While organising (and gloating over) the piles of to-read books by my bed the other day, I noticed something interesting: every single one of them was written by a woman.
It wasn’t by any design. While I’ve always been preoccupied with reading about the lives of women, I never actively set out to reject male authors. And yet all 13 of those stories waiting by my bed (I know, I know) were told by women – and all but one had a female protagonist. A closer look at my entire bookshelf confirmed the trend: I could count the male authors on one hand.
This got me thinking about why I’ve always had a fascination with the female experience and the lives of women through history. Maybe it’s because, really, there’s still not enough of that sort of thing around. Maybe it’s because I could never understand myself through Shakespeare, Dickens, F. Scott Fitzgerald and J. D. Salinger – the headliners of my high school lit reading list. Maybe it’s because, frequently, men still insist on telling our stories for us – in art and in life. While literature has done a lot better than some other forms of media (looking at you, Hollywood), there’s still a long way to go.
I am proud that I read so many women. I may not have power or influence and I can’t put right the misogyny in the world, but I can make this small choice. I can read the stories of women – migrants, misfits, poets, artists, women of colour, Muslim women, LBQT+ women, rebels, game-changers, survivors. I can make a conscious effort to listen to the voices that the world tries to silence or ignore. Maybe it’s not much, but it’s my personal act of quiet rebellion.
(PS – I hope to post some reading lists for intersectional feminism/women in various genres at some point so look out for that.)
(PPS – feel free to add me on Goodreads! I love being nosy about what everyone else is reading…)
Last year I got back into reading in a big way, and I’m so glad I did. By making an effort to spend less time scrolling aimlessly through various social media feeds I managed to make it through (and enjoy!) 23 excellent books that wandered all the way across the literary landscape from modern fiction, crime and YA to history, social critique and travel.
In the order in which I read them, here are my top 6 of 2016:
- How to be a Heroine – Samantha Ellis
This book is basically just like sitting down with your bestie and a cup of tea and having a good old chat about all the female-centric stories you loved growing up. I have a few issues with some of Ellis’s ideas (why are you putting all your heroines on such a high pedestal? Do you critique male heroes in the same way? Why do we need the ‘perfect’ heroine anyway – doesn’t perfection incorporate being flawed?) but in general I very much enjoyed the nostalgia trip.
- The Women’s History of the World – Rosalind Miles
THIS BOOK IS SO IMPORTANT. As someone who is actively trying to learn about all topics surrounding feminism and femaleness, I found this book super useful in terms of putting modern feminism in context and looking at the bigger historical picture. It really clarified a lot for me.
- How to Build a Girl – Caitlin Moran
A 90s grunge coming-of-age sort of deal. The heroine is an absolute gem who takes total control over her destiny and ensures that all her achievements (and mistakes) are absolutely her own.
- Unless – Carol Shields
Don’t you love it when you spontaneously buy a book by an unfamiliar author at a garage sale purely to support a good cause and it turns out to be one of your ALL TIME FAVES? I can’t even put my finger on why I enjoyed this so much. It’s just a really engaging, lovely read.
- The Hate Race – Maxine Beneba Clarke
Again, a really important book. We’re good at pushing racism under the rug here in Australia and I think this is a pretty good reminder of the impact it can have on individuals. Not just the blatant shit but also the seemingly insignificant ignorant remarks that people don’t even realise they’re making.
- Not Just Jane – Shelley DeWees
This was a thoroughly enjoyable exploration of the lives and work of some of the (many) under-appreciated women writers in Britain’s history. These were some badass, incredible ladies. I recommend it if you like fiction from the 18th/19th centuries and are looking to broaden your literary horizons.
What were your top picks from 2016? Let me know in the comments – despite having around 10 books on my ‘currently reading’ shelf I’m somehow always searching for something to read.