Happy International Women’s Day!
I try to celebrate women every single day but it’s nice to have a specific day where the focus is on us. Today I’m going to make a conscious choice to consume art by women and amplify the voices of the marginalized even more so than usual. I want to use my platform (however small it may be) to laud some of my favorite books by women and about women.
Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
This book of short stories truly gutted me; everything that Roxane Gay tends to have that affect. I’m not a huge lover of short stories but Gay is . Like any great intersectional feminist, Difficult Women is not just about gender – it’s about race, class, family dynamics, friendship, death, sexuality, etc. There is very little that Gay shies away from including rape, abuse, and trauma (one story in particular, “La Negra Blanca,” was extremely difficult to read). Many of these stories also focus on the often fraught relationships between women and men, as well as the deep bonds of female friendships. There is something to be said about difficult women loving each other even when it seems no one else will. Though, after reading this collection, it would be hard to not find the beauty in the broken bits.
The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade by Ann Fessler
This was one of the best books I read last year. It was a truly remarkable, heartbreaking, and agonizing attempt to elevate voices that were shut out of the historical narrative. Whether you’re pro-life or pro-choice, The Girls Who Went Away will leave you wondering who was hurt the most in the years before Roe v. Wade was passed – and what may happen if it is overturned one day. Fessler gathered stories from women of all cultures and socio-economic backgrounds, and their stories truly haunted me for weeks. Their silence was broken and we are lucky enough to hear their stories. I cannot recommend this book enough – today and everyday.
Unrequited: The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Romantic Obsession by Lisa A. Phillips*
*Disclaimer: Lisa is a former professor of mine. Despite adoring her personally, that doesn’t have any bearing on my opinion of this book.
Mixing elements of memoir, journalism, history, literature and psychology, the book explores the often misunderstood yet universal experience of unrequited love. It is with a caring, compassionate hand that Phillips gives shape and explains all of the elements of what often feels like an unexplainable phenomenon. Exploring both high-brow and low-brow examples of unrequited love gives the book an authenticity and broad appeal – every woman has experienced this at one time or another. While exploring the sometimes dangerous ways unrequited feelings can manifest, the book also allows for hope – the hope that sometimes you find yourself when you stop chasing after somebody else. Unrequited is of universal relevance and importance but I know women, especially, would benefit from reading this book.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Aside from the Harry Potter series, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is the book that I have reread the most in my life. Despite being written in 1985, the dystopian, speculative fiction is still relevant today. Set in a future where the most important (and in some cases sole) purpose of women is to reproduce. It’s a horrifying tale of what happens when we base a woman’s worth on biology rather than humanity. The book explores gender dynamics, politics, economics, and religion while maintaining a plot that is both devastating and empowering (there is a moment involving butter that has stuck with me for years). More than almost any other book I’ve read this novel feels like a call to action. It almost goes without saying that at the very least this is a cautionary tale – cautioning us to fight for the full autonomy of women. It is a canary in the coal mine.
Bonus: read it before Hulu releases their television series this April.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Another shout out to Lisa Phillips as she was the one who assigned The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks in our feature writing class. I may not have read it if not for her, and boy would I have missed out. This book is both fascinating and infuriating. Skloot weaves memoir, anecdotes, entries from Henrietta Lack’s journal, and medical history to reveal the story of HeLa, the immortal cell line that came from Lack’s cervical cancer cells in the early 1950s. This book explores Lacks’ personal life, ethics in science, and the medical exploitation of African Americans. Even though I don’t typically read books about medicine, this book is always one of my go-to recommendations. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is the definition of giving voice to the voiceless, and we are so lucky to have heard the Lacks’ family story.
And that’s all folks! I could have listen dozens of more books but I think five will do for now. Do your part today and celebrate the women in your life! Or maybe just read a book (or article) by a woman about women. Reading is fundamental to empathy and I think we can use more of that in the world – regardless of the day.
Have you read any of the above books? If so, which is your favorite? Are you reading any women authors today? Who and what?