Elena Ferrante names her 40 favourite books by female authors

List by pseudonymous author of beloved Neapolitan novels includes Zadie Smith, Sally Rooney and several Italian classics

Elena Ferrante, the bestselling pseudonymous Italian author behind My Brilliant Friend, has named her favourite 40 books by female authors around the world, with Toni Morrison, Sally Rooney and Zadie Smith all making the cut.

The author, whose quartet of Neapolitan novels has sold 13m copies worldwide, has published her list on Bookshop.org, the online store that recently launched in the UK and gives a proportion of sales to independent booksellers. Ferrante’s UK publisher, Europa Editions, is returning their 10% sales commission from Ferrante’s list to Bookshop.org so it can be shared among the 300 independent bookshops that have signed up to the site so far.

Ferrante described her choices as being united by the theme of “stories of women with two feet, and sometimes one, in the 20th century”. All of the books are available in English, but span the world: Japan to Nigeria, India to Brazil.

The list include Pulitzer winners – Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge and Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies – and Booker winners such as Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin and Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things. It also includes several Italian bestsellers: Arturo’s Island by Elsa Morante, first published in 1957, about a boy coming-of-age on the Neapolitan island of Procida; Accabadora by Michela Murgia, following a girl adopted by a secretive Sardinian woman; Anna Maria Ortese’s short story collection Evening Descends Upon the Hills; Family Lexicon by Natalia Ginzburg, a novel-cum-memoir first published in 1963 and translated to English in 2018; and Donatella Di Pietrantonio’s A Girl Returned, about an orphan who is returned to her birth mother and a life of poverty.

Natalia Ginzburg, author of Family Lexicon.
Natalia Ginzburg, author of Family Lexicon. Photograph: Public domain

Several of the authors voiced their pleasure at being chosen by Ferrante. Smith, whose 2000 debut White Teeth made the list, said: “Reading all of Ferrante slowly, in Italian, and then with obsessive speed, in English, have been two of the great reading experiences of my life. I am thrilled to be included in this wonderful initiative on behalf of independent bookshops.”

The Canadian author Sheila Heti said: “It means so much to me that she connected with my book, Motherhood. My favourite of hers is The Days of Abandonment – excruciating and perfect.” And Mieko Kawakami, the Japanese author of Breasts and Eggs, also selected by Ferrante, described her as “a writer who continually creates lives and worlds with strokes both delicate and grand. To hear that she has read my work, and that it has somehow touched her creative world, brings me the greatest joy and fills me with courage.”

Women’s prize founder Kate Mosse said she was “delighted to see Ferrante celebrating so many exceptional books by her fellow women writers – we all love to have a sneak peak into what our favourite authors love to read, what they value, and this list is magnificent.”

Bookseller Claire Harris, of independent bookshop Lutyens & Rubinstein, called it “a great list”. “I would happily read my way through it, some of them again and others I’d like to give a go,” she said. “There are authors on the list that probably wouldn’t be read without someone like Ferrante bringing attention to them, and she has a really good balance of famous and the not-so-well-known on this list. There is something for everyone.”

Elena Ferrante’s top 40 books by female authors

• This article was amended on 13 April 2021. Sheila Heti is Canadian, not American as stated in an earlier version.


Sian Cain

The GuardianTramp

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