To conclude our month celebrating the radical authenticity of women and female identity, here are fourteen books that have made us think about what it means to be a woman.
All summaries for the following titles can be found at goodreads.com.
“Before Liz Lemon, before ‘Weekend Update,’ before ‘Sarah Palin,’ Tina Fey was just a young girl with a dream: a recurring stress dream that she was being chased through a local airport by her middle-school gym teacher. She also had a dream that one day she would be a comedian on TV.
She has seen both these dreams come true.
At last, Tina Fey’s story can be told. From her youthful days as a vicious nerd to her tour of duty on Saturday Night Live; from her passionately halfhearted pursuit of physical beauty to her life as a mother eating things off the floor; from her one-sided college romance to her nearly fatal honeymoon—from the beginning of this paragraph to this final sentence.
Tina Fey reveals all, and proves what we’ve all suspected: you’re no one until someone calls you bossy.”
Recommended by author and publisher Ruthie Knox.
“In these funny and insightful essays, Roxane Gay takes us through the journey of her evolution as a woman of color while also taking readers on a ride through culture of the last few years and commenting on the state of feminism today. The portrait that emerges is not only one of an incredibly insightful woman continually growing to understand herself and our society, but also one of our culture.
Bad Feminist is a sharp, funny, and spot-on look at the ways in which the culture we consume becomes who we are, and an inspiring call-to-arms of all the ways we still need to do better.”
Recommended by Ruthie Knox.
“The bestselling feminist novel that awakened both women and men, The Women’s Room follows the transformation of Mira Ward and her circle as the women’s movement begins to have an impact on their lives. A biting social commentary on an emotional world gone silently haywire, The Women’s Room is a modern classic that offers piercing insight into the social norms accepted so blindly and revered so completely. Marilyn French questions those accepted norms and poignantly portrays the hopeful believers looking for new truths.
Recommended by author Roan Parrish.
Coming of Age in Samoa: A Psychological Study of Primitive Youth for Western Civilisation by Margaret Mead
“Rarely do science and literature come together in the same book. When they do—as in Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, for example—they become classics, quoted and studied by scholars and the general public alike.
Margaret Mead accomplished this remarkable feat not once but several times, beginning with Coming of Age in Samoa. It details her historic journey to American Samoa, taken where she was just twenty-three, where she did her first fieldwork. Here, for the first time, she presented to the public the idea that the individual experience of developmental stages could be shaped by cultural demands and expectations. Adolescence, she wrote, might be more or less stormy, and sexual development more or less problematic in different cultures. The ‘civilized’ world, she taught us had much to learn from the ‘primitive.’ Now this groundbreaking, beautifully written work has been reissued for the centennial of her birth, featuring introductions by Mary Pipher and by Mead’s daughter, Mary Catherine Bateson.”
Recommended by author Joanna Bourne.
Daughter of Earth is an autobiographical novel chronicling the life of Marie Rogers, who bears a similar life to author and journalist Agnes Smedley, an American “radical” who fought for a number of causes, including women’s rights, birth control, children’s welfare, and the independence of India. She is also known for her coverage of the Communist forces during the Chinese Civil War. This novel specifically highlights the struggles of working-class Americans, particularly women, in the twentieth century.
“‘A precious, priceless book.’ —from the foreword by Alice Walker
‘An entire society is limned in the pages of this book….The power of Daughter of Earth lies in the erotic heat which informs every page of the book, erotic in the original Greek sense of life force.’ —Vivian Gornick, The Village Voice”
“Life can be hard: your lover cheats on you; you lose a family member; you can’t pay the bills—and it can be great: you’ve had the hottest sex of your life; you get that plum job; you muster the courage to write your novel. Sugar—the once-anonymous online columnist at The Rumpus, now revealed as Cheryl Strayed, author of the bestselling memoir Wild—is the person thousands turn to for advice.
Tiny Beautiful Things brings the best of Dear Sugar in one place and includes never-before-published columns and a new introduction by Steve Almond. Rich with humor, insight, compassion—and absolute honesty—this book is a balm for everything life throws our way.”
Recommended by Laura Grego, Senior Scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists
“I decided to talk to women about their vaginas, to do vagina interviews, which became vagina monologues…At first women were reluctant to talk. They were a little shy. But once they got going, you couldn’t stop them. Women secretly love to talk about their vaginas. They get very excited, mainly because no one’s ever asked them before.”
Recommended by reader Stephanie Meyer.
“An ancient title of respect for women, the word cunt long ago veered off this noble path. Inga Muscio traces the road from honor to expletive, giving women the motivation and tools to claim cunt as a positive and powerful force in their lives. In this fully revised edition, she explores, with candidness and humor, such traditional feminist issues as birth control, sexuality, jealousy between women, and prostitution with a fresh attitude for a new generation of women. Sending out a call for every woman to be the Cunt lovin Ruler of Her Sexual Universe, Muscio stands convention on its head by embracing all things cunt-related. This edition is fully revised with updated resources, a new foreword from sexual pioneer Betty Dodson, and a new afterword by the author.”
Recommended by reader Stephanie Meyer.
“For anyone who has ever dreamed of love, sex, and companionship beyond the limits of traditional monogamy, this groundbreaking guide navigates the infinite possibilities that open relationships can offer. Experienced ethical sluts Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy dispel myths and cover all the skills necessary to maintain a successful and responsible polyamorous lifestyle—from self-reflection and honest communication to practicing safe sex and raising a family. Individuals and their partners will learn how to discuss and honor boundaries, resolve conflicts, and to define relationships on their own terms.”
Recommended by reader Lisa Q.
“In 2011, Marie Claire magazine published a profile of Janet Mock in which she stepped forward for the first time as a trans woman. Those twenty-three hundred words were life-altering for the People.com editor, turning her into an influential and outspoken public figure and a desperately needed voice for an often voiceless community. In these pages, she offers a bold and inspiring perspective on being young, multicultural, economically challenged, and transgender in America.”
Recommended by author, feminist, educator, and activist Tristan Taormino.
Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women and the Rest of Us by Kate Bornstein
Part coming-of-age story, part mind-altering manifesto on gender and sexuality, coming directly to you from the life experiences of a transgender woman, Gender Outlaw breaks all the rules and leaves the reader forever changed.”
Recommended by Tristan Taormino.
“Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby.
Sethe was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. Her new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved.
Filled with bitter poetry and suspense as taut as a rope, Beloved is a towering achievement by Nobel Prize laureate Toni Morrison.”
Recommended by Ruthie Knox.
“The Color Purple is a 1982 epistolary novel by American author Alice Walker which won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Fiction. It was later adapted into a film and musical of the same name.
Taking place mostly in rural Georgia, the story focuses on the life of women of color in the southern United States in the 1930s, addressing numerous issues including their exceedingly low position in American social culture. The novel has been the frequent target of censors and appears on the American Library Association list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2000-2009 at number seventeen because of the sometimes explicit content, particularly in terms of violence.”
Recommended by Ruthie Knox.
“Maya Angelou, the bestselling author of On the Pulse of Morning, Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now, and other lavishly praised works, is considered one of America’s finest poets. Here, four of her most highly acclaimed poems are assembled in a beautiful gift edition that provides a feast for the eyes as well as the heart.”
Recommended by reader Erika K.
What books have you read that have changed your perspective of your own identity as a woman? Share your stories with us!
About Annamarie Bellegante
Born and raised in Des Moines, Annamarie Bellegante has been searching for a way to connect with the book publishing community within her beloved hometown and is absolutely thrilled to join Brain Mill Press. She currently works as a Content and SEO Strategist for a local web design company, but in her spare time she attends a monthly book club, volunteers at church, enjoys time with family and friends, and goes on many Skype dates with her boyfriend Tom, who is pursuing higher education in Colorado. An avid book reader and tea drinker, Anna loves all things relating to storytelling, language, editing, and humans. Her hobbies include spectating and participating in the performing arts, and she is a huge fan of semicolons and the Oxford comma. In spite of her usual hesitation of using superlatives, Anna strives to live each day according to the best song written by the best band: “All you need is love.”