As the weather continues to drop, it’s the perfect time of year to wind down, wrap yourself in a wool blanket, and curl up with a good book. And in case you’re looking for a new page turner, might we suggest leaning into Merriam-Webster’s official 2017 Word of the Year with some stellar feminist reading?
To strategize how to start — or expand upon — your own feminist bookshelf, we decided to turn to the experts at The Wing, a women’s only co-working space/social club that’s both an aesthetically pleasing No Man’s Land in its millennial pink walls and on its color coordinated shelves. Leigh Altshuler, the Director of Marketing and Communications at The Strand, which curated the all-female library at The Wing’s Soho location, helped us select a list of ten feminist books that should top the list of gifts to give yourself.
“Telling the story of her own childhood and adolescence, Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel Persepolis is sharp and funny, poignant and beautiful,” says Altshuler. “It succeeds – as do all great autobiographical works – by being particular in its details, and universal in its humanity.” Taking place in the backdrop of the Iranian revolution, Persepolis was also adapted into an award winning animated film.
“Perhaps one of the most important and influential scientific books of the century, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring is not just an argument for the protection of nature, but a call to awareness of the world around us, and our role in shaping that world,” Altshuler says. First serialized in three excerpts for The New Yorker in 1962, Carson’s work chronicled the negative effects of pesticides and led to the banning of DDT and other environmental regulations.
“A Raisin in the Sun was a groundbreaking script that became a groundbreaking production, but for all its well-deserved accolades, its greatest achievement is its quintessential American story about family and dreams, exquisitely captured by playwright Lorraine Hansberry,” says Altshuler.
“Janet Mock is an unsurpassable icon,” Altshuler says of the TV host and transgender activist. “Obviously, read both her books, Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love and So Much More and Surpassing Certainty: What My Twenties Taught Me.”
Written by the activist Mary Harris Jones, who was referred to as “the most dangerous woman in America” for her community organizing, Altshuler notes that this book is,”A fascinating autobiography of a woman who has mostly fallen into myth—you might be surprised to learn that not only was Mother Jones a real person, but she was an incredibly important part of the labor/union movement in the early 20th century.”
“One of Maxine Hong Kingston’s biggest fans might be Barack Obama,” says Altshuler. “When he presented her with the 2013 National Medal of Arts, he said, ‘When I was first writing my first book and trying to teach myself how to write, The Woman Warrior was one of the books I read.'”
“Love, Anger, Madness was originally published in Paris in the 60’s, but has only been available in English fairly recently—do yourself a favor and pick up the lovely Modern Library edition of this iconic trilogy from one of Haiti’s finest authors.
In Ten Days in a Mad-House, Nellie Bly pretended that she was insane so that she could report on the abusive conditions of the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island, the insane asylum where she was involuntarily committed. “She was a pioneer in the field of investigative reporting,” says Altshuler. “The pieces that make up this book in particular lead to wide-ranging changes to the hospital she wrote about, as well as the field of mental health in general.” As Bly wrote, “I said I could and I would. And I did.”
“A sense of loss permeates the legacy of Irene Nemirovsky,” says Altshuler. “She was killed at Auschwitz in 1942, leaving behind the first two volumes of a planned five-novel series. They were published together under the title Suite Francaise in 2004, after her daughter discovered the manuscripts in her mother’s notebook. What we do have from this series feels complete on its own—and is very much worth reading.”
“I don’t need to tell you to read Angela Davis. You already know you need to read Angela Davis!” Says Altshuler. But just in case you haven’t read anything by the radical activist, scholar, and politician, she suggests starting with Women, Race and Class.