My Favourite Books of 2015!

In no particular order:

Biographies:

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Gabriella Gillespies’ A Father’s Betrayal

Esmeralda Santiago’s When I was Puerto Rican – A Memoir

Jackie Kay’s Red Dust Road

Vera Brittain’s Testament of Friendship

Jeanne Theoharis’ The Rebellious Life of Mrs Rosa Parks

Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra: A Life

Fiction

UnknownBucha Emecheta’s The Joys of Motherhood

Anita Rau Badami’s The Hero’s Walk

Maggie Harris’ Kissadee Girl

Jamaica Kincaid’s See Now Then

Zora Neale Hurston’s Their eyes were watching

Kamila Shamsie’s A God in Every Stone

Taiye Selasi’s Ghana Must GoUnknown

Yejide Kilanko’s Chasing Butterflies

Sarita Mandana’s Tiger Hills

Helen Oyeyemi’s Boy. Snow. Bird

Yejide Kilanko’s Daughters who walk this path

Nancy Richler’s The Imposter Bride

Tatiana De Rosnay’s Sarah’s Key

Unknown 2

 

Kiran Desai’s Hullabaloo in the Guave Orchard

Padma Viswanathan’s The Toss of a Lemon

Shauna Singh Baldwin’s The Selector of Souls

Kamaria Muntu’s A Good Lynching Should be Enjoyed

 

Unknown 1Sunny Singh’s Hotel Arcadia

Madeleine Miller’s The Song of Achilles

Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love

 

 

 

The following by Jhumpa Lahiri’s

Unknown 1 Unaccustomed Earth

Lowland

The Namesake

 

 

 

And, Andrea Levy:

Levy Unknown

Every Light Burning in the House

Never Far From Nowhere

Uriah’s War

The Fruit of Lemons

 

 

(To be fair, I’ve loved everything I have ever read by Andrea Levy)

 

Kathleen Barry’s The Prostitution of Sexuality: The Global Exploitation of Women

Kathleen Barry’s The Prostitution of Sexuality was first published in 1995 and grew out of her work and activism following the publication of Female Sexual Slavery in 1979. The first half of the book, which is just theory, is brilliant. The second half felt outdated as it is based almost entirely on the research undertaken for Female Sexual Slavery. I would argue that the situation is actually worse now than it was even 10 years ago, particularly in relation to rape as an accepted tactic of war. I’d be interested to read an epilogue to the book which examines the reality of women’s experiences of sexual exploitation now and whether Barry thinks it is worse for women or if its just that I’ve become more aware of sexual exploitation.

I cannot recommend this book enough though. Barry’s theory on the global exploitation of women is incredibly important. She destroys the idea that prostitution can be consented to within a capitalist-patriarchy. She clearly proves that the sexualisation of human bodies renders women passive objects and men active participants. Barry challenges the heteronormative construction of pornography and prostitution and the hegemonic nature of capitalism which is built on the bodies of women.

I am adding this book to my list of Top Ten Feminist Theory Texts (in no particular order):

1. Andrea Dworkin’s Intercourse

2. Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences. 

3. Susan Faludi’s Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women

4. Kat Banyard’s The Equality Illusion: The Truth about Women and Men Today

5. Susan Maushart’s Wifework: What Marriage Really Means for Women

6. Sheila Jeffreys’ Beauty and Misogyny

7. Susie Orbach’s Fat is a Feminist Issue

8. Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics

9. Melinda Tankard Reist’s Big Porn Inc

10. Kathleen Barry’s The Prostitution of Sexuality: The Global Exploitation of Women

Some Last Minute Christmas Suggestions for Feminist Booklovers

Kids (6-10):

Jump!Books Lucy Evans’ InstaExplorer

The first book in a series of adventure stories for kids, featuring intrepid explorer Lucy Evans. Armed with her trusty smartphone, her wits and an adventurous spirit, Lucy sets out to solve mysteries, explore foreign countries and cultures, and meet interesting people around the world. Her journey begins in a small town in Greece, where between sending messages to her friends back home, and exploring her new home, Lucy makes an intriguing discovery in an overgrown park. Ancient Greek carvings on hidden marble stone – and a clue to a long lost part of history.

Greta and Boris: A Daring Rescue

Greta’s best friend is her cat Boris. However, little does she realise her bewhiskered buddy is actually the Prince of the Kingdom of Cats. So when he is kidnapped by the Rat King, a young warrior cat named Kyrie Mi-ke is sent to find Greta, and together they face a mystical and magical adventure to bring Boris home again. Greta must face the challenge of the staircase of the autumn leaves; cross Cloud Top Land and the Milky Sea; end the war between the two tribes of mice and face the truth of the Millpond; before facing the Rat King himself.

Young Adult Fiction:

Five Wounds by Katharine Edgar

It is 1536. The north of England has boiled over into rebellion against Henry VIII and the rebels march south towards London, growing stronger by the day. Sixteen-year-old Nan Ellerton, sent home from her convent when the King’s commissioners arrived, has been promised in marriage to a powerful lord. When both he and his son Francis become embroiled in the revolt, Nan must choose – help the rebels, even though it could mean paying the brutal penalty for treason, or betray her beliefs and risk eternal damnation.

Women’s Fiction

Esmeralda Santiago’s When I was Puerto Rican – A Memoir

Andrea Levy’s The Fruit of Lemons

Helen Oyeyemi’s Boy. Snow. Bird

Yejide Kilanko’s Daughters who walk this path

Kiran Desai’s Hullabaloo in the Guave Orchard

Jhumpa Lahiri’s Lowland

Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake

Bucha Emecheta’s The Joys of Motherhood

Sunny Singh’s Hotel Arcadia

Madeleine Miller’s The Song of Achilles

Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love

Non-Fiction

Jeanne Theoharis’ The Rebellious Life of Mrs Rosa Parks

Jackie Kay’s Red Dust Road

Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra: A Life

Buy these books and help support the campaign Everyday Victim Blaming!

Iskra: a poetry anthology

Everyday Victim Blaming: Challenging Media Portrayals of Domestic & Sexual Violence and Abuse

What I Remember: an anthology of short stories

Did you know? an anthology of women’s poetry

 

If you buy any of these books online, please use this Easy Fundraiser link. Amazon and other major retailers make a donation to Everyday Victim Blaming for everything purchased through that link.

 

 

 

 

Five Wounds by @KatharineEdgar

I have had the absolute pleasure of reading various drafts of this book over the past two years. I started the first draft one evening and spent the following day half-asleep. The worst thing you can do when you have fibromyalgia is stay up late reading a book, but I simply couldn’t put it down as it melds all my favourite parts of literature: a brilliant, capable and feministy teenage heroine and historical accuracy.

5 Wounds is the comingof-age story of 15 year old Nan – a fiercely independent and headstrong young girl whose life changes drastically during a period of revolution and rebellion. Nan was sent sent to live in convent school following an unfortunate incident as a young child. This afforded her a level of freedom and education that many young girls of her class would never have experienced.

However, this is 1536 and the schism between Rome and Henry VIII has changed everything. Nan’s dreams of remaining in the convent and becoming a great Abbess are destroyed after Henry’s troops close the convent. Instead, Nan was bartered as a commodity and betrothed, rather unwillingly, to the much older and frequently married Lord Middleham. Nan’s father gains more land from this betrothal and Lord Middle ham a wife younger than his children. Nan’s Catholic faith, nurtured during her years living in a convent leads to her involvement in the Northern rebellion against Henry VIII during the Pilgrimage of Grace. Nan is forced to choose between her faith and her personal safety. Does she chose treason or eternal damnation?

The true strengths of Edgar’s writing are the character of Nan and the accuracy of the historical context of the Pilgrimage of Grace. Nan is alternately naive and brave, and her flawed choices reflect her optimism, faith and failure to understand the full consequences of rebellion. She is equally a child and an adult – limited by the constraints of her gender but freed by her desire to change the world.

Edgar’s love of history and the breadth of her research only adds to brilliance of the story. 5 Wounds precipitated one of my favourite historical discussion The Great Whether-Or-Not Noble Women Learned to Ride Normally Debate. I voted yes on the theory that noble daughters were valuable commodities and no sensible father would allow an expensive piece of property to remain incapable of escape from the numerous wars/ tantrums and general violence that defines European history.

I loved 5 Wounds. It was fast-paced, exciting and utterly brilliant. I can’t recommend it enough!

You can buy 5 Wounds from Amazon now.

Esther Freud’s Lucky Break

I have to admit here that I never heard of Esther Freud before getting a freecopy of this book from the Mumsnet [non-feminist] fiction book club. I have vague recollections of thinking that I might enjoy watching a Kate Winslet movie called Hideous Kinky but I don’t think I ever got around to actually watching it.

Clearly, this was a massive over-sight on my part since Lucky Break is fucking brilliant [and that’s not just because I’m still cranky about wasting my time reading the misogynist wankfest which was Paula McLean’s The Paris Wife last month]. It is well-written, funny, engaging with a host of characters that you might actually want to be friends with – as well as some men that should immediately put on the list of undateable wankers.Loved the fact that she left the ending open so I could choose their futures. It’s the only disappointing bit of Kris Radish’s The Elegant Gathering of White Snows. The epilogue was unnecessary and ruined my fun of deciding the happiness of the characters. I like the fact that Freud leaves us with an ending which isn’t really an ending. I like being able to believe that Jemma dumps the useless selfish narcissist Dan and waltzes off into her own successful career as a screen writer and actress with 4 children under ten in tow whilst he gets stuck playing a chicken in really bad ads which only air at 4 in the morning. Or, that Nell is actually the successful and incredible actress she deserves to be and finds a real partner and not the usual arsehat that successful actresses end up with in real life. I also hope she waltzes back to the “drama school” she attended and gets to make fun of the directors there who didn’t recognize the real talent when it was in front of them. I like the fact that I can believe that Charlie is finally happy with who she is instead of what she thinks should make her happy.
So, this is obviously an outstanding recommendation since it does deal with the issue of the “casting couch”; that lovely euphemism for the sexual exploitation of women within the industry and the total failure of the industry to take that exploitation seriously. It deals with being invisible for not being a “proper woman” and reading this in conjunction with Sheila Jeffries’ Beauty and Misogyny for FeMNist non-fiction book club this month was a real pleasure. They meshed so well with Freud demonstrating some of those very real harmful cultural practices outlined by Jeffries [and the suggestion of using spanx as rain gear is just genius].

#ReadWomen and my erasure of BAME women writers

I’ve been reading books only written by women since 2011 following a conversation on cultural femicide on Mumsnet. There were lots of recommendations for writers I’d never come across: Barbara Kingsolver, Andrea Levy, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Kate Mosse, Granted,  this was because I was mostly reading mysteries. My book shelves are full of Val McDermid, Patricia Cornwall, Kathy Reichs and Tess Gerritsen, but the majority of the books were written by men.

The books I’ve read over the last five years have been absolutely incredible and I’m so glad I started. It wasn’t until I read some tweets by Samantha Asumadu a few weeks ago that I started to think about how many BAME women writers I had read. So I did what all book nerds do and tried to remember high school math. These are stats:

2011: 16%

2012: 19%

2013: 8.8%

2014:  14%

2015: 18%

Had you asked me 3 weeks ago, I’d have said that at least 40% of the books I was reading were by BAME women.

I’d like to say this is because once I find an author I like, I read everything they’ve written which is why my bookcases are full of Meg Cabot, Agatha Christie, Charlaine Harris and Janet Evanovich but you can see the pattern there too.

I suppose it is rather like the research onto everyone assuming women speak more than men when it’s the exact opposite. I made the assumption that my reading patterns didn’t reflect white supremacist cultural practises. It took me two weeks to decide to write this as I was embarrassed, which is a stupid reason not to write.

My goal this year was to read 100 books written by women. So far, I’ve read 44. I’m changing my goal: I’m still hoping to read 100 books but 40% of those have to be by BAME women. Next year my goal will be 50%.

 

Ethical Porn: The Sources

I made the decision not to include direct links to radical feminist blogs in my New Internationalist piece in March because of violent, creepy men. In my experience, left wing dudebros can be some of the most aggressive and nasty when disagreeing with women.

I believe pornography and prostitution constitute violence against women. Below is a full list of the books, articles and blogs I consulted when writing the piece. Many I had read before agreeing to the discussion with Kitty Stryker but some I came across when googling.

Blogs:

The Intercourse Series at Fact Check Me

Consent is Sexy and Sexy is mandatory at Rootveg

The problem with the consent to intercourse at When Women Were Warriors

so what you like PIV at mechantechatonne

PIV is always rape at Witchwind

The Tyranny of Consent at Feminist Current

The Cult of Pornography – A Black Feminist Perspective at Black Feminists

It’s just PIV at Fact Check Me

All porn is rape at Fact Check Me

There is something wrong with me at Ann Tagonist

Let me slip into something a little less uncomfortable by Ann Tagonist

Pornography, Patirarchy and Liberalism: Re-Reading Andrea Dworkin at New Left Project

Principled Pornography: How Queer/ Indie Sites are Reframing the Industry by Kitty Stryker

Books:

Kathleen Barry’s The Prostitution of Sexuality: The Global Exploitation of Women

Jennifer Hayashi Danns with Sandrine Leveque’s Stripped: The Bare Reality of Lap Dancing

Gail Dines’ Pornland: How Porn has Hijacked Our Sexuality

Andrea Dworkin’s Pornography: Men Possessing Women

Robert Jensen’s  Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity

Trine Rogg Korsvik & Ane Sto’s The Nordic Approach

Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture

Julia Long’s Anti-Porn: The Resurgence of Anti-Pornography Feminism

Linda Lovelace’s Ordeal

Linda Lovelace’s Out of Bondage

Laurie Penny’s Meat Market: Female Flesh Under Capitalism

Melinda Tankard Reist’s Big Porn Inc.

Natasha Walter’s Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism

(This is an old post that somehow ended up in the draft folder. )

Which Books Would You Take With You if the House Burnt Down?

I never miss an opportunity to make lists of my favourite books. In the event of fire, these are the ones I would grab:

  1. Andrea Dworkin’s Intercourse
  2. Marilyn French The Women’s Room
  3. Audre Lorde Sister Outsider
  4. Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible
  5. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus
  6. Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton
  7. Carrie Fischer’s Postcards from the Edge
  8. Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad
  9. Erma Bombeck’s Families: The Ties that bind … and gag
  10. Maya Angelou’s I know why the caged bird sings
  11. Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender

And my kindle! (which I take everywhere with me anyways)

How Many Of The Greatest Books By Women Have You Read?

I love lists of “Greatest Books”. They are almost always written by white men, regardless of who has compiled the list. Some list books that no one has bothered to read: E.P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class is notorious in academia for how many people own the book without ever reading it. I love these kinds of lists because so many are clearly ridiculous.

Buzzfeed’s Greatest Books by Women has some absolute corkers in it!  In  between “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou and “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley are:

  • Bossypants” by Tina Fey
  • “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” by J.K. Rowling
  • “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins
  • “How To Be A Woman” by Caitlin Moran

Now, I loved Harry Potter but greatest book written by a woman? And, Caitlin Moran? Funny – absolutely. Lots of women read them: check.

But none of the above deserve to be on the “Greatest Books Written by Women” list. I’ve only read 23 of the books and those that I’ve read (excluding Rowling & Collins which I didn’t like) all are my list of favourite books written by women. This is by far one of the best lists of great books I’ve ever read (and my Amazon wish list is currently in the realm of ridiculous).  More importantly, many of the books on that list I hadn’t heard of which is what makes these kinds of list, with mind-bogglingly bizarre inclusions, so much fun!

<even if I’m unlikely to be able to read some of them because they aren’t available in our local library.>

International Women’s Day Brilliant Feminist Texts for #ReadWomen2014

These are some of my favourite feminist texts (as requested by Kathryn Mary Knight!)

Denise Thompson’s Radical Feminism Today

Andrea Dworkin’s Intercourse

Melinda Tankard Reist & Abigail Bray’s Big Porn Inc: Exposing the Harms of the Global Pornography Industry

Karen Boyle’s Everyday Pornography

Andrea Dworkin’s Pornography: Men Possessing Women

Lynne Harne & Elaine Miller’s All the Rage: Reasserting Radical Lesbian Feminism

Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences

Susan Faludi’s Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women

Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider

Gerda Lerner’s The Creation of Patriarchy

Valerie Solanus’ Scum Manifesto

Susan Maushart’s Wifework: What Marriage Really Means for Women

Sheila Jeffreys’ Beauty and Misogyny

Susie Orbach’s Fat is a Feminist Issue

Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics

Marilyn French’s The Women’s Room

Kathleen Barry’s The Prostitution of Sexuality: The Global Exploitation of Women

Rosalind Miles’ The Women’s History of the World

Nina Power’s One Dimensional Woman

Dale Spender’s The Writing or The Sex

 

Dorothy Roberts’ Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction and the Meaning of Liberty