My top 80 most enjoyable novels by women


Atwood, Brookner, Cather, Drabble
Fitzgerald, Lively, Murdoch, Patchett

This morning I stumbled across a top 50 list on For Books’ Sake that was posted earlier this year. Jane Bradley and her colleagues were rightly annoyed by a list of literature’s fifty key moments compiled by Robert McCrum at the Guardian newspaper. Not surprisingly, that list was, as Bradley put it, “a total sausage-fest”. To right this wrong, For Books’ Sake came up with their own list which sought to outline the top 50 influential books by women. In response to the backlash against his original list in the Guardian, McCrum came up with a list of 50 influential books by females that I think is actually better than the one at FBS.

As I looked through all these lists, I couldn’t help creating my own.

Committee of one (and caveats galore)
Unlike the Guardian and For Books’ Sake, I didn’t try and consider any sort of literary importance. I decided that I would simply list my favorite books by women. To do so I looked to my spreadsheet of books that I have read since 1994, sorted them by rating, and then removed all the men. Keep the following in mind as you peruse the list:

  • I decided that anything that rated an 8 or higher on my ten-point scale deserved to be included. This is why the list is longer than 50.
  • I removed anything that wasn’t a novel.
  • Besides separating them into three broad categories, they are otherwise listed in alpha order by author. Thus #1 does not necessarily equate to being my all time favorite book etc.
  • These are books I enjoyed–who am I to rank anything according to literary merit?
  • My rankings are a reflection of how I felt when I read the book. I realized as I compiled the list that my feelings have changed somewhat.
  • It appears that my favorite female authors are: Atwood, Brookner, Cather, Drabble, Fitzgerald, Lively, Murdoch, Patchett, Piercy, Pym, Sarton, Shields, Spark, Stevenson, Wharton, and Whipple. 
  • Being a committee of one, the list is most impacted by the fact that it only relies on the 1,000 or so books I have read since 1994. 
  • The list misses a lot of brilliant books that just didn’t score high enough on my likability scale. Just because my brain registers that a book is brilliant doesn’t mean it makes it into the top categories. This list is about what satisfies me emotionally. (Men are ranked the same way on my spreadsheet, so the big important books by dudes don’t necessarily end up at the top.)

Piercy, Pym, Sarton, Shields
Spark, Stevenson, Wharton, Whipple

Books achieving a 10 (All Time Favorite) 
1. Atwood, Margaret – The Handmaid’s Tale
2. Atwood, Margaret – The Robber Bride
3. Benary-Isbert, Margot – The Ark
4. Canfield Fisher, Dorothy – The Home-Maker
5. Cather, Willa – The Professor’s House
6. Drabble, Margaret – The Seven Sisters
7. Fitzhugh, Louise – Harriet the Spy
8. Murdoch, Iris – Under the Net
9. Pym, Barbara – No Fond Return of Love
10. Sarton, May – As We Are Now
11. Sarton, May – The Magnificent Spinster
12. Spyri, Johanna – Heidi
13. Stevenson, D.E. – Miss Buncle’s Book
14. Walker, Alice – The Color Purple
15. Wharton, Edith – The Age of Innocence

Books achieving a 9 (Loved it)
16. Atwood, Margaret – Oryx and Crake
17. Atwood, Margaret – The Year of the Flood
18. Brookner, Anita – All of her 23 novels
19. Buck, Pearl – The Good Earth
20. Cather, Willa – The rest of her novels not listed above
21. Chopin, Kath – The Awakening
22. Cooper, Lettice –The New House
23. Crompton, Richmal – Family Roundabout
24. Fielding, Helen – Bridget Jones’s Diary
25. Fraser, Laura – An Italian Affair
26. Kennedy, Margaret – The Ladies of Lyndon
27. Lipman, Elinor – The Inn at Lake Divine
28. Lively, Penelope – Consequences
29. Macauley, Rose – Dangerous Ages
30. Mendelson, Cheryl – Her Morningside Heights trilogy
31. Miller, Isabel – Patience and Sarah
32. Mitford, Nancy – The Pursuit of Love
33. Murdoch, Iris – A Fairly Honourable Defeat
34. Murdoch, Iris – The Sea, The Sea
35. Patchett, Ann – All of her novels
36. Piercy, Marge – Most of her novels note listed above
37. Pym, Barbara – The rest of her novels not listed above
38. Sarton, May – The Education of Harriet Hatfield
39. Sharp, Margery – Cluny Brown
40. Shields, Carol – All of her novels
41. Simonson, Helen – Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand
42. Spark, Muriel – The Driver’s Seat
43. Stevenson, D.E. – The rest of her novels not listed above
44. von Arnim, Elizabeth – The Enchanted April
45. Wharton, Edith – Ethan Frome
46. Wharton, Edith – The House of Mirth
47. Whipple, Dorothy – All of her novels

Achieving an 8 (Really liked it)
48. Ashton, Helen – Bricks and Mortar
49. Atwood, Margaret – The rest of her novels not listed above
50. Austen, Jane – Pride and Prejudice
51. Bowen, Elizabeth – The House in Paris
52. Burnett, Frances Hodgson – The Making of a Marchioness
53. Cannan, Joanna – Princes in the Land
54. Chevalier, Tracy – Girl with a Pearl Earring
55. Cleage, Pearl – What Looks Like Crazy
56. Comyns, Barbara – Our Spoons Came from Woolworths
57. Comyns, Barbara – The Skin Chairs
58. Delafield, E.M. – The Provincial Lady in America
59. Drabble, Margaret – The Ice Age
60. du Maurier, Daphne – My Cousin Rachel
61. Ferguson, Ruby – Lady Rose and Mrs. Memmary
62. Fitzgerald, Penelope – All of her novels
63. Gardam, Jane – Old Filth
64. Jenkins, Elizabeth – The Tortoise and the Hare
65. Laski, Marghanita – Little Boy Lost
66. Laurence, Margaret – A Jest of God
67. Lively, Penelope – The rest of her novels not listed above
68. McCarthy, Mary – The Group
69. O’Farrell, Maggie – All of her novels
70. Phillips, Marie – Gods Behaving Badly
71. Piercy, Marge – The rest of her novels not listed above
72. Porter, Katherine Anne – Ship of Fools
73. Spark, Muriel – The rest of her novels not listed above
74. Tan, Amy – The Kitchen God’s Wife
75. Tartt, Donna – The Secret History
76. Taylor, Elizabeth – Angel
77. Tessaro, Kathleen – Elegance
78. Todd, Barbara Euphon – Miss Ranskill Comes Home
79. West, Rebecca – The Return of the Soldier
80. Wharton, Edith – The rest of her novels not listed above

16 thoughts on “My top 80 most enjoyable novels by women

  1. StuckInABook September 18, 2013 / 5:52 pm

    When I'm back blogging, OBVIOUSLY I'm going to do something like this – although I'll find it much harder to make a list of novels by men.

    McCrum's list is pretty great, but there are some bizarre choices – with Mansfield, Christie, and Compton-Burnett he's clearly just picked their first book (which, in all cases, is rather worse than those that followed). I wonder why, unless he just hasn't read them?


  2. Ruthiella September 18, 2013 / 8:33 pm

    Gosh I love the Guardian’s book page and the comments to so many fo the articles are often fantastic.

    I would be interested to see your male version of this list, if you were so inclined. I have never heard of Marge Piercy, must check her out. My library has tons of her titles.


  3. (Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea September 18, 2013 / 9:04 pm

    What a terrific list. Thanks for sharing it. So many of these authors are ones that are high on my list of favs as well.


  4. travellinpenguin September 19, 2013 / 1:11 am

    Interesting list. The other evening Jennifer Byrne from ABC book club had a 30 min program called Pens and Prejudice and showed some pie charts of number of books reviewed by men and women and gender percentages. Most interesting if not disturbing. You can see it here (closes in 12 days ) on iview.


  5. JoAnn September 19, 2013 / 11:05 am

    I love a good list, and this one is excellent. We have very similar taste!


  6. heavenali September 19, 2013 / 11:34 am

    Fabulous list, there's plenty there I have read, and plenty I need to read more of – or discover myself. :)


  7. Susan in TX September 19, 2013 / 5:51 pm

    That's quite a list! I saw a few on your list that I have sitting on the TBR shelf here, so I should have some good reads to look forward to. I'd be interested to see your list of male authors as well.


  8. Nan September 19, 2013 / 8:54 pm

    I'm with you on Miss Buncle's Book, and all the rest of DES, Bridget Jones' Diary, and Major Pettigrew's Last Stand.


  9. Ted September 20, 2013 / 6:56 am

    Terrific list, you like so many writers that I have liked (Murdoch, Sarton, Laski) I'm going to have to refer to this as I pick up with reading for fun again!


  10. James Chester September 20, 2013 / 11:50 am

    Any friend of Harriet M. Welsch is a friend of mine.


  11. Thomas at My Porch September 20, 2013 / 3:41 pm

    Simon: I look forward to seeing your lists. I think you point about McCrum's list is points to a problem with lists. Has everyone creating the list read all the books. Probably not. With my list, the Committee of One did indeed read everyone of them.

    Ruthiella: For Piercy, try The Three Women or The Third Child or Fly Away Home. The Men's list is coming soon.

    Diane: Always fun to see where overlap occurs.

    Pam: My men's list, coming next week may surprise me.

    JoAnn: I am not surprised.

    Ali: Hopefully you will be pleasantly surprised.

    Margaret: Ha! I was wondering if anyone was going to notice that.

    Susan: I think the men's list will be up on Tuesday.

    Nan: You might like Cluny Brown.

    Ted: I feel bad that you aren't reading for fun.

    James: I can't hear that name without immediately thinking of tomato sandwiches.


  12. vicki (skiourophile) September 21, 2013 / 5:10 am

    This is wonderful, not least because it exposes some big gaps in my reading while simultaneously providing for how I can fill them! Looking forward to the next installment.


  13. Vintage Reading September 21, 2013 / 9:07 pm

    Aw c'mon, only 8 for an Austen?!! Completely agree with a 10 for the Professor's House, though. You know these lists are divisive!


  14. Thomas at My Porch September 22, 2013 / 10:25 am

    Vicki: Let me know which ones you try. I'd love to hear.

    Vintage Reading: I have maybe read only 3 Austens and they just haven't grabbed me. I appreciate them, they just don't knock my socks off. No her movies are another story.


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