I already wanted to read more feminist literature in 2016, but I didn’t really know where to start. Then, bam!, Emma Watson comes around and she starts this amazing book club Our Shared Shelf. She must be able to read thoughts or something.
Our Shared Shelf has read a feminist book every one or two months this year, trying to be as inclusive as possible. This gave my own interest in feminist literature a great boost! I’ll give each of the books a small review, so if you also want to read more into feminism, you can see which books fit you best.
- On the Road, by Gloria Steinem. I think that a great thing about this book was the clear image it gives of feminism in the USA in the last decades. As a non-American, I didn’t know a lot about it, but this book taught me a lot. This historical aspect also makes the book very agreeable, even if you don’t agree with Gloria Steinem per se. She tells about why she became a feminist organiser, and she tells about all kind of projects she was involved with. Although I didn’t always agree with her, I really learned a lot about how feminism developed in America in the second half of the 20th century.
- The Color Purple, by Alice Walker. I already read this book a few years ago. I just finished high school and I was starting to read more and more foreign literature. This book made a great impact, because I think it might have been one of the first feminist books I’ve ever read. I struggled with the language (the characters talk some kind of dialect and for a non-native speaker this was hard to get used to) but the book wouldn’t let me go. It tells the story of Celie, who first is abused by her stepfather and later by her husband, but together with some other strong women in her community, she breaks free.
- How to be a women, by Caitlin Moran. I was so excited when I heard Emma chose this book! I already heard of it (and liked lots of quotes on Goodreads), so I had high expectations. Unfortunately, those expectations were not met. Apparently, the quotes I liked were really the best part of the book and the rest didn’t make much of an impact. Moran mentions a lot of subjects, but also just cuts them off with a joke. I think she could have gone deeper and do some great deconstructing. But, this might be because I really had the wrong expectations: as an introduction to feminism it might be a nice book.
- All about love, by bell hooks. This book was really different than I expected. I thought it would be too spiritual for my taste, but it really made an impact! Don’t get me wrong, it’s still pretty spiritual, but if you’re not into that (like me), it’s easy to look past that because her other ideas are really good! hooks gives a new definition of love wherein an abusive relationship can never be defined as loving. Loving becomes a much more exclusive term and this makes you look at your relationships in a whole different light. It really changed the way I look at the people around me, and my own and others behaviours.
- The Argonauts, by Maggie Nelson. If you’re not used to academics, brace yourselves. In this book Nelson examines her relationship with artist Harry Dodge, and as an academic, she constantly references to other people and their ideas. For the first time, I was so glad with all my theoretical classes. Just as with Gloria Steinem, I didn’t agree with everything Nelson claims. I thought her sometimes a bit hypocritical. But the book did make me look critical at my own prejudices. For example, I noticed I found it really annoying that in the first part of the book, Harry is described very vaguely, which made it hard for me to put a label on him. Why did I so desperately need to? Was it just healthy curiosity, or do I still have an unhealthy need to label everyone?
- Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi. I read this book two years ago for a course about world literature. Then, I had to focus mainly on the style of the writing and the drawings, so I liked that Our Shared Shelf made me think of the feminist side of the book. Persepolis is a graphic novel that follows a young Iranian woman during and after the revolution. I really felt it was an empowering story, and I loved the representation of different opinions within Iran. If you like this book and want to read more about women in Iran, I would recommend you to read books by Azar Nafisi, like Reading Lolita in Tehran or Things I’ve Been Silent About.
- Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein. I didn’t know Brownstein’s band nor did I know a lot about her musical scene, so I think this book didn’t appeal as much to me as it can to other readers. I was however very impressed by the way Brownstein analyses herself and is able to show her own less pretty features, and show us how she has grown (and sometimes, how she hasn’t grown). It takes a special kind of honesty to be able to write this way. It made me able to look at my own relationships in another way too, and to learn how to appreciate some people more.
- Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn. This was such an impressive book, I really had a lot to process afterwards. I like how this book uses so many stories from real life, but also just enough statistics to make sure you believe it’s not just anecdotic. The personal stories were very moving, but it never became pessimistic (even when a story ended bad), because the writers always make sure to show you how the problem can be fixed and more importantly: what YOU can do to help solve this problem. To me the microfinance projects seemed the most suitable, because of the direct impact and the aid at the grassroots (keyword of this book!). So, I guess I’m gonna go and save some money now, and look for a nice organisation to help me change the world.
- Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou. This was such a sweet, inspiring read! I haven’t read anything by Maya Angelou before, I only knew her from name and the news. I think the way Angelou and her mother (and other members of the family) interact with each other is truly remarkable, such clear communication and loving towards each other without losing one’s own true identity. The only thing I had trouble grasping was how violent the mother sometimes seemed. I know she probably had her reasons, but those reasons are never told so it just seems a bit extreme, especially with her daughters pacifistic attitude next to it. It also seemed weird to use this definition of love after having read All about love by bell hooks. But maybe it just shows that feminism can hold a lot of different perspectives!
I learned so much from this book club and it truly inspired me to read even more feminist literature. I hope Watson continues this project in 2017. For more information about Our Shared Shelf, take a look at their Goodreads page.