Five modern classics by Canadian authors

It’s July! When I think of July, I think of two things, Canada Day (because I’m Canadian) and Disability Pride Month.

For this month, I’ll be sharing a book lists both about Canada and about Disability Justice.


Canada has a decent history of supporting local artists.

As far back as the 1930’s, the regulators placed a limit on the amount of foreign programs allowed to be broadcasted. Currently all broadcasters (i.e., radio and TV) must produce and broadcast a certain percentage of Canadian content.

Canada also has many Canadian-specific awards, such as the Junos for music and the Giller Prize and Governor General’s Literary Award for Canadian books.

Also, the Canadian Council for the Arts provides opportunities, funding, and other initiatives to support artists across Canada.

I’m sure that the funding and opportunities haven’t always been so inclusive and inviting. But I love to see our government supporting artists, especially artists from all walks of life and all ethnicities.

Living next to the USA, Canadians often get grouped together with Americans. Sometimes it can feel like we get overshadowed by Americans, that’s why we like to specifically focus on Canadians.

In honour of Canada Day, I wanted to share some modern classics from Canadian authors.

Photo by Ali Tawfiq on Unsplash

Five modern classics by Canadian authors

Here’s a list of five books considered modern classics from Canadian authors.

  1. Fifth Business by Robertson Davies (1970)
  2. The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields (1993)
  3. Green Grass, Running Water by Thomas King (1993)
  4. Book of Longing by Leonard Cohen (2006)
  5. Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese (2012)

Keep reading to find out more about each one. I’ve listed them in order of when they were published.

Fifth Business (1970)

by Robertson Davies

  • Year Published: 1970
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, historical, reflective, slow-paced
  • First installment of the Deptford Trilogy

Ramsay is a man twice born, a man who has returned from the hell of the battle-grave at Passchendaele in World War I decorated with the Victoria Cross and destined to be caught in a no man’s land where memory, history, and myth collide. As Ramsay tells his story, it begins to seem that from boyhood, he has exerted a perhaps mystical, perhaps pernicious, influence on those around him. His apparently innocent involvement in such innocuous events as the throwing of a snowball or the teaching of card tricks to a small boy in the end prove neither innocent nor innocuous. Fifth Business stands alone as a remarkable story told by a rational man who discovers that the marvelous is only another aspect of the real.

Links:

The Stone Diaries (1993)

by Carol Shields

  • Year Published: 1993
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, historical, literary, reflective, slow-paced
  • Won the 1993 Governor General’s Award for English language fiction in Canada and the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in the United States (Shields is an American-born Canadian, this is the only novel to ever win both awards)
  • Also received the National Book Critics Circle Award and was nominated for the Booker Prize

The Stone Diaries is one ordinary woman’s story of her journey through life. Born in 1905, Daisy Stone Goodwill drifts through the roles of child, wife, widow, and mother, and finally into her old age. Bewildered by her inability to understand her place in her own life, Daisy attempts to find a way to tell her story within a novel that is itself about the limitations of autobiography. Her life is vivid with incident, and yet she feels a sense of powerlessness. She listens, she observes, and through sheer force of imagination she becomes a witness of her own life: her birth, her death, and the troubling missed connections she discovers between. Daisy’s struggle to find a place for herself in her own life is a paradigm of the unsettled decades of our era. A witty and compassionate anatomist of the human heart, Carol Shields has made distinctively her own that place where the domestic collides with the elemental. With irony and humor she weaves the strands of The Stone Diaries together in this, her richest and most poignant novel to date.

Links:

Green Grass, Running Water (1993)

by Thomas King

  • Year Published: 1993
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, fantasy, magical realism, adventurous, funny, reflective, medium-paced
  • Finalist for the 1993 Governor General’s Award in Fiction

Strong, Sassy women and hard-luck hardheaded men, all searching for the middle ground between Native American tradition and the modern world, perform an elaborate dance of approach and avoidance in this magical, rollicking tale by Cherokee author Thomas King. Alberta is a university professor who would like to trade her two boyfriends for a baby but no husband; Lionel is forty and still sells televisions for a patronizing boss; Eli and his log cabin stand in the way of a profitable dam project. These three–and others–are coming to the Blackfoot reservation for the Sun Dance and there they will encounter four Indian elders and their companion, the trickster Coyote–and nothing in the small town of Blossom will be the same again…

Links:

Book of Longing (2006)

by Leonard Cohen

  • Year Published: 2006
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, music, poetry, emotional, reflective, slow-paced

A limited edition, one-time printing of Leonard Cohen’s best and most iconic book of poems

Book of Longing has exceptional range. It is clear yet steamy, cosmic yet private, both playful and profound.” —New York Times

Leonard Cohen wrote the poems in Book of Longing—his first book of poetry in more than twenty years after 1984’s Book of Mercy—during his five-year stay at a Zen monastery on Southern California’s Mount Baldy, and in Los Angeles, Montreal, and Mumbai. This dazzling collection is enhanced by the author’s playful and provocative drawings, which interact in exciting, unexpected ways on the page with poetry that is timeless, meditative, and often darkly humorous.

An international sensation, Book of Longing contains all the elements that have brought Cohen’s artistry with language worldwide recognition.

Links:

Indian Horse (2012)

by Richard Wagamese

  • Year Published: 2012
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, historical, challenging, emotional, sad, medium-paced
  • Won the 2013 Burt Award for First Nations, Métis and Inuit Literature
  • A film adaptation premiered at the 2017 TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival)

Saul Indian Horse has hit bottom. His last binge almost killed him, and now he’s a reluctant resident in a treatment centre for alcoholics, surrounded by people he’s sure will never understand him. But Saul wants peace, and he grudgingly comes to see that he’ll find it only through telling his story. With him, readers embark on a journey back through the life he’s led as a northern Ojibway, with all its joys and sorrows.

With compassion and insight, author Richard Wagamese traces through his fictional characters the decline of a culture and a cultural way. For Saul, taken forcibly from the land and his family when he’s sent to residential school, salvation comes for a while through his incredible gifts as a hockey player. But in the harsh realities of 1960s Canada, he battles obdurate racism and the spirit-destroying effects of cultural alienation and displacement. Indian Horse unfolds against the bleak loveliness of northern Ontario, all rock, marsh, bog and cedar. Wagamese writes with a spare beauty, penetrating the heart of a remarkable Ojibway man.

Links:

Final thoughts

I hope you found something of interest in this list of books.

I’m always looking for more suggestions of books to read. I’d love to know which books you love or that you would recommend. Let me know in a comment below!

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.

Classics to read for Pride Month

It’s Pride Month! In honour of celebrating Pride Month, I’ll be sharing some LGBTQIA2S+ book recommendations. Keep checking in each week for more recommendations.


Are you tired of reading classics by boring old white men? Here’s your chance to read some queer friendly classics!

Even though most classics represent heteronormative relationships, there have always been people who exist outside those norms. There’s a small portion of classics that represent people within the LGBTQIA2S+ community and I think it’s important to highlight them.

Everyone deserves to see themselves in the books they read.

It’s unfortunate that there aren’t more classics with a range of sexualities portrayed, but sadly, it’s not surprising. Especially since homosexuality has been illegal, and remains illegal in many countries around the world (source).

However, it does make me think about the many works of art that have been lost to history due to society’s limited acceptance of people.

With all the barriers authors faced to get these types of novels published, I think it makes the ones that do exist that much more valuable.

Photo by Robert Anasch on Unsplash

Five classic LGBTQIA2S+ books

Here’s a list of five classic books that represent some aspect of the LGBTQIA2S+ community.

  1. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1890)
  2. Orlando by Virginia Woolf (1928)
  3. Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin (1956)
  4. Maurice by E.M. Forster (1971)
  5. The Color Purple by Alice Walker (1982)

Keep reading to find out more about each one. I’ve listed them in order of when they were published.

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890)

by Oscar Wilde

  • Year Published: 1890
  • Storygraph Categories: fiction, classics, horror, lgbtqia+, literary, dark, mysterious, reflective, medium-paced
  • Oscar Wilde’s only novel

Summary:

In this celebrated work Wilde forged a devastating portrait of the effects of evil and debauchery on a young aesthete in late-19th-century England. Combining elements of the Gothic horror novel and decadent French fiction, the book centers on a striking premise: As Dorian Gray sinks into a life of crime and gross sensuality, his body retains perfect youth and vigor while his recently painted portrait grows day by day into a hideous record of evil, which he must keep hidden from the world. For over a century, this mesmerizing tale of horror and suspense has enjoyed wide popularity. It ranks as one of Wilde’s most important creations and among the classic achievements of its kind.

Links:

Orlando (1928)

by Virginia Woolf

  • Year Published: 1928
  • Storygraph Categories: fiction, classics, lgbtqia+, literary, magical realism, challenging, reflective, slow-paced
  • Considered a feminist classic

Summary:

As his tale begins, Orlando is a passionate young nobleman whose days are spent in rowdy revelry, filled with the colourful delights of Queen Elizabeth’s court. By the close, he will have transformed into a modern, 36-year-old woman and three centuries will have passed. Orlando will not only witness the making of history from its edge, but will find that his unique position as a woman who knows what it is to be a man will give him insight into matters of the heart.

Links:

Giovanni’s Room (1956)

by James Baldwin

  • Year Published: 1956
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, lgbtqia+, literary, emotional, reflective, sad, medium-paced
  • Considered a classic of gay literature, and helped foster discussions of homosexuality and bisexuality in mainstream readers

Summary:

Baldwin’s haunting and controversial second novel is his most sustained treatment of sexuality, and a classic of gay literature. In a 1950s Paris swarming with expatriates and characterized by dangerous liaisons and hidden violence, an American finds himself unable to repress his impulses, despite his determination to live the conventional life he envisions for himself. After meeting and proposing to a young woman, he falls into a lengthy affair with an Italian bartender and is confounded and tortured by his sexual identity as he oscillates between the two.

Examining the mystery of love and passion in an intensely imagined narrative, Baldwin creates a moving and complex story of death and desire that is revelatory in its insight.

Links:

Maurice (1971)

by E.M. Forster

  • Year Published: 1971 (written in 1914)
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, lgbtqia+, literary, emotional, reflective, medium-paced
  • Forster wrote the book in 1914 but wouldn’t let it be published until after his death.

Summary:

Maurice is heartbroken over unrequited love, which opened his heart and mind to his own sexual identity. In order to be true to himself, he goes against the grain of society’s often unspoken rules of class, wealth, and politics.

Forster understood that his homage to same-sex love, if published when he completed it in 1914, would probably end his career. Thus, Maurice languished in a drawer for fifty-seven years, the author requesting it be published only after his death (along with his stories about homosexuality later collected in The Life to Come).

Since its release in 1971, Maurice has been widely read and praised. It has been, and continues to be, adapted for major stage productions, including the 1987 Oscar-nominated film adaptation starring Hugh Grant and James Wilby.

Links:

The Color Purple (1982)

by Alice Walker

  • Year Published: 1982
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, historical, lgbtqia+, literary, emotional, reflective, slow-paced
  • Importance: Winner of the 1983 Pulitzer Prize (making Walker the first black woman to win the prize)

Summary:

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Alice Walker’s iconic modern classic is now a Penguin Book.

A powerful cultural touchstone of modern American literature, The Color Purple depicts the lives of African American women in early twentieth-century rural Georgia. Separated as girls, sisters Celie and Nettie sustain their loyalty to and hope in each other across time, distance and silence. Through a series of letters spanning twenty years, first from Celie to God, then the sisters to each other despite the unknown, the novel draws readers into its rich and memorable portrayals of Celie, Nettie, Shug Avery and Sofia and their experience.

The Color Purple broke the silence around domestic and sexual abuse, narrating the lives of women through their pain and struggle, companionship and growth, resilience and bravery. Deeply compassionate and beautifully imagined, Alice Walker’s epic carries readers on a spirit-affirming journey towards redemption and love.

Links:

Final thoughts

I’ve only listed five books here, so it’s only a small portion of the classics available. But hopefully something caught your eye.

I’m always looking for more suggestions of books to read. If you have a favourite classic that represents part of the LGBTQIA2S+ community, please feel free to share it in a comment below!

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of the book?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.

Five modern classics: Feminist fiction books from the 1970’s until now

As April is Women’s History Month, I’ll be sharing book lists with a focus on books considered classic feminist texts and other books by women authors.


Are you interested in reading fiction books that shaped literature and how women were perceived?

Here are five fiction books considered modern classic feminist fiction from the 1970’s until recently. A lot of books have been published in that time, so this is just a small selection of books.

All of these books have had a significant impact on literature and the way women have been perceived. I’ve listed them in order of when they were published.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Five modern feminist fictional books

Here’s a list of five fiction books considered to be modern feminist classics.

  1. The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter (1979)
  2. Kindred by Octavia Butler (1979)
  3. The Color Purple by Alice Walker (1982)
  4. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985)
  5. Kim Jiyoung, born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo (2016)

Keep reading to find out more about each one.

1. The Bloody Chamber (1979)

by Angela Carter

  • Year Published: 1979
  • Storygraph Categories: fiction, magical realism, short stories, dark, mysterious, medium-paced
  • Importance:
    One of the first feminist retellings of fairy tales

This is a collection of ten stories that are some kind of retelling or are based on fairytales or folk tales. As Carter stated: “My intention was not to do ‘versions’ or, as the American edition of the book said, horribly, ‘adult’ fairy tales, but to extract the latent content from the traditional stories.”

In general, the stories challenge the representation of women in fairy tales and was considered one of the first feminist retellings of fairy tales.

The stories vary in length, and the novelette which inspired the title, “The Bloody Chamber” is significantly longer than the rest. It won the Cheltenham Festival Literary Prize in 1979, the first year of the prize.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Angela Carter was a storytelling sorceress, the literary godmother of Neil Gaiman, David Mitchell, Audrey Niffenegger, J. K. Rowling, Kelly Link, and other contemporary masters of supernatural fiction. In her masterpiece, The Bloody Chamber—which includes the story that is the basis of Neil Jordan’s 1984 movie The Company of Wolves—she spins subversively dark and sensual versions of familiar fairy tales and legends like “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Bluebeard,” “Puss in Boots,” and “Beauty and the Beast,” giving them exhilarating new life in a style steeped in the romantic trappings of the gothic tradition.

Links:

2. Kindred (1979)

by Octavia Butler

  • Year Published: 1979
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, historical, speculative fiction, dark, emotional, tense, medium-paced
  • Importance:
    Science fiction that centers Black characters

Octavia Butler was one of the most influential Black Women authors in Science Fiction. She grew up loving science fiction and set out to write books that she could see herself in and is often considered to cross genre boundaries.

In Kindred, it combines time travel with slave narratives. The story focuses on two interracial couples, and explores how issues of power, gender, and race intersect.

In an interview about the novel in 2004, Butler said, she “set out to make people feel history.”

Summary (from Goodreads):

The first science fiction written by a black woman, Kindred  has become a cornerstone of black American literature. This combination of slave memoir, fantasy, and historical fiction is a novel of rich literary complexity. Having just celebrated her 26th birthday in 1976 California, Dana, an African-American woman, is suddenly and inexplicably wrenched through time into antebellum Maryland. After saving a drowning white boy there, she finds herself staring into the barrel of a shotgun and is transported back to the present just in time to save her life. During numerous such time-defying episodes with the same young man, she realizes the challenge she’s been given…

Links:

3. The Color Purple (1982)

by Alice Walker

  • Year Published: 1982
  • Storygraph Categories:
  • fiction, classics, historical, lgbtqia+, literary, emotional, reflective, slow-paced
  • Importance:
    Winner of the 1983 Pulitzer Prize (making Walker the first black woman to win the prize)

The Color Purple won both the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Fiction. It was also on the BBC News’ list of the 100 most influential novels.

However, the novel has also frequently been thee target of censors or book challenges, as it appears at #17 on the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2000-2010. It’s usually challenged due to explicit content, specifically in terms of its depiction of violence.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Alice Walker’s iconic modern classic is now a Penguin Book.

A powerful cultural touchstone of modern American literature, The Color Purple depicts the lives of African American women in early twentieth-century rural Georgia. Separated as girls, sisters Celie and Nettie sustain their loyalty to and hope in each other across time, distance and silence. Through a series of letters spanning twenty years, first from Celie to God, then the sisters to each other despite the unknown, the novel draws readers into its rich and memorable portrayals of Celie, Nettie, Shug Avery and Sofia and their experience.

The Color Purple broke the silence around domestic and sexual abuse, narrating the lives of women through their pain and struggle, companionship and growth, resilience and bravery. Deeply compassionate and beautifully imagined, Alice Walker’s epic carries readers on a spirit-affirming journey towards redemption and love.

Links:

4. The Handmaid’s Tale (1985)

by Margaret Atwood

  • Year Published: 1985
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, dystopian, literary, dark, reflective, tense, medium-paced
  • Importance:
    Classic feminist dystopian novel

The Handmaid’s Tale is considered a feminist dystopian novel and is notable for sparking intense debate.

The novel is considered a feminist dystopian novel because it explores themes of how women are subjugated, especially their lost of agency, individuality and reproductive rights.

Atwood used history as inspiration as all scenarios portrayed within the novel have actually occurred in real life. In an interview Atwood stated, “…I didn’t put in anything that we haven’t already done, we’re not already doing, we’re seriously trying to do, coupled with trends that are already in progress… So all of those things are real, and therefore the amount of pure invention is close to nil.” The overlap with reality makes the novel that much more impactful and scary.

In 1985, the novel won the Governor General’s Award in Canada, along with the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1987. It has also been nominated for a handful of other awards: the Nebula Award in 1986, the Booker Prize in 1986, and the Prometheus Award in 1987.

However, it has been criticized as “white feminism” for both the treatment of marginalized communities in the book (basically ”doing away with them” in a few lines and removing them from the conversation), while also primarily borrowing from the lived experiences of those communities but applying it to white women. A lot of the reproductive and human rights exploitation highlighted in the novel came from how Black and Indigenous women were treated in the past.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now . . .

Funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing, The Handmaid’s Tale is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and tour de force.

Links:

5. Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 (2016)

by Cho Nam-Joo

  • Year Published: 2016
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, contemporary, literary, emotional, informative, reflective, medium-paced
  • Importance:
    Highlights everyday sexism in Korea

This is the most recent of the five novels, but it’s notable for how it depicts sexism in Korea and the recent impact it has had on sparking discussion around women’s experiences.

Even though it’s a fictional novel, all the main character’s experiences are based on statistics and research done by the author (with footnotes and references to back it up).

The novel focuses on sexism experienced throughout everyday life, the constant and pervasive sexism.

The author, Cho Nam-Joo, said that she intended to “make this into a public debate.”

“I thought of Kim Jiyoung’s character as a vessel that contains experiences and emotions that are common to every Korean woman.”

Cho Nam-Joo

In 2020, the novel was longlisted for both the U.S. National Book Award for Translated Literature and the French Emile Guimet Prize for Asian Literature.

Summary (from Storygraph):

One of the most notable novels of the year, hailed by both critics and K-pop stars alike, Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 follows one woman’s psychic deterioration in the face of rampant misogyny. In a tidy apartment on the outskirts of Seoul, millennial “everywoman” Kim Jiyoung spends her days caring for her infant daughter. But strange symptoms appear: Jiyoung begins to impersonate the voices of other women, dead and alive. As she plunges deeper into this psychosis, her concerned husband sends her to a psychiatrist. Jiyoung narrates her story to this doctor—from her birth to parents who expected a son to elementary school teachers who policed girls’ outfits to male coworkers who installed hidden cameras in women’s restrooms. But can her psychiatrist cure her, or even discover what truly ails her?

Links:


Have you read any of these books? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the book in a comment below?

Final thoughts

I know this is such a small selection of books, and it’s clearly not representative of all feminist fiction in the past 50 ish years. Though, I did try and provide a range of novels both in genre and authors.

Each one of these is so distinct and I like how each book has it’s own way of sparking conversation and provoking debate. I believe each of these will leave a strong impression on you and give you lots to think about. However you feel about these books, you’ll likely have an opinion about it and something to say.

I think some of the best books help inspire both questions and conversation. If it can make you reconsider aspects of reality or get you talking to others about big topics, I think that’s powerful.

Do you have a favourite feminist fictional book? I’d love you to share it in a comment below.

Five modern classics: Nonfiction feminist texts from the 1980’s and 90’s

As April is Women’s History Month, I’ll be sharing book lists with a focus on books considered classic feminist texts and other books by women authors.

Are you interested in learning more about the history of women’s movements and gaining tools to think critically about how society is shaped by the patriarchy?

Here are five nonfiction books considered classic feminist texts from the 80’s and 90’s. They each had a considerable impact on the women’s movement and continued to be both relevant and heavily studied. I’ve listed them in order of when they were published.

It’s important to note that these books are primarily focused on the women’s movements in Western societies (including North America and the UK).

Also, I’m always looking to diversify my reading. If you have any suggestions that discuss women’s rights and movements from other parts of the world, please share them below!

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

Five modern classics: Feminist nonfiction

Here’s a list of five modern classic books with a focus on feminist nonfiction.

  1. Women, Race & Class by Angela Davis (1981)
  2. Ain’t I a Woman by bell hooks (1981)
  3. Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde (1984)
  4. The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf (1990)
  5. Backlash by Susan Faludi (1991)

Keep reading to find out more about each one.

1. Women, Race & Class (1981)

by Angela Y. Class

  • Year Published: 1981
  • Storygraph Categories:
    nonfiction, feminism, history, politics, race, sociology, challenging, informative, medium-paced
  • Importance:
    One of the first intersectional analyses of gender, race and class

This book discusses the interaction of gender, race and class, with an emphasis on the experiences of Black Women.

It clarifies aspects of US history that you may not have heard about, spanning the time period from the slave trade to modern women’s rights movements.

This book radically shifted how I understood the history of the women’s movements, especially the suffragette movement. I feel like it gave me so much more nuance to the history.

Summary (from Goodreads):

From one of our most important scholars and civil rights activist icon, a powerful study of the women’s liberation movement and the tangled knot of oppression facing Black women.

“Angela Davis is herself a woman of undeniable courage. She should be heard.” —The New York Times

Angela Davis provides a powerful history of the social and political influence of whiteness and elitism in feminism, from abolitionist days to the present, and demonstrates how the racist and classist biases of its leaders inevitably hampered any collective ambitions. While Black women were aided by some activists like Sarah and Angelina Grimke and the suffrage cause found unwavering support in Frederick Douglass, many women played on the fears of white supremacists for political gain rather than take an intersectional approach to liberation. Here, Davis not only contextualizes the legacy and pitfalls of civil and women’s rights activists, but also discusses Communist women, the murder of Emmitt Till, and Margaret Sanger’s racism. Davis shows readers how the inequalities between Black and white women influence the contemporary issues of rape, reproductive freedom, housework and child care in this bold and indispensable work.

Links:

2. Ain’t I A Woman: Black Women and Feminism (1981)

by bell hooks

  • Year Published: 1981
  • Storygraph Categories:
    nonfiction, feminism, history, race, challenging, informative, inspiring, slow-paced
  • Importance:
    Highly influential in feminist theory

In this book, bell hooks discusses how stereotypes from slavery are still very influential in today’s world.

bell hooks is considered a feminist theory scholar, and this book has been considered groundbreaking in feminist theory as it discussed the longterm impacts from slavery that are still felt today.

This book has no footnotes in it. bell hooks said it was to make it more accessible and less scholarly, but it has also been criticized for not sharing her sources.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A groundbreaking work of feminist history and theory analyzing the complex relations between various forms of oppression. Ain’t I a Woman  examines the impact of sexism on black women during slavery, the historic devaluation of black womanhood, black male sexism, racism within the recent women’s movement, and black women’s involvement with feminism.

Links:

3. Sister Outsider (1984)

by Audre Lorde

  • Year Published: 1984
  • Storygraph Categories:
    nonfiction, essays, feminism, lgbtqia+, sociology, challenging, informative, reflective, medium-paced
  • Importance:
    A groundbreaking impact on contemporary feminist theories, including intersectionality

This is a collection of essays, with “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House” likely being the most well known.

The essays showcase Lorde’s philosophical thought and reasoning, especially highlighting oppressions as both complex and interconnected. Her essays are considered a significant contribution to critical social theory.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A collection of fifteen essays written between 1976 and 1984 gives clear voice to Audre Lorde’s literary and philosophical personae. These essays explore and illuminate the roots of Lorde’s intellectual development and her deep-seated and longstanding concerns about ways of increasing empowerment among minority women writers and the absolute necessity to explicate the concept of difference—difference according to sex, race, and economic status. The title Sister Outsider finds its source in her poetry collection The Black Unicorn (1978). These poems and the essays in Sister Outsider stress Lorde’s oft-stated theme of continuity, particularly of the geographical and intellectual link between Dahomey, Africa, and her emerging self.

Links:

4. The Beauty Myth (1990)

by Naomi Wolf

  • Year Published: 1990
  • Storygraph Categories:
    nonfiction, feminism, informative, reflective, slow-paced
  • Importance:
    Redefined the relationship between beauty and female identity

The Beauty Myth focuses on how beauty is used as a distraction and continues the subjugation of women.

As women’s power in society has increased, so has the pressure from media to achieve unrealistic beauty standards.

Beauty is both a way to distract women from their desire for equal rights, while simultaneously providing a way for everyone (men and women) to judge women on their personal appearance.

Summary (from Goodreads):

The bestselling classic that redefined our view of the relationship between beauty and female identity. In today’s world, women have more power, legal recognition, and professional success than ever before. Alongside the evident progress of the women’s movement, however, writer and journalist Naomi Wolf is troubled by a different kind of social control, which, she argues, may prove just as restrictive as the traditional image of homemaker and wife. It’s the beauty myth, an obsession with physical perfection that traps the modern woman in an endless spiral of hope, self-consciousness, and self-hatred as she tries to fulfill society’s impossible definition of “the flawless beauty.”

Links:

5. Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women (1991)

by Susan Faludi

  • Year Published: 1991
  • Storygraph Categories: nonfiction, feminism, history, politics, informative, reflective, slow-paced
  • Importance:
    Disputed many commonly held myths

This book originated as an article that Faludi wrote in response to a 1986 Newsweek cover story about the so-called “man shortage” and the “statistic” that women over 30 were more likely to be killed by a terrorist than marry.

Newsweek reported that the “statistic” came from a Harvard-Yale marriage study. It got tremendous coverage and was widely believed to be true. You’ll even see it referenced (as a joke) in the movie Sleepless in Seattle! But the statistic didn’t hold up to be true and the Harvard-Yale team later retracted the statistics.

You can hear Susan Faludi talk more about it in an interview here.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Skillfully Probing the Attack on Women’s Rights

“Opting-out,” “security moms,” “desperate housewives,” “the new baby fever”—the trend stories of 2006 leave no doubt that American women are still being barraged by the same backlash messages that Susan Faludi brilliantly exposed in her 1991 bestselling book of revelations. Now, the book that reignited the feminist movement is back in a fifteenth anniversary edition, with a new preface by the author that brings backlash consciousness up to date.

When it was first published, Backlash made headlines for puncturing such favorite media myths as the “infertility epidemic” and the “man shortage,” myths that defied statistical realities. These willfully fictitious media campaigns added up to an antifeminist backlash. Whatever progress feminism has recently made, Faludi’s words today seem prophetic. The media still love stories about stay-at-home moms and the “dangers” of women’s career ambitions; the glass ceiling is still low; women are still punished for wanting to succeed; basic reproductive rights are still hanging by a thread. The backlash clearly exists.

With passion and precision, Faludi shows in her new preface how the creators of commercial culture distort feminist concepts to sell products while selling women downstream, how the feminist ethic of economic independence is twisted into the consumer ethic of buying power, and how the feminist quest for self-determination is warped into a self-centered quest for self-improvement.

Backlash is a classic of feminism, an alarm bell for women of every generation, reminding us of the dangers that we still face.

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Final thoughts

Personally, I think these most, if not, all of these books are life changing. They can provide significant perspective shifts and can help you think more critically about your experiences.

You may not agree with everything in the books, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t gain something from them. For instance, Angela Davis was an ardent supporter of the communist party in the 80’s and part of the book focuses heavily on communism. Whatever your feelings about communism (and people tend to feel quite strongly about it – thanks Cold War!), that shouldn’t negate or affect what you can learn from the rest of the book.

If you’ve read any of these, I would love to know what you think of them! Please feel free to share a comment below with your thoughts.

If you have suggestions for books that focus on women’s movements from elsewhere around the world, please let me know in a comment below!

Five Modern Classics Written by Black Americans

Are you hoping to read more classics this year? Here are some suggestions for Black History month!

I wanted to highlight classics that we don’t hear about as much so that you can read from diverse perspectives. Some of these may be new to you, and some might not.

These five classics are from Black Americans from a variety of genres. All of these are more modern classics, having been written between the years of 1920-1960.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Five books from Black Americans

Here’s a list of five books with Black American authors, for more Black History Month reading suggestions.

Modern Classics

  1. Cane by Jean Toomer (1923)
  2. Passing by Nella Larson (1929)
  3. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (1937)
  4. The Street by Ann Petry (1946)
  5. A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry (1959)

Keep reading to find out more about each one.

1. Cane

by Jean Toomer

  • Year Published: 1923
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, poetry, short stories, challenging, reflective, slow-paced
  • 100 years since it’s been published!
  • Importance:
    From the Harlem Renaissance

Summary (from Goodreads):

A literary masterpiece of the Harlem Renaissance, Cane is a powerful work of innovative fiction evoking black life in the South. The sketches, poems, and stories of black rural and urban life that make up Cane  are rich in imagery. Visions of smoke, sugarcane, dusk, and flame permeate the Southern landscape: the Northern world is pictured as a harsher reality of asphalt streets. Impressionistic, sometimes surrealistic, the pieces are redolent of nature and Africa, with sensuous appeals to eye and ear.

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2. Passing

by Nella Larson

  • Year Published: 1929
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, literary, emotional, reflective, tense, medium-paced
  • Importance:
    Focuses on mixed-race individuals and racial passing (such as passing as white)

Summary (edited from Goodreads):

Nella Larsen’s fascinating exploration of race and identity.

Irene Redfield is a Black woman living an affluent, comfortable life with her husband and children in the thriving neighborhood of Harlem in the 1920s. When she reconnects with her childhood friend Clare Kendry, who is similarly light-skinned, Irene discovers that Clare has been passing for a white woman after severing ties to her past–even hiding the truth from her racist husband.

Clare finds herself drawn to Irene’s sense of ease and security with her Black identity and longs for the community (and, increasingly, the woman) she lost. Irene is both riveted and repulsed by Clare and her dangerous secret, as Clare begins to insert herself–and her deception–into every part of Irene’s stable existence. First published in 1929, Larsen’s brilliant examination of the various ways in which we all seek to “pass,” is as timely as ever.

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3. Their Eyes Were Watching God

by Zora Neale Hurston

  • Year Published: 1937
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, historical, literary, emotional, reflective, medium-paced
  • Importance:
    A classic of the Harlem Renaissance

Summary (from Goodreads):

Fair and long-legged, independent and articulate, Janie Crawford sets out to be her own person—no mean feat for a black woman in the ’30s. Janie’s quest for identity takes her through three marriages and into a journey back to her roots.

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4. The Street

by Ann Petry

  • Year Published: 1946
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, literary, challenging, reflective, medium-paced
  • Importance:
    The first novel by an Black American woman to sell more than a million copies

Summary (from Goodreads):

The Street tells the poignant, often heartbreaking story of Lutie Johnson, a young black woman, and her spirited struggle to raise her son amid the violence, poverty, and racial dissonance of Harlem in the late 1940s. Originally published in 1946 and hailed by critics as a masterwork, The Street was Ann Petry’s first novel, a beloved bestseller with more than a million copies in print. Its haunting tale still resonates today.

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5. A Raisin in the Sun

by Lorraine Hansberry

  • Year Published: 1959
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, play, emotional, reflective, medium-paced
  • Importance:
    The first play written by a black woman to be produced on Broadway and won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award

Summary (from Storygraph):

First produced in 1959, A Raisin in the Sun was awarded the New York Drama Critics Circle Award and hailed as a watershed in American drama. Not only a pioneering work by an African-American playwright—Lorraine Hansberry’s play was also a radically new representation of black life, resolutely authentic, fiercely unsentimental, and unflinching in its vision of what happens to people whose dreams are constantly deferred.

In her portrait of an embattled Chicago family, Hansberry anticipated issues that range from generational clashes to the civil rights and women’s movements. She also posed the essential questions—about identity, justice, and moral responsibility—at the heart of these great struggles. The result is an American classic.

You can read an excerpt from the play here.

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Final thoughts

As cliche as it may be, Black History is not only for the month of February. I would encourage you to intentionally seek out authors from diverse backgrounds, including Black Americans and other Black individuals from around the world.

This is just a small list, but as you intentionally pursue a diverse reading list, you’ll find more and more books to read. Sometimes it can be overwhelming, so just start small by picking out a few books to incorporate throughout the year.

Personally, I think the most important part is to be intentional about who and what you’re reading. Take time to notice what you’ve read recently and see who the authors and characters are. Then start to incorporate other perspectives to broaden your reading experience.