Earlier this year, the excellent Joanna Walsh inadvertently started a campaign to encourage wider and more extensive reading of women writers. What began life as New Year’s cards featuring a collection of women writers soon transformed into a Twitter hashtag—#ReadWomen2014—and then into book clubs, discussions, and a campaign which seeks, simply, to ‘create a little extra space … in which more women can be heard more loudly, both by women and men.’
I think, often, that the key to being happy as an academic is to realise how strange an occupation it is. In my case, it is doubly odd because I work in a research institute and have minimal teaching duties. I am paid to think, to write, to travel, and to read. I spend most of my time reading, and yet am constantly on the edge of panic that I’m not reading enough. Academia is a conversation with other writers. Everything is historiography. Not to read is intellectual failure.
But I need to read beyond work—mostly novels, memoirs, essays, and occasionally short stories. I read to feel the world more intensely; to feel myself in the world more intensely. I read to remind myself that what I feel is felt and shared—and has been felt and shared—by so many others. To some extent, to distinguish between academic and non-academic books is arbitrary. The most moving, thought provoking, and beautifully written book I’ve read this year was published by a university press. But for the sake of categories, and because I read fiction differently, here is a list of all of 2014’s non-academic books. I’ve not been particularly careful about only reading women writers this year, despite supporting Joanna’s campaign. And out of twenty books read and being read, twelve were by women. Reading two novels and a memoir by Michael Ondaatje—who, for some reason, I think would be a fan of #ReadWomen2014—rather increased things in favour of male writers.
I like this comment by Alexander Chee in his article about #ReadWomen2014:
I think women writers appealed to me because they acknowledged the struggles of women as well as those of men; as writers, they simply provided a fuller picture of the world.
I think so too. I think this is why I tend to reach, instinctively, for women writers.
Read in 2014: Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird; Bill Buford, Heat; Geoff Dyer, Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi; Anne Patchett, Bel Canto; Francesca Marciano, Casa Rossa; Monique Truong, The Book of Salt; Hannah Kent, Burial Rites; Michael Ondaatje, Running in the Family, In the Skin of a Lion, and The Cat’s Table; Robertson Davies, The Rebel Angels; Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah; Michael Paterniti, The Telling Room; Joanna Rakoff, My Salinger Year; Jane Bowles, Two Serious Ladies; Rebecca Solnit, Men Explain Things to Me; Jane Smiley, The Greenlanders.
Can’t/won’t finish: Michel Houllebecq, Platform.
Still reading: Eleanor Catton, The Luminaries; Marilynn Robinson, Lila.
To read next: Karen Russell, Vampires in the Lemon Grove; Dana Goodyear, Anything That Moves; WG Sebald, The Emigrants, and Austerlitz.
Tangerine and Cinnamon by Sarah Duff is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Oh, I loved Vampires in the Lemon Grove. I’m not usually a big reader of short stories, but I read that collection beginning to end like a novel. It’s full of strange hungers. I hope you enjoy reading it!
There are many others on your list I really enjoyed; I even taught The Book of Salt in a food-themed literature course once in my last year of teaching (before I decided to extract myself from the U.S adjunct crisis by seeking other employment). It sounds like you got a good year of reading in!
I can’t wait to start it – it took me ages to find a copy, so I’m particularly looking forward to it.
What a great idea to teach The Book of Salt. I should have mentioned it in the post, but I read that, Casa Rossa, and a few of the others because of a book swop with a friend and colleague. I read things I really normally wouldn’t have – and am so grateful I did.