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Old 14th Sep 2004, 9:54   #1
Colyngbourne
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Default Life Changing Books for Women

Apologies for this long excerpt from the Indy but I didn't feel it would easily trim to size. (Also, Wavid, I wasn't sure if it would suit better in the Top Tens forum, so feel free to move it)

I guess there is something about this that makes me grit my teeth, but a list chosen by men *would* be different, I suppose. I hate categories. I dislike the idea that choosing H2G2 or Lord of the Rings is somehow surprising and less womanly. Reading the mini-article on the new radio series of H2G2 in the Radio Times this morning (complete with MW-D pics :D ) has been the treat of the day so far.

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The life-changing novels every woman should read
A survey asking 400 women which books have made a difference to their lives reveals some surprising choices. Louise Jury reports
14 September 2004


While works by Jane Austen, the Brontës and George Eliot are only to be expected on a list of essential female novels, the inclusion of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy comes as something of a surprise.

But a survey of 400 women from academia, the arts and publishing shows that women are as likely to cite Douglas Adams's comedy as the book that made a difference to their life as a novel by the feminist icon, Virginia Woolf.

The women were asked which novels had most changed the way they viewed themselves by the team behind the Orange Prize for Fiction, which celebrates women writers.

The novels could be written by men or women and could be from anywhere in the world. And the resulting long list, published here today, reveals that an eclectic band of writers have marked the female psyche.

Lisa Jardine, the academic and author who chaired the Orange Prize judges in 1997, carried out the research with Annie Watkins, a fellow academic at Queen Mary College, University of London.

"We were fascinated as researchers by the idea of a life-changing book, the fact that absolutely every woman we spoke to had one and the wide variety of things that that book meant to each individual woman," Professor Jardine said.

The most common response was "What a wonderful question," she said. "What has been brought home is that ranked lists are only as good as the questions you ask and that every list is only a beginning, a basis for further challenging and questioning."

This list of 40 now serves as a launch pad for a national vote to find the top 10 essential novels for women with listeners to Radio 4's Woman's Hour invited to nominate their own suggestions. A final list will be announced on 8 December.

The most-chosen author among the women polled so far was Jeanette Winterson, 45, who came to national attention with Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. That makes the list along with two of her other works, The Passion and The PowerBook. Doris Lessing, 84, has two nominations as do George Eliot, Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë.

Childhood classics such as Little Women by Louisa May Alcott are joined by adult tales such as Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca. European greats such as Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary are among the more challenging reads on the list, which includes James Joyce's Ulysses.

In total, 15 male authors made the grade. However, the top five, decided strictly by the number of votes received, were all books by and very much about women, topped by Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre.

Her sister Emily's Wuthering Heights made second place, with Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and George Eliot's Middlemarch in third and fourth. Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice tied at fifth with Beloved by the Nobel Prize-winning novelist, Toni Morrison.

Ms Watkins, who is writing a PhD on Samuel Richardson's Clarissa but admitted she had not chosen that, said some choices were less odd than they first appeared.

Camus's The Stranger, the choice of the BBC presenter Sheena McDonald, "is a lonely book and sometimes when you're lonely, it can be a companion to you because you can identify with it," Ms Watkins said. By contrast, The Hitchhiker's Guide was chosen simply for its humour.

Winterson was an absolutely unsurprising choice, Ms Watkins said. "I think that she has revolutionised the novel, particularly with The Powerbook. What she does with time and language is fascinating. I find her thought-provoking and I find comfort in the fact that my voice is like hers and I think many women see this."

But she admitted to being somewhat bemused by suggestions such as Polo by Jilly Cooper - which did not make it onto the list - and even by The Lord of the Rings, which she suspected may have won inclusion thanks to the influence of the films.

Yet it appeared that people had been honest. "I didn't know what to expect, but I thought I would get quite a lot of resistance, that women would feel slightly exposed. But people were saying, 'I'm wearing my heart on my sleeve and sharing things I haven't shared in years.'"

Only one woman asked refused.

The aim had been to get women to talk about their visceral response to the books that made them, Ms Watkins said. "Whether it was Heart of Darkness or Villette or I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, they were all books which helped get people through things or helped them to get on with their lives or inspired them."

Many women had a whole canon of texts that they loved and could immediately reel off. They had to be encouraged to edit the list down. Others could provide one just off the top of their head, as it truly demonstrating its influence upon them.

Ms Watkins was convinced it was not simply a list of favourites. "I was quite clear that this wasn't just about something you savoured. This is about absolute watersheds."
Voici le list:

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen
The Rainbow, DH Lawrence
One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Márquez
The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger
The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton
Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
Middlemarch, George Eliot
Catch 22, Joseph Heller
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Jeanette Winterson
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou
Villette, Charlotte Brontë
The Mill on the Floss, George Eliot
The Little Princess, Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing
Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
The Secret History, Donna Tartt
The Passion, Jeanette Winterson
The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood
Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald
Ulysses, James Joyce
The Grass is Singing, Doris Lessing
Beloved, Toni Morrison
The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien
The PowerBook, Jeanette Winterson
Persuasion, Jane Austen
The Stranger, Albert Camus
Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert
Trumpet, Jackie Kay
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis
Remembrance of Things Past, Marcel Proust
Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
Mrs Dalloway, Virginia Woolf
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Old 14th Sep 2004, 10:10   #2
jim
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Well I've read twenty of those so I think I must be pretty in touch with my feminine side.

I really ought to try Jeanette Winterson but I have to say I really don't like the look of her. Shallow, moi?
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Old 14th Sep 2004, 10:17   #3
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It would have been more interesting that the question of how said books changed their lives... I mean, how many people can honestly say that they have lived their lives differently because of a book? And how many of those is the book in question The Lord of the Rings, male or female?

I find it pretty bizaare, I must say.

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What has been brought home is that ranked lists are only as good as the questions you ask
And I think this question, really, is pretty meaningless. I am certain that they might as well have asked for a nomination for favourite book and it would have been the same.
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Old 14th Sep 2004, 10:23   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wavid
how many people can honestly say that they have lived their lives differently because of a book?
New thread! New thread! Carpe deum, mate.
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Old 14th Sep 2004, 10:57   #5
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Like 'diem' ? (Latin despot too!)

Which god would we seize if we could...?
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Old 14th Sep 2004, 11:12   #6
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Careful, I may just change your rank to '...is just totally despotic'. What would the newbies make of that?

As for the supplementary question, I'd suggest the One of Small Things ... then take a few steps back.
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Old 14th Sep 2004, 13:15   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wavid
It would have been more interesting that the question of how said books changed their lives... I mean, how many people can honestly say that they have lived their lives differently because of a book? And how many of those is the book in question The Lord of the Rings, male or female?
some might consider it a work of fiction but I would consider The Female Eunuch - Germaine Greer, a thought provoking and potentially life changing book, being honest I've had more life changing experiences through music than most fiction. Of course Colyngbourne provides a fine reading list that I'd recommend anyone to lock themselves aways and enrich themselves with.
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