No Female President, But Women-Centered Novels Are Still to Be Read

When I prepared to write this blog post on November 7, I fully expected the United States to elect its first female president the next day. So I decided my topic would be novels that are very women-centered.

But Hillary Clinton shockingly lost to Donald Trump, and these four things came to mind: 1) Many people dislike what America’s political and corporate elites are doing in this have/have-not country, so Bernie Sanders (or Elizabeth Warren, if she had run) would have had a better chance than Clinton to beat the fake populist Trump. 2) Huge crowd drawer Sanders never had a chance during the primaries because the mainstream media under-covered him or covered him with negative bias, because the supposed-to-have-been-neutral Democratic National Committee backed Clinton, because unelected superdelegates also tipped the scales, etc. 3) Clinton is smart, hard-working, resilient, and experienced, but didn’t fit America’s current anti-elite mood, even as she was slammed with sexism.  😦  4) My topic will still be fiction that’s very women-centered.

(If you want to agree with or dispute my election analysis, please do! I should also mention that my book columns after this one will return to discussing politics only occasionally. But political thoughts in the comments section are always welcome!)

Back to this week’s literary topic: So many novels — and not just thrillers — are male-oriented that it’s interesting when things get less testosterone-y. Books focusing mostly on women are often more subtle, more nuanced, more psychological, more emotionally satisfying, etc. — though it’s of course hard to totally generalize.

One example of a very women-centered novel is Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, which I happened to read during this past election week. The elegantly written, heartbreaking book features three generations of women from the same extended family who live in virtual isolation in the Pacific Northwest.

There are also novels that are women-centered mainly because they feature multiple sisters — for instance, five in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and four in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, and Julia Alvarez’s In the Time of the Butterflies. Fewer, but still memorable, sisters in such works as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple.

Other novels spotlight strong female friendships (and sometimes conflict between those friends), as in Terry McMillan’s Waiting to Exhale and Margaret Atwood’s The Robber Bride.

Then there are books featuring lesbian relationships, including Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle, Colette’s Claudine at School, and Jane Rule’s Desert of the Heart.

Plus fiction set at women’s colleges (such as Dorothy L. Sayers’ Gaudy Night), set in towns where female inhabitants are the focus (such as Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford), and that feature workplaces of all or mostly women (such as Fannie Flagg’s The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion and Lisa Scottoline’s The Vendetta Defense and other Scottoline novels starring characters from the female Philadelphia law firm of Rosato & Associates).

What are your favorite women-centered novels?

This literature blog and my local weekly humor column usually don’t intersect, but I decided to give the latter a book theme for one week. Many authors and novels are referenced.

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I’ve finished writing a book called Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Writers, but am still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as “Dear Abby” and Ann Landers, and other notables such as Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.