Dubbed the “starting point for the greatest bookshelf of all time”
In honour of 2018 being the one-hundredth-year since some British women were first given the right to vote, the Hay Festival partnered with The Pool to create a public voted list of the 100 greatest books written by women in the last century.
Included on the list are all genres, fiction and non-fiction, written by women and published between 1918 and 2018 (with just one book permitted per author). The organizers describe it as “a greatest hits of the last 100 years of literature.”
I thought it would be satisfying to gradually read my way through the chosen books (shown below), but to do so without setting myself a time limit. Therefore, in no particular order, I intend to read and tick as I go. I can immediately put a ✓ next to a few entries. Far less than I had hoped. While I have read works by many of the selected authors, embarrassingly few of these appear in this top one-hundred.
Do you agree with the final #Vote100Books selection? Is there something of importance missing? Are there names undeserved of a place on the list? Perhaps you feel in some instances that the right author but the wrong title was chosen. Please feel free to share your thoughts.
I can’t imagine how long it will take me to work my way through all these books – I may never do so. Let me know if you are attempting to do the same.
1918 – 2018
Running total: 25/100
- A Book of Mediterranean Food by Elizabeth David (1950)
- A Girl is a Half Formed Thing by Eimear McBride (2013)
- A Greater Place of Safety by Hilary Mantel (1992)
- Ain’t I a Woman by Bell Hooks (1981)
- Ariel by Sylvia Plath (1965) ✓
- At The Source: A Writer’s Year by Gillian Clarke (2008)
- Babette’s Feast by Karen Blixen (1950)
- Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill (1988)
- Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak (2006)
- Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987)
- Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan (1954)
- Brick Lane by Monica Ali (2003)
- Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding (1996) ✓
- Close Range: Wyoming Stories by Annie Proulx (1999)
- Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons (1932)
- Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill (2014)
- Enough Rope: Poems by Dorothy Parker (1926)
- Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates (2014)
- Falling Awake by Alice Oswald (2016)
- Frost in May by Antonia White (1933)
- Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (2004)
- Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (2012)
- Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (1936)
- Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi (2006)
- Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling (1999) ✓
- Headscarves and Hymens by Mona Eltahawy (2015)
- Heartburn by Nora Ephron (1983)
- Henry and June: From the Unexpurgated Diary of Anais Nin by Anais Nin (1986)
- Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (2016)
- How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran (2012)
- How to Eat by Nigella Lawson (1998)
- How we Survived Communism and Even Laughed by Slavenka Drakulic (1993)
- I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (1948)
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (1969)
- Into That Darkness by Gitta Sereny (1974)
- Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel (1989)
- Lullaby by Leila Slimani (2016)
- Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor (1971)
- My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (2011)
- Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller (2003)
- Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman (2001)
- Oranges are not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson (1985) ✓
- Orlando by Virginia Woolf (1928) ✓
- Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (2000)
- Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren (1945)
- Possession by AS Byatt (1990) ✓
- Rachel’s Holiday by Marian Keyes (1997)
- Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938)
- Regeneration Trilogy by Pat Barker (1991) ✓
- Selected Stories by Alice Munro (1996)
- Small Island by Andrea Levy (2004)
- Standing Female Nude by Carol Ann Duffy (1985)
- Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith (1950)
- Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain (1933) ✓
- The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson (2015)
- The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie (1942) ✓
- The Color Purple by Alice Walker (1982) ✓
- The Country Girls by Edna O’Brien (1960)
- The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives by Carole Hillenbrand (1999)
- The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (1947) ✓
- The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer (1970) ✓
- The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan (1963)
- The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West (1956)
- The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls (2005)
- The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (1997)
- The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing (1962)
- The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson (1999)
- The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985) ✓
- The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (1959) ✓
- The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende (1982)
- The Human Condition by Hannah Arendt (1958)
- The Illustrated Mum by Jacqueline Wilson (2003)
- The Land of Green Plums by Herta Muller (1994)
- The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin (1969)
- The Moomins and the Great Flood by Tove Jansson (1945) ✓
- The Passion According to G.H. by Clarice Lispector (1964)
- The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (1998) ✓
- The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark (1961) ✓
- The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford (1945)
- The Road Home by Rose Tremain (2007)
- The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir (1949)
- The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 by Sue Townsend (1982) ✓
- The Secret History by Donna Tartt (1992) ✓
- The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein (2007)
- The View From the Ground by Martha Gellhorn (1988)
- The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (2005) ✓
- Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (1937)
- Three Strong Women by Marie Ndiaye (2009)
- Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters (1998) ✓
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)
- Train to Nowhere by Anita Leslie (1948)
- Under the Net by Iris Murdoch (1954) ✓
- Unless by Carol Shields (2002) ✓
- We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (2003)
- What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt (2003) ✓
- White Teeth by Zadie Smith (1999) ✓
- Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (1966)
- Wild Swans by Jung Chang (1991)
- Wise Children by Angela Carter (1991)
- Women & Power by Mary Beard (2017)
Categories: Features, Hay Festival
To be honest, I think it’s an odd list and not one I would have made. There are lots of omissions (Katherine Mansfield, for example) and it leans too heavily on the modern and the populist for my liking. There’s not much poetry. And “Dept of Speculation”? Anyway – I shall be very impressed if you manage to read them all and so good luck!
I have to agree with you, Karen, there are some odd omissions and a few rather peculiar (to my mind) inclusions. I thought it would be fun to put it out there, though, and see what others thought. I don’t honestly expect to complete the list any time soon! 🤯
I think it’s a superb list- challenging, but with some light relief. Needless to say, I haven’t managed to read them all. My only real comment is about the order. Several of the books in the 90s are quite brilliant texts, while Bonjour Tristesse and Brick Lane are what I would call really “good reads”- so if I was reading the list in its entirety I might be tempted to start at the bottom and move on up. Jean Rhys is an absolutely stunning writer in terms of style so maybe that’s why I’m making the somewhat unnecessary suggestion. Rhys had such a grasp of the human condition, and it’s a great shame her name doesn’t come up more often in my humble opinion.
Thanks John. I went with the given list, which seems to be alphabetical. I don’t intend to read them in any particular order – I’ll probably start with those already on my shelves. Yes, I agree, Rhys was a superb writer.
Very interesting list. Many missing, in my opinion.
I completely agree with you, Nena!
I’m hard pressed to do a list of books with my blog name…..too many “n’s”! A fun exercise
Yes, I can see that might prove difficult! 😄
Somehow I missed this list -they’re always contentious but interesting! I’ve read just over half (54) so plenty left for me to be getting on with 🙂 Maybe a future challenge if I ever get to the end of my Le Monde’s 100 Books of the Century Reading Challenge, which I seriously doubt I’ll ever finish!
Hey, well done you! You’re very well read. I must take a look at Le Monde’s 100 Books of the Century. 😊
I’m not nearly so well read on the Le Monde list, which as I’ve proclaimed it a reading challenge for a few years now is really terrible 😀
I was surprised to find that I had read 41 of these. I suspect that if the others had appealed to me I would have already read those as well, so I can’t see myself working my way through the rest of the list, but it would be fun to spend sometime with my reading diary and think about what else I might add.
That’s an excellent count. Well done! I bet we would all come up with different lists, but there would be certain titles appearing on every one.
I am interested in this list, Paula! I have read far too few and would definitely like to read many!
Me too, Jennifer. There are so very many I haven’t read!
I started off thinking that this could be an interesting list, but as I read on I became disenchanted. It seems to tilted towards range and accessibility – which isn’t entirely a bad thing – but it feels unbalanced. Books from the earlier years of the period seem to be very thin on the ground.
Many thanks for your comment, Jane. There do seem to be a lot more from the 1980s, for instance, than from the ’20s. Perhaps this had something to do with the demographics of the voters (maybe a certain age-group was over represented). I never agree entirely with these sorts of lists but they do seem to get people talking – and more importantly, reading!
What about A Wizard of Earthsea? 😉 All in all, a rather controversial selection – but still, it’s all for the best, because now we bookworms can bicker and put forward other titles and authors 😉
That’s the spirit, Ola. A bit of controversy can sometimes be a good thing! 😉
Re. A Wizard of Earthsea. I know there was only one book per author allowed on the list, and Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness was the chosen one. I expect several of her works had the potential to be included.
I have read 18 of them so it isn’t too bad.
When I read your description I imagined there would be a book per year, that would have been fun.
There are quite a few I want to read.
Thanks Camille. Yes, a book from each year would have been a marvellous idea!
Six. Only six. *Sigh* But I am a late starter…
It’s a funny old list though, Chris!
It is! The Wide Sargasso Sea but also The Gruffalo?! Orlando *and* Harry Potter? It helps that I agree about I Capture the Castle and The Left Hand of Darkness, but I suppose I couldn’t go too far wrong with this list.
It’s a mixed list. Some I would love to read, one in particular I had to stop reading for fear my blood pressure would ascend to dangerous levels. Have fun reading through them all 🙂
Thank you, Janet. I’m really curious to the identity of the book that raised your blood pressure so alarmingly. I must check through the list and see if I can guess! 🤔
It’s towards the end of the list 🙂
Mmm, I’m still not sure.
An interesting list – some I’m really delighted to see on there, others I probably should have read but haven’t. Authors that I’m glad to see on there but probably would have chosen a different title from. Definitely not enough poets. That said, I wouldn’t even know where to start if I had to decide on a top 100…happy reading!
Thank you, Sarah. I don’t think any two people would select exactly the same list – reading is such a personal thing. I agree about the lack of poetry books. There are quite a few obvious ones missing.
I’ve read 43 of those but the Iris Murdoch is a weird choice for her.
An excellent tally, Liz. Yes, there are a few odd choices, but we are assured those on the list received the greatest number of votes…
I’m perplexed by this list. How can the Secret Diary of Adrian Mole or the Bridget Jones Diary be considered great writing? I think people just mentione books they enjoyed regardless of quality.
I think Adrian Mole was clever and funny but, I agree, it’s an unusual choice for a list of this sort. You’re probably right, it is more of a favourite books read list than great literature of the last 100 years. Fun but not to be taken too seriously.