Good Minds Suggest—Jennifer Weiner's Favorite Underrated Books by Women

Posted by Goodreads on June 3, 2014
"Chick lit" regularly delights its readers and tops the bestseller charts, but does it get the respect it deserves? Jennifer Weiner emphatically says no. The prolific novelist, known for huge hits like Good in Bed, In Her Shoes, and Little Earthquakes, is also an outspoken advocate for fiction by and about women. She asks why male writers receive more than their fair share of acclaim. Weiner states, "The truth is, if you're hearing a lot about a book, whether it's a buzzy new thriller, a dark, slim literary novel, or your coworker's contender for the title of 'Great American Novel,' chances are it's been written by a guy." Her efforts have been maligned by Jonathan Franzen, profiled by The New Yorker, and debated extensively by writers and literary critics. Meanwhile, readers love her books. Her latest is All Fall Down, a witty, forthright look at a successful working mom who turns to painkillers to take the edge off her stressful life, only to land—to her own surprise—in rehab. Weiner offers "a list of five great books by women that you probably didn't hear enough about."

Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones (Goodreads Author)
"'My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist.' I dare you not to keep reading after a first sentence like that. Jones's topic—hidden families and how James Witherspoon's two teenage daughters make their way in the world—is an instant attention-grabber, but it's her gorgeous prose that will get you to buckle in and commit to the ride. The New York Times never reviewed the book. As Vivian in Pretty Woman would have said, 'Big mistake. Huge.'"

The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler
"In a recent piece [in Brooklyn Based] a young female novelist scoffed at the notion that women's work is undervalued by critics: 'Some people invoke [Jonathan Franzen's work] to make the argument that when a man writes about [families and marriage], it is treated as more important simply because of his gender. I think that's nonsense. It is incumbent on anyone who makes the argument that they are privileged simply on the basis of Franzen's gender to point to books by women that are of comparable quality that have been ignored.'

Well. Far be it from me to shirk my duty. Who are the women writing about domestic topics—the story of a marriage, the story of a family—getting less critical respect than Franzen and his ilk? For starters, I'd give you everything by Carol Shields, and everything by Anne Tyler, but specifically Tyler's brilliant, incisive, wrenching, and underappreciated The Amateur Marriage.

Tyler's won the Pulitzer and is regularly reviewed in all the places that matter. She isn't ignored—not exactly—but she's rarely spoken of as a Great American Novelist, and there's a certain hard-to-pin-down dismissiveness that characterizes those reviews. Her books are set in Baltimore, where she's spent her whole life, and even though they take on the same big topics as the boys, with a more generous, openhearted approach, I don't think Tyler's quite seen as playing on their level. Maybe because there are dogs and dog trainers in one of her best-read novels (The Accidental Tourist). Maybe because she places unhappy wives at the center of some of her best-loved books, or because she writes so wonderfully about babies, in Digging to America. But The Amateur Marriage has everything you'd want in a Great American Novel—the big themes, the heft and sweep of history, the indelible characters, a plot that tells not only the story of Michael and Pauline, Tyler's ill-fated amateurs, but the story of America, from the bombing of Pearl Harbor up to another fateful day in 2001. I could go on, but instead I'll end with this: Just read it."

One on One by Tabitha King
"Being Mrs. Stephen King is both a blessing and a curse. People probably pick up your books hoping for some glimpse or hint at what the Big He is really like. People probably also assume you've gotten them published because you're with him. Which is a shame, because Tabitha King's books combine page-turning plots with a poet's eye for detail and ear for language. One on One is, maybe technically, a young adult book. It's the story of Sam Styles, small-town basketball god, and Deanie Gauthier, aka the Freak, and how they fall in love and turn—painfully—into grown-ups."

Blame by Michelle Huneven (Goodreads Author)
"The premise sounds straight out of Lifetime: What if the worst thing that happened to you turned out to be the best thing? But in Huneven's skilled hands, the tale of pretty, troubled Patsy MacLemoore—who drives drunk, kills a girl, goes to jail, and has to put her life back together—is a rich, provocative journey that will have readers taking a close look at their own choices. [It] surpasses melodrama and becomes one of the most thought-provoking books I can remember, a story that will stay with you long after the final page has been turned."

Almost Paradise by Susan Isaacs (Goodreads Author)
"'If I like your books, whose books should I read?' people ask, and I'm always thrilled when I find someone who hasn't discovered Susan Isaacs yet. Really, you could start with any of her books and find yourself happily enthralled—Isaacs writes great, big-hearted heroines, sassy girls who win the day through their wit and their work, not their beauty—but if you're looking for a sprawling, delicious feast of a beach book, [this] story spans three generations of two families to arrive at Nick and Jane. He's a gorgeous actor who becomes an accidental matinee idol. She's his brilliant, damaged wife, who lucks into her own big life. The story of their marriage, the damage they inflict on each other, and the nature of true love, is nothing short of unforgettable."

Vote for your own favorites on Listopia: Best Women-Authored Books

Comments Showing 1-40 of 40 (40 new)

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message 1: by Mary (new)

Mary So many good books! I absolutely adore Susan Isaacs and agree that I am thrilled when I can introduce someone to her writing. She is funny, smart and has great female characters. And "Blame" is an incredible book - really has stayed under the radar since it came out. It's very powerful, great discussion book. Highly recommend it! And yes, if you haven't read Carol Shields, you must! Sadly we lost this great talent too early to cancer, she writes amazing books - try Stone Diaries!

message 2: by Kelley (new)

Kelley Pursell I absolutely LOVE the book One on One by Tabitha King! I read it many years ago, and it is one of the few books I have read more than once. Thank you for the recommendations! I read another article in which you recommended Susan Isaacs, and once I began Almost Paradise I wanted to finish it in one sitting!

message 3: by Aviva (new)

Aviva With the exception of the Anne Tyler book (because I've read several of her books and just don't enjoy them), I'm putting all of these on my summer to-read list! :)

message 4: by Annette (new)

Annette All on my summer reading list as well, including Jennifer's own book at the very top, and including Anne Tyler. I read a book by her several years ago and it didn't really touch me, but I'm going to try again!

message 5: by Lorrea - WhatChaReadin'? (last edited Jun 05, 2014 03:42AM) (new)

Lorrea - WhatChaReadin'? I never knew that Stephen King's wife wrote books. These have all been added to my TBR. With the exception of Silver Sparrow which is on my Read list.

message 6: by Julie (new)

Julie I LOVED Silver Sparrow. A must read!

message 7: by Sharon (new)

Sharon I absolutely agree with the author of this article (and with Jennifer Weiner) that female novelists do not get the same respect as male authors especially when writing about family life.

message 8: by Tori (new)

Tori Love Jennifer Weiner! One of my fav authors!

I went through an Anne Tyler phase in college. She was definitely one of my go-to authors for awhile. Going to add the rest of these to my To Read list. I'm especially excited about Silver Sparrow!

message 9: by Lana (new)

Lana Browne No one is better than Anne Tyler.

message 10: by Mary (new)

Mary Lins I'm Anne Tyler's biggest fan :-) I think she's today's Jane Austen, who will appreciated more in the future.

message 11: by [deleted user] (new)

Along with the neglect of reviewers and publishers for female authors, we might all pay notice to what percentage of READERS are women, whether the authors are male or female.

message 12: by Amanda (new)

Amanda Austin Thanks, Jennifer! Just added the Anne Tyler book to my library queue. Looking forward to reading your latest!

message 13: by Mary (new)

Mary Thanks for the recommendations, Jennifer. Please keep on speaking out for women authors! (I know you will.)

message 14: by C.r. (new)

C.r. Comacchio I love Anne Tyler, and eagerly await everything she writes. For years I avoided the chronicler of Irish families, Maeve Binchy, only to discover how very similar she and Tyler are in their character development, style, and, most important, the wonderful stories that they tell about ordinary people. I would also add all of Amy Tan's work to this list. On the Canadian side, definitely Carol Shields, Alice Munro, Jane Urquhart, Miriam Toews--the latter captures contemporary family life like no other. And for some first-rate historical mystery of the non-domestic kind, Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series is excellent.

message 15: by Suzie (new)

Suzie thanks for the list! One on One is a terrific story, so glad to see it here!

message 16: by Ann (new)

Ann Elizabeth I recently finished reading BLAME, and I agree that it is a good book. However, the last one hundred pages seemed a bit if the author was over her deadline and needed to quickly tie up the characters' stories.

That being said, I would still recommend it despite that flaw. Over all, a worthwhile read.

message 17: by Terri (new)

Terri M I am so excited to discover new women writers in your list. I wish this was a monthly column. Along with other writers noted, such as Amy Tan and Maeve Binchy, I would add Anna Quindlen and Sue Miller. The former is the award winning NY Times columnist who took a break in her 30s to write novels (every one is exceptional but Blessings is my favorite). Sue Miller writes the most honest betrayals of women, men and adolescents struggling to hold their lives together. Please everyone keep sharing favorite novels written by women novelists!

message 18: by Peggy (new)

Peggy I love Susan Isaacs and I highly recommend "After All These Years". One of my favorite re-reads.

Lorrea - WhatChaReadin'? Terri wrote: "I am so excited to discover new women writers in your list. I wish this was a monthly column. Along with other writers noted, such as Amy Tan and Maeve Binchy, I would add Anna Quindlen and Sue Mil..."

While I Was Gone is one of my favorites from Sue Miller.

message 20: by Bobp0303 (new)

Bobp0303 Kelley wrote: "I absolutely LOVE the book One on One by Tabitha King! I read it many years ago, and it is one of the few books I have read more than once. Thank you for the recommendations! I read another article..."
I've read the book well over five times, and am looking forward to rereading it again!

message 21: by Polly (new)

Polly I recommend Silver Sparrow. For me, it was a tale of how a man's solution to an age old problem, affected the lives of many people. The characters have depth and the novel provided a lot of food for thought for me.

message 22: by Gayle (new)

Gayle Curcio Loved Almost Paradise so much I considered rereading...which I never do and also love Anne Tyler. Thanks for bringing these two authors and these books to everyone's attention

message 23: by Ann (new)

Ann Elizabeth Yesterday I started reading THE WATCHER by Charlotte Link, and although I am only 40+ pages into it, I am over the moon. This is a tightly written psychological thriller with characters who immediately capture your interest.

Now, back to my novel...and, my new best friend, Charlotte Link.

message 24: by Sharon (new)

Sharon Ann Pachett should definitely be on this list. State of Wonder is one of my all-time favorite books.

message 25: by Carol (new)

Carol Drechsler I have always loved that particular Susan isaacs book. As for Ann Tyler, I prefer Dinner At The Homesick Restaurant best of all, but she is one author I always read and agree is overlooked.

message 26: by Pam (new)

Pam I love Anne Tyler and Susan Isaacs

message 27: by Barb (new)

Barb Ward Susan isaacs book is awesome. I've read it multiple times. I have read her other books and this resonates as much as Shining Through which is amazing. Do not see the movie. The book is ten times better. Thanks Jennifer for pointing out Susan Isaacs.

message 28: by Pam (new)

Pam I loved Shining Through too!

message 29: by Carol (new)

Carol Drechsler Good advice, don't see the movie of shining through, read the book. Especially tough to watch because I always remember an interview with Melanie griffiths - the worst possible casting choice- where she said that before getting the part she hadn't known six million Jews were killed in the holocaust.

message 30: by Linda MacDonald (new)

Linda MacDonald I was delighted to see One on One by Tabitha King on your list. Sometime ago I read that Stephen King had said that his wife was the better writer of the two because she could so eloquently write about the horrific in the ordinary (or words to that effect). When my colleagues and I read One on One, one of us wrote to Ms. King because the novel had so resonated with a group of high school educators: Those were our students, right down to a couple who mirrored Sam and Deenie albeit in reverse! Ms. King wrote a very gracious and in-depth reply! I am so sad that the lives in Nodd's Ridge appear to have paused with The Book of Reuben published in 1994.

message 31: by Diane (new)

Diane Blame is a book that still haunts me to this day. I find myself thinking about it from time to time, so amazing. I also loved Silver Sparrow; there are some great choices here.

message 32: by Joan (new)

Joan Koritko I loved this article and agree with Jennifer Weiner - especially Anne Tyler and Carol Shields - I would add Canadian Catherine Bush and the Australian Liane Moriarty.

message 33: by Suzan (new)

Suzan Eaton Dorothy Whipple and Elizabeth Daly

message 34: by Sarah (new)

Sarah Farmer-wright I loved Anne Tyler's "Ladder of Years" and Carol Shields "The Stone Diaries" not read any of Susan Isaacs but have just added Almost Paradise to my summer reading list!

message 35: by Alison Rose (new)

Alison Rose LOVED Silver Sparrow! I would add 32 Candles by Ernessa T Carter, Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok, Conquistadora by Esmeralda Santiago and anything by Natsuo Kirino.

message 36: by Molly (new)

Molly Perriello Tabitha King wrote 3 books that are connected to each other: the book of Reuben, Pearl, & Caretakers. Loved all 3. 1st was Caretakers, 2nd Pearl, and 3rd was book of Reuben which is the prequel to Pearl

message 37: by Dawn (new)

Dawn Silver Sparrow is AMAZING. Great choices Ms. Weiner.

message 38: by C.r. (new)

C.r. Comacchio I'm so pleased to have all these suggestions for my own 'must read' list, starting with Ms. Weiner's, of course. And I can't believe I forgot to mention another of my all-time favourites, Barbara Kingsolver; while I'm adding, I'll include Canadian writers Elizabeth Hay and Helen Humphries. And the Australian Kate Morton.

message 39: by Ann (new)

Ann Elizabeth I just finished an absolutely wonderful book called THE YEAR OF FOG by Michelle Richmond. She is a new author to me. Is anyone here familiar with her and her work?

message 40: by Ann (last edited Jul 14, 2014 09:13PM) (new)

Ann Elizabeth This must be my good-luck-for-good-reads summer. I just again finished an amazing book by Samantha Hayes. UNTIL YOU"RE MINE is a riveting psychological thriller about a happily married woman eagerly pregnant with her first child. Besides having twin stepsons, her husband travels frequently on business. And, so enter the nanny...

This is a tightly written, well-crafted story that will keep you up all night reading. But, what the heck, isn't that what summer is all about?

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