Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Top Five: Fiction Books to Read if You're a Female

Without launching into my personal statement and boring you all to death with why and how much I love reading. I really have always been very drawn to books, as a very young child I used to beg my Mum to read my favourite books, in fact I once made her read to me, without stopping, all the way from Bude (Cornwall) to Essex in the car, needless to say she had almost completely lost her voice by the end of it- but I did manage not to have any breakdowns. Both my parents have been in academia and as a result I have always been encouraged that reading is a worthwhile and important experience and isn't just something you do to relax.
This being said I have compiled a list of the "top five" books to read if you are a girl, not all of these are purely feminist books that "hate men" as some people may assume. However, of what I have read so far these are the books that have been the most influential for me as a female who has occasionally felt as I am walking up a very steep hill that is lined with big, sweaty, hairy men catcalling at you from their vans. These books are not in order of importance, and it is highly likely I will miss one of your favourites out as I haven't yet lived long enough to develop my angry feminist library.

1. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Nabokov's Lolita is a novel which follows the "romance" between a young girl named Dolores Haze and her StepFather Humbert Humbert. The real importance of the  novel is not so much the book itself but more the opinions surrounding the book and the influence it has had on popular culture. I actually wrote my EPQ on the relevance of immorality in Lolita, so I could probably drone on about the injustice of the novel for years. Ultimately the telling point of the novel for me is that the term "Lolita" has come to mean a sexually promiscuous young girl who lures men in- not a young abused girl.

Many may find it hard to enjoy a book which is written from the point of view of someone who, by modern standards is a sick criminal. But personally I feel this book is an essential read for women as it perfectly captures how many men have such twisted perceptions of women's intentions. Humbert Humbert is not so different from many males who are unsure about exactly "no" means. This book also beautifully encompasses 1950s America, including the upcoming pop culture and the development of a modern law.

2. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Jane Eyre is a classic novel which follows the early life story of an orphan in 19th century England who grows up and becomes a governess for a young girl Adele. However, the story isn't that smooth running as Jane finds herself slowly falling in love with her employer- Rochester the brooding and egotistical anti hero of the novel. I have to admit that I have read this book twice before and I wasn't at all impressed by the novel or Jane, although this book is typically called a "feminist novel", by modern standards there are several elements to this book which I found fairly disheartening as a female.
 Despite this disappointment I do still feel that Jane Eyre is still a novel that all women should read, although it is by means idyllic it does give an insight into how hard it was to be a female in times past. I also think that this book does act as somewhat of a warning of what can happen if you aren't prepared to look after yourself. I would definitely recommend reading Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys  as a follow up novel after Jane Eyre as it offers a whole other dimension to Jane and Rochester's relationship.

3. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hossseini

In my opinion Khaled Hosseini is one of the best modern novelists around, I could honestly write a whole blog post about how much his books tug at my heart strings. A Thousand Splendid Suns is a beautifully weaved together story  focuses on the tumultuous lives and relationship of Mariam and Laila, two Afghan women. Mariam, an illegitimate child, suffers from the stigma surrounding her birth and the abuse she faces throughout her marriage. Laila, born a generation later, is comparatively privileged during her youth until their lives intersect and she is also forced to accept a marriage proposal from Rasheed, Mariam's husband. As a female I found this book extremely hard to stomach, but also incredibly interesting as it offers an insight into an entirely different culture.
I feel that far to often Islamist cultures are greatly misunderstood, over simplified and demonised. This book offers a realistic and brutal insight into a world that I am thankful not to be a female in, but is also a classic Mother- Daughter story which is relatable despite the different culture.

4. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
Alias Grace is a historical fiction novel that follows the real story of the Grace Marks murder that took place in Canada in 1843. Although the novel is based on factual events Atwood creates a narrative from a fictional doctor Simon Jordan who is studying Grace to assess her mental state of the time. This novel was extremely compelling to read due to the factual element, I desperately wanted to find out if Grace was really guilty of the crimes she was committed for.
Alias Grace deals with themes of madness, spirituality and equality and is an essential read for any female interested in the difference between the perception and reality of female life. Throughout the novel you are never quite sure whether or not you trust Grace and it is really left up to your own moral judgments at the end novel.

5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee  
If you are a literary snob you may be rolling your eyes at this choice, but if you haven't read this book you are missing out in so many ways. I have never had the opportunity to study this book, but it is definitely one of my favourite books of all times. The novel is full of warmth and humour despite dealing with issues of rape, racial inequality and sexism, it follows the story of the murder trial of Tom Robinson narrated by his lawyer, Atticus Finch's children, in particular Scout. Atticus serves as the moral hero of the novel and is undoubtedly one of the few characters in literature who most would find it hard to pull apart.

Not only is this novel important racially, it also important from a feminist point of view, the protagonist Scout is a typical tomboy who denies social expectations of young girls and dresses in trousers and slacks despite criticism from many around her. This novel really makes you consider the things in life which are really important and makes you consider why you have the perceptions you have.

So there you have it- a list of the five books you should definitely read if you are a female. This list may be highly flawed but contains some of my favourite books which are great reads no matter what gender you identify with.

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