Once upon a time, I earned a Master's Degree in Literature and was a Professor of Literature and Composition. I had a wonderful time writing my Master's Thesis about Children's and Young Adult Literature, and I considered earning a Ph.D. so that I could continue to pursue the written word, including British, American, Latin American and other Global Literatures, Children's and Young Adult Literature, all types of genres and occasionally even poetry. But life takes you in unexpected directions, and so now I am working for a non-profit agency (you can read about that on my other blog, A Little Bit of Wonder). Although my job keeps me too busy to post as many book reviews as I would like, Recommended Reading is a place where I can continue to share my literary discoveries and knowledge as time allows.

Please note that I post reviews for books that I recommend reading, just like the blog title says. This means that I typically won't post a review for a book that I completely dislike. This isn't because I shy away from making negative comments, but rather because I don't want to waste your time or mine (I won't even bother to finish a book if it's not any good). For more on this, see the explanation of my Rating System.)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Spotlight: On Women Writers

When I read the Weekly Geeks challenge for January 23, which asks participating bloggers to discuss female writers, I was just finishing up my review of A Wind in the Door. As I was re-reading this novel, I found that I was increasingly critical of L’Engle’s writing; her main female character Meg is a bit too nervous and sniveling for my taste. I like my heroines to be more like Hermoine Granger or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Even if I'm not looking for “empowering” feminist fiction per se, I find it disheartening when a woman writer has created annoying female characters.

Of course, I don’t expect that every fictional female will be a superhero – not even in Fantasy Literature or Science Fiction. People are people, no matter their sex; some of them are weak-willed and some of them are more self-assured. Female characters should fall all along the spectrum. But most of my favorite women writers find some way of empowering their female readers.

I wanted to take this opportunity to briefly highlight some of my favorite women writers, especially since I’m sure that won’t get around to reviewing all of their work on this blog any time soon. I would guess that no matter what type of literature you prefer, there is probably at least one or two women on this list whose work would interest you:

Gabrielle Mistral (20th Chilean Poet and Nobel Prize Winner): Even though she won the Nobel Prize for Literature, Mistral isn’t terribly well-known, so when you open a book of her prose-poetry (poetry in paragraph form, without the traditional line breaks) you feel a little bit like you’re pulling up an old encrusted treasure chest from the bottom of the sea. I think her work will speak better for itself than any of my own praise, so I will just quote a short portion from “The Sea”:

“After a year on land, I feel vitality rotting inside me, softening and growing pulpy like a fig fallen from a branch, as if, among human fruits, I were a sea fruit thirsty for bitter juice…”

Virginia Woolf (20th Century Novelist, Feminist): While some people passionately love Woolf’s writing, others do not enjoy her books at all; her prose is luminous and poetic, but often hard to follow. I have to admit that the first time that I picked up Mrs. Dalloway, I ended up throwing it across the room in frustration. It’s best to read Woolf’s writings after learning a little bit about Modernism and Woolf herself; once you understand her narrative techniques, you are more free to enjoy the beauty of the prose. My favorite of her novels, To the Lighthouse, can be somewhat confusing—but if you’d like an easier read, both The Voyage Out and Night and Day are written in a straight-forward, traditional manner.

Margaret Atwood (20th/21st Century Canadian Novelist, Feminist): While many of Atwood’s novels are explicitly feminist, this isn’t necessarily what draws me to her work. I’ve read Surfacing and Alias Grace, neither of which were all that exciting to me. The Edible Woman, however, was hilarious; her dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale was extremely well-imagined and creepy and The Blind Assassin had such a complex mystery narrative that I could not put it down (although my mother found it nearly impossible to follow). In these and other novels, Atwood uses her powers of imagination to create something unique and emotionally resonant. Her feminist themes might be the selling point for some people—but I would say that her experimentation with genre, plot, form and character will be interesting to contemporary readers.

Julia Alvarez (20th/21st Century Dominican-American Novelist): It has been a bit too long since I’ve read most of her novels and so I’m a bit fuzzy on the details, but I love In the Name of Salome, In the Time of the Butterflies and Saving the World. In each of these novels, Alvarez created an engrossing narrative centered on a historical figure—women who played usual and important roles in the history of the Dominican Republic. She has also published Children's Literature, Y.A. Fiction and poetry.

J.K. Rowling (20th/21st Century Novelist): This lady and her work need no introduction, but even though the Harry Potter novels are my all-time favorite books, I have decided that I am not likely to review them for my site since they already get so much publicity and debate. Just let me say that her prose is intelligent, her plots are intricate and exciting, her fantasy world and her characters are extremely well-developed… and despite what critics may say, I think she has created a number of powerful female characters.

Marjane Satrapi (21st Century Graphic Novelist): The author of several graphic novels, including Persepolis. I won’t say too much about her work in this post, since I am planning to review Persepolis within the next few weeks, but she has a talent for relating the painful experiences of her life with both grace and humor, as well as an eye for design that lets her communicate with simplicity and power.

Jane Espensen (20th/21st Century Television Scriptwriter): One of the most humorous writers on Joss Whedon’s regular creative team, Espensen first caught my attention when she penned the script for hilarious Buffy episodes such as “Gingerbread,” “Earshot” and “Pangs.” In my estimation, she learned the witty, off-kilter tone of Joss Whedon’s work more precisely than any of the other Buffy writing team, and always chose to play up the humor in the episodes that she penned. Since writing for Buffy, she has penned scripts for Whedon’s series Angel, Firefly, and Dollhouse; she has also worked as a writer and executive producer on Gilmore Girls, Battlestar Galactica, and Caprica.

Marti Noxon (20th/21st Century Television Scriptwriter): Another writer on Joss Whedon’s creative team, Noxon was Whedon’s protégé and assumed much of the responsibility for Buffy while he was occupied with running Firefly. Although Noxon can produce the off-kilter comedic tone that Espensen mastered, she is also talented at balancing that humor with pathos. From among the 23 episodes of Buffy that she directly penned, my favorites include such episodes as “Surprise” and “I Only Have Eyes for You.” Following Buffy, she has written and/or produced such shows as Angel, Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, Grey’s Anatomy and Mad Men.

Other favorite female authors: Mary Wollstonecraft (18th Century Feminist), Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte (19th Century British Novelists), Isabel Allende (20th/21st Century Chilean Novelist), Toni Morrison (20th/21st Century African American Novelist).

Female authors/theorists that I want to read/read more of: Margaret Cavandish (17th Century Science Fiction Novelist), Simone de Beauvoir (20th Century Feminist), Ursula LeGuin (20th/21st Century Science Fiction Novelist), Laurie Halse Anderson (20th/21st Century Young Adult Novelist).

Note: this post participates in the Weekly Geek January 23, 2011 challenge.

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