Enough with the Brooding Men

Julie Lee, Features Editor

It’s time to take a break from the chart-toppers, the saga that spawned an immortal vampire craze and its sexed-up fan fiction counterpart— y’know, the best-selling novel of all time.

Here are three books you should read instead this Women’s History Month, written by women other than Jane Austen or the Brontë sisters:

1. “How Should a Person Be?” (2010) by Sheila Heti is a novel about a woman asking the philosophical question of how a person should be— while being female— just as male writers have excluded the female experience from philosophy and appropriated it in fiction. How long has “man” stood for “human”?

But make no mistake, Heti’s book is hardly dry or moralistic. It’s R-rated with an NC-17 chapter, which is not erotic but unsettling, much like the sex scenes from the HBO show “Girls.” While Heti draws from her academic background in art history, philosophy and playwriting, she also cites reality TV as an influence.

Both her content and style are thus extremely polarizing, but it’s worth a try – if only for her nuanced depiction of female “best” friendship, a topic so criminally underrepresented in print and misrepresented on television.

Excerpt: “You can admire anyone for being themselves. It’s hard not to, when everyone’s so good at it. But when you think of them all together like that, how can you choose? How can you say, ‘I’d rather be responsible like Misha than irresponsible like Margaux?’ Responsibility looks so good on Misha, and irresponsibility looks so good on Margaux. How could I know which would look best on me?”

* Recommended for self-aware Millennials, artists and fans of Lena Dunham.

2. “A Field Guide to Getting Lost” (2005) by Rebecca Solnit is one of those books so beautifully crafted that you have to stop between sentences to fully appreciate what you’ve just read. Solnit’s nonfiction books weave intricate webs of information and insight, but don’t sacrifice style for substance.

Her lyrical prose guides you from one tale to another, gliding between fact and memory. It feels intimate yet casual, as if you’re on a misty walk with Solnit as she shares her musings with you.

As a journalist, essayist, environmentalist, historian, art critic and Bay Area native, Solnit approaches every field of interest with uniform ease, whether it be mythology, topography or her own personal history. She is an intellectual, a lover and a traveler – not particularly remarkable, no – but after centuries of women bound to illiteracy, marriage and domesticity, a woman unafraid to navigate the world on her own is refreshing, even revolutionary. May her life and writing inspire your spring break adventures, both in the potentially rainy outdoors and the dreamy landscape of your soul.

Excerpt: “Getting lost was not a matter of geography so much as identity, a passionate desire, even an urgent need, to become no one and anyone, to shake off the shackles that remind you who you are, who others think you are.”

* Recommended for travelers struck by wanderlust and readers who want to lose themselves in gorgeous prose.

3. “Mrs. Dalloway” (1927) by Virginia Woolf opens with one of the finest lines in literary history: “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.”
This is how Clarissa Dalloway begins her day, and from here on out, you’ll follow this high society party hostess and twenty other characters – including Septimus Warren Smith, a shell-shocked World War I veteran – for about twenty-four hours of their lives.
In typical Modernist fashion, the prose reflects how people actually think: not in discrete sentences but a stream of consciousness. Consider how many #thoughts and #feelings you scroll through everyday on your Facebook newsfeed. This novel, with its unusual grammar and theme of isolation intensified by meaningless interaction, isn’t so different— except it doesn’t consist of recycled memes and inane selfies captioned with inspirational quotes, of course.

Excerpt: “Clarissa had a theory in those days— they had heaps of theories, always theories, as young people have. It was to explain the feeling they had of dissatisfaction; not knowing people; not being known. For how could they know each other? You met every day; then not for six months, or years. It was unsatisfactory, they agreed, how little one knew people. But she said, sitting on the bus going up Shaftesbury Avenue, she felt herself everywhere; not “here, here, here”; and she tapped the back of the seat; but everywhere.”

* Recommended for fans of Richard Linklater’s films, especially “Slacker” and the “Before” trilogy and people who appreciate the art of live-tweeting.

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If anyone ever tries to tell you that there are no good books written by women because “women only write self-serving romance novels,” it simply means that he or she is not well-read.

And as Virginia Woolf once wrote, “Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.”