Bookmarks: Feminist Reads for Winter

Riot Days by Maria Alyokhina

After Pussy Riot’s widely publicized “Punk Prayer” performance at Moscow’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral, in which the radical all- woman rock group slammed the church for supporting Vladimir Putin, band members Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were imprisoned for “hooliganism.” in fragmented, diary-like prose, Alyokhina describes preparations for their daring anti-Kremlin protest: band members cutting holes into balaclavas to make the infamous Pussy riot masks, rehearsals in an old factory. But mostly she writes of her dehumanizing two years in a penal colony, with five months in solitary confinement. in this provocative memoir, she continues Pussy riot’s fearless, middle-finger defiance of the Russian patriarchy.

The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror by Mallory Ortberg

The short stories in this collection are based on folktales and children’s fairy tales, but they’re dark, twisted and (with their feminist perspectives) a far cry from Hans Christian Andersen: no flawless princesses and happy endings here. Ortberg writes of a murderous mermaid, a Cinderella named Paul, a sociopathic version of the Velveteen Rabbit and more. Merry Spinster is just the ticket for those who want bedtime reading that comes with a bite of subversive fun.

Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Brittney Cooper

Cooper, a fiery intellectual, dismantles the “angry black woman” trope to celebrate the power of rage. She critiques mainstream feminism and the racism of white women, the militarized surveillance of black communities and patriarchal family structures, and argues that black women are left to do the hard work of preserving U.S. democracy, a job for which they are uniquely qualified. Her ardent book reminds us that what you build is infinitely more important than what you tear down—and that rage makes great mortar.

Jefferson’s Daughters: Three Sisters, White and Black in a Young America by Catherine Kerrison

A professor of women’s and early-U.S. history exposes the long-veiled stories of Thomas Jefferson’s daughters, two born to his wife, Martha, and one by his slave, Sally Hemings, who was Martha’s half-sister. Kerrison reiterates the hard realities of slavery but also shows the tangled path faced by freed black women and the flipside of white privilege as endured by females of the time. She documents the sisters’ resilience through newly discovered letters, interviews with Sally Hemings’ descendants and contemporaneous accounts by people acquainted with the “situation” at Monticello.

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser

This no-holds-barred biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the iconic, semi-autobiographical Little House on the Prairie series, uncovers the writer’s real childhood—one she withheld from the pages of her novels. this look at her arduous Great Plains up-bringing describes a harsh land, violent interactions between settlers and native Americans, and the Ingalls’ poverty and rootlessness. Wilder’s adulthood was just as tumultuous, full of grief, controversy, fame and wealth. She lived to be 90, and Fraser illuminates each of those eventful years.

Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao

Poornima and Savitha are two hopeful girls growing up in Indravalli, a village in southern India. when Savitha, who scavenges for garbage, appears outside Poornima’s father’s textile workshop, she’s taken in, and the two form a nurturing bond. Together they work the clacking looms, cook potato curry and walk the banks of the Krishna river, sharing stories and dreams. When tragedy rips Savitha from Indravalli, landing her in Seattle, Poornima embarks on a journey to rescue her friend. Rao layers her debut novel with issues that face many young women worldwide, from street harassment and domestic abuse to oppressive societal norms.

This piece appears in the Winter issue of Ms. Become a Ms. member today to support our fearless journalism and read more like it in print!

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