rewarded this treasured American author, they specifically noted Song of Solomon as one of her greatest publishing accomplishments. Here, an African-American man grows into adulthood after a life of violence, family discord, attempted murder, and other genuinely terrifying experiences.

  3. Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

    Young Tita loves Pedro, and he returns her feelings, but he must marry her elder sister because of a staunch family tradition keeping her forever tending to her mother. Fueled by taboo passions, she channels everything into spectacular meals (recipes included!) that conjure up lush magical realist imagery.

  4. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

    Based on poet Sylvia Plath’s own unfortunate battle with bipolar disorder, her only novel The Bell Jar depicts the breakdown of a talented, up-and-coming magazine intern with wrenching detail. It remains one of the most honest, sympathetic depictions of the very real emotional, physical pain associated with mental illness in the English language canon.

  5. Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

    Harriet Beecher Stowe obviously didn’t singlehandedly further the Abolitionist movement, but she certainly left quite an impression with her anti-slavery rhetoric. Some of the depictions of African-Americans may make contemporary audiences cringe, but at the time she facilitated major change by depicting slaves and freepersons alike as real people instead of crude inhumans.

Taken From Accredited Online Colleges

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