Feminist Summer Reading List 2015

A selection of fiction, short story, academic, and memoir summer reads for the feminist-minded. If you read or have read any titles in this selection and are interested in writing a book review, please contact us at bluestockingsmagazine@gmail.com. Book summaries listed here are modified from Amazon. 

 

Into the Go-Slow, by Bridgette M. Davis

into the go slow

It’s 1986 and twenty-one-year-old Angie continues to mourn the death of her brilliant and radical sister Ella. On impulse, she travels from Detroit to the place where Ella tragically died four years before—Nigeria. She retraces her sister’s steps, all the while navigating the chaotic landscape of a major African country on the brink of democracy careening toward a coup d’état.

At the center of this quest is a love affair that upends everything Angie thought she knew about herself. Against a backdrop of Nigeria’s infamous go-slow—traffic as wild and surprising as a Fela lyric—Angie begins to unravel the mysteries of the past, and opens herself up to love and life after Ella.

 

No One Belongs Here More Than You: Stories, by Miranda July

no one belongs

Award-winning filmmaker and performing artist Miranda July brings her extraordinary talents to the page in a startling, sexy, and tender collection. In these stories, July gives the most seemingly insignificant moments a sly potency. A benign encounter, a misunderstanding, a shy revelation can reconfigure the world. Her characters engage awkwardly—they are sometimes too remote, sometimes too intimate. With great compassion and generosity, July reveals their idiosyncrasies and the odd logic and longing that govern their lives. No One Belongs Here More Than You is a stunning debut, the work of a writer with a spectacularly original and compelling voice.

 

God Help the Child, by Toni Morrison

god help

Spare and unsparing, God Help the Child—the first novel by Toni Morrison to be set in our current moment—weaves a tale about the way the sufferings of childhood can shape, and misshape, the life of the adult.

At the center: a young woman who calls herself Bride, whose stunning blue-black skin is only one element of her beauty, her boldness and confidence, her success in life, but which caused her light-skinned mother to deny her even the simplest forms of love. There is Booker, the man Bride loves, and loses to anger. Rain, the mysterious white child with whom she crosses paths. And finally, Bride’s mother herself, Sweetness, who takes a lifetime to come to understand that “what you do to children matters. And they might never forget.”

 

How to Grow Up: A Memoir, by Michelle Tea

how to grow up

As an aspiring young writer in San Francisco, Michelle Tea lived in a scuzzy communal house; she drank, smoked, snorted anything she got her hands on; she toiled for the minimum wage; and she dated men and women, and sometimes both at once. But between hangovers and dead-end jobs, she scrawled in notebooks and organized dive bar poetry readings, working to make her literary dreams real.

In How to Grow Up, Tea shares her awkward stumble towards the life of a Bonafide Grown-Up: healthy, responsible, self-aware, stable. She writes about passion, about her fraught relationship with money, about adoring Barney’s while shopping at thrift stores, about breakups and the fertile ground between relationships, about roommates and rent, and about being superstitious (“why not, it imbues this harsh world of ours with a bit of magic.”)  At once heartwarming and darkly comic, How to Grow Up proves that the road less traveled may be a difficult one, but if you embrace life’s uncertainty and dust yourself off after every screw up, slowly but surely you just might make it to adulthood.

 

The Thing Around Your Neck, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

that thing around

In her most intimate and seamlessly crafted work to date, Adichie turns her penetrating eye on not only Nigeria but America, in twelve dazzling stories that explore the ties that bind men and women, parents and children, Africa and the United States.

In “A Private Experience,” a medical student hides from a violent riot with a poor Muslim woman whose dignity and faith force her to confront the realities and fears she’s been pushing away. In “Tomorrow is Too Far,” a woman unlocks the devastating secret that surrounds her brother’s death. The young mother at the center of “Imitation” finds her comfortable life in Philadelphia threatened when she learns that her husband has moved his mistress into their Lagos home. And the title story depicts the choking loneliness of a Nigerian girl who moves to an America that turns out to be nothing like the country she expected; though falling in love brings her desires nearly within reach, a death in her homeland forces her to reexamine them.

Searing and profound, suffused with beauty, sorrow, and longing, these stories map, with Adichie’s signature emotional wisdom, the collision of two cultures and the deeply human struggle to reconcile them. The Thing Around Your Neck is a resounding confirmation of the prodigious literary powers of one of our most essential writers.

 

Zazen, by Vanessa Veselka

zazen

Somewhere in Della’s consumptive, industrial wasteland of a city, a bomb goes off. It is not the first, and will not be the last.

Reactions to the attacks are polarized. Police activity intensifies. Della’s revolutionary parents welcome the upheaval but are trapped within their own insular beliefs. Her activist restaurant co-workers, who would rather change their identities than the world around them, resume a shallow rebellion of hair-dye, sex parties, and self-absorption. As those bombs keep inching closer, thudding deep and real between the sounds of katydids fluttering in the still of the city night, and the destruction begins to excite her. What begins as terror threats called in to greasy bro-bars across the block boils over into a desperate plot, intoxicating and captivating Della and leaving her little chance for escape.

Zazen unfolds as a search for clarity soured by irresolution and catastrophe, yet made vital by the thin, wild veins of imagination run through each escalating moment, tensing and relaxing, unfurling and ensnaring. Vanessa Veselka renders Della and her world with beautiful, freighting, and phantasmagorically intelligent accuracy, crafting from their shattered constitutions a perversely perfect mirror for our own selves and state.

 

Sensational Flesh: Race, Power, and Masochism, by Amber Jamilia Musser

sensational

In everyday language, masochism is usually understood as the desire to abdicate control in exchange for sensation—pleasure, pain, or a combination thereof. Yet at its core, masochism is a site where power, bodies, and society come together. Sensational Flesh uses masochism as a lens to examine how power structures race, gender, and embodiment in different contexts.

Drawing on rich and varied sources—from 19th century sexology, psychoanalysis, and critical theory to literary texts and performance art—Amber Jamilla Musser employs masochism as a powerful diagnostic tool for probing relationships between power and subjectivity. Engaging with a range of debates about lesbian S&M, racialization, femininity, and disability, as well as key texts such as Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs, Pauline Réage’s The Story of O, and Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality, Musser renders legible the complex ways that masochism has been taken up by queer, feminist, and critical race theories. Furthering queer theory’s investment in affect and materiality, she proposes “sensation” as an analytical tool for illustrating what it feels like to be embedded in structures of domination such as patriarchy, colonialism, and racism and what it means to embody femininity, blackness, and pain. Sensational Flesh is ultimately about the ways in which difference is made material through race, gender, and sexuality and how that materiality is experienced.

 

The Professor: A Sentimental Education, by Terry Castle

professor

From one of America’s most brilliant critics and cultural commentators, Terry Castle, comes The Professor and Other Writings: a collection of startling, gorgeously-written autobiographical essays and a new, long-form piece about the devastation and beauty of early love. James Wolcott, contributing writer to Vanity Fair, calls Terry Castle a “Jedi knight of literary exploration and lesbian scholarship,” and The Professor and Other Writings “a greatest-hits package of show-stopping monologues and offhand-genius riffs.” The Professor and Other Writings is a hilarious and heartbreaking exploration of gender, identity, and sexuality in the grand tradition of such feminist luminaries as Susan Sontag, Camille Paglia, and Joan Didion.

 

Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements, by Walidah Imarisha

octavia

Whenever we envision a world without war, prisons, or capitalism, we are producing speculative fiction. Organizers and activists envision, and try to create, such worlds all the time. Walidah Imarisha and adrienne maree brown have brought 20 of them together in the first anthology of short stories to explore the connections between radical speculative fiction and movements for social change. These visionary tales span genres—sci-fi, fantasy, horror, magical realism—but all are united by an attempt to inject a healthy dose of imagination and innovation into our political practice and to try on new ways of understanding ourselves, the world around us, and all the selves and worlds that could be. Also features essays by Tananarive Due and Mumia Abu-Jamal, and a preface by Sheree Renée Thomas.

 

Plucked: A History of Hair Removal, by Rebecca M. Herzig

plucked
From the clamshell razors and homemade lye depilatories used in colonial America to the diode lasers and prescription pharmaceuticals available today, Americans have used a staggering array of tools to remove hair deemed unsightly, unnatural, or excessive. This is true especially for women and girls; conservative estimates indicate that 99% of American women have tried hair removal, and at least 85% regularly remove hair from their faces, armpits, legs, and bikini lines. How and when does hair become a problem—what makes some growth “excessive”? Who or what separates the necessary from the superfluous?
In Plucked, historian Rebecca Herzig addresses these questions about hair removal. She shows how, over time, dominant American beliefs about visible hair changed: where once elective hair removal was considered a “mutilation” practiced primarily by “savage” men, by the turn of the twentieth century, hair-free faces and limbs were expected for women. Visible hair growth—particularly on young, white women—came to be perceived as a sign of political extremism, sexual deviance, or mental illness. By the turn of the twenty-first century, more and more Americans were waxing, threading, shaving, or lasering themselves smooth. Herzig’s extraordinary account also reveals some of the collateral damages of the intensifying pursuit of hair-free skin. Moving beyond the experiences of particular patients or clients, Herzig describes the surprising histories of race, science, industry, and medicine behind today’s hair-removing tools. Plucked is an unsettling, gripping, and original tale of the lengths to which Americans will go to remove hair.

 

Your Illustrated Guide to Becoming One With the Universe, by Yumi Sakugawa

peace

A hand-drawn path to inner peace!

Your Illustrated Guide to Becoming One with the Universe will set you free on a visual journey of self-discovery. Set against a surreal backdrop of intricate ink illustrations, you will find nine metaphysical lessons with dreamlike instructions that require you to open your heart to unexplored inner landscapes. From setting fire to your anxieties to sharing a cup of tea with your inner demons, you will learn how to let go and truly connect with the world around you.

Whether you need a little inspiration or a completely new life direction, Your Illustrated Guide to Becoming One with the Universe provides you with the necessary push to find your true path–and a whimsical adventure to enjoy on the way there.

 

Orgasmology, by Annamarie Jagose

orgasm

For all its vaunted attention to sexuality, queer theory has had relatively little to say about sex, the material and psychic practices through which erotic gratification is sought. In Orgasmology, Annamarie Jagose takes orgasm as her queer scholarly object. From simultaneous to fake orgasms, from medical imaging to pornographic visualization, from impersonal sexual publics to domestic erotic intimacies, Jagose traces the career of orgasm across the twentieth century.

Along the way, she examines marriage manuals of the 1920s and 1930s, designed to teach heterosexual couples how to achieve simultaneous orgasms; provides a queer reading of behavioral modification practices of the 1960s and 1970s, aimed at transforming gay men into heterosexuals; and demonstrates how representations of orgasm have shaped ideas about sexuality and sexual identity.

A confident and often counterintuitive engagement with feminist and queer traditions of critical thought, Orgasmology affords fresh perspectives on not just sex, sexual orientation, and histories of sexuality, but also agency, ethics, intimacy, modernity, selfhood, and sociality. As modern subjects, we presume we already know everything there is to know about orgasm. This elegantly argued book suggests that orgasm still has plenty to teach us.

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