Ten Books That Changed Me by Sunni Overend
Chocolat by Joanne Harris
Chocolat ticked a lot of boxes for me as a reader: female passion and strength, the timeless beauty of Europe, female creativity, the themes of denial and indulgence, and the slightest air of the magical. There are a lot of strong women in Chocolat and this is something I look for in most of the fiction I read, and I loved that Harris told stories of women of three generations: Vianne, Anouk, and Armande. But of course the most addictive part of the story – the part that keeps your turning the pages – is to see what decadence they put in their mouths next!
Vagina by Naomi Wolf
Naomi Wolf’s latest memoir cum tale of female empowerment was eye opening to me. The book begins with Wolf talking about her loss of enjoyment during sex, followed by the revelation that the cause is a spinal injury. This sets the scene for Wolf’s exploration and research into what’s required for women to achieve truly satisfying sex. What was most interesting to me was the correlations Wolf drew between female satisfaction in the bedroom, and their satisfaction in their creative lives. Research and anecdotes from female poets and creatives showed a considerable connection between women having sexual awakenings the coincided with awakenings in their creative life. Unlike the male body, there are hundreds of nerves that connect the female brain to her vagina, and this knowledge cemented for me the inseparable link between a woman’s mind and her sexual enjoyment – eg. why a good book can be such a turn on!
Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple
This is the funniest book I’ve ever read, period. It’s by an ex-TV writer and in terms of writing style is hugely inspiring. Where’d You Go Bernadette is an epistolary novel – written in letters – and that made it the perfect vehicle for Semple to show off her mastery of comedic dialogue, presumably honed when writing for television. The book is slightly farcical and concerns a creative genius going slightly mad and buckling under the pressures of domestic life – a premise I love. The child in the story, Bee, winds up searching for her mother, Bernadette, in on of the farthest corners of the earth which is funny and ridiculous, but was also heart-wrenching and moving for me at the time because I’d just lost my mother. I strangely related to Bee’s search.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence
Some could draw parallels between Lady Chatterley’s Lover and my new novel, The Dangers of Truffle Hunting, but I think if my novel’s like anything, it’s perhaps like a mash up of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Sex In The City, and Chocolat. Some of the scenes I did enjoy writing in The Dangers of Truffle Hunting, though, were snugged away in the dark confines of shearers’ quarters on a remote country property – which does conjuring images of that woodland cottage Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Lady Chatterley’s Lover wasn’t in my thoughts at the time of writing, but I don’t mind thinking that some of the wild, insatiable passion in The Dangers of Truffle Hunting may have been infused in me when I read D.H. Lawrence many years ago.
The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
I love folklore, and the Arthurian saga is one I’ve enjoyed many times. This retelling – from a woman’s perspective – was life changing, especially as I read it at about age sixteen. It was the first book I’d read that revealed the deep, wild and multi-faceted layers of women, and gave me an insight into pagan times and ritual. At it’s core, The Mists of Avalon is about women, their imperfection and desires, and our strong connection the the cycles of the earth – cycles that today we largely ignore.
Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
What I love most about Austen’s work is that it’s funny and true. It’s so true in fact, that many of her characters are now seen as archetypes, so as a writer, it’s hard for me not to be inspired by her work. I resent the term “women’s fiction” but Austen was certainly a trigger for the advent of women telling their stories so for that I’ll be forever grateful. The tension and hubbub Austen can conjure with a flick of a hemline is nothing short of genius.
How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
Being that we’re in the third wave of feminism, woman are being spoiled with feminist memoirs from some incredibly smart and often funny women – Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Tara Moss, Amy Schumer, Lena Dunham to name a few – and the first of these I ever read was How to Be Woman. Caitlin’s writing is loaded with her wonderful, wack personality and what she wrote about in this book was a real wake-up call for me in 2011. It was probably the book that made me realise I was a proud feminist but didn’t know it yet.
Pants on Fire by Maggie Alderson
I remember I was laying on the beach, age 24, reading Pants on Fire by Maggie Alderson when I decided I wanted to be a writer. I’d graduated from my university degree in graphic design and was running an online fashion store. I was living very much in the real world and my childhood was well behind me. It must have been a while since I’d let myself get lost in a fun beach read, and I remember thinking that I hadn’t felt that transported and uplifted in a while. All it had taken was being lost in the folds of a story, and it was then that it occurred to me that if I wrote stories of my own, I could be lost in stories for a good deal of the day. What could be better than that? I went home, began writing, the rest is history.
Hello Baby by Jenni Overend
This book changed my life as it helped me see first hand what it meant to be a successful creative working from home. Hello Baby was a children’s book written by my mother when I was about twelve and was about the home birth of my youngest brother. It was illustrated by Australian legend Julie Vivas and was the first of its kind, beautiful sketches depicting the mother giving birth at home with the family gathered around. My mother was inspired to write it because of the dearth of “real” birth books for children, and for this reason it was both controversial and very popular. This book showed my mother’s courage as both a woman and a creative, and although I didn’t know it at the time, infused me with an understanding of what it looked like to be a writer.
The Fictional Woman by Tara Moss
I listened to the audio book of The Fictional Woman, narrated by Tara Moss, and found it incredibly apt and insightful. The book was a memoir, but I felt that Moss was generous in the way she told her own story – focusing mainly on the lessons and revelations that her life had provided and how this had informed her understanding. These anecdotes were woven in with social research and the result was a relatable and empowering feminist memoir that I’ve recommended to every woman I know.