Confused about where to start with the whole feminism thing? Looking for something new to dip into? Eager for a fresh, fun book? Here is a great list to get you going. We’ve got fiction, non-fiction, classics, graphic novels, science, history, food writing, the works.
Read part 1 of this list here.
51. Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture by Peggy Orenstein
In 2006, Orenstein wrote an essay in the New York Times wondering about the princess mania that had overtaken the lives of little girls – including her own daughter — in America. Orenstein didn’t quite expect that everyone had feelings on the subject — she was right, she was wrong, she hated the feminine, she was a crazy feminist, she was a crazy sexist. The book that grew out of this firestarter essay investigates the origins of the tiara-and-tulle tsunami. Orenstein goes to Disney land, toy marketing shows, a Miley Cyrus concert. She hangs out with kids, parents and scientists. It’s a fascinating, fun read by a writer who has spent time in the deep trenches of girl culture.
52. Angel De La Luna and the 5th Glorious Mystery by M Evelina Galang
Angel is 14 and lives in Manila. Her father dies suddenly and her mother, a nurse, moves to Chicago. Angel used to know who she was. Now she has to look after her grandmother and sister. She also finds a new self in advocating for the Filipino “Comfort Women” of WWII. When Angel’s mother summons her to Chicago, Angel has to deal with a whole new bag of problems — an American high school. Evelina Galang writes in English and Tagalog. Poetic, passionate and ambitious: this is a book for young feminists and older ones.
53. Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World by Shereen El Feki
El Feki is a health and science journalist and the former vice-chair of the United Nations Global Commission on HIV and the Law. She spent five years travelling through Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Lebanon, Israel and the United Arab Emirates asking people about their sex lives. The book is packed with insight and anecdote (Look out for a section in which El Feki demonstrates the use of a purple vibrator to a group of Egyptian housewives) about private lives in the Middle East.
54. Valencia by Michelle Tea
Michelle Tea, poet and literary organiser, wrote this memoir of her life in the 90s San Francisco dyke punk scene. Falling in and out of love with girls, taking random jobs, getting high, walking in pride marches — the book is written as a series of highs and lows that seem like high moments. (Subsequently, 21 queer filmmakers each shot a 5-minute short based on a chapter from Valencia.)
55. The Best of Connie Willis
Connie Willis is one of our favouritest science fiction writers ever. She can write about anything from trends to life after death to time travel and we lap it all up. We’d recommend pretty much any novel by this funny, brilliant storyteller but this collection of short stories is a good place to start. Take ‘Even The Queen.’ When it was first published, the story was blurbed ‘a period piece’ ha ha. The story, as you must have guessed, is about a futuristic world in which there is no menstruation. But the story is less about menstruation than family dynamics. The book also has the transcripts of Willis’ superb speeches. It’s a steal, this book.
56. Pippi Longstockings by Astrid Lindgren
Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Ephraim’s Daughter Longstocking. Red hair. 9 years old. She lives alone in magnificent style and why not, she’s the strongest girl in the world and can bench-press a horse. Her father, who is notably missing from the scene, is a cannibal king who has left her with lots of gold coins. And no patience for pompous adults. The Swedish superheroine Pippi was the creation of a woman who was at first just trying to cheer her young daughter who had pneumonia but left us all a series of books to love.
57. The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez
This is a double-Lambda-Award-winning novel about the life of an African-American lesbian vampire from the nineteenth through the twenty-first centuries. The protagonist, a slave in 1850s Louisana, has no name to start with. She runs away and meets a brothel-owner named Gilda and her companion Bird. Gilda and Bird are also vampires. Eventually she becomes a vampire too and takes on the name Gilda. The book is written in an episodic format hitting various significant events in contemporary history.
58. Stree Purush Tulana by Tarabai Shinde
This book is often considered the earliest modern feminist text in India. In 1882, Tarabai Shinde read a newspaper article about a young widow who had killed her illegitimate child, afraid of what people would do to her if they found out. The widow was sentenced to death. Shinde knew the precariousness and vulnerability of women’s lives, especially those of widows. In the kind of rage that prompts women to blog 2,000 word rants today, Shinde wrote and published this pamphlet Stree Purush Tulana (A comparison between men and women) on the condition of women at large in society. “I’m just a poor woman without any real intelligence, who’s been kept locked up and confined…But every day now we have to look at some new and more horrible example of men who are really wicked, and their shameless lying tricks. And people go about pinning the blame on women all the time, as if everything bad was their fault. When I saw this, my whole mind began churning and shaking…I lost all my fear, I just couldn’t stop myself writing about it in this very biting language.” Shinde had published at a time when her friends and fellow activists Kashibai Kanitkar and Anandibai Joshi had men throw stones at them for being so radical as to carry umbrellas and wear shoes. The resistance to this pamphlet was so strong that Shinde’s pamphlet was buried for almost a century until it was rediscovered in 1975.
59. Spit and Passion by Christy C Road
This is a brilliant queer coming-of-age story which is more about the closet and has little to do with coming out. In this debut graphic novel Road tells a highly energetic story of Road’s adolescence in her working-class, Cuban Catholic community. The heart of the story is the stunning moment when music (in this case Road’s fanatic love for the band Green Day) saves her life.
60. Mitro Marjani by Krishna Sobti
To Hell With You, Mitro is the great name of this novel by the truly great Krishna Sobti. Samitravanti alias Mitro is married into a large middle-class Punjabi family. Mitro is warm, honest and has unfulfilled sexual appetities she likes to talk about. Her husband and in-laws respond with rage and shock but Mitro is not so easily squashed.
61. Wild & Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
We are cheating here. Two books by the same author! Wot! But listen, you will get our warped logic. At 26, Cheryl Strayed was miserable. Her marriage was over. She was in a relationship with an addict and her mother had just died. Strayed decided to fix herself with an epic journey. She proceeded to hike 1770 km alone on the Pacific Crest Trail and the story of that incredible journey is the now famous book Wild (and soon a movie). But Cheryl Strayed has since also outed herself as the wonderful, poetic advice columnist Dear Sugar whose advice columns have been compiled into the lovely Tiny Beautiful Things. So there you have it, Cheryl Strayed out in the wilds and in the wilderness of the mind. You need both these books.
62. Top Girls by Caryl Churchill
Marlene loves her job. In the opening sequence she has been promoted and she celebrates by throwing a dinner party for famous women from history, including Pope Joan, Lady Nijo (the Japanese mistress of an emperor-turned-Buddhist nun) and Isabelle Bird, a 19th century explorer. Slowly we find out that all of these powerful women have had painful and similiarly painful experiences with power and capital. A seminal play that remains terrifyingly relevant even though it was written in the 1980s.
63. Amen: The Autobiography Of A Nun by Sr Jesme
When Sr Jesme left the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel she had been a nun for 33 years and the principal of a Kerala college. That was a jolt but nothing like the shake-up the system felt when she wrote her memoir two years later. In this extremely controversial book, the former nun tells the details of the corruption, class-bias, gender bias and the sex scandals in the church. The authorities’ repeated attempts to have her declared insane, she says, left her no other option.
64. Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel
We love Hilary Mantel and it was hard picking just one book but this one is terrifying, funny and wonderful. Alison Hart is a medium. Colette is her partner/business manager. Together they eke out a living from Alison’s travelling psychic show. Trouble is the ghosts never leave Alison, who knows way more about the grossness of the afterlife than her poor, needy clients would ever suspect. How will Alison ever get away from the violent spirits and grey, suburban Britain? Watch out for the surprise appearance of a famous ghost.
65. Alchemy and Meggy Swann by Karen Cushman
The year is 1573. Thirteen-year-old Meggy has been living with her grandmother for a long while, ever since her mother dumped her. When her grandmother died she is dumped again on her alchemist father who doesn’t want to see the child who is not a son, the child who is not whole of limb. Often he doesn’t even remember the name of this daughter with the odd, clumsy gait and her two sticks. Meggy is pissed off at everyone, hungry, and stuck with a goose. But here she is in London for the first time and it is a city that has room for her annoyed, curse-loving self. Karen Cushman’s book for children creates a historically accurate world and a witty heroine you will love.
66. 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
As a young playwright Helene Hanff came to the quick realisation that her plays were all plotless charm and not exactly box-office hits. Hanff stuck to the impoverished writer and single woman thing and wrote for early television shows in the 1940s and 1950s in New York. She wrote some charming, well-researched, off-beat books (about New York, about the British scholar Arthur Quiller-Couch), none of which did well. In 1970, in a sentimental moment, she compiled her 20-year correspondence with Frank Doel, the chief buyer of a British bookstore. The correspondence begins in a business-like manner out of her endless desire for obscure books but Hanff slowly becomes becomes friends with Doel and his wife. Their letters are full of Hanff’s go-girl, uber-nerd wit. During Britain’s postwar food crunch, she sent them parcels of food and hoped one day to have enough money to visit. Alas, Doel died unexpectedly and the store (on 84, Charing Cross Road in London) closed. The compiled correspondence became a sleeper hit that made Hanff a cult figure. (In the movie version Hanff is played by Anne Bancroft, so there.) Read and be charmed.
67. Poppy Shakespeare by Clare Allan
You may have seen the 90-minute Channel 4 drama starring Naomie Harris and Anna Maxwell Martin, but don’t miss the original book on which it’s based! “Who is mad? Who is sane? Who decides?” reads the book’s blurb. Allan’s novel is set in a North London mental health institution, where most residents aim never to have to leave, when Poppy Shakespeare arrives. She’s convinced she isn’t mentally ill, and needs the others’ help to escape. What follows is a funny, moving story drawn from Allan’s own 10-year stint in Britain’s mental health system. Don’t miss it.
68. The Beauty of The Husband by Anne Carson
What is it about Anne Carson? She is a MacArthur Fellow. She is a commercially viable poet. She was a throwaway mention in The L Word. She is a professor of the classics and no one is really sure what form each of her books takes. Is it poetry or prose or a play? The Beauty of The Husband, for instance is unhelpfully subtitled ‘a fictional essay in 29 tangos’. Means what? Really if she didn’t slay you with her writing you’d want to just parody her on Twitter. But she’s highly readable and memorable. Here is a bit.
69. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
In 2002, during an interview, Waters moaned aloud, “why, oh why, did I ever allow the phrase ‘lesbo Victorian romp’ to cross my lips?”. But never mind the author’s feelings. Her romps are the kind of books whose world-creation is so perfect and absorbing that you are shocked whenever you look up and see that you are in some ho-hum contemporary room without lesbo Victorians. This particular one has a stunning plot in which two orphans from very different backgrounds cross paths because an evil con man. Sue grew up as an apprentice thief (a fingersmith is a pickpocket). The rich Maud Lilly was trained as a secretary by her creepy uncle in his fabulous mansion. What happens when they meet? Why should we tell you?
70. Jane Austen: A Life, by Claire Tomalin
You may have imagined, like we all did, that Jane Austen sat in the family home and spun her compelling novels out of her head without much access to the large and tumultous world of 18th century England. Claire Tomalin’s exciting biography changes these notions permanently. Given that there is no autobiographical material, Tomalin turned to the journals and letters of the neighbours, friends and intimates of the Austen family — many of whom were in the thick of political and and even the literary excitement of that time. With two brothers in the navy and one in the army she certainly knew about world politics and slavery and wars. One of the most fascinating people who turn up in this bio is Jane’s first cousin Eliza, who seems to have been Warren Hastings’ illegitmate daughter. Jane Austen, who had a huge fan following, especially with her later novels, never got a chance to enjoy fame or even admiration. As an unmarried woman with no inheritance of her own she was strictly dependent on what her brothers gave their mother, her and her unmarried sister Cassandra. With money and independence she could perhaps have been able to travel and write about places and people outside of her restricted circle. Perhaps she would not have written the novels she did write. Who knows? But nothing in Claire Tomalin makes Austen’s life seem maudlin. This is not a tear-jerker and Tomalin emphasises how unsentimental and tough Austen was. You will wish that she didn’t have to be though.
71. Feminist Ryan Gosling: Feminist Theory (as Imagined) from Your Favorite Sensitive Movie Dude by Danielle Henderson
Hey girl, you know you want this book. For its 120 full-colour adorable feminist captions and photos that made the world fall in love with the eponymous blog.
72. The Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
When Banana Yoshimoto’s first book arrived, Japan went mental. Bananamania swept the nation. The Kitchen is a novella about a young girl who loves, loves, loves kitchens (wants to die in one, she says), a transsexual mother and her sweet, reserved son. Food, young people, the loneliness of Tokyo life — these are recurring themes in Yoshimoto’s work. Her gentle, dreamy prose could turn you into a Bananamaniac too.
73. The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon
“One is telling a story about old times when someone breaks in with a little detail that he happens to know, implying that one’s own version is inaccurate — disgusting behavior!” Quote from Rebecca Solnit, chronicler of ‘mansplaining’? No! Sei Shonagon wrote it roughly in the year 1000. Little is known about her about other than her writing and her position in the court of the Japanese empress Teishi. The Pillow Book reads like a great, addictive blog — replete with lists (Words That Look Commonplace but That Become Impressive When Written in Chinese Characters: Strawberries / A dew-plant / A prickly water-lily / A walnut / A Doctor of Literature / A Provisional Senior Steward in the Office of the Emperor’s Household), observations, gossip and character sketches.
74. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
Right with the title, Roxane Gay starts off by easing the haters and piquing the hardliners at the same time. And as you keep reading her essay after essay, she introduces you to the essence of feminism, which lies in the plurality of voices (under the pretext of it being “bad”). And all this as she takes the reader through pop culture, personal life and politics like a hot knife through butter.
75. Zinda Bahar Lane by Fahmida Riaz
Riaz’s trilogy of books Hum Loag (Zinda Bahar Lane, Godavari and Karachi) takes you into the heart of political violence in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. One of the most highly regarded Urdu writers, Riaz’s trilogy has been variously described as novelistic, prose travelogue and political writing. Her feminist poetry (particularly Badan Dareeda) made her famous in the 1970s but Riaz had begun her career as a stylish writer of fiction. During Zia-ul-Haq’s regime, Riaz had a dozen cases filed against her and eventually was forced into exile. Riaz once said in an interview, “It is the general consensus that a woman’s mind is incapable of original thinking. One has no choice but to carry on, nonetheless.” Riaz has carried on, for sure. She has returned to Pakistan and remains one of its most luminous writers. We interrupt this book list for a brief burst of awesome from Fahmida:
76. Who Cooked the Last Supper: The Women’s History of the World by Rosalind Miles
Let’s begin this synopsis with a respectful pause for a sentence from another book by Miles. “His hands slid blindly down her back and with a sigh of wonder he took her by the hips. ‘Such a little waist,’ he said… He entered her, and she felt a shaft of pain.” Miles is incorrigibly unpredictable and decided to follow up a career as brilliant commentator and feminist scholar by writing an unironic bodice-ripper set in Arthurian times. And why ever not? Here is a woman who has looked at the writing of human history, realised over and over again that women have been left out of it and emerged with a sense of humour intact. This is an extremely lively and energetic history of women through the ages beginning the evolution of menstruation, charging through the centuries filled with irrepressible women and men who’d like them to shut up. You will never trust a textbook again.
77. Accidents of Nature by Harriet McBryde Johnson
Before 17-year-old Jean, a high school senior from a small town in southern USA, arrived at Camp Courage one day in 1970, she had never met another person with a disability. Living with cerebral palsy herself, she gets to camp to find a network of fantastic new friends, and her mind is blown. What follows is a rethinking of the parameters of her world and a reconstituting of her identity. Don’t miss this wonderfully funny and insightful book.
78. Jina Amucha (Prisons We Broke) by Baby Kamble
Kamble’s book is possibly the first autobiography by a Dalit woman to be published. The book narrates the suffering of her community, the Mahars — the poverty, ill-health and endless caste discrimination. She writes with exhilaration of their passionate participation in the Ambedkarite movement. She unflinchingly talks of the particular humiliations faced by Dalit women — from people of other castes and from their own men. Here is an eye-opening interview of Kamble (included in the English translation of this groundbreaking Marathi memoir).
79. The Most of Nora Ephron by Nora Ephron
Who didn’t grieve for the loss of Nora Ephron — for the loss of perfect romantic comedies or her wonderful turn of phrase or her existence as a warm, wonderful, fearless feminist? And for everyone who mourned her is this eclectic collection which includes all kinds of things — a novel, a screenplay and a lot of her super-funny columns. Columns on what? Oh just about anything. Here is her piece on breasts written in 1982 and being republished even now. On George W Bush’s annual medical examination, on handbags, on her body and dinner parties. Here is Ephron on being a lady. (“Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope that you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there. And I also hope that you will choose to make some of that trouble on behalf of women.”)
80. For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide /When the Rainbow is Enuf by Ntozake Shange
This award-winning play is said to have been born in 1974 “as an electrifying performance by Shange and four of her close friends in a Berkeley, Calif., women’s bar, the Bacchanal. As they moved and danced, they recited Shange’s poems — about coming of age, heartbreak, sexual assault, redemption. The choreopoem went on to Broadway to win an Obie and be nominated for Tony and Grammy awards.” The play that chronicled the lives of a range of women of colour across the US continues to be very popular.
81. Karukku by Bama
Bama’s writing is powerful, moving, and always laced with humour and generous dollops of affection. Many of her stories of life in rural Tamil Nadu will remain with you whether you want them to or not, and Karukku, an autobiography published in 1992, tells the story of Bama’s childhood growing up in her village in Tamil Nadu, and the power dynamics of caste that influenced their lives. You may have enjoyed Sangati and Kusumbukkaran, her later books, but don’t forget to read Karukku, which remains one of her most compelling works.
82. Daughter’s Daughter by Mrinal Pande
You may know Mrinal Pande as the famous journalist and TV personality or as the daughter of Hindi novelist Shivani. Pande has also written a significant body of fiction herself. Daughter’s Daughter is a collection of short stories about two girls growing up. As one gushing reader on Goodreads put it, “Two young sisters navigate the complicated landscape of family while gender is continually forced upon them. And survive, though not without cost.”
83. Memories of a Rolling Stone by Vina Mazumdar
Vinadi, as she was affectionately known, was a formidable activist and academic, and one of the foremost voices in India’s women’s movement. Among her several achievements was being secretary of the first Committee on the Status of Women in India that in 1974 brought out the first report on the condition of women in the country, Towards Equality, and being the founding Director of the Centre for Women’s Development Studies (CWDS). Memories of a Rolling Stone is an entertaining and witty memoir, published in 2010, that traces the contemporary women’s movement in India as well as walks the reader through Vina’s formative years and gradual politicisation. As Subhashini Ali writes in her review of the book, it is “as much a handbook for intelligent and effective activism as it is an insider’s record of momentous events.”
84. Nightwood by Djuna Barnes
“Love is death, come upon with passion; I know, that is why love is wisdom. I love her as one condemned to it.” Dreamlike, stylish and bohemian, Barnes’ 1936 modernist novel has a cult following. It’s one of the few novels from the early twentieth century portraying homosexual love, and it’s a complex, difficult work – the kind you have to wrestle with – that follows the lives of Nora Flood and Robin Vote, whose relationship forms the novel’s crux. But do yourself a big, big favour and skip the book’s snoozeworthy intro by TS Eliot.
85. Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates
The Everyday Sexism Project began over two years ago in the UK as a website set up by journalist Laura Bates, to document instances of sexism, however banal, to highlight the persisting inequality between men and women and to encourage people to talk about it. Submissions came pouring in; by December 2013, the site had 50,000 entries from people in 19 different countries. Everyday Sexism the book, published early this year, contains Bates’ writing depicting the prejudices faced by women, emphasizing the discrimination faced by everyone from schoolgirls to members of parliament. As this review in The Independent puts it, “If Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Woman is the fun-filled manual for female survival in the 21st century, Everyday Sexism is its more politicised sister.”
86. The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks by Jeanne Theoharis
This biography of the woman whose act of defiance in 1955 became one of the most famous stories of the American Civil Rights Movement looks at Parks’ political evolution and her years of activism. If this sounds alien to you, because you were told Parks merely refused to give up her seat because she was tired (and stubborn, but mostly tired), then this book is for you. Theoharis’ exhaustive, carefully researched academic work corrects the notion that Parks’ refusal to give up her seat was not deliberate. This award-winning book from 2013 details Parks’ role as a committed activist in racial politics beginning far before the events of 1955, tracing her involvement in six decades of activism.
87. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
This much-awarded 1969 sci-fi novel explores a society in which there are no men or women – instead, its people share the traits of both genders. Le Guin’s writing is compelling and masterful, and Left Hand, which is part of her series of books in the ‘Hainish Cycle’, remains vastly popular to this day. The academic and literary critic Harold Bloom, who counts the book among the Western canon, once wrote that “Le Guin, more than Tolkien, has raised fantasy into high literature, for our time.” Earlier this month, the National Book Foundation announced that Le Guin would get an award for lifetime achievement, saying, “Among the nation’s most revered writers of science fiction and fantasy, Le Guin’s fully imagined worlds challenge readers to consider profound philosophical and existential questions about gender, race, the environment and society.” What better time to pick up The Left Hand of Darkness?
88. Swim: Why We Love The Water by Lynn Sherr
“[T]he chance to float free, as close to flying as I’ll ever get . . . a time of quiet contemplation. . . The silence is stunning.” Read this Washington Post review of the book and you’ll find yourself itching to get your hands on it (if you haven’t first managed to jump into a big lovely pool). In this wonderful book, Sherr traces the history of swimming through time, discussing art, mythology, and the biology of swimming, among other things. If you don’t swim, there’s really no better motivation to start than this.
89. Seeing Like A Feminist by Nivedita Menon
One of contemporary India’s best known feminist thinkers published this perfect starter-kit book in 2012. As this review says, “At a time when sexual violence is fervently discussed in the country and the word ‘misogyny’ has finally crept into mainstream discourse, Menon’s book serves as a great introduction to taking those uncomfortable questions further and bridging the gap between feminism as a purely-academic, closeted concern and a battle that is waged everyday on the streets, in our houses and in our lives.” With great relish, Menon says at one point, “Narivaad, behna, dheere dheere aayi! Feminism, sister, it comes slowly slowly.” We say, read this book and it will come fastly-fastly.
90. The Group by Mary McCarthy
McCarthy is a controversial name to mention on any feminist reading list — especially because she was so often complained about as being anti-feminist. It’s been 50 years since her classic, The Group, in which the existential crises, love lives, shortcomings and sexual adventures of six just-graduated girls were laid bare with deadly accuracy. McCarthy’s writing gives a whole new meaning to the word stinging. If you watched Lena Dunham’s ‘Girls’ and found the inside-outside satirical eye fun, you must read McCarthy expertly scorching through female psychology.
91. Junglee Girl by Ginu Kamani
Eleven stories with female protagonists at their centre – women who “recklessly pursue their sensual paths through a complex social world that shuts them out,” according to the publisher’s description. Kamani’s women are layered, sometimes navigating family relationships as much as they do the outside world, and the author’s treatment of women’s sexuality is bold. Consider this compliment from a reader on Amazon, titled “Awesome Book For The Enlightened But Not Whimpy [sic]”: “Not for the over religious or nievely [sic] educated consumer.”
92. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
Estha and Rahel, twins growing up in Ayemenem in Kottayam district, Kerala, live with their mother Ammu, their uncle Chacko, grandmother Mammachi and grand-aunt Baby Kochamma. They befriend Velutha, a Dalit man whose family has served theirs for generations. This forbidden friendship is the start of a dramatic series of events, precipitated by an affair between Ammu and Velutha that her family cannot tolerate. The delicate balance of Estha and Rahel’s lives is shattered forever by the violence that follows their mother’s relationship with a Dalit man, and the tensions in their family and society boil over until no one’s lives can ever be the same. Roy’s debut novel (and her only one till date) made waves when it first appeared in 1997, vociferous as it is about Kerala’s patriarchal and casteist society, and remains an influential work even today.
93. Approaching Eye Level by Vivian Gornick
“At heart this is a book not about repose but about escalating struggle – the day-to-day struggle to face down the brutality of growing loneliness, to accept the limitations of friendship and intimacy, to honor the process of becoming oneself,” writes Mary Hawthorne in the New York Times. Gornick’s essays – conversational, personal, comforting – in this book about being alone in a big city are ones you will savour whether or not you live in a big city, and whether or not you live alone.
94. The Woman Who Thought She Was A Planet And Other Stories by Vandana Singh
Considered India’s first female speculative fiction writer, Singh’s universe is populated by weird and wonderful phenomena (e-djinns! mysterious tetrahedrons! tiny aliens!) set in recognisable landscapes. While Singh also writes children’s fiction (she’s the creator of Younguncle) and poetry, her sci-fi stories are perhaps her most distinctive work, and this collection will keep you delighted for several happy hours.
95. The Guerrilla Girls’ Bedside Companion to the History of Western Art
You may know the Guerrilla Girls for their bold protest art. Or their commitment to highlighting and fighting sexism and racism in the art world. Go on, take their class on “Art Herstory 101” and you’ll learn to spot sexist art historians, and the social obstacles faced by women artists. And find answers to questions such as ‘Why did nuns have more fun in medieval times?’ or ‘Who put all those naked men in the classical sections of museums?’
96. Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women by Elizabeth Wurtzel
Wurtzel sets out in a collection of five essays to celebrate rebellious women in a work that is interesting and insightful, looking at the history of manipulative women. You may find some bits difficult to swallow – Wurtzel’s writing is contradictory, digresses frequently and you may disagree with the author on some points, but Bitch is an important book about the expectations placed on women, and the repercussions for those who flout them.
97. The Music Room, Namita Devidayal
This lovely memoir traces the relationship between Devidayal, who as a ten-year-old was taken by her mother to learn from the classical singer Dhondutai Kulkarni, the last living disciple of Alladiya Khan and Kesarbai Kerkar. The book is something of a tribute from student to teacher, tracing Dhondutai’s life and career, while painting a picture of three lives interwined: Dhondutai’s, Alladiya’s and Kesarbai’s. And you’ll love the accounts of Dhondutai and Kesarbai – pathbreakers for their time who pursued their art with single-minded devotion.
98. Flying by Kate Millet
You’ve probably heard of Kate Millet’s fiery Sexual Politics – a classic of second-wave feminism. While Sexual Politics can read like a schematic academic thesis (it is!), Millet’s far less-known 1974 memoir Flying is the exact opposite of cold and dry. Millet describes one year of her life with blinding honesty and abandon. Nobody’s name is changed, nobody is spared honest reactions. Flying showed us that political hand-wringing, sex, sexual orientation, friendship, gender and artistic ventures all tumble together in wondrous ways. In short: you’re a fool if you think your life can be neatly parceled off into what’s public and what’s private.
99. “Lihaaf” by Ismat Chughtai
First: if (for some improbable reason) you haven’t read Ismat Chugtai’s 1942 classic short story “Lihaaf”, do it now. It has the best written child narrator we’ve ever read and it’s brimming with unstable sexuality. The story even triggered off an obscenity case in court after it was published. PS: Everyone must read Parvati Sharma’s perfect lesbian erotica homage to “Lihaaf” – also a short story called “The Quilt”.
100. Sultana’s Dream by Rokeya Sakhawat Hussain
Where are the men?’ I asked her.
‘In their proper places, where they ought to be.’
‘Pray let me know what you mean by “their proper places”.’
‘O, I see my mistake, you cannot know our customs, as you were never here before. We shut our men indoors.’
‘Sultana’s Dream was originally published in The Indian Ladies’ Magazine, Madras, 1905, in English. Today the short story is a feminist sci-fi classic. It is a world where men stay secluded indoors and women calmly run the world. Hussain’s other work (more short stories, essays, poetry and satire) is largely in Bengali, a language she learnt as an adult, with a desire to connect to regular readers. This was in keeping with her zeal to spread education and reform among Muslim women. Even today in Bangladesh, 9 December is celebrated as Rokeya Day.
(Look out for more books in the next installment of our reading list, coming soon. Meanwhile if you are outraged that your favourite, most essential feminist book isn’t on this list, let us know in the comments)