Deborah Yaffe

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Women writers, popping up

By Deborah Yaffe, Mar 5 2018 02:00PM

In your average general-interest bookshop, a majority of the titles have probably been authored by men. No surprise there – historically, to quote Anne Elliot, “men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. . . . the pen has been in their hands.”


So I took a certain visceral satisfaction in learning that, for the next five days, London readers will be able to browse through the shelves of an all-women-all-the-time pop-up bookstore. The Like A Woman Bookshop, located on Rivington Street in the Shoreditch neighborhood of east London, is a collaboration between publisher Penguin Random House and bookseller Waterstones to mark two feminist milestones: the annual celebration of International Women’s Day (March 8), and the centennial of the 1918 law that gave (some) British women the right to vote.


“The bookshop will celebrate the persistence of women who’ve fought for change: those who fight, rebel and shout #LikeAWoman,” Penguin Random House’s press release says. (Yes, there is a certain irony in the spectacle of a big corporation putting its imprimatur on scrappy anti-establishment rebelliousness, complete with a no-doubt-carefully-vetted hashtag. But you take what you can get.)


Like A Woman’s shelves will be organized on idiosyncratic lines, “not just by genre or category but by the impact the author has had on culture, history or society, including ‘Essential feminist reads,’ ‘Inspiring young readers,’ ‘Women to watch,’ ‘Your body’ and ‘Changemakers,’ “ Penguin Random House says.


It’s not clear to me if Jane Austen will make the cut, since Penguin Random House claims its pop-up shop will stock “the most inspiring and iconic titles in recent times” and all the authors mentioned by name date from the mid-twentieth century or later.


But as Chawton House’s extensive rare book collection makes clear, the literary landscape of Jane Austen’s time was populated with plenty of female writers, some of whom Austen admired greatly. It’s not hard to imagine a time-traveling Jane Austen enjoying the chance to spend this week leafing through the stock in the Like A Woman Bookshop.


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