In May we launched a vote to curate a list of ten essential books for men, written by women.
Our campaign aimed to encourage more men to read novels by women born out of statistical research in Mary Ann Sieghart’s bestselling book The Authority Gap. Mary Ann’s research demonstrated that whilst women read novels by men and women almost equally, fiction written by women is rarely read by men.
20,000 votes were cast over ten days, narrowing the sixty recommended books down to just ten. Margaret Atwood’s iconic novel The Handmaid’s Tale received the most votes and topped the list which included a stellar line-up of classic and contemporary novels, including works from Harper Lee, Bernardine Evaristo and Mary Shelley.
Margaret Atwood said: ‘Thank you to the hardworking jurors and the readers who voted – I’m honoured. There was no Women’s Prize for Fiction at the time I wrote The Handmaid’s Tale but it was true then as now that many male readers shied away from books by women (except for murders and fantasies with wizards) and may also have felt excluded from them. It was normal for men to say to me, “My wife just loves your books,” a double-edged compliment. But The Handmaid’s Tale is not about men vs women. It’s about a totalitarianism – it is not a paradise for all men, any more than any totalitarianism is. All totalitarianisms control women in specific ways having to do with reproduction. Take note in light of current events in the USA: the state’s claim to ownership of women’s bodies will also affect men.’
Our avid readers have chosen a phenomenal list of novels by female authors, any of which will blow your mind, whether you’re a man or a woman.
Mary Ann Sieghart
‘This book would encourage men to reflect on the horrors of a world that might seem fictional and shocking to them, but is in reality recognisable and devastating for women across the globe, even today.’ – Laura Bates, author
The world created by Margaret Atwood is compelling and terrifyingly real, The Handmaid’s Tale is a classic work of feminist fiction, set in a dystopian America that speaks afresh to every new generation of readers.
‘One of the greatest books I’ve ever read. It opened my young eyes to the civil rights issues in America whilst also providing me the greatest male/father role model I’d ever read. Sure I wanted to be Elvis or Bruce Lee but I never quite shook wanting to be Atticus Finch.’ – Sanjeev Baskhar, actor, comedian and presenter
Told through the young eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Harper Lee explores the irrationality of adult attitudes to race and class, taking readers to the roots of human behaviour in the Deep South of the 1930s.
‘A fantastic original novel that redefines the British experience. It’s unforgettable, and we loved it.’ – Viv Groskop, journalist, author and comedienne
Teeming with life and crackling with energy, Girl, Woman, Other follows the lives and loves of twelve British women through generations and social classes, creating a distinctive, illuminating tapestry of modern British life.
‘I still have my copy of this book from school. It was such an important insight into the experience of women from a different culture. It spoke to me in a way that nothing ever had prior to it. I read it cover to cover.’ – Edith Bowman, radio DJ and television presenter
Set in the deep American South between the wars, this is the story of sisters Celie and Nettie, who are separated as girls and yet sustain their loyalty to and hope in each other across time, distance and silence.
‘Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles is a recent favourite. Her retelling of a traditionally ‘male’ tale of war is essential reading for men because it’s so nuanced, so meticulously researched and moving. It’s this version of the Greek legend that makes Achilles and Patroclus real for me, the only one that delves deeply into who they are: the childhood experiences, emotions, and love that make them men.’ – Eric Huang, Podcaster
A captivating retelling of the story of the Trojan War and its greatest hero from the point of view of his closest friend Patroclus.
‘A moving and exciting book… astonishing, not just in the skilful subject matter but in the brilliance of its accessibility.’ – Muriel Gray, author, broadcaster and journalist
Half of a Yellow Sun re-creates a seminal moment in modern African history: Biafra’s impassioned struggle to establish an independent republic in Nigeria in the 1960s, and the chilling violence that followed.
‘It’s a book you become engrossed with and invested in so quickly that you desperately want to know what happens but really don’t want to get to the end.’ – Krishnan Guru-Murthy, journalist
A profound meditation on loss and belonging that doubles as a compelling psychological thriller. The Goldfinch follows the trials and tribulations of Theo Decker, from urban metropolis to parched desert and dusty antiques store to Manhattan high society.
One of the best-known Gothic novels, Frankenstein is both a haunting, uncanny novel about the dangers and temptations of scientific progress and an enduring investigation into what it means to be truly human.
Nominated by Grace Kempster
‘The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. I remember thinking I had never read anything like it before. That the Price family were all brilliantly realised. That the Belgian Congo was terrifying. And that missionaries were nuts.’ – Simon Mayo, radio presenter and bestselling author
In 1959, a fierce, evangelical Baptist takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo. They carry with them to Africa all they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it is calamitously transformed on African soil.
‘I consider The Vanishing Half to be one of the most exceptional books I’ve read in recent years. Bennett grapples with the far-reaching and deeply historical issue of race, colourism and power, alongside home, belonging and community, refracted through the most accomplished and seductive storytelling.’ – Bernardine Evaristo, author
Weaving together multiple strands and generations, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, this is a story that considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person’s decisions, desires and expectations.