A Year of Reading Women

Even before the pandemic sent me indoors last year, I had made a commitment to read only books written by women. With suddenly more time to focus on the TBR (To Be Read) pile that was teetering on the coffee table, I launched in, removed half of the pile and focused in on some neglected classics.

petryannI wasn't alone in thinking that 2020 was the right year for Octavia Butler's compassionately prescient duology Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents (Seven Stories Press, boxed set, $50). The political and environmental crises Butler's bold young visionary leads us through felt more familiar than ever, even while the richly imagined dystopian tale of survival and community transported me out of my daily doomscrolling.

The lush prose of Ann Petry's tangibly atmospheric novel The Street (Mariner, $16) also kept me grounded in our reality while immersing me in another time. Following Lutie's journey as she tries to raise herself up from every blow she takes as a Black single mother in 1940s Harlem was absolutely magnetic.

I did stray from my pre-existing pile of books to join curbside pickup queues at my local indie bookstore and keep up with new releases. But even as I dove into the compelling climate anxiety escapade of Lydia Millet's A Children's Bible (W.W. Norton, $15.95), I did so with Butler's epic in mind.

And I couldn't help thinking of Lutie's heartbreaking optimism when reading Isabel Wilkerson's stunning exploration of social injustice, Caste(Random House, $32). --Kristianne Huntsberger, publisher program manager, Shelf Awareness