Thanks for Joining Us for Persist: the Feminist Book Club!

Persist: A Feminist Book Club is presented by Flatiron Books, publishers of Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao, now in paperback.

Girls Burn Brighter cover imageAn electrifying debut novel about the extraordinary bond between two girls driven apart by circumstance but relentless in their search for one another. Shobha Rao’s Girls Burn Brighter introduces two heroines who never lose the hope that burns within.

 

 

 


That’s it for the latest edition of Persist! It was so great to chat with the many readers who showed up for our feminist book club (hosted entirely on Instagram Live!). This time Thi Bui’s graphic memoir The Best We Could Do was the jumping off point for our discussions of war, refugees, and parent-child relationships through a feminist lens.

Persist feminist book club

We’ll be back on June 3rd with Executive Editor Amanda Nelson, reading So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo. See you then!

The Problem of the So-Called Forgotten Woman and Patriarchal Histories

If you walk into any bookstore, I guarantee you’ll see her. The forgotten woman. She might not be obvious, she might not be standing at the door waiting for you, but she’s there. She’s in the pages of those books that talk about women from history, their lives and their inspiring ways. Perhaps she’s even made the front cover.

(I kid. She hasn’t.)

But she is there, I promise. The forgotten woman. The woman who changed the world with a blink of her eye is being remembered, reclaimed, and rediscovered by a new generation of readers. She’s a bygone broad, a rebel girl, a forgotten feminist hero.

And I don’t have a problem with that. Not in the slightest. I want these women and their stories told. I want them heard. I want them shouted from the rooftops.

My problem is the idea of these women being forgotten in the first place.

Because they weren’t.

They just weren’t ever allowed to be remembered.

These are women who existed at times that weren’t able to deal with who they were and what they could do. Much of that centres on a patriarchal framing of history; a story being told by those who couldn’t cope with power being wielded by somebody who was not in the club.

One of my favourite authors, Angela Brazil, is often referred to as being forgotten.  This is despite her still having a fierce fan culture (people have written plays about her)a substantial amount of her books being available via Project Gutenberg, and the simple fact that her books sold over three million copies during her lifetime. Were I challenged, I could happily argue for a direct connection between her work and Harry Potter. (Challenge me, please, I’m fun at parties).

Even though a vast amount of people won’t know who Angela Brazil is, a lot of people do. She has not been forgotten. Not in the slightest. She is not reclaimed, nor repurposed, nor retold. She is remembered.

And it’s that shift I want to see in publishing.

Women deserve to be remembered. Shouted about. Talked about. Writing about them as forgotten figures of history perpetuates their absence. We forgot them. They weren’t good enough to be remembered. You weren’t remarkable enough to make the grade. In a way, it’s all their fault.

Except, it’s not.

So put aside the forgotten woman; write her in wild, 15-page biographies instead of a neat little one page summary. Place her on the front of her book, a photo of her staring down the world that didn’t let her in. Put her back in the centre of her story, and stop pulling her out of it.

Remember her.

Stop forgetting.

10 Must-Read Essay Collections by Women

This list of essay collections by women is sponsored by I Miss You When I Blink by Mary Laura Philpott.

In this memoir-in-essays full of spot-on observations about home, work, and creative life, acclaimed essayist Mary Laura Philpott takes on the conflicting pressures of modern adulthood with wit and heart. She offers up her own stories to show that identity crises don’t happen just once or only at midlife; reassures us that small, recurring personal re-inventions are both normal and necessary; and advises that if you’re going to faint, you should get low to the ground first. Most of all, Philpott shows that when you stop feeling satisfied with your life, you don’t have to burn it all down and set off on a transcontinental hike (unless you want to, of course). You can call upon your many selves to figure out who you are, who you’re not, and where you belong. Who among us isn’t trying to do that?


Learning Writing by Reading

In senior year of high school, I had the joy of taking a personal essay writing class with one of the best English teachers in Brooklyn. It did serve as a boon for people writing their college application essays, but none of the essays I wrote for college ended up being read aloud in that class. I guess I was more comfortable sharing personal writing with strangers in an admissions office than my high school classmates. (Especially because one of my college essays was about how much I hate late people, and I used many examples of my high school classmates.)

We read seminal writers in the personal essay field, as well as a great deal of criticism. It was a wonderful class for learning how to integrate personal stories with cultural criticism, and I still look back fondly on my high school musings about Buffy and feelings about my sisters. I’m only a little embarrassed. I decided to rounded up some of the best work in essays and criticism by women available today.

Essays, Criticism, and Calls to Action

I Remember NothingI Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections by Nora Ephron

Ephron’s legacy remains strong in her screenwriting, but I also want to shout out her amazing final essay collection, I Remember Nothing. Ranging from how waiters over-serve Pellegrino to meditations on losing her memory, Ephron takes a survey of her life, and how she looks back at it. A lot of it was writing, and a lot of the time she didn’t want to write. This book gave me a much-needed perspective on aging when I read it at 17. A full life doesn’t always mean an easily categorized one, and forcing yourself to get the words on the page, like Nora, is hugely necessary.

Movie LoveMovie Love by Pauline Kael

The tenth collection of Pauline Kael’s New Yorker reviews focus on movies from the ’80s and ’90s. It also reaffirms Kael’s love of B-movies and stylist filmmakers. She pulls together reviews of famous nerd fare (Back to the Future II, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), cult hits, and movies that have fallen to the annals of cinematic history. Reading Kael’s movie criticism is a master class in art writing. Thank you to my mom for re-alerting me last week to what a virtuoso Kael was.

One Day We'll Be Dead and None of This Will MatterOne Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter: Essays by Scaachi Koul

I was originally introduced to Koul in her reporting episodes of BuzzFeed’s Follow This on Netflix. Whether Koul is talking about growing up as a woman of color in Canada or the difficulties of dealing with the social Internet, she is generous and razor-sharp in her writing. This book examines Koul sitting at the intersection of Western beauty standards and Indian social expectations. She is also just so hilarious and smart.

Care WorkCare Work: Dreaming Disability Justice by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha doesn’t want to leave anyone behind. Although it is a sweet sentiment, her book dives into the radicalism of including people who are rendered disabled by an unjust society. She argues that building empathy and inclusion for people marginalized by sickness, disability, race, or gender is the way to create thriving activist communities.

I'm Afraid of MenI’m Afraid of Men by Vivek Shraya

Growing up in Canada, Vivek Shraya was forced to hide in overcompensating, especially among straight men. As a trans woman of color, she is even more attuned to the way men exert control over people’s behavior. She especially felt this perpetuation of patriarchal standards through the pressure of fitting into feminine body standards. Shraya’s work has received several awards, including one of the best audiobooks of 2018 by us here at Book Riot, and there are many more books by trans, nonbinary, and gender non-conforming authors to dive into.

90s Bitch90s Bitch by Allison Yarrow

After this book, I definitely began to doubt the reclamation of the world “bitch” in our contemporary moment. Many women in the ’90s were public figures against their will, and some were deliberate public firebrands who pushed controversy in hopes of making big change. Either way, “bitch” flattened women who did anything at all into easily dismissed jokes. I want to remind myself consistently of the hard work women in the past have done to allow us to speak freely in order to push fundamental equality and intersectional feminism forward.

Living a Feminist LifeLiving a Feminist Life by Sara Ahmed

Sara Ahmed’s scholarly writing is varied and impactful, with a throughline of the politics of inclusion. It is important to note that Ahmed’s edicts for living a feminist life include the issues of racism, postcolonialism, and queer theory, as they should. She argues that we should always push feminist values into our daily lives and interactions, as it is so easy to let things slide. The accumulation of letting things slide is what can lead to the nightmarish, world-shaking situations we are in these days. Ahmed is such an effective writer because she never trips up in academic language—her focus on clarity is so necessary for breaking down complex theory.

Greek to MeGreek to Me: Adventures of the Comma Queen by Mary Norris

I relate to Mary Norris’s unabashed nerdiness about language on a soul-deep level. The former New Yorker copy editor explores her obsession with Greece through the goddesses, the historic landscape, and most importantly the development of language. It’s the rare series of travel essays that manages to thread together the history and culture of the destination as well as the author’s personal history.

TrainwreckTrainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear…and Why by Sady Doyle

Craving dramatic stories and reveling in schadenfreude is deeply normalized in Western culture, and Sady Doyle brilliantly breaks down the myriad ways the consequences fall on women. Focusing on a woman’s inappropriate behavior is one of the easiest ways to discredit her, push her into the category of “trainwreck,” as opposed to “woman who has lived a complicated life and also critiques societal inequities.”

The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock CriticThe First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic by Jessica Hopper

Music criticism is still a frustratingly male-dominated field, so I always appreciate Hopper’s interventions. Reading her measured considerations of grunge, riot grrrl, and the rise of emo are a master class in how music is so integral to our society. Her article about R. Kelly from 2013 is also included, and it is a sad reminder about how much male musician behavior gets swept under the rug.

 

The most effective nonfiction essay writers can reveal as much about ourselves as themselves in a well-crafted piece of writing. I’m so excited by the ever-growing group of women and queer writers telling their stories in personal writing and criticism these days.