Sunday, March 8, 2020

Some Books for International Women’s Day

As it’s International Women’s Day which seems like as good a time as any to shout about some great books (most of which are sitting in my to be read, or finished, pile).

I’m going to start with Georgette Heyer. I’ve read my way through a pile of her books in the last week or so because I’ve been feeling low and Heyer cheers me up. It’s partly her humour, partly the comfort of falling into something so familiar, and generally because I think Heyer is something special. Her books aren’t perfect, but whilst she more or less follows the rules of the genre she’s also continually playing with, and bending, them. 

Which is probably a good opening for Helen Taylor’s ‘Why Women Read Fiction. I’ve dipped in and out of this and really ought to get stuck into it properly. The bits I’ve read have been interesting, especially on the marketing of books, and I hope to be reporting back about the whole thing soon. 

I bought Carolyn Grant’s ‘Voyaging Out, British Woman Artists From Suffrage to the Sixties’ as a Christmas present for myself, it’s reproaching me a little for not having read it (I’m not working, why am I not reading more?). Regardless, it’s exciting to finally see women artists being rediscovered and assessed in the same way that authors have been over the last 40 years or so.

Which leads me to Lennie Goodings ‘A Bite Of the Apple’. Virago holds a special place in my reading life which makes me a little nervous about drawing back the curtain on what working for them was like, but then I look at the index to this book and get really excited, so again, it shouldn’t be long before I read this.

A book I am reading through at the moment is Darra Goldstein’s ‘Beyond The North Wind’. Technically it’s a cookbook, but that’s a very reductive description. I have a shelf of Virago paperbacks by early women travellers, ‘Beyond The North Wind’ puts me in mind of them. It’s as much about the place and the people as it is the food, more than travel writing, more than a cookbook, more than the sum if it’s parts. Patience Gray did something like this in ‘Honey from a Weed’, Caroline Eden and Eleanor Fords books (the one they wrote together as well as their separate works) are excellent too, and so are Olia Hercules. 

Signe Johansen’s recent food and drink books, ‘Solo’ and ‘Spirited’ deserve a shout out too, ‘Solo’ for making cooking for one sound like fun. I love cooking for more than one, not so much just for myself - for all of us who feel like that there are probably some questions to ask about our relationship with food. Johansen is good on the self care side of this, and her recipes are delicious. ‘Spirited’ is a useful book about drinks, not all alcoholic, with the specific aim of being women friendly. I know from 20 years selling alcohol that it’s an area where female customers often lack confidence, anyone trying to change that is doing us all a favour. 

Another recent buy is Helen Lewis’ ‘Difficult Women, A History of Feminism in 11 Fights’. I heard her being interviewed on Radio 4 where she was so compelling that I decided to get the book now rather than wait for the paperback. I had better read this before the paperback comes out.  


  1. An excellent selection for IWD! I have Solo by Johansen out from the library right now and am taking lots of inspiration from it. I'm also very excited about A Bite of the Apple. I've slowly come to like but not love Virago and I look forward to hearing the behind-the-scenes details.

    1. Big Virago fan here, mostly because of when I found them - 18 and looking for women to read because I was sure they must be there, and not just the canon of great male writers that were easy to find. It changed my reading habits forever. The only other publisher I feel a similar level of enthusiasm for, and faith in, is Pushkin. It’s not that I love all of their books, but I love the variety and possibilities they present.