The winner of the 2014 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction will be announced on Wednesday this week. The smart money appears to be on Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer-winning bestseller The Goldfinch (which we’ll be offering a Book Talk verdict on next month) to claim the prize, but don’t rule out Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s acclaimed bestseller Americanah as a hot contender to upset that applecart.
To identify the book by a woman that has “impacted, shaped or changed your life”
The people behind the Prize have been running a brilliant initiative in the run-up to the awards, encouraging readers to identify the book by a woman that has “impacted, shaped or changed their life” and share their chosen book on Twitter, tagging it #thisbook. We’ve decided to join in with some picks of our own #thisbooks - read our choices below.
An ecological disaster book, The Ice People
presents a vision of Britain on the cusp of an ice age. I read many ‘life-changing’ books at university, but this novel influenced my political values most strongly, particularly in respect to immigration issues. A stark picture of role reversal is painted as Africa’s warmth offers a last hope to a western world which is slowly freezing to death. With anti-immigration sentiments increasingly dominating today’s headlines, I often wonder how swiftly the ‘go back to your own country’ attitudes would be abandoned should Britain become as inhospitable as the places that some modern-day migrants are trying to leave behind.
I’ve also just realised that my toddler shares his name with the protagonist’s son, so perhaps the influence went even deeper than I imagined...
Naomi Klein’s (pictured above) thrilling exposé of corporate world atrocities was like a smelling salt for my western ennui as a young twenty-something. In a pre-digital world, corporations were more able to get away with turning a blind eye to the pure exploitation their “suppliers” routinely practiced, and Klein’s book brought this to life in a chilling way. The Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh
last year proves there’s still a long way to go in solving these problems - problems in which we’re all complicit. However, the echoes of Klein’s book, combined with the unrelenting gaze of the internet, means we’re on a different trajectory today than in the late 20th century. Reading #thisbook put me on a different one too.
I didn’t read as much non-fiction growing up as I do now and certainly not as much criticism: I felt, oddly, like the fiction I read had more to say about my daily life. One of the first pieces of criticism that felt relevant to the life I led beyond reading – and the lives of people around me, such as the relatives I’d lost to cancer – was this short but powerful book by Susan Sontag. Sontag deconstructs what even the most innocent-sounding platitudes and myths around such illnesses actually mean and who they serve. Ultimately, no-one, least of all patients. It’s been called ‘one of the most liberating books of its time’ and that’s certainly how I felt after reading it.
I was supposed to read Middlemarch
at university, but due to the sheer massiveness of the book and my inherent inability to prioritise, I just watched the BBC adaptation instead (not too shabby, by the way). But this actually worked out for the best, as I was able to revisit George Elliot’s masterful and perceptive tome post-degree, with the time and attention that it deserves. Elliot’s brilliantly thorough ‘Study of Provincial Life’ is nothing less than a dissection of human nature, told through compelling and believable characters; Virginia Woolf was definitely on to something when she called it “one of the few English novels written for grown-up people”. It opened my eyes to the fact that fiction could, in fact, capture and in some way explain the mystery of being human.
Lucky by Alice Sebold | Leila Cruickshank, Print and Marketing Co-ordinator @girlofbooks
When I was about 20 I read Lucky
by Alice Sebold, and I have never forgotten how I felt. I had read many novels by both women and men that used rape as a plot twist or as character backstory, but I hadn’t fully understood how much more humiliating it was than, for instance, a beating (this might reflect the mixed messages in literature). Lucky
showed me very clearly what the difference was, and it was so disturbing that I literally could not sleep. It was very late, I was alone in my flat, and I wanted to change the world so this could never happen again. Alice Sebold wrote about the terrible solitude of surviving rape, but the worst part was understanding that she wasn’t alone, that it happens everywhere and to anyone, sometimes to men as well as women, sometimes as a deliberate policy in war. Lucky
changed the way I saw the world.
What would your #thisbook selection be? Add your pick in the comments below
For a lighter perspective, check out author Magi Gibson's list of 10 Funny Books by Women