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.>
These are some of the brilliant books written by women that I in 2013.
Precious Williams’ Precious
Aminatta Forna’s The Devil that Danced on the Water
Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions
Valerie Martin’s Mary Reilly
Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Dreams
Barbara Kingsolver’s Pigs in Heaven
Rumer Godden’s The Doll’s House
Lola Shoneyin’s The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives
Chibundu Onuzo’s The Spider King’s Daughter
Aminatta Forna’s Ancestor Stones
You can purchase all of these books from News from Nowhere Radical & Cooperative Bookshop
Feminist magazine Vagenda have a new book out which is brilliant because there can never be enough feminist books published. I am, however, concerned about the cover. It simply reinforces the “women as object” motif, particularly since this is a woman’s body without head.
This isn’t uncommon for the publication of feminist books but it worries me. I doubt very much Vagenda had a choice in the cover but it does bother me that feminist texts are being published using pornified images of women’s bodies. Do publishers genuinely believe that people will only buy Vagenda’s book if the image is ‘sexy’ because I have to say, I think that’s rather insulting to Vagenda’s audience. If the only way a marketing team can think to run book by a popular feminist website is with this cover, then they simply aren’t creative enough.
Vagenda’s book would have sold well without this cover. It’s just unnecessary.
Natasha Walter’s Living Dolls:
Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs
I’ve moved my monthly archive of the books I have read as part of #ReadingOnlyBooksWrittenbyWomen to my other blog louisepennington.org. I just couldn’t resist blogging the books I received for my birthday and for Christmas. As ever, I’m always looking for more recommendations for inspiring books written by women especially fiction and women’s history!
Maggie O’Farrell’s the distance between us
Maggie O’Farrell’s After you’d gone
Maggie O’Farrell’s my lover’s lover
Joumana Haddad’s Superman is an Arab
Kamila Shamsie’s Broken Verses
Marina Warner’s The Leto Bundle
Carol Birch’s the Naming of Eliza Quinn
Sophie Hannah’s little face
Tendai Huchu’s The Hairdresser of Harare
Linda Porter’s Katherine the Queen
Margaret Atwood’s Negotiating with the Dead
Jenny Uglow’s The Pinecone
Joanne Harris’ The Evil Seed
Maya Angelou’s A Letter to my Daughter
Judith Jesch’s Women in the Viking Age
Essie Fox’s Elijah’s Mermaid
Patricia Hill Collins’ Black Sexual Politics
You can order the books online from News from Nowhere Radical & Community Bookshop
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
My reading theme for May is radical feminist theory. I haven’t actually read many classic texts of radical feminism; a lot of my radical feminist theory has been learned reading blogs and discussing it with other women on FB and at conferences. Since I am attending my first formal RadFem conference this June, I thought it might be worth covering more texts than Andrea Dworkin’s Intercourse and Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics [both of which are must-reads].
These are the texts I’ve lined up for this month:
Valerie Solanas’ Scum Manifesto
Marilyn French’s The War Against Women
Gerda Lerner’s The Creation of Patriarchy
Robin Morgan’s Sisterhood is Powerful: An Anthology of Writings from the Womens Liberation Movement
Lynne Harne & Elaine Miller’s All the Rage: Reasserting Radical Lesbian Feminism
Janice Raymond’s A Passion for Friends
Diane Bell & Renate Klein’s Radically Speaking: Feminism Reclaimed
Three of the texts, Robin Morgan’s Sisterhood is Powerful, Lynne Harne & Elaine Miller’s All the Rage and Diane Bell & Renate Klein’s Radically Speaking, are anthologies. They are also huge. I’m not sure I’ll make it through them all but I wanted to get as big a variety of radical feminist voices as possible.
Everyone’s got an opinion on Andrea Dworkin and it’s frequently one based in myth. I love Dworkin’s writing. I don’t always agree with her (and she’s sometime historically inaccurate) but she was an utterly brilliant polemicist. Her gift was amazing. She was a truly brilliant woman.
I’ve collated some quotes from the text here and here but the full text is available on the online Andrea Dworkin library.
Karen Boyle’s Everyday Pornography is an inter-disciplinary collection of 13 essays which are situated within the anti-pornography movement. Its focus is on the pornification of mainstream culture but also on the mainstream of pornography; that is to say the heterosexual male audience and the materials created specifically that audience. This is the praxis of the “everyday” of pornography and this is what makes Boyle’s book so powerful: it destroys the myth that porn is an isolated part of our culture that we can refrain from being exposed to. Karen Boyle’s personal contribution to the book “Porn Consumers’ public faces: Mainstream media, address and representation” demonstrates the ubiquity of porn within popular culture through films like American Pie, Showtime’s Porn: A Family Business and the extremely tedious program Friends. Sarah Neely examines how pornography and other parts of the commercial sex industry are reflected and constructed within the virtual online reality game Second Life. Meagan Tyler’s research focuses on how the porn industry defines itself. Tyler’s findings demonstrate that degradation, abuse, and violence are not only common in pornography but that the industry actively promotes it. Lisa Jean Moore and Juliana Weissbein’s is a fascinating study of the fetishisation of semen.
The academic language of the text can make it easier to disassociate from the violence within. In many ways, Everyday Pornography is the perfect companion to Melinda Tankard Reist and Abigail Bray’s Big Porn Inc: Exposing the Harms of the Global Pornography Industry. Big Porn Inc. written by a collection of activists and radical feminists. I had a more immediate visceral reactions to the violence committed during the making of pornography in the text Big Porn Inc. Everyday Pornography was easier to process despite the fact that it is equally distressing.
Everyday Pornography is a necessary read. It is hard but we can not destroy the capitalist-patriarchy unless we understand just how just how it functions: Jennifer Johnson’s analysis of porn’s use social networking is essential to this understanding.
Big Porn Inc: Exposing the Harms of the Global Pornography Industry, edited by Melinda Tankard Reist and Abigail Bray, is a collection of articles from radical feminists, activists, and academics who all believe that pornography is not about “pleasure, self-empowerment and freedom of choice”; rather that pornography represents the systemic subjugation of women as a sex class. Therefore pornography is not about sex, it is a form of violence against women. I am an anti-porn, anti-sex industry feminist so it’s fairly clear that I agree with the basic premise of this book.
I wasn’t prepared for what I read. I had already read Gail Dines’ Pornland and Robert Jensen’s Getting Off. I even attended the Challenging Porn Conference in London in 2011. I already knew the links between pornography and the pharmaceutical/ medical business. I knew how the pornography industry uses “free sites” to suck people into payed-for porn. I knew the violence perpetrated on women’s bodies. I knew how porn was predicated on racist constructions of the human body. I thought I understood just how mainstream violent and child pornography actually is. I had seen images I never wanted to see in the first place. I still wasn’t prepared for this book.
I wasn’t prepared for the soul-destroying mundanity of it all; of realising just well pornography is integrated into the capitalist economy; how horrifically common-place extreme violence is. I wasn’t prepared for just how normal porn involving children and teenagers is. I wasn’t prepared to read what men do to the bodies of women and children. I wasn’t prepared to realise just how many men hate women.
I have storified some of the quotes I tweeted out over the weekend whilst I was reading here. Allecto from Liberation Collective has written an excellent review here. It includes a graphic description of child rape so please take care before opening this link.
Big Porn Inc is an incredibly powerful book and I’m going to recommend it to every single person who tries to convince that porn is just a laugh and women like being brutally assaulted.
Angela Bourke’s The Burning of Bridget Cleary is a social history of the use of fairies and other myths to control people’s behaviour in Ireland in the 19th century. She traces the history of these myths to contextualise the brutal torture and murder of Bridget Cleary by her husband and kinsmen. It is very powerful but equally horrifying. What impressed me the most is that Bourke places the murder of Bridget firmly within a narrative of domestic violence. There are no excuses for male violence so, whilst the murder is contextualised with a history of faeries, changelings, power struggles, and jealousy Bourke holds the murderers accountable. Bourke then situates the trial of Bridget’s murderers within the political context of British Home Rule of Ireland and the British construction of Irish people as savages.
The Burning of Bridget Cleary is one of the most fascinating and well-researched books I have ever read. Bourke traces multiple layers of history and myth to tell the story of the murder of Bridget Cleary. It’s rather like Kate Summerscale’s The Suspicions of Mr Whicher* but from a feminist perspective rather than a comprehensive social history.
I honestly can not recommend this book enough. It is brilliant, insightful, frightening and, above all, a true picture of the complicated processes required to tell the history of women.
*The Suspicions of Mr Whicher is worth a read too as it contextualises the origins of detectives in British society within the literature of the day particularly in relation to the work of Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens.