Saturday, April 13, 2013

Good and Cheap (Books)! Day 12

800 pages of girls, girls, girls
 It's no secret that generally speaking, women’s writing doesn’t get reviewed nearly as much as male writers.  The website VIDA  has an interesting set of images you might want to look through.  Although we haven’t officially looked at the male vs. female reviews on our blog, I would bet that we tilt toward more female reviews simply because I write about Gail Caldwell every three days. It would be interesting to see how Liz and I are fairing in comparison to say, The Paris Review. That’s right, we are going up against The Paris Review!

Elaine Showalter
What we do, though, is consciously try to encourage people to read more women authors, and certainly seek out under appreciated women writers.  That’s why The Vintage Book of American Women Writers, edited by Elaine Showalter, is one of my favorite books from the past few years. More than just another anthology, it’s a treasure trove of celebrated writers such as Zora Neale Hurston, Joyce Carol Oates, Flannery O’Connor, Phillis Wheatley, and Maxine Hong Kingston. But that’s not the reason to buy this book, and it’s certainly not the reason you will pick it up time and time again. It’s the lesser-known writers that Showalter has included that made me fall in love with this book.

Fanny Fern
Included in the anthology is Mary Rowlandson (1637-1711), who wrote the novel Charlotte Temple, a bestseller for about twenty years (until Uncle Tom’s Cabin knocked her out of the top spot); she was unknown to me before I read this book. Feminist sisters Alice and Phoebe Cary often wrote and published poetry together, and what a find for me! Phoebe wrote feminist versions of classic poetry from the likes of Shakespeare and Longfellow; what nerve! She and her sister died only months apart in 1871. Frances Miriam Berry Whitcher was the first American female humorist. She was very good at pissing off New Yorkers and her piece called “The Widow Essays Poetry” is worth the price of this book.

Mary Wilkins Freeman
We get caught up waiting for the next blockbuster memoir or new big novel from our favorite authors. I am completely guilty of it. Meanwhile, the true joy of reading is discovering new writers, finding out who we’ve missed.  You won’t just find a new story, poem, or essay from a woman you’ve never heard of in here, you will put the book down, go to your computer and try to learn everything possible about fascinating women like Fanny Fern and Mary E. Wilkins Freeman. I promise.

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