It’s only been a couple of years since I began to take a real interest in Feminist literature (both fiction and non-), mostly thanks to my good friend Laura, whose book recommendations are always A+. It has been an enlightening experience, but I wouldn’t say I’m an expert at all! However, I do run a Feminist Book Club at University, so my friend and first-time Book Clubber, Sana, suggested I compile a list of good books to start with for anyone reading who wants some summer reading suggestions. (Books are listed in order of how they popped into my head…)
Feminism Is For Everybody: Passionate Politics, bell hooks (2000) – United States
bell hooks is one of the mainstays of contemporary feminist writing, and she has published over thirty books on the interrelated topics of intersectionality, race, gender, capitalism and oppression. She describes Feminism Is For Everybody as a response to critics who described her writing as too esoteric, which is why I chose this particular book as a starting point for those unfamiliar with her work. It is an accessible, quick read that explains a lot of complex topics in a straightforward way. hooks can be controversial, and there are many things she has said with which I disagree, but I admire her commitment to an ethics of love in response to hatred. Indeed, I am currently reading All About Love: New Visions (2000), and I’m enjoying it so far. My favourite book of hers is We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity (2004), particularly chapter ten “We Real Cool”, which charts the history of “cool” and its origins in black music of the South.
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood (2000) and Persepolis: The Story of a Return (2007), Marjane Satrapi – Iran
I read Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood way before my feminist enlightenment, when I was fifteen and on a trip with my dad; his friend gave it to me to entertain me for a few hours, I think. It is a graphic novel so you can whizz right through it, and I was eager to read the second. It remains one of my favourite books and a very accessible point of access, i.e. it’s a story with very clear feminist undertones, but there is no mention of anything like theory.
Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay (2014) – United States
Author and academic Roxane Gay published a collection of essays called Bad Feminist. It is an enjoyable and quick read that helps the reader consider sexist, racist and heteronormative messages that are transmitted through mainstream media. The only problem with it is that when she is talking about a random tv show you haven’t heard of it can be a little difficult to follow/boring. Another criticism I have is that I don’t think the title matches the content well. I thought the concept of a ‘bad feminist’ was a really interesting one – it was the reason I picked up the book – but I didn’t think she went into enough detail about the contradictions we may all feel when we try to be feminist. Nevertheless, I do think it is worth a read because it did change my perspective on a number of things.
Sister Outsider: Speeches and Essays By Audre Lorde (1984) – United States
Audre Lorde is another VIP of the feminist movement. A self-described black lesbian feminist activist, she had an unusual childhood for someone who would later become a writer, initially not at all interested in prose. Sister Outsider is a collection of essays written in the 1970s and 80s that deal with black and white feminism, homosexuality, motherhood and other issues. Favourite essays include: ‘The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action’, Man Child: A Black Lesbian Feminist’s Response’, and ‘Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power.’ The collection includes the famous essay ‘The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House’.
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou (1969) – United States
The heartbreaking and beautifully written memoir of Maya Angelou that details her childhood in the South in the 1930s and 40s. She and her older brother moved to Stamps, Arkansas, to live with her grandmother and uncle when she was three-years-old, and the book tells of her experiences of sexism, racism and trauma up to the age of seventeen. Angelou offers us the gift of her words, which instil in the reader a belief in the power of the written word to protect and to transform. One of the greatest books I have read, for sure. A good starter if you feel like your feminism is too white and want to get into the writing of women of colour.
We Should All Be Feminists, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche (2014) – Nigeria
Adiche’s Tedx Talk broke the Internet and has become a sort of bible for millennial feminists. She gave the talk in 2012, around the time when it was becoming cool to call yourself a feminist again. It was sampled on Beyoncé’s 2013 song ***Flawless, and then published as a book. I think it was so popular because it is so relatable, so clear and so convincing. I think it also appeals to those who feel conflicted by wanting to embrace femininity as well as feminism, which can at times feel like two disconnected entities, but they do not have to be. Here is the extract that is used in ***Flawless:
We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful, otherwise you will threaten the man.
Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important.
Marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support, but why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same.
We raise girls to see each other as competitors, not for jobs or accomplishments, which I think would be a good thing, but for the attention of men.
We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings the way that boys are.
Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.
milk and honey, Rupi Kaur (2015) – India/Canada
A small but powerful book of poetry from Rupi Kaur – famous for her Instagram photo that showed her fully clothed, curled in the foetal position, and bleeding onto her trousers and bed clothes, and was removed for violating Instagram’s community guidelines, and, too, for her poems on womanhood, love and pain. Don’t be put off by the mention of poems, as I often am, these ones are beautiful in their simplicity. Here is an example of one of them:
It’s quite hard to find – I downloaded it via ebook – but it’s currently available at Waterstones both online and in store.