One fateful night last summer I realized how few female writers graced my bookshelf. As a female writer, this was particularly alarming. Seeking absolution and being from a generation rendered uselessly uncultured without listicles, I journeyed to the greatest list of all: the internet. Feminista’s list, which they compiled in response to Modern Library’s white-men heavy 100 Best Books of the Twentieth Century inventory, kept showing up in searches. I hadn’t heard of most of the titles, let alone read them.
I began to wonder how many other people were unknowingly in the same position. Why aren’t we exposed to these authors? Why isn’t Modern Library including them to begin with? Why didn’t I find out about Dorothy Parker until college? I could have used her a lot earlier, guys. To make lemonade out of anger, I decided to read the books, redesign the covers, write reviews, and put it all on a blog.
Why redesign the covers? Well first of all it’s fun. But as well as being a writer, I am also a designer. It is a difficult combination. I buy books by their covers. I will undergo painful searches before purchasing a book even if I really, really want to read it. The more reprints a book has, the better the odds of finding a good cover. Needless to say a lot of these books don’t have that many reprints which means a lot of them don’t have great covers. (Unless it’s My Antonia and has been reprinted a million times but still inexplicably has only terrible covers.) This got me thinking about how marketing factors into the whole mess. Presumably Modern Library is trying to boost their own sales with their Definitive List after all. And if you haven’t published something, how can you promote it? Once again, Capitalism undermines the oppressed. Anyway, the more I could do to bring appeal to the books, the better. What could their covers look like if they were given proper attention?
As great of a project as this has been so far, and as blown away as I have been book after book, it just scratches the surface.
I wrote down 4 titles, and to the bookstore I traversed. Well this whole origin story is just a long state of alarm, because guess what. I went to three bookstores and none of the books were stocked. Let alone stocked with multiple editions I could be picky about.
Luckily you can buy a lot of quirky things online. Miracle Fruit tablets. Dog clothing. Books by women.
After the bookstore incident I was very sure this was a project worth committing to, but I was also very sure that reading 100 books, writing 100 reviews, and designing 100 covers would mean no socializing, eating or sleeping for a few years. So I reached out to other writers and designers for help, and the response was overwhelmingly supportive. (This was fortunate because now our list is well over 100 and growing.)
I feel very lucky to have gotten to work with so many amazing, talented, wonderful artists and writers and I’m excited to share their work with you. Over the next 1-2 years Uncovered Classics will post reviews and covers for each book on Feminista’s list of 20th Century English-language books, as well as add more 20th Century titles that deserve attention.
As great of a project as this has been so far, and as blown away as I have been book after book, it just scratches the surface. If we’re not exposed to literature by women in general, how much literature by women of color and queer women have we read? (The Feminista List does not include enough of these authors and we will be adding more.) How many of these women were even allowed publication in the 20th Century? How many important works were lost? And how many important works written by female authors in other languages are still untranslated?
We’ve got a lot of work to do. This is a start, at least.