Chosen by Emma Thompson
Emma Thompson, the Oscar-winning British actress and screenwriter, is currently starring in the film The Children Act, a drama adapted from an Ian McEwan novel. Below, Thompson names six favorite comic works written by women.
The Trouble With Women by Jacky Fleming (Andrews McMeel, $13). The ultimate comment on the patriarchy, this illustrated 2016 volume felled me in my local bookshop. Literally. I laughed so hard I sank to the floor. The men I know who have read it get it, but it’s not quite as funny for them.
How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran (Harper Perennial, $16). The only book I know that starts with a woman masturbating. Given the taboo around this interesting subject, that fact alone makes How to Build a Girl required reading. Plus, it’s brilliant and hilarious and has made a lot of people feel a lot less alone.
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (Dover, $5). Gentle, probing, sharp, bitter, and sweet all at once, the first novel Jane Austen finished also includes one of the finest comic characters ever created—Isabella Thorpe—who’s silly and self-serving in equal measure. Henry Tilney was my first literary love. I’ve lost count of the number of times I stole him from Catherine Morland by sweeping into Bath’s famous Pump Rooms in a tube top and slingbacks.
Texts From Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg (Holt, $23). This is the world’s best loo book. It appears simple and, like all simple and excellent things, is based on extreme skill and profound understanding.
The American Way of Death by Jessica Mitford (out of print). The peerless Mitford explores the notion that for some Americans, death appears to be optional. Mitford’s book was published in 1963, and it is sobering to note that the resistance to discussing death endures, though it remains the only known fact about our futures.
The Guilty Feminist by Deborah Frances-White (Virago U.K., $19). Everything you ever wanted to know about feminism but were afraid to ask. Kind, necessary wisdom with good gags, the book is based on Frances-White’s podcast of the same name. I attended the recording of the 100th episode at the Palladium in London, and was stunned by the sense of community she has created among young women who are feminists but still shave their legs. And old ones like me, whose legs have finally forgotten how to grow hair.