08 October, 2014

Influential Books

In Writing Magazine this month there is a little news article about a list that's been drawn up of the top 20 most influential books written by women. The #ThisBook campaign was created by the organisers of the Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction and voted for by members of the public.

We are all used to seeing lists like these - most popular/ best-selling/ most loved/ most donated to charity/ most borrowed from the library etc. etc. But the word "influential" interested me. According to this prize, an influential book is one that has "impacted, shaped or changed readers' lives". Can you think of a novel that has done this for you? I find it hard to think of one that has shaped or changed by life, although there are many books that have impacted me - haunted me for days or weeks (or more) after I've read them. On this blog I've run a blog series on "The Book..." - guest posts on books that have impacted the reader, from Roger Red Hat to The Great Divorce (click on 'The Book' tag below to see all the posts).

As a writer, influence is a different matter. In any art form, people talk about an artist's influences as something that can be seen through their work. It has become a cliche now for authors to say they don't want to be "the next JK Rowling/Iain Banks/Stephen King/whoever", they want to be the first one of themselves. I think it's obvious enough that we all want to be good writers in our own right, and not seen as jumping on any stylistic bandwagon. But that doesn't mean it's bad to be influenced by great writers. It's OK for political writers to be influenced by Orwell, or fantasy writers to adopt a flippant tone reminiscent of Terry Pratchett, so long as it's not an imitation.

So, are you influenced in your writing? I don't think I have any particular authors that have a deep impact on my (current!) style, but I have conciously tried to learn from published authors when it comes to certain aspects of my writing: the stark, brilliant descriptive power of John Steinbeck; the poetic prose of Gabriel Garcia Marquez; the gripping familiarity of Lionel Shriver; the suspense of Gillian Flynn. I wouldn't say any of that is obvious in my writing yet though!

So, back to the list of influential women writers. I have read the 13 green ones on the list and loved most of them. How about you? Am I missing out on the books I haven't read yet?

  • To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
  • The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
  • Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
  • Harry Potter - JK Rowling
  • Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
  • Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
  • Rebecca - Daphne du Maurier
  • Little Women - Louisa May Alcott
  • The Secret History - Donna Tartt
  • I Capture The Castle - Dodie Smith
  • The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
  • Beloved - Toni Morrison
  • Gone With the Wind - Margaret Mitchell
  • We Need to Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver
  • The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
  • Middlemarch - George Eliot
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings - Maya Angelou
  • The Golden Notebook - Doris Lessing
  • The Colour Purple - Alice Walker
  • The Women's Room - Marilyn French


  1. I didn't know that George Eliot was a woman. That's interesting. I've read some of these, but a few I've never heard of.

    1. I think she thought that she was more likely to be taken seriously as a man. Sadly true back then.


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