Monday, February 6, 2017

Top Ten Books I Wish Had More Women in Them

I'm linking up with The Broke and the Bookish for another Top Ten Tuesday.

This week's topic is "Top Ten Books I Wish Had (More/Less) X In Them." Looking over my previously read books, most have a balance of male and female characters. What's interesting is that the books with primarily female characters tend to be called "chick lit" (in a disparaging way), while those with primarily male characters are more likely to be labeled "classics." With that in mind, here are ten male-centric books that could have benefited from more female characters.

1. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
There is one great female character in this book, Pella, but the majority of the action revolves around Henry, Mike, Guert, and Owen. True, it's about a college (men's) baseball team, but the attention paid to the various romantic subplots as well as the explorations of depression, substance abuse, and academics make it clear that there was plenty of room for at least one other female character to play a role in this hefty novel.

2. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
OK, don't tell me there were no women involved in World War II. (Have you read Code Name Verity?) And there are a number of women in this book, but they're all described in sexual terms (except for a few who are merely pathetic and helpless), and most of them seem to be sex-crazed without any care for who they're sleeping with. If you can have a character named Major Major Major Major, you could have thrown in at least one female character who had some purpose other than prostitution.

3. A Dog's Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron
Even though this book's frequently reincarnated protagonist spends one lifetime as a female dog, the remaining incarnations are male, so the book description (and everyone in my book club discussion) refers to him as male. His closest relationship is with a boy (and later with the same boy as a man), and even as a female dog his/her owner is male, with only a brief spell spent with a woman. With so much flexibility in the plot (literally every new life is a different story!), it didn't have to lean so heavily male.

4. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
There are some female characters in this book, but they're mostly tangential, tragic characters. The narrator of the book's outer frame is Robert Walton (male), who listens to the story of Victor Frankenstein (male), which includes a long passage by Frankenstein's monster (male). Frankenstein does start to make a female monster but then tears it up. I'm kind of surprised that the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft couldn't find a way to include some active female characters; even Dracula, written by a man, has more central female characters.

5. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
The majority of this book is inside the head of the perpetually anxious and/or stoned Theo, but there are some other characters with major roles: Boris, his sketchy Russian friend, and Hobie, the substitute father figure. The primary female character, Pippa, is mostly important for the space she holds in Theo's mind after he sees her briefly, not for anything she herself does during the book. Why do the two men get to alter Theo's life in active ways while Pippa only affects it by passively existing somewhere?

6. The Hobbit / The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
One of the reasons I put off reading the Lord of the Rings series for so long was that I read The Hobbit after reading David Eddings' fantasy series and found it sorely lacking in female characters in comparison. Once I did finally get around to the series, I found that there were a handful of good female characters, but they were still few and far between and mostly there to be beautiful. I think I would have liked the series much better if it had had a character like Polgara the Sorceress in a starring role.

7. How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell
I get that this is supposed to be a "boy's book," what with the dragons and the fighting and the bodily functions. But there's no reason that boys can't read about girls training dragons too. With a little more imagination I think Cowell could have made this book just as entertaining with more female characters.

8. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Pretty much the only substantial female character in this book is Jude's social worker, and she's dead when the book opens. The book focuses on four male friends from college, but in this behemoth of a novel that spans decades, we encounter lots of other characters, almost all of whom are male, from Jude's law professor to his neighbor/friend to his abusive boyfriend to the monks that raised him. The handful of female characters have minor side roles as people's wives, old college friends, and one-night stands. Surely some of them could have been written to have a more substantial role.

9. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
I love this book, but most of the main characters are male: Milo, Tock, The Humbug, King Azaz, The Mathemagician... Only the princesses (Rhyme and Reason) are female, in a stereotypically storybook way. Almost all the side characters are male, too, except for the wicked Faintly Macabre. A world as creative and fantastical as this one could certainly have more starring roles for women.

10. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
This is another book I love, but I can't deny that it's lacking in significant female characters. John's mother is really the only one with any substance, and she dies early on, so her significance ends up being more as a symbol than as a principal actor. The other female characters — Hester, Harriet (John's grandmother), the servants, Barb Wiggin — mostly exist for comic relief. John doesn't have serious life conversations with them like he has with Owen, Dan, and the Rev. Louis Merrill, which is a shame. In contrast, we hear that his best friend as an adult is the Rev. Katherine Keeling, but we rarely get to hear from her directly.

Which books would you add more female characters to?

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