Last night, PBS’s The Great American Read revealed the results of its months-long poll of readers from all over the United States to determine this country’s best-loved novel. To very little surprise from me, the readers selected To Kill a Mockingbird by the late Harper Lee. (Coincidentally, my blogger buddy Mr Knitter has a dog named Harper-Lee, who is an adorable brown-eyed Staffordshire Bull Terrier. No doubt named after the author?) I didn’t expect the Outlander series to finish in second, though! I voted for several books and series on the list, including Mockingbird, 1984, The Hunger Games, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Gone with the Wind.
Before I get into my commentary on today’s post, I’ll list the top ten books and series from this list along with their authors.
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee * @
- Outlander (series) by Diana Gabaldon * @
- Harry Potter (series) by J. K. Rowling *
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen * @
- The Lord of the Rings (series) by J. R. R. Tolkien
- Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell * @
- Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White @
- Little Women by Louisa May Alcott * @
- The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë * @
See all those asterisks (*)? Those were all books written by women. Seven of those top ten books were written by women. And the @ signs indicate books and series that have female characters as lead characters in the books (and I included Charlotte’s Web because the title character is female…just not a human female; Charlotte A. Cavatica is a female barn spider who is just as much a lead character as Wilbur the pig is). Out of those ten, I’ve read Mockingbird, Harry Potter, Gone with the Wind, and Charlotte’s Web; I’ve attempted to read Pride and Prejudice and Little Women, but have never managed to finish them. Twelve of the top 20 books on the list were written by women authors, including Agatha Christie and Ayn Rand. You can see the full list of 100 here.
I was also inspired to get three ebooks from this list (I had previously purchased an Apple gift card to get a couple of novelizations of The Tribe that I plan on reading after I finish watching the entire series; I am currently halfway through Series 2…I still had some funds left over for more ebooks), all by women: The Color Purple by Alice Walker, Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery (which was available for free through Apple Books, presumably because of its age), and The Help by Kathryn Stockett. (I also purchased the ebook of Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner, who did not make the list. I’ve previously read The Sound and the Fury.)
I’m amazed at how much Americans these days admire, read, and buy novels and series written by women authors! J. K. Rowling has become one of the best-selling authors of all time, first with the Harry Potter series and now as the woman behind Robert Galbraith and the Cormoran Strike series (kinda like how Nora Roberts writes crime novels as J. D. Robb). Jane Austen is celebrated by women all over the world as the foremother of the modern romance novel two centuries after her lifetime. My current read, Catching Fire, is part of a trilogy written by a woman (Suzanne Collins) whose protagonist is a fiery young woman (Katniss Everdeen). Jodi Picoult and Heather Morris and Celeste Ng are among a crop of recent women authors who’ve made waves on bestseller lists and on the way to writing modern classics. Nora Roberts, Danielle Steele, and Debbie Macomber are all hugely popular these days. And the runner-up from The Great American Read, Diana Gabaldon (the woman behind the Outlander series), has a huge fan following.
In a field where scholarship and criticism was largely focused on works by men for the longest time, it is impressive and a bit interesting that a lot of the highest placing books and series on this list were by women authors! Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged experienced the largest jump in the voting, going from #43 to #20 over the course of the vote. (Speaking of Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead is the next book on my reading list after Catching Fire; The Fountainhead is by far the longest book on my reading list at the moment.) And the plots and genres of those books are just as varied as the authors themselves: Outlander and Gone with the Wind have elements of romance and historical fiction, Anne of Green Gables is celebrated in children’s literature, Harry Potter is child-oriented fantasy, Agatha Christie was the Queen of Mystery Novels, and Ayn Rand dared to challenge the minds and mores of her readers and openly bucked what was considered “politically correct” (in the original sense, not the modern sense) in her homeland of Russia as it descended into the communism of the Soviet Union and she ended up influencing an entire generation of readers and politicians in the United States (regardless of whether you agree with her ideals; I am just talking about her influence as an author).
I’ve talked so much here about women authors and the readers they’ve influenced, but it is also important to note that not all women in the world are as lucky as women in the Western World are. According to ProLiteracy, two-thirds of all illiterate people in the world are women. In many parts of the world where religious conservatism and patriarchal culture are still the norm, women’s education is considered subversive or even outright forbidden. Illiterate women are more likely to live in poverty. Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai was nearly assassinated because she believed all girls deserved the right to an education, and she has since made it her life’s mission to advocate for the education of girls and women all over the world…all while pursuing a university degree at the University of Oxford. Literacy is directly connected to the ability to advance oneself socially and economically. We should be doing everything we can to ensure that all who have the ability to do so can learn how to read and write and be able to provide proper assistance and learning strategies to those who may have difficulties in doing so due to issues like learning disorders like dyslexia. We shouldn’t be letting people fall through the cracks.
Women readers become new women authors. Women readers, no matter the genders of the authors that influence and inspire them, become inspired to create characters and worlds of their own. Women authors can stand on their own and beside the men who are also inspired to write and who’ve inspired women to write. Women authors are not just romance writers: they write political discourse and of fantastical worlds. They write horror stories and thrillers and crime & mystery novels. They write science fiction and dystopian novels and follow in the footsteps of writers like Ursula K. Le Guin. I think the future of literature is definitely female. We celebrate all great books, regardless of the genders of their authors. But it does put a smile on my face to see women authors doing so well and influencing so many readers today.
Are there any female authors who’ve moved or inspired you as a reader or writer? And that question is open to my male readers, too, because you also matter to me as a blogger. Feel free to respond in the comments.