Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Women's Voices: A Reading List

While I have mixed feelings about celebrating the fact that women are often so underappreciated we need to set aside a day for honoring women, I'll use International Women's  Day as an excuse to put together a partial list of my favorite books with a strong female voice. This list contains a mix of memoir, manifesto, and fiction and is in alphabetical order by author.
  • Kate Bolick, Spinster. Bolick examines the lives of several women, including herself, who put off the traditional path of marriage and children to pursue other interests. Many of these "spinsters" go on to marry and have more traditional lives, but most do it on their own terms, and not until they have gotten what they want out of their single years.
  • Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend (and the rest of the series). The novel My Brilliant Friend, translated from Italian, is the best depiction of a friendship--and the admiration and jealousy that comes with a close friendship--that I have ever read. I especially like that the book focuses on the friendship between the two main characters and their academic competition rather than a love story, as coming-of-age books about young women tend to do. The later books are beautiful portrayals of the ups and downs of navigating career success, romances, and relationships with family.
  • Estelle Freedman, The Essential Feminist Reader. Fantastic collection of essays by authors from Mary Wollstonecraft to Audre Lorde.
  • Germaine Greer, The Female Eunuch. Possibly my favorite feminist classic. Greer writes powerfully about the repression that comes from the traditional nuclear family. From the forward of the 21st anniversary edition, by way of Wikipedia: "The freedom I pleaded for twenty years ago was freedom to be a person, with dignity, integrity, nobility, passion, pride that constitute personhood. Freedom to run, shout, talk loudly and sit with your knees apart. Freedom to know and love the earth and all that swims, lies, and crawls upon it... most of the women in the world are still afraid, still hungry, still mute and loaded by religion with all kinds of fetters, masked, muzzled, mutilated and beaten."
  • Sheila Heti, How Should a Person Be. I love the way Heti experiments with different modes of writing to capture the existential angst, friendships, of being a twenty-something artistic person in what seems like a semi-autobiographical work
  • Belle De Jour, Secret Diary of a Call Girl. Well written and surprisingly relatable, Secret Diary might change the way you view sex workers and sexual empowerment. Fun fact: during the period that this book describes, the author was concurrently pursuing a science PhD in the UK.
  • Mindy Kaling, Why Not Me? I really like what comedienne Kaling has to say about her relationship with her work, how her work gives her confidence, and how she maintains this confidence while the rest of the world pays attention to things that should matter less than the quality of her work.
  • Beryl Markham, West With the Night. Markham was not just a famous beauty who had love affairs with talented men (including Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry), but also one of the first bush pilots in Africa and a fantastic writer. As she writes about her work flying in Kenya and her love of the land, she comes across as such a strong, resourceful, and brave woman.
  • Caitlin Moran, How to Be a Woman. I love Moran's voice and wisdom as she talks about growing into a woman and navigating womanhood.
  • Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things. Strayed opens up about her own struggles and triumphs through the "Dear Sugar" advice column she writes. Beautifully written and emotionally powerful.
  • Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own. Woolf is one of my favorite writers in the English language and this short book makes some of the best arguments for gender equality that I have ever read or heard. One of my favorite lines, about why women need to be allowed to earn a comfortable income: "One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well. The lamp in the spine does not light on beef and prunes."
Would love to hear your recommendations!

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for these recommendations, the hardest will be to pick one to start.

More books:
Sylvia Plath - "The Bell Jar"
Joanna Russ - "The Female Man"

Anonymous said...

Another recommendation, as it's one of my favorite books ever written: Villette, by Charlotte Bronte. There are a lot of themes in this novel, but a rather prominent one is that of a woman forced into a man's position, and its ensuing freedoms and discontents.

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