by Jarrah Hodge
Here’s what I’ve been reading since my last book list post in January:
1. Missed Her by Ivan E. Coyote
If you’re in the Vancouver area consider checking out Feminist Book Club, an open and friendly group that meets monthly at local cafes and bookshops. This book was our selection for March – the first month I attended. Like the other book clubbers, I found Missed Her really moving and helpful in better understanding the barriers queer people face at various stages of life. We all found Ivan’s personal narratives the most resonant, but were unsure about whether this collection of stories and columns in particular appeals as much to the current younger generation of feminists and queer activists. That’s part of the reason I was happy to see Coyote’s call for queer and trans youth to audition to perform at an upcoming Vancouver book launch. Sounds like a cool event.
2. Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein
Orenstein’s indictment of the rise of pink, pretty, princess culture for little girls created a lot of buzz last year and got rave reviews across the feminist blogosphere, so I was really happy to receive it as a Christmas present. Orenstein’s narrative and interesting interviews with people behind princess marketing at Disney and other major companies make a strong case that the “girlie-girl” culture American girls are growing up in hurts their body image, independence, and self-esteem and makes it more difficult than ever to escape from the virgin/whore dichotomy when they hit puberty. But I had a reservation or two about specifics of Cinderella Ate My Daughter. Namely, I agreed with Feminist Texan, who found Orenstein’s personal attacks on celebrities like Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus distasteful and unnecessary. I also would’ve liked a bit more attention to the race and class aspects of princess culture – beyond just looking at how much the products tend to sell for. Overall the book is still a recommended read for the ideas and discussions it’s sure to provoke.
3. The Imaginary Indian by Daniel Francis
The Imaginary Indian: The Image of the Indian in Canadian Culture (originally published in 1992, re-issued in 2011) is an interesting study of how First Nations Canadians have been portrayed in many facets of Canadian culture through history. It’s widely used as a textbook and tries its hardest to be sensitive to the potential problems that arise from being a book on First Nations written by white men (the use of the term “Indian” is only used to refer to the white-constructed image of Aboriginal Canadians). For that reason, Francis never attempts to define what First Nations identity is, but only deconstructs how its been presented and stereotyped in the white imagination. The part I found most interesting was the discussion on text books and art – some of the material he references was still used in the texts when I was in school not so long ago and I never considered it critically at the time.
4. City of Ladies by Christine de Pizan
I read and reviewed this 1405 defence of women as part of Feminist Classics Book Club, so you’ll have to check out that post for info.
5. Love Cake by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
April’s Feminist Book Club selection (the Vancouver one, not the online Feminist Classics Book Club). The poetry in Love Cake is dense and I found myself reading every line several times. But once I cracked into it I was able to appreciate its layered beauty. The poems mainly revolve around what it means to be a queer person of colour, dealing with complicated family histories, past experiences of violence, and navigating current relationships of love and lust.
6. Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality by Hanne Blank
Feminists and queer activists have spent a lot of time showing how gender is socially constructed. Part of that is the idea that heterosexuality is still somehow natural and normal. Blank’s historical research goes a long way to advancing this goal, demonstrating that the very idea of heterosexuality is a relatively recent historical invention. She also points out that there seems to be “no aspect of ‘heterosexual’ for which a truly iron-clad definition has been established”, noting differing views in biological, medical, psychological, and social studies. But don’t think this recap means there’s nothing left to learn by reading the book. It’s full of interesting insight on how changing class and gender roles have played into historical constructions of heterosexuality.
7. The Boy in the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis
You have no idea how excited I was to find a Scandinavian mystery series not only written by women, but also featuring a woman protagonist. The Boy in the Suitcase tells the story of Nina Borg, a Red Cross nurse who’s almost compulsively driven to help the refugees who visit her clinic, yet struggles to connect to her own children and husband. Borg, who finds herself involved helping a boy who’s been trafficked, makes a compelling, complicated, tough, yet flawed heroine. In other words – she’s hard to pigeonhole into a stereotype. I would’ve liked more of her backstory but I’m keeping my fingers crossed there’ll be a sequel with more of that.
8. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
There’s almost nothing I can cram into this short space that will tell you anything you haven’t read in the paper or on another feminist blog. Suffice it to say I really enjoyed the plot and characters of The Hunger Games and I think Katniss is a kick-ass girl heroine. Wasn’t really impressed by the writing quality but I’ll take it over Twilight any day.
9. I’m Starved for You by Margaret Atwood
So this is technically more of a long short story or novella, but I’m including it anyway because it’s frigging Margaret Atwood! And it’s a dystopia! Sadly I found it lacked the connection of her previous dystopias to our present-day issues – I think it’s meant partly to be a critique of mega-prisons, but for me it lacked the same ability to get under my skin as Oryx and Crake or The Handmaid’s Tale. But it’s still entertaining and easily available in ebook format, so I suggest it be checked out.