So what if I cheated on my Goodreads book challenge and included two books I teach every year so I could meet my goal? Let’s face it, 2017 was rough. I said the same thing when I wrote about my top 10 reads of 2016 and I thought it couldn’t get any worse, but here we are! In an attempt to support women (and specifically women of color) this year as we were dragged through the trenches of horrific sexual assault stories, the ever-growing number of rape threats by online trolls, and Republicans who still think they deserve control over our bodies, I bought a lot of books by kickass ladies. Here is a short list of my favorites- mostly non-fiction with a little fiction and poetry thrown in the mix. I highly recommend each and every one. May the voices of these powerful women continue to be heard and open the door for even more unheard and underrepresented voices in 2018.
10. So Sad Today by Melissa Broder
“I know I have an ocean of sadness inside me and I have been damming it my entire life. I always imagined that something was supposed to rescue me from the ocean. But maybe the ocean is its own ultimate rescue- a reprieve from the linear mind and into the world of feeling.”
Melissa Broder who runs the famous So Sad Today Twitter, slices herself wide open, leaving nothing a secret in this collection of personal essays. Her writing style is unique to say the least. While some of the essays in So Sad Today are written in Q and A or conversational form about her sex life or her obsession with the internet, others are full of beautiful prose that somehow manages to put the complicated emotions of anxiety and depression into the perfect words. Broder is not afraid to write in detail on topics others tip toe around and as a result, this book is different, in a powerful way.
9. Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth by Warsan Shire
(From “In Love and In War”) “To my daughter I will say, / ‘when the men come, set yourself on fire’.”
When I found out Warsan Shire was the poet behind the words in Beyonce’s Lemonade film, I told myself to stop procrastinating on reading her work. Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth is a masterfully written little book of poetry- the perfect mixture of personal experience and shared experiences. Shire writes most about women and violence, always finding the boldest ways to link the two and turn them into flawless poetry. In addition to being a brilliant artist, Shire is also a dedicated activist. Her words are a must.
8. You’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein
“Women have problem areas in a way that men don’t. We have big hips and muffin tops. Men just have the thing where they create wars and wreak havoc all over the globe.”
Comedian Jessi Klein finds humor in otherwise mundane topics in this refreshingly funny memoir. Klein writes stories about growing up, dating, and giving birth for example, that are full of hilarious detail. You’ll Grow Out of It doubles as an easy read and a pick-me-up with essays like “Dale,” Klein’s story of almost sleeping with a Disney character at her sister’s Disney World wedding and “All the Cakes,” an honest and highly entertaining recount of seeking revenge on an ex-boyfriend. Where other comedic memoirs fall short, You’ll Grow Out of It succeeds.
7. Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
“This is the catastrophic consequence of likeability. We have a world full of women who are unable to exhale fully because they have for so long been conditioned to fold themselves into shapes to make themselves likeable.”
In Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie takes each and every topic feminism aims to address and change and sums it up in simple, yet bold words. This book is written as a letter in response to the author’s friend who asks her advice on how to raise her daughter as a feminist. Adichie offers thoughtful suggestions that I intend to follow when I have children. Though her ideas seem simple (i.e. not forcing gender norms on your child, teaching them about differences early on so they will understand that being different is good) if everyone followed them, the world would see a radical change.
6. Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
“I know now that what is tragic isn’t the moment. It is the memory.”
It’s no secret that Jacqueline Woodson writes some of the most stunning prose on bookshelves today. Another Brooklyn is no exception. The book takes readers back to 1970s Brooklyn, delving into the experiences of four best friends, their bond, their families, and their tragedies. Through the narrator, August, Woodson navigates what it means to be a black girl growing up in a specific time and place, navigating sexuality, facing loss, and finding hope in friendship. Woodson brings such depth to short prose that her writing style is addictive, making you want to constantly re-read and go back for more.
5. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
“At an early age I learned that people make mistakes, and you have to decide if their mistakes are bigger than your love for them.”
I can’t say enough good things about The Hate U Give. This young adult novel is so much more than a gripping, well written story. It affords a firsthand experience of black life lost at the hands of police brutality through Starr Carter, the brilliant, dynamic sixteen year old narrator who is in the car with her best friend Khalil when he is fatally shot by a police officer. Angie Thomas, winner of two Goodreads Choice Awards for her debut novel, has written a book that (hopefully) opens the eyes of white readers who still deny the existence of racism and police brutality and gives young black readers a chance to finally see themselves and the issues which constantly affect them in what they’re reading. If you’re a teacher, I beg you: please, put this book in your classroom library and stop forcing students of color to read the overrated “classics” written by white men about white men. Let them read this important, relevant novel instead.
4. All the Lives I Want by Alana Massey
“But the artifacts and gestures of our time together were hollow things shaped like love, their true emotional bankruptcy revealed by touch rather than by sight.”
Alana Massey intricately weaves information, analysis, and personal experience throughout the entirety of All the Lives I Want. Through the essays in this book, Massey explores figures in pop culture and literature, diving deeper and deeper into their lives until exquisite meaning is made. I found myself enthralled by the author’s personal essays such as “Run the World” which details her time as a stripper, as well as her essays focused on famous women like “The Queen of Hearts” which analyzes the life and times of singer-songwriter Courtney Love and the ways which she has been portrayed and perceived. Massey’s style proves to be quite alluring, making All the Lives I Want a unique read in the best way.
3. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
“I believe in the resistance as I believe there can be no light without a shadow; or rather, no shadow unless there is also light.”
Just like every other female in the country, I watched The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu this year and just like almost every other female in the country, I read the book shortly after the first season ended. Margaret Atwood’s brilliant novel paints the horrifying picture of a world that on a bad day, honestly doesn’t seem too far off from what we’re living in today. Offred and the other handmaids’ stories are fictional, sure, but aren’t they aligned in many ways with the stories of countless women in the real world? Though her story is acted out masterfully in the television series, it’s Atwood’s words, her haunting prose, that truly make this story what it is: a terrifying masterpiece about women and oppression and the importance of resistance.
2. Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
“She was smart enough to want more but tired enough to accept the way things were.”
I’m always eager to read anything and everything Roxane Gay produces. This year she gifted us with both Hunger and Difficult Women, and though I enjoyed Hunger, Difficult Women took storytelling to a whole new level with narratives that knocked the wind out of me. These 21 short stories are beautiful and traumatic all the same. Gay tells gritty stories gracefully, namely “La Negra Blanca” on a half-black stripper stalked by a repulsive white man and “Break All the Way Down” about a woman who seeks an abusive partner while coping with the death of her child- an attempt to “use one hurt to cover another.” This collection is haunting in a sense that I will never forget the stories, and I never want to.
1. The Wrong Way to Save Your Life by Megan Stielstra
“…so much wonder and fear in my head and my heart and God, what a relief to get it out of me, to read what I think and see what I say. You can’t fix it if you can’t see it.”
I’ll put it this way: it took me an hour to decide what quote to use from this book because if I could, I would quote the entire thing. The Wrong Way to Save Your Life is a work of art, each word intricately woven into a sentence intricately woven into an essay intricately woven into a book. Megan Stielstra writes in a style that makes you want to swallow her words whole and keep them forever. I devoured this book quicker than any other this year because of the beauty in her storytelling and the grace with which she navigates her feelings of fear, often through captivating extended metaphors. Read it. And then read it again. You will not be dissapointed.