Having first gained success with her novel, The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver is a writer and activist whose work tackles social issues and environmental concerns. With an academic background in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Kingsolver’s novels are influenced by her deep connection to the environment and often reflect the impacts of nature on human society and connection.
Her recent novel Demon Copperhead, an adaptation of Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield set in modern Appalachia has been applauded by readers and critics. With Kingsolver’s popularity continuing to grow, she shared her five favorite books written by women on the podcast Women Prize Product. Mentioning classics like Orlando and contemporary writers such as Bobbie Ann Mason, here are Barbara Kingsolver’s top five books:
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Beloved by writers and celebrities alike, Louisa May Alcott’s classic has inspired countless movie adaptations, showing its relentless impact, generation after generation. Centered around the March family, and its four daughters, Meg, Jo, Amy, and Beth, the post-civil war novel borrows from Alcott’s own experiences and morality.
With vignettes of the sisters’ daily lives woven into the story fabric, the novel is heart-warming, tragic, and in its own way, revolutionary. Focusing on driven, female characters, the novel creates a world that the reader can disappear into and enjoy.
Martha Quest by Doris Lessing
Feeling through the difficulties of adolescence and sexuality, Doris Lessing’s novel centers around Martha, a girl on a farm in Africa whose romantic ideals clash with her parent’s snobbery and puritanical values. While Martha navigates early womanhood, she tries to experience life to its fullest extent, feeling every sensation deeply.
The book has been praised as a masterpiece and is part of Lessing’s Children of Violence novels. Kingsolver noted: “[Lessing] was writing about sexism and segregation, and these bigger issues that I had never really understood could be the substance of literature.”
Shiloh and Other Stories by Bobbie Ann Mason
Winning the PEN/Hemingway award and praised by short-story writer Raymond Carver, the collection Shiloh and Other Stories portrays the American South in the midst of growing pains and everyday life. In the stories, the people of western Kentucky come to life as they grapple with changing times and social climates. Kingsolver stated: “And once again, in a new way, it blew my mind. I understood all at once that voice comes from authenticity.”
Orlando by Virginia Woolf
In Orlando, Woolf explores gender through the story of a young man in the time of Queen Elizabeth I who at the age of thirty-six is a woman in 1928. Filled with Woolf’s groundbreaking thinking and character depth, Orlando examines through its unusual narrative themes of sexuality and living. As time progresses and Orlando transforms, the reader is taken through the differences between centuries and people. “When you read that book,” Kingsolver stated, “it doesn’t read like science fiction or alternative fiction, it reads as realism.
Middlemarch by George Eliot
Following a town through the turbulence of new science, law, inventions, and scandals, Middlemarch delves into self-awareness and human complexity. Its characters are notably memorable as they struggle with the town’s fragile equilibrium and their own desires. Analyzing social reform, gender, and the ambition for happiness, Middlemarch is a complex novel, as Kingsolver noted: “It’s a book of infinite depth.”