Eight Books by Womxn
International Womxn’s Day is beloved here at The Attic. On this date we find ourselves taking a moment to check in properly with the womxn in our lives, express our appreciation, and share what we can on the spectrum of information and support for navigating our world today. But the obvious reason for today too carries weight. Just as importantly as appreciating the womxn, and those who identify as womxn and nonbinary in our lives, we look to the day to mark and reflect on the importance of womxn all over the world. Throughout history, they have provided contributions to the fight for equality and rights, and we need to give reverence to those still marginalized, forgotten, and fighting to this day. In honor of them and you, dear readers, we’ve collected this list of our favorite books by womxn. We still have a long way to go, but we trust that these will provide a start and inspiration to keep going.
For today, I want to go back to a book I read many years ago but could not appreciate back then. Being further away from home has sparked an interest in me about reading more Italian literature and, before moving to Elena Ferrante’s books, I promised myself I would read some Grazia Deledda, who, to this day, is the only Italian woman to have won the Nobel Prize for Literature. La Madre tells a story that will haunt you and leave you unsure of which side you should be. Maria Maddalena is Paulo’s mother, a young priest who starts an illicit relationship with a young woman named Agnese. The book follows Maria Maddalena’s torment, her compassion, and her pain. It shows Sardinia as a windy place that brings blessings as quickly as it takes them away. An English translation of this book exists by DH Lawrence, who fell in love with Deledda’s writing while living in Sardinia.
Both Circe and The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller were in my top ten reads of 2018. Miller makes Greek mythology approachable and lyrical, and I find myself revisiting passages over and over again when I crave the raw emotion of Miller’s prose.
Americanah by Chimamandah Ngozi Adichie is a stunning portrait of what it means to be a foreigner in a new country, and her protagonist Ifemelu is equal parts emotive and vibrant. I am always fascinated by outsiders’ perspectives on America, even the fictitious ones; both the hardships they face and the beauty they see that is invisible to me are enlightening.
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison is one of the novels that shocked me out of my privileged bubble as a teenager and stayed with me as an adult as an incredible work of literature. The story of a young African-American girl growing up in the 1930s who desires, above all else to have blue eyes like Shirley Temple, the novel exposes the harmful and deeply upsetting effects of white supremacy on young members of society and, in doing so, focuses on intricate family histories. It helped me question the way beauty is presented to us by the outside world and understand the dangers of the status quo or even of accepting things – whether they are appearances or family members – just because that is what we are expected to do. It is, I would say, the most important story of girlhood in American literature.
What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons is a deconstructed novel that doesn’t make you want to rip the pages out of the book. What We Lose is the story of a young woman who deals with her mother’s passing and comes into her own as an adult in its wake. Focusing on family, self-identity, and grief, the novel is one that touches on human emotion in an incredible way, and as a bonus for any TCK – brings travel between different countries of origin into its exploration of these topics.
I spoke a lot about The Power by Naomi Alderman last year and it continues to stay with me to this day. In true dystopian manner, it touches upon several of the issues faced by the world today but without pretending to be as black and white as other stories might be. Sometimes a hero may falter, sometimes a female dictator may prove to be worse than a male, and yes, even men experience acts of abuse and violence. A lot of people declared The Power wishful thinking when it was first released, but I personally saw it as a cautionary tale. A change in dynamic doesn't guarantee success, and there is no true peace without equality for every single person on the planet.
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston was perhaps for me what The Bluest Eye was for Olivia. I first read it as a teenager and it woke me up to a whole new world of perspective. Despite my heritage, I was raised in an affluent white neighborhood, and while I experienced prejudice in some ways based on my outsider status, I still enjoyed a privilege that kept me blind to the lives and struggles of others. But the story provided something else new to me too. Telling the life story of Janie Crawford, this was perhaps one of the first novels I read of a woman coming into her own life, a main character making her own choices, and finding solutions to her own problems. As a young woman attempting to figure out my own, this story provided an inspiration to seek out my own independence in a fragile time.
When I’m looking for calming reading I tend to drift toward the whimsical, be it magical realism in the way of a Clarice Lispector short story or a snarky poem by my queen Dorothy Parker, but my favorite perhaps is the encyclopedic entries crafted by Jessica Kerwin Jenkins. I adored her first book Encyclopedia Of The Exquisite, and her follow up All The Time In The World is even more perfect. Inspired by medieval diaries kept detailing every hour of a figure’s day, each entry chronicles an event in history that may have transpired at that same exact moment. Feeling overwhelmed by the hurt in the world, I find myself regularly picking a moment at random, be it an elaborately served cup of tea, or a romp taken by Oscar Wilde, and leaving with the motivation to get back to my own endeavors.
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