Earlier this month the people behind the Baileys Prize for Women’s Fiction launched a wonderful campaign to get readers to share the one book, written by a female author, that has had the most impact on their life. Called #thisbook, the call to arms has seen many familiar faces involved, from journalist Grace Dent to author Joanna Trollope and Olympic medalist Katherine Grainger, and you can find out more on their website: thisbook.com.

To celebrate the Baileys Prize, awarded later tonight, we’ve asked some of our Two Roads authors to share their favourite book written by a female author. See their picks below…

I read To Kill A Mockingbird in school, like most of us. Emotionally, it struck chords, even as its larger themes – racism, justice, courage – were likely lost on me, as larger themes often are when we encounter them via assignment, not experience. Years later, when my father died, a federal judge gave a eulogy comparing him to Atticus Finch. I’d never made that connection, though the links were there: my father fought for social justice. He wasn’t afraid to do the right thing, even courting controversy. He took a role in civil rights. That judge ended that eulogy by riffing on a line from Lee’s novel: “Stand up; a great man is passing.” It’s what’s said to Jean Louise (Scout) as her father exits the courtroom. “Stand up; your father is passing”. And so she stands. She probably stands for reasons it will take her a long time to understand, though the reader knows immediately: that day will be one of the most meaningful of that little girl’s life.

We may not choose our experiences. In a way, though, we play a critical editorial role in our memories. We may not choose what we read the first time we read something but once a book becomes part of our sense of ourselves, click: a match is struck; something’s illuminated. I had that experience with To Kill A Mockingbird. I had that experience with Scout.

Lea Carpenter graduated from Princeton and has an MBA from Harvard. She was one of the original editors at Francis Ford Coppola’s literary magazine, Zoetrope, and later served as Deputy Publisher for The Paris Review. Her debut novel, Eleven Days, was longlisted for the Baileys Prize for Fiction 2014. She lives in New York with her husband and their two sons.

Not long ago, an Advanced Readers Copy of a novel called Half the Kingdom by Lore Segal arrived at my door. Over my morning cup of Earl Grey, I somewhat lackadaisically opened it. My expectations were not high. I’d never heard of this “Lore,” and the publisher was not one of the major houses. I assumed the novelist was yet another young graduate of an MFA program. And then I read the first two sentences:

‘The doctors, nurses, and patients in the overcrowded, too-brightly lit Emergency Room turned toward the commotion. It was the very old woman, thrashing about her with improbably strength and agility. “You do not,” she shouted, “you do not tell me to relax. I will not relax.” ‘

Two hours later, as I turned the last page (it’s a short book and I’m a fast reader), I lay back, stunned. The novel was masterful. Concise and incisive. The prose assured and confident. The subject matter complex, transcendent of genre. Mordant and wise, and terribly sad without being maudlin. There was no way this book was written by a twenty-three year old.

A quick Google search revealed the depth of my ignorance and my hubris in imagining I knew anything at all about who really matters in contemporary American fiction. Lore Segal is not 23. She is 86 years old. Her previous novel, Shakespeare’s Kitchen, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Within a week I had not only read that book, but two others, Her First American, and Other People’s Houses. How could it be that I had missed the work of Lore Segal until now? Please, I beseech you, if you suffer from the same literary deficit as I, do yourself the favor of remedying it right now.

Ayelet Waldman is the author of Love and TreasureRed Hook Road and the New York Times bestseller Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities and Occasional Moments of Grace. Her novel Love and Other Impossible Pursuits was made into a film starring Natalie Portman. Her personal essays have been published in a wide variety of newspapers and magazines, including the New York Times, Vogue, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal. She and her husband, the novelist Michael Chabon, live in Berkeley, California, with their four children.

Any book by a woman about a woman’s fight with life compels me to dive into the story. For years I believed I was bad at it, this living of life, because each day felt like a big bruiser out to knock me down. Mudbound by Hillary Jordan tells of a woman following her husband into the wilderness, trusting and loyal, strong and determined to make good. Just like me.  Gradually the work load and the loneliness and the deprivations take their toll, until something breaks. Just like me. And, in reading how she rises from the depths of despair into a new light, I also found strength. Without books like Mudbound, I’m not sure I would have found that strength. I read and read, to realise I was not alone, yes, but more, to feed my own hungry soul and to find the guts to keep going.  Mudbound, and other great stories, were and are my daily bread.

Judy Fairbairns has lived on her Scottish island with her husband since 1978. Married now for 40 years, she has five children, all grown up – one of whom runs the whale watching business she and her husband started. Island Wife, a memoir about living on a remote Scottish island, is her first book. She paints, takes wild walks and is working on a novel.

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