Summer 2012 Book List

by | September 11, 2012
filed under Books, Feminism, Pop Culture, Racism

by Jarrah Hodge

What’s that you say? Summer’s over? That explains why this book list is a little long. Let me know what you’re reading by replying in the comments below this post!

Fiction:

Catching Fire and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

As with The Hunger Games, I liked Katniss and the fact that she was a strong girl role-model, but I didn’t think the writing was that great. Catching Fire was probably my favourite and the most exciting of the three, but I found it harder to like Mockingjay, possibly because of the somewhat disempowered state in which Katniss spends most of the novel.

Game of Thrones Book #1 by George R. R. Martin

This is too complex to discuss here but you can read my analysis of the Geek Girl Con Game of Thrones panel if you want to know more of my thoughts. If you don’t feel like reading that, know I rated book one a 4/5 on Goodreads and am looking forward to the other books despite their issues.

Swamplandia by Karen Russell

Swamplandia is truly a work of art, combining the mystical and the very real. Russell intricately and creatively describes complex family dynamics, an underworld adventure, sexual assault, alligator wrestling, and the struggle of an uneducated kid to make it in the big city.

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

White Teeth tells the story of three families with different histories over three generations. It’s both ambitious and fun. In her first novel, Smith manages to create a cast of quirky yet believable characters and to tell a compelling story that touches on the themes of immigrant generational conflicts, class, race, religious fundamentalism, and even bioethics.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

In the first few pages I was asking myself why I hadn’t read this sooner. It runs you through the whole gamut of emotions. I started out feeling literally sick reading the child Celie’s account of being raped by her father, and went through nail-biting anticipation, anger, sadness, and joy before the relatively-short book was over. The way Walker is able to capture the nuance of characters’ personalities and relationships as they age and grow, all in a format of letter-style segments in Celie’s dialect, is amazing. Into it all is woven larger questions and observations about the meaning of religion and faith, as well as changing roles and relationships between men and women, white and black Americans, and black Americans and black Africans

Non-Fiction:

Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism, edited by Daisy Hernandez and Bushra Rehman

There are definitely some useful lessons in here for white feminists and institutions. Listening to the diverse voices that make up this anthology reveals how feminism has helped and alienated women of colour and how issues like family and intimate relations, eating disorders, rape, and street harassment require analysis from more than just white middle-class women. I can’t speak to how much this book might resonate with young women of colour today but I know it struck me since the book is 10 years old that I was not the same generation of the writers, most of whom seem to have been born in the 1970s. It would be interesting to see an updated collection that might include a reflection or two on recent developments in technology, media, and feminist internet culture. At times Feminism For Real shares these younger voices but one book every 10 years isn’t enough.

Ain’t I A Woman: Black Women and Feminism by bell hooks

I have a more detailed review up at Goodreads that you can check out if interested but here’s an excerpt:

This was a great companion read to Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider. Ain’t I A Woman provides a comprehensive historical and social analysis of the ways black women have been marginalized by both white feminist movements and civil rights movements run by black men.

hooks brings forward numerous examples of racist actions and statements by first and second-wave feminists, such as white women suffragettes excluding black women from their organizations and conferences. Most feminists have heard of Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech that this book is named after, but most of us didn’t hear about the white women at that convention who screamed, “Don’t let her speak! Don’t let her speak!” as Truth mounted the platform.

The Devil in the White City by Eric Larson

I don’t usually read true crime but the historical aspects (the book’s subject, serial killer H.H. Holmes, committed his crimes in Chicago around the time of the 1893 World’s Fair) I ended up really enjoying it though it was as much or more about the World’s Fair’s architects as it was about Holmes and his grisly crimes. The descriptions of the lobbying and power dynamics that went into Chicago’s bid for the fair, the choice of architects, and the debates over exhibits and aesthetics gave a lot of depth to my historical understanding of the fair.

I would have preferred some additional gender analysis when Larson talked about Holmes and his penchant for seducing and eventually murdering young women victims. Larson constructs a vision of Holmes driven by the need to possess and control vulnerable women and describes Holmes’ sexual arousal when killing victims, but in the “Notes & Sources” section Larson acknowledges we may never know what drove Holmes since his journals were filled with lies and half-truths. But overall, taken with a tiny grain of salt it was an informative and entertaining read

Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde

I read this for Vancouver Feminist Book Club and it’s one of the most thought and feeling-provoking works I’ve ever read addressing intersectionality. I imagine it will keep me examining my own activism, thought patterns, and emotions around feminism and race for a good while. In particular it got me thinking about whether I ever use the excuse that I don’t have enough women of colour blog contributors because I “don’t know who to ask” or whether I sit back and wait for women of colour to explain their experiences and perspectives to me instead of trying to educate myself. Sister Outsider is a collection of essays and speeches so I found it a relatively quick read that nonetheless gave big insight into Lorde’s work, her poetry and activism. I recommend it even for those who aren’t women’s studies students or long-term feminist activists – if I had read this years ago I think it would have given me a lot of useful tools that I could already be trying harder to implement.

The Anatomy of Addiction: Sigmund Freud, William Halsted and the Miracle Drug Cocaine by William Markel

The Anatomy of Addiction reinforced my love of creative non-fiction dealing with the history of science and medicine. Markel skillfully weaves together the stories of Freud and famous American surgeon William Halsted, who were both involved in pioneering research on cocaine, considered in the mid 1800s to be a potential miracle drug and anaesthetic. As was usual for the time, both experimented on themselves, causing what we’d now recognize as severe drug addiction. I took about two days to read this – could not put it down and now I can amaze (or possibly just annoy) friends at parties with my Freud factoids.

 

Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss

It’s the attention to detail that puts this graphic novel (is it still a graphic novel if it’s non-fiction?) over the top for me. Just picking it up you can tell it’s a beautiful, fascinating account of the lives of Marie & Pierre Curie (as well as her other love interests and children), and though it’s full of hard science that’s balanced with quotations from letters and interviews that make it all tangible. As far as the detail goes, I don’t just mean the personal touches Redniss adds with the interviews, but also that her very artistic process using a font face she designed from New York Library manuscripts and cyanotype prints that make each drawing seem to have a radioactive glow…plus the book itself also glows in the dark.

Redniss also makes this more than a simple love story – it’s complicated by the historical ramifications of the Curies’ research and questions around science, ethics, and personal responsibility.


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