Balancing out the Best Of lists with more women writers

Best of lists are aimed to amuse, inspire and outrage readers. Definitions of a classic seem to vary so much that it is simply reduced the individual point of view (let’s agree to disagree).

What do you think of these English language classics that made The Guardian 100 Greatest Novels compiled by Robert McCrum? As the privileged list-maker for the past two years, McCrum reflects on his selection process and including regrets/omissions: “So: a few howlers, several regrets, and many sleepless nights. How on earth did I overlook…”

RK Narayan Swami and Friends

Flannery O’Connor Wise Blood

Rose Macaulay The Towers of Trebizond

Nancy Mitford The Pursuit of Love

Shirley Hazzard The Transit of Venus

On the list, only 21 works by women made McCrum’s list, so this commentary by Rachel Cooke is a good counterpoint. She provides several novels for readers to consider given the overall lack of balanced representation on such lists. Just to name a few mentioned…

Mollie Panter-Downes’s One Fine Day

Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley

Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love 

EM Delafield’s The Diary of a Provincial Lady

“Of Robert McCrum’s 100 Greatest Novels, just 21 are by women. Even allowing for the fact that his list takes in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, when women writers were relatively rare, this seems extraordinary to me. Sixty-seven of his titles belong to the 20th century – his final book is Peter Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang, which was published in 2000 – and yet, only 15 of these are by women. How can this be? The last century offers up an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the female imagination.”


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Reading around the world one short story at a time
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