Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Have I told you lately that I like words? That I like books and people who write them (except James Joyce)? Back in May the folks at the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction launched a campaign (using the hashtag #ThisBook) to find the most influential books written by women. The top 20 list was announced yesterday and it's a beauty; a shining and strange collection of books. There aren't any really individual surprises on the list, but taken all together I feel the many ways that these stories and poems have woven their way into our lives. Eight of them have woven their way into mine.

The Color Purple in particular was a powerful book for me, read for the first few times when I was a similar age to Celie when she first started writing letters to God. It was hideously awful and so beautifully written - and it made me fall in love with the epistolary style. My That copy up there is completely falling apart after multiple reads and being passed back and forth between my stepmum and I (err, sorry J, will get that book back to you... um... sometime?). We've shared quite a few books, she and I - Walker, Margaret Atwood, Helene Hanff, E Annie Proulx, Janet Evanovich... mostly books by women. Mostly books we loved and talked about in conversations over the kitchen table, in front of the fire, watching over naked babies on blankets in the backyard, in the Kombi driving up the Pacific Highway. Except for that PD James P&P travesty, which we're never going to speak of again.

If you're hankering to listen to people talking about books, you can peruse a pile of videos at the ThisBook site, with lots of famous women talking about the books by women that have had the most impact on their lives. I really like Shami Chakrabarti's point about To Kill A Mockingbird, which came in in the No. 1 spot: "With human right under attack the world over, the enduring appeal of Harper Lee's great tale gives hope that justice and equality might yet triumph over prejudice."

The full top 20 is:

  1. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
  2. The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
  3. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
  4. Harry Potter - J.K.Rowling (although how this counts as one book, I'm not sure)
  5. Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
  6. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
  7. Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
  8. Little Women - Louisa May Alcott
  9. The Secret History - Donna Tartt
  10. I capture the Castle - Dodie Smith
  11. The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
  12. Beloved - Toni Morrison
  13. Gone with the Wind - Margaret Mitchell
  14. We Need to Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver
  15. The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
  16. Middlemarch - George Eliot
  17. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings - Maya Angelou
  18. The Golden Notebook - Doris Lessing
  19. The Color Purple - Alice Walker
  20. The Women's Room - Marilyn French
What do you think of the list? Any favourites on there? What book written by a woman has had an impact on your life?


  1. I haven't read The Color Purple but I saw the movie ages ago. Is the movie very different from the book? I think I've read 9 of them, although it might be 14 if you could Harry Potter as 6 books rather than 1.

    1. They tried to style the movie in a similar way - with the 'Dear God' letter narration in some parts of the movie. There are definitely bits the movie left out but the heart of it is there, I think. A lot of the confronting issues aren't covered in detail in the movie (rape, birth to a child of rape, genital mutilation, etc), but where they are they're often more confronting because of the extra emotional weight of the visual and soundtrack. I liked both but for different reasons.

    2. Oh, and I think the Harry Potter books should count as more than 1 too :)


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