As part of 4th Estate’s month-long celebration of women’s writing, we’re bringing you personal picks from the 4th Estate team. Today’s variety of choices are from our sales team: Caroline Bovey, Mallory Ladd and Fliss Porter.
Caroline Bovey – Sales Executive
A favourite piece of women’s writing for me is the childhood stories I read by Jacqueline Wilson, in particular The Lottie Project and The Suitcase Kid (though I read pretty much everything that was on the shelves by her from the age of about 8-12).
Whilst they might not be eloquent or hard-hitting feminist literature, all the stories starred strong female characters that were completely believable, facing problems and challenges that were true to real life – no matter how big or small. Wilson effortlessly captured the thoughts and feelings of the girls she created, and being of the same age when following their stories made the characters incredibly relatable and inspiring. For me, Wilson’s books and characters were vitally important in the development of a life-long love of reading, which something I’ll always be grateful for.
Mallory Ladd – Head of International Sales
I don’t think it’s possible for me to pick a favourite piece of writing by a woman, so I’ll go with the one that likely had the biggest impact on my life, which is Beloved by Toni Morrison. I read it when I was 13 years old, and while I was keenly aware that it was more important than anything I had read before, I at least had enough sense to know that I didn’t yet understand why. It’s the first adult book written by a woman that I remember reading for school, among all the Dickens and Twain that crowded the syllabus. I chose it off a long list of possibilities, and my mom was required to sign a permission slip to let me read it. (She happily obliged and loaned me her own copy.)
I was probably too young for it. (I was definitely too young for it.) I didn’t understand the symbolism, struggled with the language, and at times couldn’t follow the storyline. But even though I was a lazy teenager, I made my way through it, rereading passages and trying to work out what I was missing. Beloved showed me that a challenging read could be so much more satisfying than an easy one, and it started my (now professional) obsession with contemporary literature.
At the time I didn’t recognise it, but Beloved was a tipping point, because soon my shelves were full of other books written by women. I didn’t actively seek them out because they were women, but because I was drawn to the stories they were telling. Morrison was quickly joined by Margaret Atwood, Louise Erdrich, Donna Tartt, and countless others that showed me worlds outside my (very) small American hometown. Those worlds were often bleak, or at the very least full of loss, conflict, and oppression. They helped shape my worldview into something broader and more inclusive than my immediate surroundings allowed, which is maybe the best we can hope to get from literature.
There are books that I’ve enjoyed more, and books that have had a much more immediate impact on me, but I’ve only come to read those books, to understand and identify with and love those books, because of my early encounter with Beloved.
Fliss Porter – Key Accounts Manager
It’s near impossible to pick a favourite female author, or price of writing. But for me the first time I become aware of how powerful and influential the female voice in literary fiction can be, is after reading The Yellow Wallpaper – a gothic short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. This pithy novella critiques the institution of marriage in an incredibly revolutionary way, particularly for the time, and touches on the neglect society shows for female mental health as well as questioning the assumption of women as an inferior gender. Themes that are all unfortunately still incredibly relevant today.
It’s one of those stories, you can read again and again and discover new details that you didn’t see before. But ultimately, it’s just a completely gripping, creepy tale of a woman on the edge and you become utterly fascinated by her from the very first sentence.
I’m in good company…even Oscar Wilde referenced Charlotte’s work in his final words: “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go.”
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