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And Now I Am Your Women’s Studies Professor: The Tiger Beatdown Book List

Say! You know what happened to me last night? I got an e-mail! It was from someone named Lily (hi, Lily!) who reads the blog. And she had a very reasonable request, which was: can you, Sady, provide me with a list of books to read? Books that have seriously informed you, or that are otherwise enjoyable for a woman of your persuasions?

Well! Someone is fortunate that I am rearranging my bookshelves this week, is all I am saying. Because I have undertaken the task of compiling such a list, right here. It is kind of long, but I consider it fairly vital. And I ended up excluding a lot from it for space reasons, so. Deal.

I. A YOUNG LADY’S PRIMER: KNOW YOUR ANCESTORS.

So, first, you are going to want to cover The Basics. My knowledge of The Basics, sadly, is confined to the 20th century for the most part. So, read Deirdre Bair’s biography of Simone de Beauvoir, which is FUCKING GRIPPING and illustrative of the ambiguities of pre-second-wave feminist and/or lady life, then read The Mandarins (a novel, probably her best one, which also illustrates a ton of said ambiguities; I also like She Came to Stay, and really most of the novels) and as much of The Second Sex as you can handle – I recommend dipping in and out of that one, as it is a lot to take in and the early chapters are, sadly, boring. Read Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, obviously, but also read the novels. Read Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook – even though I find Lessing’s prose kind of flat, for my tastes, The Golden Notebook in particular becomes so interesting at a certain point, and opens up so much, that you can overcome it. Read Mary McCarthy’s The Group, about which I have the same reservations re: prose style but which is also a hugely great read and will blow your mind and educate you ever-so-much. If you want to really, REALLY go back into Ye Olden Times though, you could read Medieval feminist Christine de Pizan’s The Book of the City of Ladies.

Read Nightwood, by Djuna Barnes – it’s a great book, and a relatively early queer book, and the Doctor is one of the first genderqueer/trans characters in literature, I think, and though this is not always handled gracefully or in the manner I might hope, it is still more respectful than 99% of the portrayals of genderqueer folks today. Read Colette’s The Vagabond, in which a lady is rescued from her degrading job of dancing half-naked by a kindly rich man, up until the INCREDIBLE TWIST ENDING I won’t spoil, and also The Pure and the Impure, which is another queer book and touches on her relationship with a butch/genderqueer lady.

Picking up into the second wave: Read Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch. Read Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics. Read Adrienne Rich: I have a copy of Selected Poetry and Prose, which contains most of the major essays and poems, but Rich is a vast field for you to explore. Read bell hooks’ Feminism: From Margin to Center (and all of bell hooks, but this is a vital starting place), and Audre Lorde’s Collected Poems and Sister Outsider. Read, also, Diane di Prima’s poetry – I have Pieces of a Song: Selected Poems – and her memoir, My Life as a Woman, The New York Years. I am realizing that this list is getting kind of poetry-heavy, so why don’t you go on out and be a stereotype and buy yourself a copy of both the Collected Poems of Sylvia Plath and the Collected Poems of Anne Sexton, both of which were hugely important to me although to be honest with Plath you really only want to read the work starting in ’61. Which will make you feel a bit of a douche.

The academically inclined may also go to Julia Kristeva, particularly Powers of Horror, and The Newly Born Woman by Helene Cixous and Catherine Clement, which contains an epic piece by Cixous and something by Clement that is, sadly, not as good.

You may – and probably will – find a lot to contest, in some of these early works. That is fine! It is important to contest these things! That is how we move forward! So please, please keep that in mind as we enter our next section, which is:

II. A YOUNG LADY’S PRIMER: SEX WARS!

Know both sides of your Sex Wars. Or, more accurately, all 570 sides. There are A LOT of sides, is what I’m saying. Read Dworkin – in fact, go for broke and read Intercourse. Dworkin is a fun read, actually; not many people realize that about her. Much other background for Sex Warring may be found in the previous section. Also read Susie Bright, in particular a game-changer of a piece entitled “The Prime of Miss Kitty MacKinnon” which is available in its entirety as a PDF and is but a Google search away. Read Carol Queen’s Real Live Nude Girl. Read Pat Califia’s Public Sex: The Culture of Radical Sex. Read Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs, which is a fan-fucking-tastic read, and also partially a reiteration of the more Dworkin-leaning arguments in the Sex Wars, which has spurred a whole new round of occasionally heated discussions which you owe it to yourself to be up on. And, hey, while we’re here: go ahead and read Camille Paglia. Sexual Personae and Vamps and Tramps. She’s often wrong – I mean, really, really, REALLY often – but she was a moment and you should know what that moment was.

No matter who you are, at least one of the selections on this list will drive you bonkers and make you throw it at the wall. You may find yourself unable to take sides, or switching sides frequently, or whatever. Hear me: this is fine. I am a person who does not fully agree either with Queen or with Levy. But holding space to hear both sides of the debate will make you smarter, and hopefully able to avoid re-enacting the same old fights.

III. A YOUNG LADY’S PRIMER: KNOW YOUR CONTEMPORARIES

So, here we pick up into the hits of the ’80s, ’90s… and today! Read the Bust and Bitch anthologies, respectively, and a book entitled A Girl’s Guide to Taking Over the World: Writings from the Girl Zine Revolution, another anthology, which will provide you with some info on the early-’90s feminist resurgence we’ve christened, vaguely, the “third wave.” Read every single damn thing Michelle Tea writes, in particular four of her novel/memoirs: The Passionate Mistakes and Intricate Corruption of One Girl in America, Valencia, The Chelsea Whistle, and Rent Girl. Each of these books concerns, at least in part, her experience as a sex worker, and her accounts of being a huge Dworkin fan who was also a call girl, or a passionate feminist who was also into BDSM knifeplay sessions, will bring necessary perspective, sanity, and even jokes to help you deal with those Sex Wars you just soldiered through. Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home can go on this list, too – it’s showing up in a lot of decade-end top-book lists, and although the literary comparisons often come across as heavy-handed and like someone trying to prove that she actually does read and is not “just” a comic-book artist, the story is really beautiful and well-done. Read Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity. Read the second edition of Inga Muscio’s Cunt. These are your punk-rock hipster thirdwavey feminists, here.

I wouldn’t classify either Barbara Ehrenreich or Katha Pollitt as third-wave, but neither would I classify them as strictly second-wave, so they end up in this section. Ehrenreich, obviously, has done a lot, but my favorite thing she’s done is The Hearts of Men, a book about the sexual revolution and the rejection of “traditional” family structures from the male point of view, so read that. For Pollitt, Subject to Debate is a collection of pieces and a good primer.

Others who are difficult to locate in time and space and wave include: Alice Walker, whose The Color Purple and Possessing the Secret of Joy you should read, and Lucille Clifton, from whom you should read every poem you can lay your hands on. Blessing the Boats is a good starting place.

And, obviously, the ladyblogging revolution is moving over into books, two good ones to start on being Jessica Valenti’s She’s a Slut, He’s a Stud (I know! It’s not Full Frontal Feminism! But it is my favorite, though) and Amanda Marcotte’s It’s a Jungle Out There, the cover of which caused some controversy (which Marcotte handled very well) but which is still a good read. The recent anthology Yes Means Yes was also pretty super-great. I am getting Kate Harding’s book for Christmas, so I will report back on that, but I’m pretty confident I can assert it will be awesome.

IV. READING… FOR FUN! (I KNOW, RIGHT?)

Obviously, all of the above books are fun. But these are the ones you can and should read regardless of ideology, although I have to confess my personal ideology is not exactly threatened by any of them.

Pride and Prejudice obviously tops the comfort-read list, as does most of Austen. Herein, Elizabeth Bennett provides your tutorial and complete ethical guide for ladyblogging:

“Oh! Shocking!” cried Miss Bingley. “I never heard anything so abominable. How shall we punish him for such a speech?”

“Nothing so easy, if you have but the inclination,” said Elizabeth. “We can all plague and punish one another. Tease him – laugh at him… Mr. Darcy is not to be laughed at!’ cried Elizabeth. “That is an uncommon advantage, and uncommon I hope it will continue, for it would be a great loss to me to have many such acquaintance. I dearly love a laugh.”

“Miss Bingley,” said he, “has given me credit for more than can be. The wisest and best of men, nay, the wisest and best of their actions, may be rendered ridiculous by a person whose first object in life is a joke.”

“Certainly,” replied Elizabeth – “there are such people, but I hope I am not one of them. I hope I never ridicule what is wise or good. Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can.”

There you go! Post that on the billboard in your head and you are set.

Margaret Atwood is always an absorbing read, so go for both poetry and prose on that count, and non-fiction if you like. The Robber Bride is maybe not the best of the novels – that would be Cat’s Eye, also recommended – but it is one of the most fun, and the one I re-read most for some reason. The first volume of Selected Poems is amazing. Also, Joan Didion, both non-fiction and fiction: We Tell Ourselves Stories In Order To Live collects most of the vital non-fiction, and Play It As It Lays is my favorite of the novels. Anne Carson’s poetry, particularly The Beauty of the Husband and Men in the Off Hours, is very much worth your time. Isak Dinesen’s Winter’s Tales and Seven Gothic Tales are beautiful. Dana Spiotta’s Eat the Document is a great one if you’ve survived being punk-rock and/or a hippie and/or are a feminist – I went through a phase where I was making everyone I knew read it, and one friend reacted by saying, “I feel like I’ve been every character in this book,” which is fairly accurate. And, also, Emily Dickinson. The un-Higginsonized version, naturally, which has a blue and brown cover last time I checked and looks far more bizarre on the page than any of the generic, heavily edited versions which people still sadly get conned into buying.

It makes you sound like a tool to say that Proust is your “favorite” writer, but he is at the very least in my top five, so read A la recherche du temps perdu and don’t let initial difficulty stop you: once you adjust to the rhythms, it’s one of the most beautiful experiences you’ll ever have, I promise. David Foster Wallace is also in that top-five or top-three or top-two list: check out the non-fiction, Consider the Lobster and A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, move on to Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, and then just go for it and read Infinite Jest which I swear to you is not as fucking intimidating as people keep unreasonably making it out to be.

And now we are over 2,000 words, and the list is still incomplete, and it is still shamefully short on contemporary fiction and non-fiction, and I am totally sorry, but here is where I stop. Suggestions? Obvious omissions? Include them, please!

59 Comments

  1. C.L. Minou wrote:

    I looooved the Robber Bride, which was the first book I ever read and found myself completely identifying with the female characters. Which is more about me than Atwood, I guess, but it’s still very good. Also, “Alias Grace” is very good in the way it handles issues of class and feminism, I think.

    As for Foster Wallace, I think the whole “I’m not a young lady/blogger/laddyblogger” thing kicks in with me–I tried to read “Infinite Jest” twice, and gave up both times–too reminiscent of Pynchon for me. (The second time I just re-read “Gravity’s Rainbow” instead.)

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 7:17 am | Permalink
  2. pixiebiz wrote:

    Susan Faludi’s “Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women” is still depressingly relevant and guaranteed to make that vein in your forehead pulse in a most threatening manner, but is definitely on the top of my must read list.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 8:03 am | Permalink
  3. GATECREWGIRL wrote:

    Hurrah! I have a reading list for 2010! Glad you’ve decided to include P&P. Ms. Austen does have so many insights that are applicable always. So I am going to suggest something but it is a little more juvenile than this advanced list but still one of my favorites to this day. The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley. An awesome quick read about a Lady (named Harry!) being the hero. Especially for your fantasy-loving types (me). The other book in that series, The Hero and the Crown, is quite good too. And features a Lady as the hero as well.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 8:10 am | Permalink
  4. Sady wrote:

    @Gatecrewgirl: Oh, I loved BOTH of those when I was a kid! “Deerskin,” her foray into more adult fantasy, is really kind of dark and scary, but was still pretty beautiful.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 8:13 am | Permalink
  5. C.L. Minou wrote:

    @Pixiebiz: “Backlash” was one of the two books I read in my early foundational feminism period! (The other was “The Beauty Myth.”) “Backlash” was the first book I wanted to throw across the room because I agreed with it–I got so angry while reading yet another example of how women were being “put in their place.”

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 8:32 am | Permalink
  6. RMJ wrote:

    Lots of good ideas here. CLM, I recently read Robber Bride and LOVED IT.

    Speaking of Atwood, she wrote the very very very best feminist dystopia of all time, The Handmaid’s Tale.

    Seconding Whipping Girl. Probably the best book I read this year.

    Amanda Marcotte’s It’s a Jungle Out There, the cover of which caused some controversy (which Marcotte handled very well)

    Sady, how do you think she handled it well? My retroactive reaction to it (I was not in the blogosphere at the time) was nowhere near as positive.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 8:41 am | Permalink
  7. Sady wrote:

    @RMJ: As I recall, she released an explanation and apology that was both gracious and cognizant of the problems.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 8:42 am | Permalink
  8. pinkpillsanity wrote:

    “Black Novel with Argentines” by Luisa Valenzuela

    Got the feel of Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” but from a very female and marginalized perspective.

    also

    “The Book of Franza” by Ingeborg Bachmann is technically incomplete, but probably one of the most wonderful survivor stories I’ve ever read.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 8:55 am | Permalink
  9. Another one for the academic set: Linda Nochlin, especially “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” (Online version available here)

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 9:32 am | Permalink
  10. pixiebiz wrote:

    @C.L. Minou: What is really enlightening about “Backlash” is that even though it was originally published 20 yrs ago the exact same stuff is still being thrown at us, and the people who do it act like these are new, important, unbiased, scientific/political/sociological arguments that the feminists have totes never had to deal with before.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 9:37 am | Permalink
  11. Bethany wrote:

    I think Camille Paglia is a great gateway writer; as long as you appreciate her skills in research (which are solid), you’ll discover a huge number of artists/writers/etc that you before encountered.

    Paglia’s work is what lead me to Jean Rhys, whose work really should be included in any sort of feminist literature anthology. Start with the earlier novels, and work your way up to Wide Sargasso Sea.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 9:40 am | Permalink
  12. pixiebiz wrote:

    @C.L Minou: … It helps gives me perspective every time some news outlet reports on a bogus study about how if I try to improve my life in anyway not connected to getting married / popping out babies I will end up a spinster living with my best friend and 20 cats. (Wait, that’s supposed to be a bad thing?)

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 9:46 am | Permalink
  13. PilgrimSoul wrote:

    You covered basically all the feminist bases although i would add Only Words to understand MacKinnon a little better and to be able to better understand Bright’s argument.

    Sarah Winters’ entire oeuvre is a bit more contemporary but also useful, and I would recommend Margaret Laurence’s The Diviners and The Stone Angel as well. (I prefer her to Atwood myself, much less smug.)

    I’d also recommend George Eliot (Mill on the Floss), Zora Neale Hurston (Their Eyes Were Watching God) and also there’s Theodora Keogh (Teddy Roosevelt’s granddaughter) who wrote fantastic novels of women’s sexual awakenings in the forties, in particular Meg.

    I also disagree that Amanda Marcotte handled that controversy well, not least because that apology, Sady, was some time in coming.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 9:49 am | Permalink
  14. queerhapa wrote:

    More women of color feminists, please! How about the amazing second-wave anthology This Bridge Called My Back? Also, Patricia Hill Collins’ Black Feminist Thought, Angela Davis’ Women, Race and Class, Gloria Anzaldua’s Borderlands/La Frontera, and so on and so on and so on.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 9:54 am | Permalink
  15. Mercer Finn wrote:

    For the ‘Fun’ section:

    I’m a big fan of Angela Carter. I’m ever-grateful to my English teacher for giving my class The Bloody Chamber to read. Wise Children is also great.

    Also: Ursula K. Le Guin if you like sci-fi…

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 10:30 am | Permalink
  16. Jenny North wrote:

    More fun suggestions…

    Ali Smith! Novels: start with Hotel World, then read the Accidental. Better than her novels, though, are her brilliant short stories. There aren’t many authors I find both hopeful and good, but she’s one of them.

    Also: Clarice Lispector. Read her now now now. Tove Jansson, too – most people know her Moomin books, but her adult lit is lovely and life-saving.

    Sady, you’re the best. Hope you have a great Christmas!

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 10:46 am | Permalink
  17. snobographer wrote:

    My favorite Austen book has to be Northanger Abbey. That shit was hilarious.
    I’m shocked you have no Dorothy Parker on this list. She is a bit boy crazy sometimes, but she’s such a wise ass, you can’t not love her.
    You know who writes some really amazing poetry? Wislawa Szymborska. View With a Grain of Sand is a good translation.

    I’m reading Lolita right now. And when I’m finished I will boil my brain in bleach. That Nabakov is a brutally honest and insightful dude. Too bad so few people get the point of this book.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 11:13 am | Permalink
  18. Susie Bright wrote:

    thank you so much for including me in your canon. I love to help in young ladies education!

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 11:22 am | Permalink
  19. snobographer wrote:

    Oh another for the Ancestors section! Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. It’s a response to Rousseau’s and other political philosophers’ rationalizations for exluding women from politics and education. I was surpised how funny it was. Good snark. She even disses Nice GuysTM.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 11:24 am | Permalink
  20. Jackie wrote:

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I’ve been trying to read some feminist books, but got stuck on the Beauty Myth, which I could not get through.

    I was surprised to not see Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which is one of the most shocking and relevant books I’ve ever read.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 12:00 pm | Permalink
  21. CJP wrote:

    “Stone Butch Blues” by Leslie Feinberg is an absolute must on transgender experiences.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 12:19 pm | Permalink
  22. Siobhan wrote:

    Ok, here goes. Transforming a Rape Culture for the more academic. Seconding Backlash and follow it up with Fear and Fantasy in Post 9-11 America and tear your hair out with the fact that the EXACT SAME THING is happening again. (Note: I read Backlash at 34 and realized that I had absorbed ALL THOSE MESSAGES PERFECTLY at 20). Also The Obesity Myth in addition to Kate Harding’s book (which IS awesome) provides more data and statistics, enough to make you wet your pants and run for a cookie.

    For fun I highly recommend Tamora Pierce’s Alanna series, and Kristin Cashore’s recent Graceling is amazing. I find that some of the best feminist fiction being put out today in the Young Adult section. Oh, yeah, and Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Underworld series for the werewolf/witch lovers out there.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 12:20 pm | Permalink
  23. CJP wrote:

    “Tehanu” by Ursula LeGuin – while it’s set in a fantasy world, it’s about ordinary people without power confronting those who do have power. An overlooked little gem.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 12:22 pm | Permalink
  24. Gina wrote:

    I want to second Queerhapa’s suggestion for more women of color feminists – Angela Davis and Gloria Anzaldua are amazing, as are Trinh T. Minh-ha’s Woman, Native, Other and Chandra Talpade Mohanty’s Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism. Oh, and has anyone mentioned bell hooks yet? I haven’t read her in a LONG time, so I can’t recommend specifics, but hopefully someone else can. Also, even though the Bright article says it’s unreadable, Only Words is really short, and I think it’s worth it to read if the sex wars are something that interests you.

    As far as literature, I highly recommend The Edible Woman if you’re into Atwood, and everyone should definitely read Toni Morrison. Also, I don’t know a ton about film, but right off the top of my head, I want to recommend Deepa Mehta’s Fire. She also has two other films that relate to feminist issues – Earth (which I haven’t seen), and Water (which is good but not as good as Fire).

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 1:07 pm | Permalink
  25. Sady wrote:

    @Gina & queerhapa: Thank you, and good call! Some of the books you recommended I don’t know, and some folks (like Angela Davis) I need to know better than I do now. I was worried that the list was short on that front. I did mention bell hooks, but I think I forgot to say how great her film criticism is; you should hunt that down if you ever get the chance. Also her memoir, Bone Black. And: OH MY GOD I FORGOT TO PUT TONI MORRISON ON THE LIST WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME. She’s an Ohio author and a generally great author who I like a lot, so that was a major brain failure. The Bluest Eye and Beloved are both pretty great; I don’t know why, but I prefer the former, although the latter is maybe a larger and more assured statement.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 1:46 pm | Permalink
  26. Gina wrote:

    Ah, sorry – so you did mention bell hooks, and you gave those specifics I was talking about! I must have been zoning out for that part of the post.

    I also thought of a few more literature recommendations – Clear Light of Day and Fasting, Feasting by Anita Desai, Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga, and The Joys of Motherhood by Buchi Emecheta.

    Also, are you from Ohio, Sady? I am, and I always thought Ohio was boring until I discovered that Toni Morrison was from my state. Then I started realizing how cool it was!

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 2:06 pm | Permalink
  27. Sady wrote:

    @Mercer Finn: Oh, and Angela Carter, too! Aside from The Bloody Chamber and Wise Children, I have Shaking a Leg, a collection of non-fiction of which I am very fond – some of the pieces, especially a bit on Playgirl, are hilarious. And she gets very impatient with foodies, which always plays with me.

    @Gina: Yyyyyep. Round on both ends, high in the middle. Fairly boring throughout. But Morrison is from there, which feels nice! I got to see her speak, once, and it was great. Then the Q&A period ruined it with all these tools coming up to her and asking her to read their unpublished manuscripts. Have you ever seen Toni Morrison get really, really irritated? Because I sure have.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 2:23 pm | Permalink
  28. CJP wrote:

    For pure enjoyability, “Mating” by Norman Rush. It’s one of those very few novels written by men, in the first-person voice of the female protagonist, that really gets it right. “Clara Callan” by Richard Wright is also in this category, but whereas “Clara Callan” is mature, quietly intense, and poignant, “Mating” is dynamic and boisterously intelligent and wickedly funny. I quote:

    “The nice thing with Nelson was that no kiss followed. The embrace was not just the scaffolding for the great declaratory kiss. The best standing-up embrace is like that one, slightly off center so that you have his leg and not his actual téméraire up against you, one hand on the base of your spine, and you are brought in against him but not mashingly. His cheek is at your ear but not occluding your actual ear canal. His breath is in your hair. Then you want to feel him sinking against you, slightly, suggesting relief and repose: the embrace from something, not simply stage one in a campaign of possession.”

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 2:48 pm | Permalink
  29. CJP wrote:

    “Possession” by A.S. Byatt, a beautiful and brilliant novel about the challenges of a women in love but not wanting to be possessed by the man she loves.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 2:51 pm | Permalink
  30. pocochina wrote:

    Their Eyes Were Watching God is a really important WOC-centered novel and an absolute delight to read. Look Both Ways is one of not too many books specifically about female bisexuality and is written by Famous Feminist Jennifer Baumgardner. Reiterating the suggestions of Backlash and erm, all things Margaret Atwood. For something a little more up-to-date than Backlash, The Terror Dream (also by Susan Faludi) is about gender in American culture post-9/11. And I can very much vouch for Lessons from the Fatosphere (which is the book co-authored by Kate Harding).

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 3:13 pm | Permalink
  31. Laura wrote:

    For perspectives on the early development of feminism (the womens’ sufferage movement of the early 1900′s), I recommend Voltairine De Cleyre (Particularly her essays Sex Slavery – which is not, as you might suspect with your non-1911-sensibilities – about sex work, but rather, about how ridiculous gender roles are – and They Who Marry Do Ill, but also her book of poetry, Written In Red and anything else of hers you can find because she is delightfully sardonic and bitter for an olden-tymes lady) and Emma Goldman (especially her amazing biography Living My Life). They make a lot of points about the intersections of gender, class, race, immigration, workers’ rights, politics, and religion – among other things – and a lot of criticisms about the feminist movement of their time that are still disappointingly valid in a lot of ways today.

    I also recommend The Military Strategy of Women and Children by Butch Lee, which is often deliberately inflammatory and problematic, but provides an in-dept analysis of women’s roles in colonialism and imperialism (and also in de-colonization and deconstructing modern imperialism) that is all too rare.

    Veering into graphic novel territory, A Child’s Life by Phoebe Gloeckner is really essential reading – mostly autobiographical, it is (in part) a really brutal documentation of the sexualization and fetishization of young girls by a patriarchal society, and how this affects peoples’ relationships with each other as young adults and adults.

    I’d also recommend Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, especially if Fun Home is going to be on the list, because though Fun Home was excellent, really it’s time for a story about women that isn’t all about North America, for god’s sake. Or Europe.

    And finally, if books by cis, straight men are kosher, anything by Seth Tobocman – but especially War In The Neighborhood, which deals with lady-issues in a larger context of a community which struggles not only with sexism, but with racism, classism, drug addiction, and political and housing issues, in the context of trying to maintain an anti-hierarchal kind of structure within said community.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 3:18 pm | Permalink
  32. Laura wrote:

    OH AND ALSO anything by Ivan E Coyote.

    And also also for fun reading, anything by Julie Doucet.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 3:25 pm | Permalink
  33. emjaybee wrote:

    Oh yes, I have Shaking a Leg by Carter also, I am sad she’s gone!

    Political: any collection by Molly Ivins.

    Woman: An Intimate Geography by Natalie Angier.

    Riane Eisler, Chalice and the Blade: yes, problematic in that many of her assumptions have been challenged/some disproven, but interesting in a “what are alternatives to patriarchy/what was the past like for each gender?” way. Esp.the bits where she describes male archaeologists completely missing the point of ladybits-shaped artifacts (those are pretty hilarious).

    Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, Mother Nature, brilliant insights into “maternal” insticts and biology/human history.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 3:56 pm | Permalink
  34. Sady wrote:

    @Laura: “If books by cis, straight men are kosher…” Hey, DFW made the list! And on the cis-straight(???)-white-guy front, and also on the fun-subway-reading-I-feel-like-a-dork-about front, I actually really liked The Crimson Petal and the White, by Michel Faber, which it seemed like everyone in the entire world was reading a few years ago. It’s a fairly feminist novel, and takes on Victorian misogyny, sex work, Ye Olde Virgin/Whore Complex, 19th-century medicine’s sins against womankind, poverty and class division, the evils of sexual repression, and the dangers of period pieces insofar as they romanticize bygone times, in a very funny and entertaining and page-turnery sort of way.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 4:28 pm | Permalink
  35. bthny wrote:

    adding the vast majority of the books mentioned here to my reading list, and also sending a link to this post to my budding-feminist-seventeen-year-old-sister. thank you!

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 4:41 pm | Permalink
  36. Gator wrote:

    I loved Elaine Brown’s memoir, called “a Taste of Power: a Black Woman’s Story.” Brown headed the Black Panther party for several years.

    [I am aware that those should be capital a's in the title. some small sticky person spilled milk on the keyboard & now it is quirky.]

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 6:40 pm | Permalink
  37. CJP wrote:

    “The S.C.U.M. Manifesto” by Valerie Solanis. Scary and hilarious and truthful.

    Re. knowing your ancestors: “A Voice from the South” by Anna Julia Cooper, who was born a slave in North Carolina and earned her Ph.D. in History from the University of Paris-Sorbonne at the age of 65, and lived to be 105 years of age.

    Also, “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” by Harriet Jacobs, who got herself and her children out of slavery and campaigned for abolition.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 7:44 pm | Permalink
  38. mayfly wrote:

    Emjaybee, I can’t second Mother Nature enough. I think many feminists have a tendency to dismiss scientific examinations of sex and gender, which is a loss. I just bought Hrdy’s book The Woman That Never Evolved as well, but haven’t gotten to it yet.

    As for other books, I found Laura Kipnis’ Against Love: A Polemic to be really thought-provoking. I am a pretty big fan of J.M. Coetzee as well, and thought both Disgrace and Waiting for the Barbarians had interesting things to say about the treatment of women, racism, colonialism, and power dynamics.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 8:06 pm | Permalink
  39. Thessa Mercury wrote:

    Aaah, I know what I’m doing this winter break :) I also just finished Virgin: The Untouched History by Hanne Blank, which has a lot of interesting points, even if I have quibbles with some of the things she says. I am also completely in love with Toni Morrison, Molly Ivins, and Susan Faludi.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 9:33 pm | Permalink
  40. Jezebella wrote:

    Dittos on The Handmaid’s Tale, The Beauty Myth, and Backlash. Those three books moved me from a vague adolescent feminist disgruntlement to a more critical and informed feminist. Absolutely essential to my movement from liberal to radical feminism was Shulamith Firestone’s Dialectic of Sex. Sadly the race chapter is a big fail, but the rest of it reframed it all for me.

    In conclusion, SUSIE BRIGHT READS YOUR BLOG! Did you just squee a little when you read her comment? Because I totally would have.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 9:46 pm | Permalink
  41. Jet wrote:

    Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle, and Venus Envy.

    My Dangerous Desires, by Amber Hollibaugh, is an incredible work on queer culture and is a must-read for anyone working on transforming culture.

    Joanna Russ’ How to Suppress Women’s Writing, and if you like science fiction, The Female Man.

    Friday, December 18, 2009 at 4:17 am | Permalink
  42. Miss Minx wrote:

    @ JET – “The Female Man” is an amazing book! I remember it from an overtly feminist sci-fi course I took way back in my undergrad. We also read Octavia Butler’s “Dawn,” which blew my mind.

    On a more general note, this is a great post. It’s introduced some things I’ve never read, reminded me of things I always meant to read, and brought back memories of reading things for the first time and the magical experience of a thrill of sympathy – that is, that I wasn’t alone in the world in feeling like things were deeply wrong in ways I couldn’t voice at the time.

    Friday, December 18, 2009 at 7:39 am | Permalink
  43. Bee wrote:

    Re: Mating, and The Golden Notebook particularly but also others:

    Some of these narrative voices drive me crazy. They actually get in my head and I identify, but they seem to suggest the condition of being a Female Person is the condition of having been driven fucking batshit. Politically, I feel like there’s an intellectual point here. Personally, I feel like REALLY? WHYYYY?

    Friday, December 18, 2009 at 7:50 am | Permalink
  44. Sady wrote:

    @Bee: RIGHT???? “The Group” also goes that way, but is clear that the woman in question is (SPOILER) committed on false pretenses by her husband because she stood up for herself. But then she (SPOILER) probably commits suicide, so there goes that. “The Bluest Eye” and “Beloved” both also deal with the disintegration of a person’s ability to cope. And on the non-fictional front, Sexton (victim of continual and recurring domestic violence, was most likely sexually abused as a child, sexually abused her own children as an adult), and Plath (most probably had an underlying condition, aggravated by stress of abandonment and single motherhood)… a lot of these show up in the early feminist or pre-feminist writings, which I want to say is significant in some degree (although obviously all of these problems still exist; women just have more resources and more voices telling them to trust their own perceptions and value themselves and believe that they’re not at fault or worthless), but it’s still really sobering and depressing nevertheless.

    Friday, December 18, 2009 at 8:09 am | Permalink
  45. occam wrote:

    I second “The Bluest Eye”, especially for white middle class feminists. I am one of those and my anti-racist stance coalesced after I read that. It really helped me to understand how insidious and pervasive racism is. Not really a rec cause I haven’t read it, but I just got “The Women’s Room” at a work party yesterday (I work for a women’s advocacy organization) and I’m looking forward to reading it. The 2nd wavers at work were very happy that a young woman like myself was taking it home.

    Friday, December 18, 2009 at 8:40 am | Permalink
  46. alanna wrote:

    I enthusiastically echo the Ursula K. Le Guin recommendation. For fans of sci-fi / speculative fiction, there is a wealth of material out there; a great starting place is any of the Tiptree Award Anthologies, which contain short stories and excerpts of longer works, as well as fairly comprehensive lists of recommended reading in the genre.

    Friday, December 18, 2009 at 11:20 am | Permalink
  47. C.L. Minou wrote:

    She’s been mentioned, but: anything by Octavia Butler–Kindred is especially interesting looking at slavery from the inside out. (And I just realized I read that and “Alias Grace” right in a row, so class and race and feminism hoo yah!)

    Bechdel’s been mentioned, but it’s worth it to say that there’s a collected “Dykes to Watch Out For” that is funny and sad and all kinds of good.

    Nobody’s mentioned “Gender Trouble”, which is okay by me; Butler is a good writer trapped by her style–I could only get a short way in before wandering off to other fields. Plus I’m not so sure trans and other non-gender normative folks are comfortable being used as Exhibit A in someone else’s complicated gender theory.

    Friday, December 18, 2009 at 2:29 pm | Permalink
  48. Lily wrote:

    I love it!!! thank you thank you thank you. I’m going to start picking these up and I might just start with The Book of the City of Ladies. Sady hit it on the head when she said women’s studies professor. This site functions in some way as a class for me, albeit a ridiculously entertaining one.

    Friday, December 18, 2009 at 2:54 pm | Permalink
  49. Isabel wrote:

    I can’t believe there are scifi fans here who haven’t mentioned James Tiptree, Jr., pen name Alice Sheldon, who is a great writer – I mean, seriously, really, really good writer – and very imaginative, and whose short stories often explicitly explore issues of gender (in an admittedly super depressing way… which suits me on many days). There’s actually an award now in her (pen) name for the best scifi story published in a year dealing with gender issues.

    Friday, December 18, 2009 at 10:55 pm | Permalink
  50. Joanna NY wrote:

    The Feminine Mystique is also good for the history.

    Saturday, December 19, 2009 at 5:24 am | Permalink
  51. Beth wrote:

    Verbal Hygiene by Prof Deborah Cameron is a fantastic read about what is “acceptable” language, with a really excellent chapter on women’s language. She focusses on the whole “assertiveness” trend relating to how women “should” speak at work, and what that says about female language generally. She’s got another book out called The Myth of Mars and Venus which looks good too. Basic premise that writers like John Gray and Simon Baron-Cohen have distorted or interpreted findings about sex differences in language to put women in their place.

    Sady, I read The Book of the City of Ladies on your recommendation, thanks for stretching my feminist history back about 400 years! Definitely worth a read though maybe skip through the martyrs towards the end, too many virgins.

    Monday, December 21, 2009 at 3:30 am | Permalink
  52. RMJ wrote:

    Getting some great ideas from this, particularly with regard to women of color.

    Oh, I just started The Group yesterday and I am LOVING IT. IDK what your qualms about the gossipy style are, Sady – it’s really reflective of a women’s college for me. So glad I did not pack it into my snowed-under trunk!

    A couple others I thought of: This is a forgotten book, but The Proud Possessors by Aline Saarien is quite enriching. It takes a while because you want to look up all the art they’re talking about (it’s about art collectors). The book has a specificly feminist leaning, by looking at how female collectors set the tone for the collections of the late 19th/early 20th century, particularly Isabella Stewart Gardner. It’s out of print, but you can find it on Amazon, and it’s way worth it.

    Another book I’ve read recently and would recommend is Women, Culture, and Politics by Angela Davis. It’s terrific – strident, well-reasoned, and well-researched. I’d esp. recommend it to people focused on peace as a way of living. The organization leaves a bit to be desired, but hey.

    And wow, have ANY books on the experience of women with disabilities been recommended? I’m not an expert at all, but Helen Keller’s autobiography and the accompanying account of her education by Ann Sullivan is fantastic.

    The Hemingses of Monticello by Anne Gordon-Reed, this year’s Pulitzer winner for history, is mind-blowingly awesome. If you’re into well-constructed, incredibly researched narratives about the lives of slaves and how this country was built on their efforts, check this out.

    Monday, December 21, 2009 at 9:01 am | Permalink
  53. Renée wrote:

    May I please also recommend “Tales of the Lavendar Menace” by Karla Jay? It falls under both history of the women’s movement and fun, since it is a gossipy radical feminist portrait of the big names in second wave feminism. Good Times, if one is into academic gossip.

    Monday, December 21, 2009 at 12:05 pm | Permalink
  54. Eneya wrote:

    What about The Vagina Monologues?
    I suppose you’ve read them/watched them/
    What do you think about them et all?

    Friday, December 25, 2009 at 8:19 pm | Permalink
  55. Grace wrote:

    Ooh, this is so much fun! I have many many books to read now.

    Here are the things I would like to add to the list:

    Historical:
    * The plays of Aphra Behn, especially The Rover , or a biography of her at least. She was said to be the first woman in England to earn her living by the pen (just one generation later than Shakespeare, overcoming the whole Shakespeare’s sister thing I guess). Also she was a spy. How cool is that?

    * The works of the Bronte sisters (why oh why has no one mentioned them?), particularly Villette and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall . I feel like The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a really overlooked book. It has a lady leaving her husband and taking her child with her. And ok, Anne Bronte has to go to great lengths to explain what a wonderful person this woman is and why she is justified in doing this, but still, there are some powerful feminist speeches in there.

    *A Doll’s House by Ibsen.

    Poetry:
    * Carol Anne Duffy – the current and first ever female poet laureate of England, and the first ever openly queer poet laureate. All her poetry is powerful and amazing.

    * Judy Grahn – IMO, the best feminist poetry ever.

    Fiction:
    * Emma Donoghue, especially Kissing the Witch , which is the best collection of feminist retellings of fairy tales I have ever read. The lady can really write.

    * Jeanette Winterson.

    * Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett.

    Feminist Writings:
    * The Whole Woman by Germaine Greer. IMO, better than The Female Eunuch .

    * The Beauty Myth . I think someone mentioned this. It is a difficult read, but well worth it.

    * The Sexual Politics of Meat by Carol Adams. A great and fascinating read about the connection between meat eating and sexism. Sounds bizarre but is actually incredibly eye-opening.

    * Princesses and Pornstars by Emily Maguire. Maybe won’t appeal to anyone but Aussies, but it was wonderful to read something by a generation Y feminist. Easy and fun to read.

    Also, I totally second Persepolis, The Vagina Monologues and Vindication on the Rights of Woman.

    Sunday, December 27, 2009 at 2:10 pm | Permalink
  56. Melinda wrote:

    This is funny, I came over here to suggest something interesting I found online contrasting the changing moral politics of food and sex: http://www.hoover.org/publications/policyreview/38245724.html

    and I find a whole discussion forum on reading suggestions!

    The only other book I could add to the many that Sady’s obviously well read fans have already mentioned is “The Women of Brewster Place” by Gloria Naylor. Contemporary, African-American feminist fiction. Very true-ringing in its portrayal of modern poverty and inner-city gender politics.

    Wednesday, December 30, 2009 at 12:05 pm | Permalink
  57. Melinda wrote:

    So, I posted that article before I had read all of it, (terrible, terrible I know) and I would just like to say that the while the points she makes about food are pretty interesting, the points she makes about sex are pretty tired.

    Wednesday, December 30, 2009 at 1:26 pm | Permalink
  58. Amy wrote:

    For historical stuff, I second the recommendation of Wollstonecraft. Also, John Stuart Mill’s The Subjection of Women is great. For contemporary philosophy of feminism, I like Susan Moller Okin: Justice, Gender, and the Family, and Carol Pateman: The Sexual Contract.

    Tuesday, January 5, 2010 at 9:07 am | Permalink
  59. Pipenta wrote:

    Is it possible that no one here has suggested “The Dialectic of Sex, the Case for Feminist Revolution” by Shulamith Firestone.

    I came of age during the second wave. My parents, who were very controlling, did not censor my reading material because of their assumption that reading was a virtue activity (and as they pretty much read only mysteries and detective novels, I’m not sure they had any idea of what other sorts of books were out there.) and because they were too tired from controlling everything else. So as soon as I got my adult library card I checked out the entire feminist canon. As a kid, The Female Eunuch was my favorite because of its take-no-prisoners energy. But the one that really stood up, that really influenced my world view was Dialectic of Sex. It is well worth reading. If you haven’t yet, read it. If you can find a copy…

    Tuesday, April 6, 2010 at 7:56 am | Permalink