25 Feminist Reads for the Holidays (and Beyond)

Much to our delight, countless new books pass through editors’ hands here at Ms. as we consider them for review. We’re often the first to know which buzzworthy feminist books are being published, or which feminist literary giants have taken to the pen again—and we pass along the news to you. Now that you probably have some downtime over the holiday season, you might want to curl up with some of these books that we loved this year …

FICTION

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieAmericanah

When Adichie was growing up in a town in Southeast Nigeria, she was inspired by Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe and the dignity he gave to Nigerian culture. It gave her the confidence to begin writing, and several decades later her novels about post-colonial Nigeria have garnered worldwide acclaim. Her third, Americanah, is half social commentary and half love story, following a young woman, Ifemelu, who decides to move back to Nigeria from the U.S. to be with an old flame. With the story split between Nigeria and the West, Adichie adroitly explores the complexities of racial politics unique to Africans abroad.

The Eternal Wonder by Pearl S. Buck

An unpublished manuscript by literary legend Pearl S. Buck was recovered by her son and is finally in print. Most famous for her epochal novel The Good Earth, Buck heavily influenced American perceptions of China and became the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. The Eternal Wonder is a coming-of-age story about a young American man and a young Chinese woman whose destinies become intertwined in Paris in the 1950s. The novel explores the themes of questioning identity often present in Buck’s work.

The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

The author of The Joy Luck Club, The Kitchen God’s Wife and The Hundred Secret Senses has come out with her first novel in eight years. The book harkens to The Joy Luck Club, being set in the gilded world of courtesans in turn-of-the-century Shanghai and following the lives of a mother-daughter pair. 

Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat

This novel follows the upheaval in a seaside Haitian village after a young girl goes missing right before her widowed father decides to give her away. As the town tries to solve her disappearance, painful secrets are unraveled among neighbors and friends.

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

The bestselling author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, has written a novel about how we love family and how the choices we make resonate through generations. In this tale, Hosseini explores the ways families nurture, betray and sacrifice for one another through 60 years of history in an Afghan family. 159463176X.01._PC_SCLZZZZZZZ_

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

An arresting debut from a Zimbabwe writer, this novel tells the tale of 10-year-old Darling, who leaves her village in Zimbabwe to live with her aunt in Michigan. Excited about the possibilities of this new land, Darling is quickly disillusioned as she comes to terms with the harsh realities of being an immigrant in America.

Honor by Elif Shafak

Shafak, one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary Turkish literature, tells a multi-generational story of twin sisters who grow up as two parts of a whole but then take drastically different paths in life. Both find it hard to move away from the devout, strict Islamic culture and code of honor that dictates the roles of men and women in their society.

See Now Then  by Jamaica Kincaid

With her first novel in nearly a decade, celebrated author Kincaid reveals a one-sided marriage in all its joys and agonies. Through the eyes of a mother, a father, a daughter and a son in New England, she shows how human consciousness constantly shifts between the present, past and future.

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kiddthe-invention-of-wings-sue-monk-kidd

From the author of The Secret Life of Bees comes the story of two women in early-19-century Charleston, S.C. Hetty is a 10-year-old urban slave for a wealthy family, Sarah the 11-year-old daughter of the family that “owns” her. The novel charts their lives together over the next 35 years as they shape each other’s sense of self and become pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements.

We Are Water by Wally Lamb

Male feminist Lamb’s novel is rooted in the upheaval of an already divided family after the matriarch, Annie Oh, decides to marry another woman, Viveca. Set in the first years of the Obama presidency, the book explores race and cultural inclusion as well as themes of family and childhood abuse.

The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier

A young Englishwoman starts a new life in 19th century Ohio and discovers the blatant hypocrisy of the values her community espouses and the slavery they condone. Soon, she’s drawn into the clandestine activities of the Underground Railroad, where she befriends two other powerfully defiant women. Chevalier, author Girl With a Pearl Earring, evokes the lost voices of a past American landscape.

Fear of Beauty by Susan FroetschelFear-of-Beauty

When the bloodied body of a boy is found at the bottom of a cliff in a remote Afghan village, a small community is nearly reduced to chaos. The boy’s illiterate mother is desperate to know the truth about her son’s death, but extremists occupy the village and place new restrictions on women. She defies her husband and the men of her village in her search for answers.

On Sal Mal Lane by Ru Freeman

In the years leading up to the Sri Lankan civil war, the children of Sal Mal Lane have their halcyon days of cricket matches and small rivalries overshadowed, as neighbors turn into killers and the conflagration of ethnic strife threatens to engulf them all.

NONFICTION

9780307594884_custom-0dcdff6ab29e5610ba7738f1a575cc05106862cb-s6-c30My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor

Rising from a Bronx housing project to a seat on the highest court of the land, the first Latino and third woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court transcended the burdens of her childhood with fierce determination, not knowing her tenacity would bring her to places she couldn’t have imagined.

Seriously!: Investigating Crashes and Crises as if Women Mattered by Cynthia Enloe

Renowned feminist writer and professor Enloe examines what it takes for women to be visible and taken “seriously” in domestic and international crises. Using case studies from the past decade—from the banking crash of 2008 to the Egyptian revolution to the earthquake in Haiti—she gives the feminist perspective of who was followed, who was ignored and why.

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by 17852076Malala Yousafzai

When the Taliban occupied the Swat Valley region of Pakistan and banned girls from attending school, one brave girl spoke out, demanding the right to an education. Few expected the 15-year-old girl to survive an assassination attempt, but her miraculous recovery became a symbol for how the right to education shouldn’t be denied anyone. With the help of foreign correspondent Christina Lamb, Malala tells the story of a family uprooted by terrorism, of the fight for girls’ education and of a father brave enough to cherish his daughter in a society that prizes sons.

 

Pink Sari Revolution: A Tale of Women and Power in the Badlands of India by Amana Fontanella-Khan

While the brutal gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old New Delhi woman drew global attention to the treatment of women in India, this book provides a counterpoint to the one-sided narrative of Indian women as victims. The author tells the story of the Pink Gang of more than 20,000 women who formed a vigilante group to fight for the rights of women, taking on rapists, abusive husbands and corrupt police.

The Cooked Seed: A Memoir by Anchee Min
Following the best-selling memoir about her life in China during the Cultural Revolution, Min now tells of her immigration to America. The road is hard, with no money, no plan and an inability to speak English—let alone having to work five jobs, marrying poorly and being raped.

Don’t Call Me Inspirational: A Disabled Feminist Talks Back by Harilyn Rousso

The author is a disability activist, feminist, psychotherapist, writer and painter, and in her memoir she describes with both humor and sincerity her progress from just “passing” to embracing her disability as a source of pride.

The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks by Jeanne Theoharis

This biography commemorates Parks as a lifelong activist, her participation in the social justice movement being much more than just one defiant act on a bus. Rather, this radical woman fought to make change in the arenas of work, public services, schools and criminal justice.

Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive by Julia Serano

In this collection of essays, Serano explores discrimination against sub-groups in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, focusing on her own experiences as a bisexual, femme-tomboy, transgender woman.

9780465002153_p0_v1_s260x420-1The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture Is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled and Confused About Intimacy by Donna Freitas

Although hook-up culture dominates the lives of many college students, sex with no consequences may not be all it’s cracked up to be. Using personal interviews, Freitas details the boredom and loneliness that comes along with the sexual pressures faced by many students, and suggests that there’s a healthy path between premarital abstinence and unfettered sexuality.

Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou

Even though Angelou’s remarkable life has been told in her many autobiographies, here she shares her deepest personal story: her tumultuous relationship with her mother, exploring the feelings of abandonment and reconciliation she felt.

Looking for Leroy: Illegible Black Masculinities by Mark Anthony Neal

Neal shows how heteronormative assumptions place phenomenal pressure on black males. He explores how the definition of a black man can come to encompass more than tired tropes and how the perpetuation of these tropes continues to limit and neutralize the potential of black men in the U.S. Neal is a professor of African American Studies at Duke and the author of several acclaimed books on black masculinity.

The Feminist Porn Book by Tristan Taormino

This collection of writings by feminist porn producers and feminist porn scholars is thought-provoking, to say the least. By reclaiming porn, feminists hope to use it as vehicle of expression to recast gender and dominance in our society.

 

bb1024300f3f36990f74fab87c359471Anita Little is the associate editor at Ms. magazine. Follow her on Twitter.

 

 

Comments

  1. Susan Hirtz says:

    I’d like to recommend The Cooked Seed by Anchee Min. This book has literally changed my life by relating her struggles as an immigrant with American life and poverty. She spoke no English when she emigrated and did what she had to do to get to the U.S. Now she is the successful author of multiple bestsellers and a role model for all women writers.

  2. Anya de Marie says:

    I am really surprised your list doesn’t include Judy Grahn’s memoir, A Simple Revolution: The Making of an Activist Poet. As the cofounder of the Gay Women’s Liberation and an instrumental poet in the feminist movement, her memoir is invaluable gay and women’s history. She speaks about so much of the cultural and political projects which they were addressing but that we never hear about to learn from.

    http://store.auntlute.com/LGBT/A-Simple-Revolution-p237.html

  3. Ah….shared this immediately. Great good cheer for all Ms. workers, and readers.

  4. Great picks. A number of these crossed my path this year and I thought, I hope Ms. covers those… (especially the Mark Anthony Neal and the NoViolet Bulawayo!) But do you really recommend The End of Sex? I just assumed it was yet another in the long trend of fearmongering about college students hooking up, as though hookups haven’t been happening since the dawn of college…

  5. Aside from The End of Sex I really enjoyed this list and am spending more than I should on these books.
    I found the End of Sex to be well the end of sex, it was sex negative and right-wing moralism all over again. I’ve had plenty of that. I would replace that with The Ethical Slut.

  6. …why is there a fear-mongering, sex-negative collection of conservative tripe on this list?

  7. Hi! I could have sworn I’ve been to this site before but after going through
    some of the posts I realized it’s new to me.
    Nonetheless, I’m certainly pleased I came across it and I’ll be book-marking it and checking back regularly!

  8. Radical Feminist says:

    ‘Male feminist’ this is an oxymoron. Men cannot be feminists. Feminism is the women’s movement. They can AT BEST be allies but in my opinion male allies are like unicorns.

  9. Radical Feminist says:

    ‘Feminist porn’ another oxymoron. The graphic filmed torture and rape of women cannot be considered feminist in any sense of the word and Serrano is extremely misogynist, homophobic and anti women’s rights just like the malestream trans cult.

  10. Wally Lamb might be a male feminist but so far I’m not seeing anything feminist about “We Are Water.” It’s also painfully bad to read. I’m half way through reading it for my book club and am going to have to force myself to read the rest of it.

  11. Well, I slogged through the rest of Lamb’s book. Still don’t see how it’s feminist. I wrote more on my blog

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