A winter lesisure book report compiled by Women’s Center Director, Jess Myers
The winter term is wrapping up and the “spring” semester (and winter storm Jonas) is right around the corner. I’m already mourning what I know will soon be the inevitable dry season of leisure reading which will be replaced by amazing Women’s Center events and programs (plus, let’s be honest, the last season of Parks and Rec is finally on Netflix and Leslie is calling my name). Before that, though, I thought I’d report out on my winter reading list.
I gave myself few rules to follow as I selected my books for the winter break. I purposely avoided the critical feminist textbooks I have on my reading list and did not seek out books with themes of sexual violence (I’m still recovering from last winter’s reading Roxane Gay’s An Untamed State. Amazing and heartbreaking.). I steered myself in the direction of “light” and “fun,” sought out stories with women positioned as critical characters, and kept to the intentional practice of reading books authored by women or people of color only. I’m already reflecting on the more intentional ways I’ll need to craft my next binge reading session. While most of my winter reads ended up on my list through recommendations from feminist and social justice-orientated friends or podcasts, the end result still produced a very white-centric cast of women authors. This is in contrast to last winter, when I sought out specific authors such as Gay and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and took away a much more intersectional and global perspective through my reading. I’ve (re)learned it’s not good enough to just exclude white male authors when seeking out book recommendations if you’re really looking to expand your perspective beyond stories of whiteness and white supremacy.
So here’s my report (I’ve also included links for the full official summary of each book):
In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume
I was supposed to be a part of a book club and this book was the December read. Long story short, I ended up not going to the discussion but continued reading the book anyways. I had just listened to a podcast about Judy Blume and was feeling disappointed that I never really got into reading her many young adult novels growing up especially after learning more about the ways in which Blume’s books were censored and banned throughout the years due to their portrayals of girls’ bodies, puberty and exploring sexuality. In the Unlikely Event, three planes crash in a small town in New Jersey over the course of just two months in 1952. The story is told from the view of various characters, to include my favorite, young Miri Ammerman. Though the town is experiencing horror, death, and devastation, life does not stop for Miri and many other characters. First loves, big dreams, complex family relationships, and complicated friendships all still ravel and unravel giving Unlikely that classic Blume appeal.
Recommend it? Sure, why not? The Ammerman family’s love and loyalty for each other told through not only a mother-daughter perspective but grandmother-mother-daughter perspective is rich and moving. Just don’t consider it as a read for your next long plane ride – having the story recently in my mind before flying for the holidays made me more anxious than normal about take-off and landing.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
This came to me by recommendation when I put out an all- call to my Facebook world to send me suggestions for an easy, lighthearted read. The novel spans across decades moving back and forth in time and through the lens of several different characters to tell the story of life after a world-wide flu epidemic causes the collapse of civilization. Ah, yes, another dystopian novel under my belt. And, as with Hunger Games and Divergent, I was drawn to the main female character, Kirsten. When the story was told through her lens, I immediately became more engaged wanting to know more about how she came to survive the flu and life thereafter. While she wasn’t a Katniss or Tris, I admired her knack for survival and defying gender norms and roles in this dystopian world. Moreover, the character of Kirsten moved me into self-reflection and contemplation of my own abilities, determination, and self-reliance.
Recommend it? Yup! Unless you’re already have disconcerting thoughts about the end of the world. The fact that the entire world completely collapsed within days due to a flu virus was unsettling. I also became sick two days after finishing the novel, disappointing myself that I would indeed never be part of the 1% of society to survive and rebuild a new world.
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
My mom was reading this book while I was reading Judy’s novel. She couldn’t stop raving about it so I picked up my own copy from the library. While I liked the overall story, with its White Savior Complex leanings, I’m going to have to put The Invention of Wings in the same category as The Help. I absolutely enjoyed learning more about Sarah and Angelina Grimke and their work on behalf of the abolition of slavery and the advancement of women’s rights, I didn’t like how Kidd used the Grimke’s family slaves, namely, Handful and Charlotte, to drive the plot and develop the character of Sarah. Unlike The Help, Kidd dives much more into the complexities of race, racism, and the guilt surrounding white privilege, but I was still left with an overall feeling of icky-ness in which white women are given voice and purpose on the backs of women of color.
Recommend it? Eh, maybe, but probably not.
The Notorious RGB by Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik
Loved it! I’m going to law school and clerking for RGB as soon as possible. I adore Ruth! This is a quick read on the life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg through a feminist lens. The authors also spend a good amount of time giving a feminist (and accessible) context to important Supreme Court cases dealing with gender equity to help share the personal and professional progression of Ginsburg’s life. I loved learning the little nuances of RGB’s life to include her being a night owl, the meaning behind those fancy collars, and her current workout routine. Moreover, I appreciated the ways in which Gingburg’s dedication to building bridges and relationships across differences (i.e. her friendship with Justice Scalia) spoke truth to the ways in which I can (and must) do a better job cultivating relationships with both my allies and adversaries. Bonus – Marty and Ruth’s relationship is a gem and gave me all the feels.
Recommend it? Heck yes. “You can’t spell truth without Ruth.” Also for more on how Notorious RGB came to be, check out the tumblr page.
I Am Malala by Malala Yuzafzai with Patricia McCormick
This books has been on my reading list for quite a while. Through NPR, I somewhat followed the story of Malala after she was shot by the Taliban in 2012. Malala’s story is so powerful because she was (IS) so young. Yet, it wasn’t until I read about her experience in her own words, that it really truly sunk in how young she was when she decided to take on the Taliban and fight for girls’ and women’s rights. She was 11 when she first started speaking publicly! Eleven! As I was reading, I kept thinking, how lucky is the world that we’ll hopefully have Malala in it for years and years to come. She’s only just begun (and I need to get my butt in gear)! And, much like The Notorious RGB gave me context to political landscapes, I loved not only learning more about Malala, but also gaining a better understanding of the political and cultural climate of Pakistan surrounding her story.
Recommend it? Absolutely. The library gave me the “young readers edition” so I’m wondering how different it is from the “adult” text. I found it to be an elementary read but inspiring nonetheless. If you’re looking for some hope in the world or simply some personal motivation, this is the book for you.
Have you read any of these books? What are your thoughts? Though snow is in the forecast this weekend, I’m already looking forward to my spring break reading splurge – what recommendations do you have for me?