Welcome to our Par Femme Book Club: a safe space for well-read women to reveal the titillating, back-arching, lascivious literature that's been ruling their worlds. This week's selection is by Australian writer, Noelle Faulkner, who presents a kind of cerebral sequel to an interview she did with Par Femme some two years ago. Instead of specific literature, however, Noelle has selected a group of female writers who move, shake and do all kinds of great things to her...
In a piece for this very site, two years ago I mentioned some of my favourite writers of the moment and of all time: “Joan Didion for her gaze, Patricia Highsmith for being able to change the temperature of a room, Anaïs Nin for her treacle-like sensuality, Sylvia Plath for her duality and darkness, Durga Chew-Bose for her millennial anxieties, Taffy Brodesser-Akner for her wry profiles, Virginia Woolf for A Room of One’s Own, and Italian Renaissance poet and courtesan, Veronica Franco, for her smarts and love of pleasure.”
Surveying the state of media right now, there really has not been a more invigorating time for female voices. From Jenny Odell to Jia Tolentino, Ali Smith, Carmen Maria Machado Lisa Taddeo, Tara June Winch, Zaina Arafat, Sandra Allen, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Zadie Smith, Deborah Levy and Debbie Harry, there have been many magnificent works written by women released in the past two-three years. I feel like the sheer talent and diversity of stories means there is no excuse not to pick up something written by a woman. And those women I’ve just mentioned, I would highly recommend.
Non-fiction is a huge part of my life – I don’t listen to podcasts, I don’t watch television (I prefer a good 7hr binge of a series once a month – like a bear just out of hibernation) and because I am so hungry for information 24/7, I also don’t read a lot of fiction – books, magazines and the internet (OK, mainly the internet) are where I get a lot of my ideas and information from. Although, these days, because my attention span seems to be shattered due to *gestures vaguely at everything*, I’ve also become a huge audiobookphile…. (if you haven’t gotten into Audiobooks yet, may I suggest you start with Mariah Carey’s brand new autobiography, read by her).
Since most of my time is spent listening to music and reading non-fiction books or articles, the main thing that defines a great writer for me is information and detail, so the writers I’ve suggested below are all masters at this.
I should acknowledge that I feel quite terrible looking back on the books I’ve read and the authors who have moved me, as I’ve only included one Australian woman in this entire article. I am trying to do better to support the Australian publishing industry, I promise.
Anyway, here are four women whose prose, thoughts, ideas, practice and approach has switched big light bulbs on for me in the past two years.
1. Rachel Syme
You know those people who are just born storytellers? That’s New Yorker writer, Rachel Syme. I honestly don’t know how she does it. Everything about her writing is pervy and decadent, like you’ve overheard a conversation you shouldn’t of, while out at dinner. She writes about pop culture and occasionally will spit a hot take on something to do with Hollywood, but I urge you to dig out her pieces for the “On and Off the Avenue” and “On The Street” sections – they’re just delectable. In particular, I love this one, 'A Grande Dame of the Perfume Industry Turns Ninety-Five', about a 95-year-old perfume industry legend. Just divine.
2. Olivia Laing
I cannot get enough of British author Olivia Laing’s work. She weaves words like a tapestry, each one written like a melody which springs to life when read out aloud (her self-read audiobook for her novel ‘Crudo’ is impeccable!). From Laing’s deeply moving non-fiction meditation on loneliness, ‘The Lonely City’ – which made its way into my bones and now lives there rent free – to the raw and electrifying ‘Crudo’, her Frieze columns and work for The Guardian, I will devour everything she touches with immense pleasure. Her writing is maddeningly superb. Whether she is dissecting art or sexuality, ruminating on politics or documenting disaster in real time, I can’t think of a writer who has mastered the art of timely timelessness quite like her.
3. Samantha Irby
I feel like I came to Samantha Irby’s riotous prose late to the game, but I am so glad I did. I had never heard of her blog, bitches gotta eat, either. During a time when I didn’t have the mental capacity to read a book cover to cover, but was desperate for a palette cleanser from some of the heavy non-fiction books I had been reading, I picked up her buzzy, blog-like 2019 collection of essays, 'We Are Never Meeting in Real Life'.
Irby’s prose is sharp, funny but not intimidating – she talks about her relationship with her body, wellness, dating and there is this echoing theme of resilience. She has the pace of a bustling city, but the energy of a garden in bloom. Buzzy. Insightful. If that funny, relatability of 00s-era “girlboss chick lit” was a guilty pleasure for you, but now you’re looking for something more intelligent and less…um...Carrie Bradshaw, Irby is your prescription.
4. Rachel Kushner
Like Olivia Laing, anything Rachel Kushner touches I devour, too. She is so good at writing about danger, rebellion and being bad. I was obsessed with her book The Flamethrowers, which was a dizzying and irreverent and on-the-edge novel about art and radicalism in the ‘70s. It was like a drug. Likewise with her shorter work Telex From Cuba which just has this cool precision.
But since we’re talking about releases made in the last two years, I have to suggest The Mars Room, which is kind of like the dark sibling to The Flamethrowers. Instead of freedom and motorbikes and activists, it’s about women who are incarcerated for life in a prison. It is laced with detail and has an err of dystopia – which I adore. Kushner spends a lot of here time researching for accuracy too – for The Mars Room she spent time in prisons and with inmates. How can you not respect that?
— Noelle Faulkner
Noelle Faulkner is an Australian writer who has had bylines in Vogue, GQ, ELLE, Harper’s BAZAAR, The Guardian and more. She writes about culture, the arts, the future, cars and the space in which those things intersect. You can follow her @noelleflamingo or read her work over at noellefaulkner.com.