Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Your 2008 Feminist Reading List

I am a complete bookworm, and I'm at my most annoying at the end of the year when I like to compile lists of my favorite books and bug people to read them. While I was putting my 2008 list together, I thought I'd keep an eye out for any good books for feminists and those who love them, and was surprised by my results. There was only one book you'd find in your regular fiction section that I can unequivocally recommend. But I did hit the jackpot in a completely different area.

I was the kind of kid who always wanted to be an adult. I went through a fruitful reading period from about 5th to 8th grade where I read all those really great classics. There were no shortage of strong, smart, and interesting female characters. Little House on the Prairie, A Wrinkle in Time, Julie of the Wolves, Jacob Have I Loved, Bridge to Terabithia, I Capture the Castle, I could go on and on. But then I started reading adult books and it took me a long time to realize that there weren't anywhere near as many strong, smart and interesting women in them.

So, I present to you, 3 Young Adult books I read this year that I would have died for at 13. I know that these days people think of YA and think of mushy drivel and rich-girl melodrama, but there is so much more out there and it's just as good as it ever was no matter how old you are. Plus, not only are all three about strong girls, but they're all written by women.

  • Life As We Knew It, by Susan Beth Pfeffer. This is the only book on this list not published in '08 (actually '06) but I didn't find it until recently. I have always loved crazy post-apocalyptic stuff, but this book is actually the apocalyptic part where you have no clue what's going to happen. Pfeffer's heroine writes about the ever-increasing calamities in her diary, a device that rarely works but really does here. Miranda's relationships with her family and friends go through a lot of strain as she finds the things that used to matter don't anymore.
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. If you do keep up with YA, I have little doubt you've already heard of this one since it's taking the place by storm. The premise sounds insane, a futuristic society with an annual battle where teenagers have to fight to the death, but you'll be surprised just how personal and compassionate of a book it is. It also has a nice edge of satire and a plot that's full of surprises. Our heroine, Katniss, is nothing if not savvy, but she's also both tough and tender. Allegedly there will be books to follow and I'm very excited.
  • The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart. This is the only book of the bunch that is set in the plain-old present. At first glance it appears to be your average boarding-school novel complete with crushes, pranks, and secret societies, but it turns out to be a study in budding feminism. Our lovely young Frankie, who finds herself suddenly attractive after the summer break, has to think long and hard about what it means to be a girl and what you should really look for in a boy. I really love the way Lockhart already knows what kind of person her heroines will end up being and is going to show you how they'll eventually get there even if you don't see the final product.

So, there you have it, and I'm sure there's a whole bunch more that I've missed. As for my one regular fiction recommendation, it is The Age of Shiva by Manil Suri, a beautifully written book set in India that follows one woman's life that really rings true (even though it's written by a man). What I love about it is that you can see the difference between reacting to patriarchy and breaking free from it.

What are some great books you've read this year?


Anonymous said...

Stiffed by Susan Faludi.
The Obesity Myth by Paul Campos (not explicity feminist but does a great job of dismantling diet culture, which I think is a feminist issue).
All About Love: New Visions and Communion: The Female Search for Love by bell hooks. I read Communion first without realizing it was the last book in a trilogy. In 2009 I intend to get the second book in the triology and read it.
Wise Children by Angela Carter.
Man Made Language by Dale Spender.
Language and Woman's Place by Robin Lakoff (kinda out-of-date, but an interesting read nonetheless).
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Hurston

I read some other great books too, but these are the ones that really stood out for me.

zombietron said...

Great post! I've really been wanting to read some good fiction with feminist characters, as you said strong woman characters are hard to find. I recently read The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K Le Guin, which is about a planet of people who have no gender, but I was kind of annoyed because the entire book, even though the people have no gender, they are all referred to as He.
Ah well...I'll have a look into these. The first one sounds awesome!


We got some great suggestions when we asked the same question on the feministing community blog, which we did because we were annoyed at Amazon's top 100 editor's picks list for having less than 30 books by women on it.

Maggie said...

zombietron, I would hope that a female writer would consider the option of using something other than "he." Frustrating.

The recs on the feministing blog are good, too. I liked The Likeness by Tana French a lot, as a big mystery buff. Mystery is one genre where you have a lot of solid female writers. Other books written by women that I liked are
A Person of Interest by Susan Choi (Choi is always solid.)
The Uses of Enchantment by Heidi Julavits
Daughters of the North by Sarah Hall (I'm sure feminist readers probably heard about this one)
Ms. Hempel Chronicles by Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum
Stealing Buddha’s Dinner by Bich Minh Nguyen

I also read a bunch of Sarah Waters this year, my love for here has previously been expressed in other blog posts.

Ellen said...

There had BETTER be a sequel to The Hunger Games! What, oh what, will Katniss do now?