What I Learned From Reading Female Authors Only Last Year

February is Women In Horror Month, so I thought I’d talk a bit about having read 44 books last year all by women authors. These 44 books were not all within the horror genre, but because this is a month celebrating underrepresented authors in an underappreciated genre, I’m squeezing this post in 🙂


So, 44 books all by women. What trends did I see? What was evident when reading only women authors that might not be evident when reading between genders? What was surprising or disappointing? The answer to all of these questions, folks, is nothing. That’s right.

I had gone into this endeavor thinking that, perhaps–and yes, I know I expose my own bias here–I would read a lot of romance, regardless of genre. This is partly because I lean toward these types of stories, but also, even when I intentionally pick up something that doesn’t feature an epic romance, I kind of expect it. However, I was mistaken in considering, for even a moment, that romance is at the core of most novels by women.

The goal of this post is to reinforce that authors are authors and books are books, and we shouldn’t be dividing them by the “types of books women write” versus “the types of books men write”. If anything, last year, reading all female-penned novels (and a book on craft), showed me that to think in such categories falsely represents any author and artist. This tweet from YA author Maggie Stiefvater demonstrates my point.

Though I’m reluctant to even divide these up by genre, I thought I’d review some of the badass reads that stood out last year. Bear in mind, I only read a select set of genres; by no means, did I do a sample of every fiction genre.

Standout (Badass) Reads of 2017

Jamaica Inn and Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

First up is the horror master who resurrected the gothic genre in the 20th century. You may not know this but Hitchcock’s The Birds was based on a story by Du Maurier. Both of these books elicited all over body chills. There were a couple scenes in Jamaica Inn that will forever stay with me in my vault of scariest moments while reading. Rebecca was more of an all over eeriness and discomfort, the horror of the psychological. Both of these are horror classics.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

This tome was a literary goliath. It was everything I had hoped it would be–intimate portrayals of each larger-than-life character, epic friendships, scholarly atmosphere, and a timeless, mythic feel to the entirety of the story.

The Anatomy of Curiosity by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff

This was an enjoyable, eye-opening book on the craft of writing. I appreciated the unique approach to showing a writer’s mindset and decision-making process while working on a short story. The three stories were all strong and varied, making it an invaluable addition to any shelf that already bears On Writing by Stephen King.

The Foxhole Court, The Raven King, All the King’s Men by Nora Sakavic

No softness here. Sports, brutality, fatal competition, and hungry hit-men. I was propelled through the series over two feverish weeks. There were a couple times, the events were so gruesome, I had to put the book down. Funny thing is, I have almost no interest in sports, but Sakavic’s descriptions of her fictional sport Exy were riveting.

Shatter Me series by Tahereh Mafi

Mafi’s dystopian superhero series is so much more than meets the eye in the first book. The series even transcends its genre. In Juliette, the reader experiences this awe-inspiring transformation of a girl, broken by her parents, her dying world, and her government. This series is an impressive psychological study of the effects of war and the war a person can have within herself.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

You know this book has made an impact on me, as I’ve talked about it before, in a post about unexpected horror and a round up of my favorite 2017 reads. I recently started listening to Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, and I can see how Novik expertly invokes her predecessor in the fantasy genre in Uprooted. This novel is mythic and dark and utterly moving.

Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

A scathingly sharp, perilously witty, modern day bildungsroman–about a young woman, imagine that.

Middle Grade Mavens: Tamora Pierce and J.K. Rowling.

While both The Song of the Lioness series and the Harry Potter series are listed as YA, Alanna: The First Adventure and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone are middle grade novels. I adore that both of these series grow up with the readers; but even for starting so young, neither of these first books shy away from life, death, or violence. As a reader who is oftentimes propelled through story by romance, these series don’t have a heck of a lot of it, but they’re succinctly and thoughtfully plotted, populated with amazing characters, funny, and addictive.

The Brontës

Finally, we cannot forget the indomitable Brontë sisters: Charlotte Brontë’s Villette has been attributed to as the first modernist novel before the term was coined. It is overtly feminist, as its main character is seeking economic independence, but it is also devilishly sensual, fierce, and despairing. Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was not only subtly feminist but also presented a dark tale of vice and deception, and an outright battle between innocence and corruption, subjects of which a woman in her day should have no knowledge.

Do you agree that there should be no difference between how we perceive novels by women versus by men? What do you think about this cross-section of epic reads by women? Do you have any of your own to suggest?

10 thoughts on “What I Learned From Reading Female Authors Only Last Year”

  1. Great post! I just added Rebecca to my to-read list. I haven’t thoughtfully assessed how many books I read by women versus books by men, so I don’t have a strong opinion about the comparison, but now I’m curious. May have to do some counting of last year’s titles…

    1. I realized partway through the year that I hadn’t read any books by men, so I kept going. Haha. I’m sure you’re the type of person who just picks out what you like without giving a second thought to the author’s sex, and that’s the ideal, I think. Regardless, I’d be interested to hear what you come up with.

  2. Very lovely book reviews of books that I will never read. Though there were a couple of books that piqued by interest: Jamaica Inn and Rebecca. I love getting scared when I am reading, especially when I am alone. As for the overall theme of the article, I would have been of the bias that female authors write predominantly romance, even though I firmly believe women have much larger capacities than what they were once given credit for. We have gone far beyond homemakers and bed warmers. So it doesn’t surprise me that women have transcended this stereotype. It is a shame though that the majority of people still rely on these stereotypes. Its funny because stereotypes were created for a reason, for identifying/categorizing, and were based on statistics. But we all know statistics has its flaws. For instance, outliers. They can really skew a histogram.

    1. I think you would really like both of those Du Maurier books. I agree, stereotypes came into existence for a reason, but I was happy after reading all female authors last year to find that none of what I read fit into any “female” stereotype. Spreading the awareness that authors and books transcend this male/female stereotype is my primary goal, thanks for seeing that. I’m laughing out loud at your math talk. Thanks for your comment, Emily!

  3. Quite honestly I don’t do hand-wringing over gender politics. All I care about is this: are they good books?
    On a (sort-of) related note, there are lot of very good female directors working in horror films at present (eg Jennifer Kent, Julia Ducournau, Anna Biller and Ana Lily Amirpour). Again, I only really care about the quality of the films themselves, but it proves – again – that stereotyping over what women would or would not direct is utterly stupid.

    1. Exactly! That’s the point with which I was experimenting when I realized I’d only read female authors and decided to keep going. I hope people are past the point where they think a book looks interesting and don’t even see the gender of the name when they decide to pick it up or not. I ADORE Jennifer Kent, and I’ve had A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night on my to watch list for a while! I will have to look up these other ladies. Thanks for the recommendations!

  4. Great reading list Ash. I personally never categorize authors between male or female. I read what I like and who’s writing I gravitate to and there are wonderful books from both. Now genres are a whole ‘nother story. I have my favs and have strayed into some other genres when reading some books by author friends, but I always go back to my favs – nonfiction, memoir, historical fiction and thrillers. 🙂 ❤

    1. I’m glad to hear that you usually gravitate toward what you like, regardless of the author’s sex. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the responses to that effect on this post. I did it by accident at first, and then intentionally. I don’t regret it. It was an eye-opening experience to see that there really AREN’T any differences.

      I totally have my favorite genres too! 😉


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