For this Recommended Reading column, we asked Louise Swinn, editorial director at Sleepers Publishing and member of the Stella Prize steering committee, for some of her favourite books penned by women. Among her selections are an Age Book of the Year winner, a literary superstar, an American memoirist and a Kill Your Darlings contributor.
Amy Witting, I For Isobel
Amy Witting just knew so much about people and managed to find a way to show it. She did domesticity, realism, office life, family and siblings, and, perhaps what first attracted me most, she knew so well how to write people being alone. This book took the breath out of my body when I studied it, so I wrote to Amy to tell her, and when we corresponded I found her to be just as wise as her books. She was pretty amazing to spend time with – perhaps unsurprisingly, very erudite, she knew everything about everyone, and she was incredibly funny.
Ruth McKenney, My Sister Eileen
A bunch of autobiographical stories first seen in the New Yorker, these also went on to become a film and a sitcom. The book, which is deceptively slight, is about two sisters from Ohio who move to an apartment in New York City. I remember them as being warm-funny and clever and thoughtful, the kind of stories where you actually smile while reading.
Karen Hitchcock, Little White Slips
Karen’s a contemporary Australian author who writes about contemporary Australian women without talking down to anyone – her characters are mean as well as nice, and her writing is crisp and exacting. This is a collection of stories so incredibly rich and precise, it will actually make you a better writer just reading it.
Zadie Smith, On Beauty
You either like Zadie Smith’s style or you don’t, and I do. But what I like about this book is just how funny she is with her characters. She kind of out-Malcolm-Bradburys Malcolm Bradbury at times, but it’s her expansive wit and clarity that I appreciate most: she tells you the characters how they really are; you don’t feel as though you’re being fooled.