There’s a reason women sometimes write under a male pseudonym, take George Eliot for example, or Robert Galbraith for a more modern reference. It turns out that’s because more people are likely to read them. Studies have shown that men are more likely to read books by men. And it starts from as young as five.
A recent Oxford University study showed how a dearth of female characters in children’s literature leads both boys and girls to prefer writing stories with male protagonists. The research showed that about 85% of the characters created by boys and about 55% of those created by girls were male.
While, personally, I know a lot of my female friends read books by women, do my male friends? A quick text poll (admittedly, not a large range of people… just five) delivered a 50/50 male to female author ratio. My boyfriend’s attempt pulled the figure down somewhat with him saying: “I read One Day about three years ago”. That’s by a man. “Oh, well, I also recently read Extraordinary Insects: Weird. Wonderful. Indispensable. The ones who run our world.” Niche, but that counts. Phil (the editor of The Handbook obvs) came up top trumps, citing Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason and Sense & Sensibility among his recent reads.
But new figures have shown that men are four times as likely to pick up books written by other men than those written by women. However, women are just as likely to read books by men as they are by women. So, in a small mission to even out the balance, send this list to your male friends to get them reading books by some fabulous females.
1. Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
This latest novel by Maggie has been a massive hit and won the Women’s Prize for Fiction last year. Published by Tinder Press, Hamnet is inspired by the son of a famous playwright.
A family drama, it tells the story around William Shakespeare and his wife Agnes, following their relationship as they deal with their grief over the death of their son Hamnet. As well as that, it’s a story of the bond between twins, and of a marriage pushed to the brink by grief. The book is a tender and unforgettable reimagining of a boy whose life has been all but forgotten, but whose name was given to one of the most celebrated plays ever written.
2. How the One Armed Sister Sweeps the House by Cherie Jones
This is Cherie’s debut novel and has been shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction this year. Also published by Tinder Press, the book is set in Baxter Beach, Barbados, where moneyed ex-pats clash with the locals who often end up serving them: braiding their hair, minding their children, or selling them drugs.
The story follows Lala who lives on the beach with her husband, Adan, a petty criminal. His thwarted burglary of one of the Baxter Beach mansions sets off a chain of events with terrible consequences. Look on as the gripping story unfolds.
3. Work Like A Woman: A Manifesto For Change by Mary Portas
This non-fiction book is packed with advice, tips and decades of business experience from Mary Portas, expert retailer consultant and broadcaster. This is not just a book for women – it’s for everyone. It’s about changing the traditional working model no matter what level you are or where you work. Mary calls time on alpha culture in an attempt to help us all be a bit happier, more productive and collaborative.
4. Say Say Say by Lila Savage
This book follows the story of Ella who is nearing 30 and not yet living the life she imagined. Her artistic ambitions as a student have given way to an unintended career as a care worker. One day Ella is hired to look after a women called Jill, who was involved in a car accident and left with a brain injury.
As Ella is drawn ever deeper into her household, she observes the love between Jill and her husband Bryn. It causes her to question her own relationships, between partners, employers and men and women. Ultimately, it is a riveting story about what it means to love, in a world where time is always running out.
5. The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christi Lefteri
This 2019 novel deals with the plight of refugees in an eye-opening, emotional and beautiful way. It tracks the journey of a couple from Syria, navigating between flashbacks of their time before the war, the devastation they experienced as their livelihoods were destroyed and their sometimes harrowing journey to find a new life and, most importantly, hope. While it is a work of fiction, much of the storytelling has come from Christy’s experience over two summers volunteering in Athens at a refugee centre. It will change your outlook forever.
6. Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
This is a romantic, intricate and artistic portrayal of the Deep South with a backdrop of an unsolved murder. Kya, aka the “Marsh Girl”, hides away on the North Carolina coast and when the handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, she’s the first in line as suspect.
However, sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. The story navigates this young woman’s strength, determination and her ability to find love and comfort in the most unusual places.
7. Drive Your Plow Over The Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk
Olga, the Man Booker International Prize-winner, returns with a subversive, entertaining noir novel. The story takes place in a remote Polish village, where Janina Duszejko, an eccentric woman in her sixties, recounts the events surrounding the disappearance of her two dogs. She is reclusive, preferring the company of animals to people, unconventional, and fond of the poetry of William Blake. When members of a local hunting club are found murdered, Duszejko becomes involved. This in no conventional crime story, but an existential thriller throwing up thought-provoking ideas on our perceptions of madness and injustice against marginalised people.
8. Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney
If you missed the furore around Normal People and the television series that brought to life Connell’s chain, you must have been hiding under a rock during lockdown. This is another novel from Sally Rooney that follows the way that young people think, feel and navigate relationships. Subtle and thought-provoking, the story follows Frances, a 21 year old, cool-headed, and darkly observant college student and aspiring writer. Read as her relationships and life unfold, covering the ups and downs on what it means to be a woman in the modern world.