10 books of women’s awakenings: fiction

Somehow, this was harder than last week’s post on nonfiction. Perhaps because during the first three or four decades of my life I read vastly more fiction than nonfiction, and so there are so many more titles to choose from. There was the ever-present difficulty of trying not to focus on the novels I have loved best, or which moved and affected me deeply – which would, except for one or two titles here, probably be a different list; nor on the very, very many which made me think deeply – but on those that were most transformative. Also, I know exactly how it is: five minutes after I’ve pressed the button, I’ll think of five more that I was an idiot to leave out. It is curious that I couldn’t find a single book read in childhood which could contribute to this list, though there were for sure many that I loved – but anyway: after much agonizing, here they are; I’ve taken much pleasure in searching out, where possible, the cover images of the ancient editions I still possess. Again, they’re ordered according to the time in my life when I read them, earliest first. And again, if you’ve read any of them and they also affected you, do leave a comment, and if you have others of your own to share, I’d love to know about them.

The Rainbow, by D.H. Lawrence

novels1I guess I should also include Women in Love along with this one, as together they are, to me, very much about women’s awakenings. But The Rainbow affected me much more deeply. It was one of the books I studied for ‘A’ level English Literature, and I read it at 16, having previously been brought up on a typical all-girls-grammar-school diet of Jane Austen and George Eliot (and, god help us, the likes of Milton’s Samson Agonistes, which is the direst, most depressing piece of writing I’ve ever had the misfortune to be forced to study). Reading Lawrence was like diving into a clear, cold pool on a hot day. It shook up my whole view of the world, opened my eyes for the first time to what it really is to live in relationship with the natural world.

The Rainbow paints a picture of a world in transition, of the modern move from pastoral to urban, from a land-focused, hard but deeply nourishing life to dependence on industry. It follows several generations of an English family, the Brangwens, through that transition. The first generation of Brangwens that we meet are farmers, and their connection with the land and the natural world is deep, visceral and vivid:

‘They felt the rush of the sap in spring, they knew the wave which cannot halt, but every year throws forward the seed in begetting, and, falling back, leaves the young-born on the earth. They knew the intercourse between heaven and earth, sunshine drawn into the breast and bowels, the rain sucked up in the day-time, nakedness that comes under the wind in autumn, showing the birds’ nests no longer worth hiding …’ 

As the book progresses, though, and the narrative moves into the modern age, it becomes populated with characters who have lost that connection to the land that was the mainstay of previous generations’ existence. Most of Lawrence’s writing throughout his life was concerned with a critique of Modernity: with the creeping progress of industrialisation, with the consequent loss of our connection to the natural world and its rhythms and its seasons. He argued passionately that we have constructed an exclusively human world for ourselves, and in so doing, we have cut ourselves off from the source of our belonging: the land, and the nonhuman others who occupy it with us. We have lost touch with that sense of being a part of the natural world, of being in our bodies, in the seasons, and in present time. The ultimate result of such abstraction from nature, the body, and the present, he wrote, is the destruction of any possibility of inner peace and fulfilment, and of community. As a child brought up on the fringes of an industrial steel town, I drank up this message and internalized it so deeply that it has never left me.

The Women’s Room, by Marilyn French

Novels2I suspect this would be on the list of many women of my own age or older, as it’s often described as one of the most influential books of the modern feminist movement. I read it when I was 17, and it was another of those books which challenged my view of the world I had been brought up in, where men ruled all roosts and women’s freedoms were few. The book is set in America in the 1950s, and describes the slow and painful awakening of Mira Ward, who begins as a conventional and submissive young woman in a marriage to an unsympathetic man who believes it is his right to rule not just his own life, but hers. Beginning in an age when women were expected to be no more than housewives and mothers, the book charts Mira’s gradual and often painful journey to independence. The Women’s Room was radical for its times, and when it was published, was criticized heavily in the conservative press of the day. But the frequency with which so many women of my acquaintance cite it as pivotal to their own awakenings says all that needs to be said about its value. It showed me a trap that I vowed never to fall into. (I fell into a few others in my time, but never that one!)

The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood

novels3Again, this one will be no surprise to many of you. It struck horror into my heart, and it still does. The pity of it is that as time progresses, we seem to creep closer to the terrifying possibilities Atwood describes rather than further away. An America with Ted Cruz as the Republican candidate would have been too close for comfort; an America with Donald Trump as a serious candidate for President is an America in which anything might happen. And that’s without considering threats from further afield, with the growth of fundamentalism in the Islamic world. The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian novel set in a future America in which a series of epidemics and chemical exposures have rendered the majority of the population sterile. A right-wing Christian fundamentalist theocracy takes power, and refashions the structure of American society. The country, which is now called Gilead, is ruled by the rich and powerful elite; women who appear to be fertile may become ‘Handmaids’, who are forced to act as concubines to the ruling males so that they can have children. The story centres around Offred, who is enslaved and forced to become a Handmaid to a childless couple: a high-ranking commander and his embittered wife, Serena Joy. In the unlikely event that you haven’t read it, do so very soon. This future could so easily become our present.

Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand

novels11Yes, I know. I can hear all the intakes of breath. Ayn Rand had some seriously ugly ideas, and appears to have been a fairly ugly woman. When I read Atlas Shrugged, in my mid-twenties, I didn’t know any of that. And although I didn’t agree with so much of it (and for sure, agree with even less now) I nevertheless found it a deeply transformative book. I loved it, and I loved it passionately. Part of me still does. Why? For all the wrong reasons – ‘wrong’ in the sense that they have nothing to do with Rand’s primary philosophies of life. I do not, for example, worship the cult of the individual, or rationalism. I do not worship industrialization. I absolutely do not and never did worship capitalism. I abhor pretty much every political idea that Ayn Rand promoted (except for her hatred of totalitarianism). And yet, completely unaware of all this background, never having heard of ‘objectivism’, having absolutely no idea of who Ayn Rand was, in my early twenties I found this novel on a library shelf one day and, because I liked the title, I took it home and read it. And I loved Atlas Shrugged. I loved it because in it, people said, ‘Enough: I will not participate in a mechanistic world that leeches all joy and creativity’. I loved it because I found characters (deeply flawed, often unidimensional, yes, I know) who did not compromise what they believed to be good and true.

I’m sure that many of you will argue that I shouldn’t have loved the book for those reasons, and that if I did love it in any way at all, it’s because I didn’t understand how deeply pernicious it is. But I am very clear on one thing: there are still passages in this book which I copied out once into a notebook and which can bring tears to my eyes. These are the passages that insist on authenticity, and truth. More often that not (but not always …) I don’t like the particular forms of authenticity and truth that are offered in this book. But I love the characters who wouldn’t give up, who refused to conform, to fail, to give in to a system which they believed (whether ‘correctly’, or not) was heartless and joyless. I read this book naively, perhaps, and from a largely apolitical perspective. What did it teach me? Not to love capitalism, or individualism, or rationalism or industrialization. But to stand tall, and stand true. To shrug, rather than conform to a system which seems to cripple the soul. To bring down a system by leaving it, rather than by trying to blow it up. It’s a lesson that’s still relevant today – ironically, perhaps, in order to bring down capitalism rather than, as Rand wanted, to save it. The way to bring the system down is to refuse to participate in it. Take it underground. Shrug.

Fairy Tale, by Alice Thomas Ellis

novels9This too, and for different reasons, will probably strike many people as a curious book for such a list. So why is it here? Because it contributed to a shift in my worldview. I always found it easy, as a child and a teenager and an adult, to find enchantment in fairy tales, fantasy and science fiction. That was easy: those were different worlds, created worlds, not ours. But Alice Thomas Ellis, and a bunch of others like her who I found afterwards (I’m thinking, for example, of Janice Elliot’s stunning The Sadness of Witches – also in line for a ‘best title’ award) showed me that you could live an enchanted life in this one too, even if you were an adult. All you had to do was tilt your head at a different angle, look into the shadows out of the corner of your eye. I’ve spent many years cultivating that art. The story-world she created was so much more believable to me than more fantastical magical realist writers like Angela Carter, who I never could really warm to. And the elegant precision of her darkly humorous prose seemed to perfectly represent the quintessential British style of the day. Two others of Alice Thomas Ellis’ books remain on my bookshelves: Unexplained Laughter, and The Inn at the Edge of the World. Both also are recommended, but Fairy Tale stayed with me more.

The Golden Notebook, by Doris Lessing

novels4As with The Women’s Room and The Handmaid’s Tale, I fear I’m not being very original here. So much has been written about this novel that I hardly know where to begin. For me, the beauty of this particular book wasn’t that it was a feminist novel; by the time I’d read it, when I was around 30, I’d taken in all the feminist perspectives I would ever need for a good while, and this is a book that very much reflected 1960s ideas and politics. The beauty of it, then, was in many other things, and I’m afraid I’m not going to be much use at putting them into coherent words. If I take this novel and add it to The Four-Gated City, another of the Lessing novels that I loved, and then Shikasta, which I positively adored and have read again and again, then the message I take from her writing goes something like this: the world is not as it seems. We are sleepwalkers, even when we think we are most awake. We see the world through a veil. The ones who are called ‘crazy’ are often the people who know this best; sometimes the maddest are the sanest of us: they are the ones who see through the veil. These labels, then, make no sense. Breaking down is inevitable if you want truly to see the world for what it is. Lessing, of course, was profoundly influenced by Sufi teacher Imries Shah, and my attempts to delve into the fascinating worldview that haunts all of Lessing’s fiction led me down a rewarding path of research into wider Sufi philosophy. This incredibly complex and richly layered book opened up a wide and airy space in my head that it’s taken a couple more decades to work through. I suspect everyone who reads it takes away something different from it. But do read it anyway! (And read Shikasta, too …)

Oyster, by Janette Turner Hospital

novels5 As I work my way through these books, I’m feeling increasingly insecure about my ability to express why they’re on this list. So often the novels I’ve loved, the novels that have remained with me, that have shifted the way I see the world, have done so (like Lessing’s, above) because of the worldview they seemed to embody, and the remarkable prose/language they use in order to embody it, rather than because of a particular story, plot or character. Here is the ‘official’ blurb about Oyster:

Stories do insist on being told. Even the stories of hidden lives and towns and opal reefs. By cunning intention, and sometimes by discreet bribery (or other dispatch) of government surveyors, the opal-mining town Outer Maroo has kept itself off maps. And yet people do stumble into town, because the seduction of nowhere is hard to resist. Two strangers reach Outer Maroo, searching for a stepdaughter and son who have mysteriously disappeared. There is a heavy, guilty feeling to the hot, parched-dry town. Mercy Given and Old Jess (everyone calls her Old Silence) watch from Ma and Bill Beresford’s store. On the verandah of Bernie’s Last Chance, the drinkers wait to take stock of the foreigners, before they return to their cattle properties or their sheep stations or to their stake-outs in the opal fields. Dukke Prophet crosses the street from The Living Word Gospel Hall. Young Alice Godwin whimpers. Outer Maroo. Population 87. Here two opposing cultures – the rough-diamond, boozing, fiercely individualistic bush folk and the teetotaller, church-going fundamentalists – used to coexist peaceably. Until the arrival of the cult messiah Oyster …

It tells you little about why I love it, so all I can say is – trust me. Read this, or read another novel by Australian-born Janette Turner Hospital. In all of them, her worldview – a worldview haunted by disappearances and dislocations, in which nothing is ever fully explained and life is utterly disorienting – seems so perfectly to describe the … weirdnesses … of contemporary postmodern life. And yet these novels, unlike so many which try to portray these aspects of postmodern society, are neither ironic nor clever-clever. They are full of heart, loss and longing, and written in some of the most beautiful prose I’ve ever encountered. In the UK, at least, Janette Turner Hospital has never been given the acclaim that I think is her due. Read the early novels, all of them: The Tiger in the Tiger Pit, Borderline, Charades, The Last Magician, Oyster. Every one of them beautiful and fascinating in its own way; I would be hard-pressed to tell you which I loved most. (I have struggled with her latest two novels, but that’s because they seemed to lack the depth of her earlier works.) Let yourself fall into this disturbing, dislocated world which she tells us is our own. And then ask yourself what anchors you in it. Because sometimes the most transformative novels don’t try to offer you the answers. Sometimes they just make you ask the right questions.

The Crossing, by Cormac McCarthy

novels7This is neither a book by a woman, nor a book about a woman’s awakening. I guess there’s a female character in it somewhere, but if so I can’t remember: rounded female characters aren’t really McCarthy’s forte. But it had a profound impact on my own life, and so it belongs in this list. The Crossing is the second book in McCarthy’s The Border Trilogy. In this extract from If Women Rose Rooted, I explain why this book affected me so deeply:

‘It is the story of a boy who lives on a cattle ranch, and rescues a she-wolf from a trap he himself has set. The boy decides to take her back across the border to the mountains of Mexico, where he believes she came from. He travels with the injured and wary wolf, developing a deep bond with her, but once they’re in Mexico she is captured by officials who impound her and hand her over to a group of local men. They take her into an arena, where she is going to be made to fight every one of the town’s dogs in turn. The boy, knowing that she will sooner or later be torn apart, tries to rescue the heavily pregnant wolf, but he doesn’t succeed. He leaves the arena, fetches his rifle, returns, and shoots the wolf in the head. He then trades his rifle for the wolf’s carcass, and takes her to the hills astride his horse, to bury her: 

He squatted over the wolf and touched her fur. He touched the cold and perfect teeth. The eye turned to the fire gave back no light and he closed it with his thumb and sat by her and put his hand upon her bloodied forehead and closed his own eyes that he could see her running in the starlight where the grass was wet and the sun’s coming as yet had not undone the rich matrix of creatures passed in the night before her … He took up her stiff head out of the leaves and held it or he reached to hold what cannot be held, what already ran among the mountains at once terrible and of a great beauty, like flowers that feed on flesh … But which cannot be held never be held and is no flower but is swift and a huntress and the wind itself is in terror of it and the world cannot lose it.

 The world cannot lose it – but if I understood anything now, I understood that the world was going to lose it. We were going to lose it, we humans, and we didn’t seem even to care.

I broke down completely. I didn’t know quite what it was that I was weeping for, but I felt as if my heart was caving in. For the wolf, for all wolves, for all the pregnant females who are beaten by men, for all wild things, for the cruelty of humans, for the heart-broken boy, for my dogs, for the future death of my dogs, for the beauty of words, for my life, for all our lives, for the whole world which we were turning into a Wasteland. For all the Wastelands of the human spirit, for the Wasteland that I was creating out of my own life. ‘

The book was responsible for me finally packing up and moving to a croft in the farthest, remotest corner of the Isle of Lewis in May 2010. Truth is, many of McCarthy’s novels have affected me in this way. The Road, No Country For Old Men, Blood Meridian. These are novels which unflinchingly show the violence and ugliness in the human world for what it is. And yet, there is so much simple, grounded wisdom in so many of the key characters, and this is the quality which renders the books, in my eyes, so powerful and transformative.

Witch Light, by Susan Fletcher

novels8Witch Light (originally published as Corrag) gave back to me what The Crossing took away: a sense of joy in the world. But it wasn’t joy in the world of humans: it was joy in relationship with the natural world. This is one of the most beautiful novels I’ve ever read; it expresses a way of being in the world which is genuinely ‘free’, genuinely rooted in the land. There are many other works of fiction which have offered similar characters, but I’ve never come across any which quite so perfectly describes the sense of being at one with the natural world.

The novel takes as its starting point the massacre of Glencoe when, at dawn on a winter’s day in 1692, King William III’s redcoats brutally slaughtered thirty-two members of the MacDonald clan, including women and children, because of their loyalty to the exiled Catholic James II. Forced to flee, many more died of exposure in the mountains. Although the MacDonalds had finally signed an oath to King William, they had done so six days late. And so they were killed. Fletcher tells this story through the eyes of a young woman called Corrag, whose name derives from a combination of her mother’s – Cora – and the insult which is most frequently thrown at her: ‘hag’. While Corrag is still a girl her mother is taken and then hung as a witch, and Corrag, finding herself with no other safe options, embarks on a life of wandering. When she finds herself following her mother’s instructions to head north and west, she comes finally to beautiful bleak Glencoe and finds a place, and a people, to whom she becomes deeply attached. And so, when the soldiers come, she does what she can to save them.

The novel opens after the massacre, with Corrag imprisoned in a primitive jail in Inverary, condemned to burn at the stake.  While she waits for death to come, Charles Leslie, an Irish Jacobite, comes to her cell, searching for proof that might implicate the King William in the massacre and help put James back on the English throne. Corrag agrees to talk to him, but only if he will listen to and record her story from the beginning. The story which Corrag shares shows a young woman who is completely at one with the landscape she inhabits. Leslie describes her as having ‘an eye which sees the smaller parts of life’. Corrag, half-feral, with terminally tangled hair and a great tenderness for all living creatures, has a voice which is poetic, intense, and which reflects both the joy and the meaning that she finds in the natural world. Throughout all the hardships she faces, she never loses her sense of wonder. She shows us that the world is magical – not because she is a ‘witch’, but because there is magic in ‘the simple daily moments that we stop seeing’. When we look at the world through Corrag’s eyes, we are offered a reality in which we are encouraged to listen to ‘what powers are in us – in all of us. What we already know, if we choose to spend some time with ourselves.’ Corrag’s wisdom comes from the land, and she tries to explain the richness of her life to Charles Leslie as he looks at her, bedraggled in her filthy cell, waiting to be burned. Thinking her a poor creature, feeling sorry for her and what he considers to be her hard life.

‘You look sadly at me. Why? Look what I found. Look where I lived, and where I called home. Go to Glencoe. Stand amongst its peaks, and you will understand – what a gift it was, to live there … I had milk, and a fire, and a deerskin to sleep on. And if I called out my name the rocks gave it back to me. Corrag … The owls called it out.

… And poor? You think I was poor, in Glencoe? Far from it. No pennies, no. But when did pennies make a person truly rich? Folk seem to fill their lives with favours or a title or two – as if these are the things which matter, like happiness lies in a coin. Like the natural world and our place in it is worth far less than a stuffed purse, or a word like earl or duke. Perhaps, for them, it is. But that’s not my way and never was. I was at my richest as I sat cross-legged amongst the last of the foxgloves, watching a plump-bodied bee live his life. He pushed up inside each flower so that his bottom peeped out, and his droning sound was muffled, and then he’d slowly creep back out with a louder hum, and powdered wings. From flower to flower, he went, I watching him for hours, and I reckoned I was richer for that wandering bee than a fistful of gold could ever make me.

Poor? Not poor.’

 The Boudica series, by Manda Scott

novels10I wouldn’t say that this radically transformed my thinking, or awakened me, so much as affirming and shifting radical transformations I’d already gone through, and not so very long ago. But that’s a good enough reason for including here four books which I wholeheartedly recommend that you read. The four-volume Boudica series (Boudica: Dreaming the Eagle; Boudica: Dreaming the Bull; Boudica: Dreaming the Hound, and Boudica: Dreaming the Serpent Spear) is included here not because of the accurately researched story of Boudica herself, fascinating and strong female character though she clearly is, but because of Scott’s imaginative depiction of what our ancestors’ belief systems may have been, and how they might have lived according to those systems. In Scott’s vision of early Britain, her ‘dreamers’ are more than simply the equivalent of ‘druids’ or ‘shamans’. They are scouts and trackers for the warriors, mediating between the living and the ancestors. They fly with the birds, and run with the hound or the deer. When they pass on, they speak to us, across time. Scott is a careful researcher and a brilliant storyteller; but more than that, with these books she offers us a glimpse into what we might once have been, and what we might be again.

16 thoughts on “10 books of women’s awakenings: fiction

  1. Thank you for this list. I read Atlas Shrugged when I was stillin high school and it would be on my list, too, because my life view shifted for the first time. My privileged white world childhood was thrown into question and for that reason I am grateful. McCarthy’s writing fills me with wonder and longing as he strings such basic words into something so achingly beautiful and powerful! So does James Lee Burke:
    “In the alluvial sweep of the land, I thought I could see the past and the present and the future all at once, as though time were not sequential in nature but took place without a beginning or an end, like a flash of green light rippling outward from the center of creation, not unlike a dream inside the mind of God.”
    As a retired librarian, I am loathe to admit the only other familiar author on your list is Atwood who would also be on my list, so I eagerly look forward to your other titles.

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    1. It is strange how the books that shift us are not always, in hindsight, the most politically correct books 🙂 And what I’ve always enjoyed about my own response to so many well-known novels is that often I love them for reasons which are quite different to most people. Isn’t that the beauty of a good novel? The ability it has to reflect life in all its variousnesses … I hope you discover and enjoy some of those other titles.

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  2. Thank you for sharing these lists Sharon. Some of the books I know, some I do not, but your reasons and comments resonate. I think I would not have the courage to read them, some of them, because the despair and sorrow I might feel may be too much. I too sense the nearness of the Handmaid’s tale. Some, it seems, seem hard wired to explore to the deep of things, in all their aspects, to take each thread on the web and tug. Happen to try and sense the thing that tugs back. Even without reading them, the books you describe now tug, just because of your understanding of their place so eloquently expressed. Thank you once again for sharing.

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    1. That’s an interesting phrase – ‘the courage to read them’. I wonder whether that’s why I can’t seem to focus in on fiction much any more, these days. It does require a curious courage, yes, and I hadn’t thought of it that way. My husband always tells me that he gave up reading fiction (mostly) decades ago because he would fall so deeply into the other worlds that it interfered, not always in a healthy way, with his ‘real life’. I often wonder whether, as we age, we begin to lack the courage (or energy, or heart?) to fight another person’s life with them, albeit fictionally, when we have ourselves gone through so much. It is a rare thing for me now to find a work of fiction I want to fall into. I so often just stop reading, something I would have been horrified to admit when I was younger. And yet, they come, the new books, quietly. Though what is finest of all is to re-read a book whose world I know and love, sorrows and all. But I do for sure lack the courage to go back and watch that wolf in ‘The Crossing’ die again …

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  3. Thanks, Sharon, for this powerful post about these amazing books. I want to read several that I do not know, though I agree, it often seems harder to read fiction as I grow older. I read Atlas Shrugged when I was a teenager, so long ago that I’ve forgotten most of it–and my reaction was to hate it. But it too, changed me, made me aware of defending mattered to me. I was able to learn to be resolute about this in part through my anger at this book and by grasping the depths to which the values in this book were not mine.
    I also wanted to suggest a book of fiction you may be interested in reading, if you have not: Marilynne Robinson’s book, Housekeeping. I read it when it first came out and perhaps felt some of what you describe, the almost impossible to define way certain tellings haunt you and change you, a certain compelling quality of mythic narrative.
    I had found it left in the lobby of an office building where I worked. I picked it up, thinking by the title it was the sort of romantic fluff often read at lunch hour, but when opened the most astonishing and powerful tale sprang forth, told with such beauty I couldn’t put it down. (I later gave it to one of my philosophy professors, who said, interestingly, that it was as profound as Nietzsche to him regarding being human in this world.) I sat there in that lobby chair for my entire break and read that book. When I got up I went to the information desk nearby to hand it over and only then found the owner of the book standing there, watching me with some interest. He claimed the book and I retreated in some confusion to buy a copy as soon as I could.
    Housekeeping is such a prosaic title and that is part of its hauntedness. The harsh beauty of the natural world undermines permanence in the human world. The impossibility of housekeeping seeps into everything in the book, like the waters of Fingerbone Lake seep into the landscape, past every effort of human settling and order. It is a story of women: grandmother, orphaned sisters, their aunt, and their reactions to housekeeping. All make choices about how to live in this world and they are all haunted choices. Why it affected me so strongly is part of my own longer tale, but perhaps I will say that as a child I had a repeated nightmare: my family and I are walking, along with other people, in a vivid, green, green landscape of hardwood forest. We walk because there is no longer any place to go, no longer any place to stop. As we walk, our footprints slowly fill with water, a rising tide that will sweep over the world. Many years later, I comprehended some of the meaning of this dream in Antonio Machado’s poem, “Traveler, there are no paths, paths are made by walking . . . traveler, there are . . . only ships’ wakes on the sea.”
    And yet we walk, and the walking is filled with beauty. And the telling.

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    1. Oh, what a powerful story; thank you for sharing. To talk this way about why certain books affected us is so much more interesting than a mere ‘review’! It goes to the heart of us, and for my professional interests, to the heart of narrative psychology. I read Robinson’s ‘Gilead’ years ago and hated it. But it sounds as if this one would be more my kind of book. I’ll take a chance on it! (And those lines by Machado haunt me too …) I have always believed that there is nothing that has the potential to be so profoundly transformative as the right novel at the right time. And all of us transformed in different ways by the same book, depending on what we bring to it and what we need to take and hold tightly on to, as you and I showed with ‘Atlas Shrugged’. If I read it now I’d hate it for sure. But as a then very troubled woman in my own unique ways, I needed to learn about making a stand for beauty and truth, whatever you perceive it to be …

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  4. Oh… Witch Light! I was so moved by it and utterly entranced by the writing. It touched a deep longing in me, or maybe a bone-memory of an ancestor’s life, something very real and very much a part of me at my core. It sits somewhere on a shelf and I’m amazed that I have not passed it around to all my friends. Its a book that I wanted to continue to have around me when I was finished reading it, but eventually I put it on a shelf. I suppose the story lives in me now, but some books I find hard to put “away” and keep close to me for a time before I let them go. I have a little pile growing of these kinds of books, If Women Rose Rooted is one of the three in that done but not letting go of pile next to me at the moment. Thank you for that!

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  5. These two posts are so valuable. I will keep them – the comments included- in a folder. Thank you Sharon.
    I have made a list too this week in happy anticipation of yours.
    * Kate Chopin, The Awakening. Published in 1899 this book created a scandal because of its openness about sexuality and suicide. The protagonist is a married women who awakens to her (spiritual sense of ) self while being defeated by social mores. Spiritual liberation cannot be without social liberation, Chopin makes clear.
    * Verena Stefan, Shedding and Literary Dreaming. Eight stories about the transformation of consciousness against the background of woman’s liberation. I am unable to express why it is so important to me. But important it is.
    * Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook. Not only did I read the book cover to cover the first time, after that I also read the different notebooks the protagonist is keeping in full, one after the other to folow the strands in the story, before yes really, rereading the whole book again. I also loved Shikasta and the Marriages of the Zones Three, Four and Five. I own the Canopus in Argos series but somehow never came round to read the remaining three.
    * Marilyn French: The Woman’s Room.
    * Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony. Tayo, a Native Indian, returns from World War II and Japanese camps as a broken man. It takes re- connecting to his history and culture to heal.
    * Jean Giono, whenever I feel bruised by the worlds news and especially by the abuse of Earth I read The Man Who Planted Trees. It is a gentle, simple yet profound story about a man who acts in a simple yet profound way.
    * Marlen Haushofer: The Wall. One morning a woman awakes to find she is the only survivor on earth as a result of a military experiment gone wrong. It is about learning to survive and about self renewal.

    And from children’s literature I really liked Juniper by Monica Furlong.

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    1. Hi Cath, and glad you’ve enjoyed them. It’s been a fascinating process writing them, for sure … Yes, Kate Chopin and Leslie Marmon Silko would be on my ‘much-loved’ list, but not my life-changing list. Glad you love Lessing too. I read all the Canopus in Argos series but it is Shikasta and The Sirian Experiment that I read again. Then there is the sad one about the planet which dies in the Ice Age (can’t remember the title) which I love too but find it too sad to read often. I will go and look out Marlen Haushofer. Sounds like my kind of book! So thank you in return. x

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  6. I read Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead at around the age of 14 and it inspired a deep feminism in my heart as nothing else did at that time – not the Womyn’s Room at our school, not the ubiquitous “girls can do anything” posters – because I remember my shock and revulsion that the book’s hero was a rapist and yet no one around me was talking about that, not even my politically active feminist teachers. It was the moment I became conscious not only of the silence surrounding violence towards women, but also that people could love and admire a writer who made a rapist her “ideal hero.” So I physically recoiled from Atlas Shrugged and have never touched it in all the years since.

    Funny to see Corrag has yet another title – I think that’s three or four different names for the novel now? Beautiful book though. So beautiful. And The Handmaid’s Tale – well, I think that future is in many ways already here.

    Thank you for this list, there are some titles which are very alluring and I shall be looking them up.

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    1. I should add that I don’t judge anyone for reading Ayn Rand and its actually quite wonderful that you were able to get such richness from a book which contained a great deal you disagreed with. I do remember that The Fountainhead taught me to be true to my own vision of art, and I value that lesson.

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      1. I understand, Sarah, and believe that sometimes those books which we both love and hate are the ones which leave the biggest impression and carry the strongest teachings, especially perhaps when we’re young. They teach us not only to discriminate, but something else about life which I can’t think of a name for right now, but is strongly related to the fact that there are no black-and-whites. What we love most might carry the seed of what we hate most, and vice versa. Both ‘The Fountainhead’ and ‘Atlas Shrugged’ taught me much about the complexity of belief.

        (Yes, in the UK ‘Witch Light’ was originally and briefly published as ‘Corrag’, and then changed because it was a title which conveyed nothing. In other countries when it was later published, as is often the case, they chose their own titles.) Hope you find something else in the list to enjoy. I am wondering for example whether you would like Alice Thomas Ellis, or whether she would be a little too darkly sardonic for your tastes. if you read her, let me know!

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  7. One book I would have loved to see on this list is the utterly beautiful Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

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