9 March 2014

'We're still puzzling out what women's writing is': Katy Evans-Bush's Books for International Women's Day

Posted by Katy Evans-Bush

Harriet the Spy: In 1960s New York City, 11-year-old Harriet is a spy. Her parents are stuck in the rat race with a bunch of rat finks, her nanny Ole Golly is busy discovering a life of her own, and Harriet writes down EVERYTHING. This can cause problems. In this inspirational, funny, humane, wonderful book, Harriet learns the hard way that you have to be yourself. I loved it at 8, 18, and 38 and still love it now.

Diaries and Letters of Fanny Burney: Fanny Burney personifies the lot of the intelligent, creative woman in late 18th century London. Her novels Evelina and Camilla (which Dr Johnson said 'contains all of life') paved the way for Jane Austen; her diaries are a vivid account of a complex life; and, most importantly, she could skewer a rogue with two lines of dialogue.

Geography III: This is a deceptively simple collection of deceptively simple poems, minute in their clarity. Under the shadow of her friend Robert Lowell during her lifetime, Elizabeth Bishop has emerged as arguably the greater of the two.

A Room of One's Own: Woolf's lectures to women students at Cambridge were published in book form in 1929; 85 years later Woolf's ideas are still radical, and we're still puzzling out what women's writing is. A crucial book that every young woman should read.

Giving Up the Ghost: Hilary Mantel, after all of this, is still one of our most under-appreciated writers. Her memoir works backwards from an adult ghost story, to a haunting childhood, via work, illness, love, and writing. Her prose is glorious, her insights are deep, her personality is a wake-up call.

Hons and Rebels: Decca ('My sister Nancy is dressed by Dior; I am dressed by JC Penney') was the Communist Mitford. But before that, she had a splendidly eccentric, neglected childhood in the kind of squalid grandeur only the English aristocracy can muster. Funny, warm, forensically truthful, and saturated with an instantly recognisable indomitable spirit, this book rises above the vicissitudes. Read it if you can.

You can see a booklist of Katy's picks here.