Feminist Summer Reading List 2014

A selection of fiction, short story, and memoir summer reads for the feminist minded. If you read or have read any in this selection and are interested in writing a book review, please contact us at bluestockingsmagazine@gmail.com.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics, by Marisha Pessl

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Marisha Pessl’s dazzling debut sparked raves from critics and heralded the arrival of a vibrant new voice in American fiction. At the center of Special Topics in Calamity Physics is clever, deadpan Blue van Meer, who has a head full of literary, philosophical, scientific, and cinematic knowledge. But she could use some friends. Upon entering the elite St. Gallway School, she finds some—a clique of eccentrics known as the Bluebloods. One drowning and one hanging later, Blue finds herself puzzling out a byzantine murder mystery. Nabokov meets Donna Tartt (then invites the rest of the Western Canon to the party) in this novel—with visual aids drawn by the author—that has won over readers of all ages.

You Feel So Mortal: Essays on the Body, by Peggy Shinnier

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Feet, bras, autopsies, hair—Peggy Shinner takes an honest, unflinching look at all of them in You Feel So Mortal, a collection of searing and witty essays about the body: her own body, female and Jewish; those of her parents, the bodies she came from; and the collective body, with all its historical, social, and political implications. What, she asks, does this whole mess of bones, muscles, organs, and soul mean? Searching for answers, she turns her keen narrative sense to body image, gender, ethnic history, and familial legacy, exploring what it means to live in our bodies and to leave them behind.

Kill Marguerite and Other Stories, by Megan Milks

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Kill Marguerite and Other Stories collects thirteen risk-taking stories obsessed with crossing boundaries, whether formal or corporeal. Narrative genres are giddily mongrelized: the Sweet Valley twins get stuck in a choose-your-own-adventure story; Mean Girls-like violence gets embedded within a classic video game. Protagonists cycle through a series of startling, sometimes violent, changes in gender, physiology, and even species, occasionally blurring into other characters or swapping identities entirely. One woman metamorphoses into a giant slug; another quite literally eats her heart out; a wasp falls in love with an orchid; and a Greek god impregnates a man’s thigh with a sword. More than just a straightforward celebration of the carnivalesque, though, these fictions are deeply engaged, both critically and politically, with the ways that social power operates on, and through, queer bodies.

An Unnecessary Woman, by Rabih Alameddine

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Aaliya Saleh lives alone in her Beirut apartment, surrounded by stockpiles of books. Godless, fatherless, childless, and divorced, Aaliya is her family’s “unnecessary appendage.” Every year, she translates a new favorite book into Arabic, then stows it away. The thirty-seven books that Aaliya has translated over her lifetime have never been read—by anyone. In this breathtaking portrait of a reclusive woman’s late-life crisis, readers follow Aaliya’s digressive mind as it ricochets across visions of past and present Beirut. Colorful musings on literature, philosophy, and art are invaded by memories of the Lebanese Civil War and Aaliya’s own volatile past. As she tries to overcome her aging body and spontaneous emotional upwellings, Aaliya is faced with an unthinkable disaster that threatens to shatter the little life she has left.

Boy, Snow, Bird, by Helen Oyeyemi

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In the winter of 1953, Boy Novak arrives by chance in a small town in Massachusetts, looking, she believes, for beauty—the opposite of the life she’s left behind in New York. She marries a local widower and becomes stepmother to his winsome daughter, Snow Whitman. A wicked stepmother is a creature Boy never imagined she’d become, but elements of the familiar tale of aesthetic obsession begin to play themselves out when the birth of Boy’s daughter, Bird, who is dark-skinned, exposes the Whitmans as light-skinned African Americans passing for white. Among them, Boy, Snow, and Bird confront the tyranny of the mirror to ask how much power surfaces really hold. Dazzlingly inventive and powerfully moving, Boy, Snow, Bird is an astonishing and enchanting novel. With breathtaking feats of imagination, Helen Oyeyemi confirms her place as one of the most original and dynamic literary voices of our time.

Graduates in Wonderland: The International Misadventures of Two (Almost) Adults, by Jessica Pan and Rachel Kapelke-Dale 

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Fast friends since they met at Brown University during their freshman year, Jessica Pan and Rachel Kapelke-Dale vowed to keep in touch after their senior year through in-depth—and brutally honest—weekly e-mails. After graduation, Jess packs up everything she owns and moves to Beijing on a whim, while Rachel heads to New York to work for an art gallery and to figure out her love life. Each spends the next few years tumbling through adulthood and reinventing themselves in various countries, including France, China, and Australia. Through their messages from around the world, they swap tales of teaching classes of military men, running a magazine, and flirting in foreign languages, along with the hard stuff: from harrowing accidents to breakups and breakdowns. Reminiscent of Sloan Crosley’s essays and Lena Dunham’s Girls,Graduates in Wonderland is an intimate, no-holds-barred portrait of two young women as they embark upon adulthood.

Redefining Realness, by Janet Mock

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Welcomed into the world as her parents’ firstborn firstborn son, Mock decided early on that she would be her own person—no matter what. She struggled as the smart, determined child in a deeply loving yet ill-equipped family that lacked the money, education, and resources necessary to help her thrive. Mock navigated her way through her teen years without parental guidance, but luckily, with the support of a few close friends and mentors, she emerged much stronger, ready to take on—and maybe even change—the world. This powerful memoir follows Mock’s quest for identity, from an early, unwavering conviction about her gender to a turbulent adolescence in Honolulu that saw her transitioning during the tender years of high school, self-medicating with hormones at fifteen, and flying across the world alone for sex reassignment surgery at just eighteen. With unflinching honesty, Mock uses her own experience to impart vital insight about the unique challenges and vulnerabilities of trans youth and brave girls like herself.

On Loving Women, by Diane Obomsawin

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On Loving Women is a new collection of stories about coming out, first love, and sexual identity by the animator Diane Obomsawin. With this work, Obomsawin brings her gaze to bear on subjects closer to home—her friends’ and lovers’ personal accounts of realizing they’re gay or first finding love with another woman. Each story is a master class in reaching the emotional truth of a situation with the simplest means possible. Her stripped-down pages use the bare minimum of linework to expressively reveal heartbreak, joy, irritation, and fear. On Loving Women focuses primarily on adolescence—crushes on high school teachers, awkwardness on first dates—but also addresses much deeper-seated difficulties of being out: fears of rejection and of not being who others want one to be. Within these pages, Obomsawin has forged a poignant, powerful narrative that speaks to the difficulties of coming out and the joys of being loved.

Inside Madeleine: Stories, by Paula Bomer 

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From the author of Nine Months and Baby comes a daring new collection that seethes with alienation, lust and rage. Bomer takes us from hospitals, halfway houses, and alleyways, to boarding schools and Park Avenue penthouses, exploring the complex relationships girls have with their bodies, with other girls, and with boys. The title novella tracks the ins and outs of an outsider’s life: her childhood obesity and kinky sex life, her toxic relationships, whether familial or erotic, and her various disappearing acts, of body and mind.

How to Seduce a White Boy in Ten Easy Steps, by Laura Yes Yes

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Laura Yes Yes’ sultry, wry first book, How to Seduce a White Boy in Ten Easy Steps, dazzles us with its bold exploration into the politics and metaphysics of identity. From fierce and funny sexual fantasias to cutting observations of interracial dynamics, her work asks us to fully consider what it is to be human in an age of fragmentation and double meanings. There are no easy answers here: the voice of the liberated woman rings clearly as a man-eater in one moment, and shudders under the weight of lost love in the next. Laura skillfully navigates the trauma of being Other while acknowledging the absurdity of our perceptions of race. With precise craft and breathtaking imagery, How to Seduce a White Boy blooms as a ferocious celebration of life.

The Summer We Got Free, by Mia McKenzie

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At one time a wild young girl and a brilliant artist, Ava Delaney changes dramatically after a violent event that rocks her entire family. Once loved and respected in their community and in their church, they are ostracized by their neighbors, led by their church leader, and a seventeen-year feud between the Delaneys and the church ensues. Ava and her family are displaced from the community even as they continue to live within it, trapped inside their creaky, shadowy old house. When a mysterious woman arrives unexpectedly for a visit, her presence stirs up the past and ghosts and other restless things begin to emerge. And something is reignited in Ava: the indifferent woman she has become begins to give way to the wild girl, and the passionate artist, she used to be. But not without a struggle that threatens her well-being and, ultimately, her life

Funny Once: Stories, by Antonya Nelson 

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In the title story, “Funny Once,” a couple held together by bad behavior fall into a lie with their more responsible friends. In “The Village,” a woman visits her father at a nursing home, recalling his equanimity at her teenage misdeeds and gaining a new understanding of his own past indiscretions. In another, when a troubled girl in the neighborhood goes missing, a mother worries increasingly about her teenage son’s relationship with a bad-news girlfriend. In the novella “Three Wishes,” siblings muddle through in the aftermath of their elder brother’s too-early departure from the world.  The landscape of this book is the wide open spaces of Kansas, Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado. Throughout, there is the pervasive desire to drink to forget, to have sex with the wrong people, to hit the road and figure out later where to stop for the night. These characters are aging, regretting actions both taken and not, inhabiting their extended adolescences as best they can. And in Funny Once, their flawed humanity is made beautiful, perfectly observed by one of America’s best short story writers.

My Education, by Susan Choi

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Regina Gottlieb had been warned about Professor Nicholas Brodeur long before arriving as a graduate student at his prestigious university high on a pastoral hill.  He’s said to lie in the dark in his office while undergraduate women read couplets to him. He’s condemned on the walls of the women’s restroom, and enjoys films by Roman Polanski. But no one has warned Regina about his exceptional physical beauty—or his charismatic, volatile wife. My Education is the story of Regina’s mistakes, which only begin in the bedroom, and end—if they do—fifteen years in the future and thousands of miles away. By turns erotic and completely catastrophic, Regina’s misadventures demonstrate what can happen when the chasm between desire and duty is too wide to bridge.

On Beauty, by Zadie Smith

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Having hit bestseller lists from the New York Times to the San Francisco Chronicle, this wise, hilarious novel reminds us why Zadie Smith has rocketed to literary stardom. On Beauty is the story of an interracial family living in the university town of Wellington, Massachusetts, whose misadventures in the culture wars-on both sides of the Atlantic-serve to skewer everything from family life to political correctness to the combustive collision between the personal and the political. Full of dead-on wit and relentlessly funny, this tour de force confirms Zadie Smith’s reputation as a major literary talent.

Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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From the award-winning author of Half of a Yellow Sun, a dazzling new novel: a story of love and race centered around a young man and woman from Nigeria who face difficult choices and challenges in the countries they come to call home. As teenagers in a Lagos secondary school, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are leaving the country if they can. Ifemelu—beautiful, self-assured—departs for America to study. She suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships and friendships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race. Obinze—the quiet, thoughtful son of a professor—had hoped to join her, but post-9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fearless, gripping, at once darkly funny and tender, spanning three continents and numerous lives, Americanah is a richly told story set in today’s globalized world: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s most powerful and astonishing novel yet.

 The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, by Heidi Durrow

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Rachel, the daughter of a Danish mother and a black G.I., becomes the sole survivor of a family tragedy after a fateful morning on their Chicago rooftop. Forced to move to a new city, with her strict African American grandmother as her guardian, Rachel is thrust for the first time into a mostly black community, where her light brown skin, blue eyes, and beauty bring a constant stream of attention her way. It’s there, as she grows up and tries to swallow her grief, that she comes to understand how the mystery and tragedy of her mother might be connected to her own uncertain identity. This searing and heartwrenching portrait of a young biracial girl dealing with society’s ideas of race and class is the winner of the Bellwether Prize for best fiction manuscript addressing issues of social justice.

The Bees, by Laline Paull

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The Handmaid’s Tale meets The Hunger Games in this brilliantly imagined debut set in an ancient culture where only the queen may breed and deformity means death. Flora 717 is a sanitation worker, a member of the lowest caste in her orchard hive where work and sacrifice are the highest virtues and worship of the beloved Queen the only religion. But Flora is not like other bees. With circumstances threatening the hive’s survival, her curiosity is regarded as a dangerous flaw but her courage and strength are an asset. She is allowed to feed the newborns in the royal nursery and then to become a forager, flying alone and free to collect pollen. She also finds her way into the Queen’s inner sanctum, where she discovers mysteries about the hive that are both profound and ominous. But when Flora breaks the most sacred law of all—daring to challenge the Queen’s fertility—enemies abound, from the fearsome fertility police who enforce the strict social hierarchy to the high priestesses jealously wedded to power. Her deepest instincts to serve and sacrifice are now overshadowed by an even deeper desire, a fierce maternal love that will bring her into conflict with her conscience, her heart, her society—and lead her to unthinkable deeds. Thrilling, suspenseful and spectacularly imaginative, The Bees gives us a dazzling young heroine and will change forever the way you look at the world outside your window.

Compiled by Patricia Ekpo, Blog Editor

All book descriptions and images are courtesy of Amazon

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