Updated: Jun 28
We've all been searching for those books that hit the spot fill this lockdown period. To help you along in your search, we now have a Laureate in Residence, Raffaella Sero, to provide you with some good reads! Here follows the first week of recommendations. To follow more closely, go to @raf_reads for more recs!
An acquaintance of mine - a young, well-educated woman in her twenties - once told me the most shocking, appalling, and untruthful thing I have heard in my life: “there are no good books written by women.”
This was so blatantly false that I couldn’t reply, except by saying that it was blatantly false. Since then, however, I have been more self-conscious about the books I buy and read, aware that each good book written by a woman that I read is another brick in the defensive wall against that preposterous claim. But I never fully realised how right I was until the lockdown in England started, and I found myself living alone in a deserted student hall. For in the last two months (!), I have exchanged the patriarchy for a library filled with Jane Austen and Virago Modern Classics. I have been filling my silence with women’s voices; and let me tell you, it’s been a bliss.
Because I am feeling generous, and because Gloria Steinem wrote “there is no virtue on being on the same page, if it’s the wrong page”, let’s all get on the same good pages (written by women) with Empower Her Voice’s tope five books to cure your pandemic blues:
5. The Mercies, by Kiran Millwood Hargrave: Kiran Millwood Hargrave is one of my favourite living authors, and a true inspiration. The Mercies, is her first adult novel, a Sunday Times bestseller, and a daunting tale of women against the world. Set during the 17th century witch trials in Norway, it follows the lives of the women of Vardø, a fishermen’s village deprived of its male population by a terrible storm at sea. Left alone, the women learn to fend for themselves, acquiring in the process a taste for independence, a heady impulse for power which will bring about their downfall. Brilliantly woven into a hunting tale of resentment culminating in disaster, fate and willpower vie for control over the lives of these women.
4. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood: Does this need an introduction? Really? In 2020? Probably not. But it had to make it in my pandemic top five. Set in a dystopian world were women are recognised as walking wombs, i.e. where all the patriarchy’s dreams have come true, The Handmaid’s Tale is the perfect book to remind us what’s important even in desperate times: while we go on our allowed food-shopping trip, on our walks to keep healthy, the Handmaid’s voice won’t let us forget the dangers that can come from isolation, the dangers posed by collective uncertainty to women’s freedom. (As UK govt would say, “stay alert”.)
3. Heartburn by Nora Ephron: To remind us that “everything is copy”. The Romcom Queen’s autobiographical novel tells the story of how her husband (Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein) left her while she was pregnant with their second child for “the woman with the longest neck in the world”. More importantly, Heartburn tells the story of how Nora Ephron was able to laugh about it. Profoundly funny itself, it’s an unmissable read at a time like this, showing us that the way through the darkest times in our lives can still be laid with laughter.
2. Small Island by Andrea Levi: The analogy between what is happening now and World War II has been used so much and to such questionable purposes that one cannot but be weary with it. Yet, governmental lines apart, the point still stands that this pandemic is keeping us apart from the ones we love, and both challenging and reinforcing our very notions of community. Set across the British Empire during WWII, Levi’s novel tells the stories of two women and two men, how their paths crossed, how their lives were changed by their meetings and by the extraordinary times in which they lived.
1. The Women’s Room, by Marylin French: When I bought this book, the woman who owned the stall told me she had read it when it came out in the ‘70s and it changed her life; it changed mine too. Following the life of housewives, scholars, mothers, daughters, women from every paths of life between the 50s and the early 70s in America, it is a book about rebellion and sisterhood and one every woman needs to read. And since it’s over 800 pages long, what time better than now?
This, of course, is just a short dip into the myriad books written by women with which you could be filling your time right now. In fact, though I don’t necessarily buy into the whole “let’s take this as a blessing” policy, there is one good thing about this pandemic, if you are lucky enough to be able to stay home: read women’s fiction.