At Abebooks’ Reading Copy blog, the 75 greatest living female authors have been selected by a poll. The top 10, according to Abebooks customers, are J. K. Rowling, Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Toni Morrison, Joyce Carol Oates, Harper Lee, Joan Didion, Zadie Smith, Hilary Mantel, and Barbara Kingsolver.
After the first-place Rowling bolt from the blue, the next nine are pretty staid choices, all critically-acclaimed, prize-winning writers of best-selling literary novels and nonfiction.
Go further down the list and you’ll find popular writers Diana Gabaldon, Stephenie Meyer, Anne Rice, and Suzanne Collins sprinkled among divas like Marilynne Robinson and Louise Erdrich.
The list reflects our culture: pop mixed with literary.
Is that a good thing?
Shouldn’t I be shocked that Rowling is in first place? I very much liked A Casual Vacancy, but it isn’t great literature. As for the Harry Potter books, they are not for my age group.
Why aren’t I surprised?
It’s because last fall I read about the “Dave TV” book poll in the UK on best books of the 21st century, and the top book was Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
Online life inures us to ridiculousness.
Who decides what is best?
You don’t have to be a literary critic, but you do want your listmaker to be able to distinguish between Harry Potter and Wolf Hall.
For instance, even though Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle is one of my favorite coming-of-age novels, I’ve always known that George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss, is more brilliant and innovative. Today the edges between such books are blurred as academics search for fresh scholarly topics among pop fiction. At first it’s fun: you think, finally they’re acknowledging how good Dodie Smith is. And then you realize that it’s something else altogether.
At least Abebooks customers can differentiate between books and TV. One of my scholarly friends attended a conference on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Fascinating, but what on earth could it mean?
I’ve gone through periods of denial about my womanhood.
I’ve had eerie epiphanies lately where I see myself as a Very Competent Person rather than as a Woman.
I wish I agreed with A. S. Byatt that women don’t need their own literary prize.
It does seem necessary to me: otherwise, the pop women writers rush off with all the laurels.
Doris Lessing’s Martha Quest was my role model, but if I hadn’t loved Clara Middleton, the heroine of George Meredith’s The Egoist, would I have studied classics? (Well, yes, I’m being silly here.)
Anyway, good books by men, good books by women, I read them all.
I am very happy that the Orange Prize/Bailey Women’s Prize honors women, because we need something besides these polls to keep women’s literature in front of our eyes.
And I’m adding Margaret Drabble’s name to the Abebooks list. I’m sure you’ll all agree that she belongs there.