I do love LibraryThing. For those of you unacquainted with its charms, it's essentially an online database, into which users enter details of the books they own. I suppose there's a practical purpose, in that it helps people keep track of their collections, spotting gaps and duplicates. But even better is the chance to peek at the bookshelves of strangers. Try as you might, it's impossible not to make assumptions about others based on what they read, and to compare their habits with your own. Moreover, there's all manner of fun and games, such as the Unsuggester, which allows you to enter the title of a book from your library, and in turn offers a title that you'll probably really dislike. (The headline pairing is Kant's Critique of Pure Reason versus Sophie Kinsella's Confessions of a Shopaholic.)
It also gives you a chance to cast a critical eye at your own collection. Foolish impulse buys, often the detritus of three-for-two, give off a whiff of imprudence and gullibility. Big fat tomes, that you know you'll never read, glare their disapproval. Unwanted presents squat dumbly.
And then there are the gaps. I can't help but notice how few female writers there are in my collection, and feel a pang of lefty guilt (which goes back to my student days, when I used to carry around a copy of The Second Sex in the vain hope that I might get to shag a cute feminist). But should I feel guilty about this? Does it expose me as an unreconstructed bloke, one of the dreaded Dead White European Males who haunted my undergraduate years? Or is it just one of those things that happens in the unplanned acquisition of books? I mean, I've got far more Japanese books than the average LibraryThing member; does that mean the others are racists? I've tried to come up with a list of my 10 favourite books by female authors and, to be honest, two or three of them are fairly desperate reaches out to the more distant backwaters of my reading memory:
• Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë
• Nights at the Circus, by Angela Carter
• Passing On, by Penelope Lively
• Fear and Trembling, by Amélie Nothomb
• Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
• By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, by Elizabeth Smart
• Collected Poems, by Stevie Smith
• White Teeth, by Zadie Smith
• Sexing the Cherry, by Jeanette Winterson
• Orlando, by Virginia Woolf
So, if I'm prepared to risk accusations of tokenism, which books by women should I have read? To give you further guidelines, I don't like George Eliot, and Jane Austen I can take or leave. I loathe chick lit, but I think it's probably designed to be loathed by the likes of me. I'm not that enthused by the fantasy genre either, although the appearance of Carter and Winterston above suggests that I'm OK when it's dressed up as magic realism (in the same way that a ceilidh is line-dancing for the Guardian-reading middle classes).
Over to you. Any suggestions?