by Octavia E. Butler, 1980
Wild Seed is the first book in the chronology of the Patternist series, but it’s the third book that was published (fourth, if you count Survivor, which is no longer in print). While I can see some benefit to reading these according to the series’ timeline – the setup and characters in Mind of My Mind make much more sense now – reading these according to publication date really allows you to see how Butler developed as a writer. Patternmaster and Mind of My Mind were perfectly fine books, but I found they lacked a certain nuance that attracted me to Butler when I first read her in grad school. In Kindred and now Wild Seed, it’s as if Butler has come into her own and fully realized the message she wants to convey with her science fiction. This is not just the story of two immortal beings but one of institutionalized gender and social inequality. Hell, if it weren’t for the immortal being business and the shape-shifting, this would essential be historical fiction.
by Joanna Russ, 1975
While my original plan for the “read a classic of genre fiction” task in the Read Harder Challenge was to count my forthcoming reread of Parable of the Sower, I decided to branch out instead and pick up a book I’d been meaning to read for years. The Female Man is a classic of feminist science-fiction. Though she may not be as well-known as the likes of Octavia Butler or Ursula K. Le Guin, Russ’s work has always appeared in discussions of this particular genre. The novel involves four women – really, four iterations of the same woman in various points in time and space. Jeannine lives during the 1930s, Joanna is a 1970s feminist, Janet is from another version of earth called Whileaway that is populated only by women, and Jael, with her metal claws and teeth, hails from a future torn by war between the two genders. This is the story of what happens when they come together.
by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, 1915
Herland left me conflicted. Part of me wanted to stand up with my fist raised and yell, “PREACH!” Part of me, though, bemoaned the central idea behind this feminist utopia. For, if a woman does not want to be a mother, is she still a woman? Is her life still valid? Does it still have meaning? Gilman’s answer to this appears to be “no.” While so much of this journey of three men into a strange land populated only by women continues to ring true even a century later, I couldn’t help but be disappointed in the idea the womanhood equals motherhood. This is one belief that I am all too eager to have die away.
by Han Kang, 2007
Set in modern day South Korea, The Vegetarian chronicles the spiraling downfall of a woman whose decision to stop eating meat has enormous consequences for those around her. When I first came to this book, I knew little about it other than its focus on a woman who chooses to be a vegetarian, and I wondered how such a mundane topic could generate such a buzz. I see now that this book is so much more than this, that Kang uses this decision to expound on the ideas of cultural norms, gender roles, and the constraints of marriage in a patriarchal society. It is thoroughly brilliant and I had a hard time putting it down.
by Rebecca Solnit, 2014
Ah, mansplaining. Who among us hasn’t suffered to listen to a man tell us what we already know? In my case, it’s most often come from those telling me how to run my business when they have no knowledge of said business and no idea why I’ve made some of the very valid decisions I’ve made (like, what you are insisting I do is, in fact, illegal in this state). Mansplaining is not new, but the term gained quite the life after the publication of the essay that bears the same name as this book. What starts as a humorous anecdote of Solnit being schooled on a book that she wrote turns into a much needed examination of women’s silencing. And before you’re quick to jump to the defense, Solnit readily admits that [hashtag] not all men are like this. I know not all men are like this too, but I’ll be damned if not all women have been affected by some of the behavior she discusses in this essay collection.
by Laura Jones & Heather McDaid, eds., 2017
Leave it to Book Riot to not only force me to read outside of my typical bounds, but also to lead me right to the perfect books at the perfect times. When I read their article extolling British indie publisher 404 Ink‘s Nasty Women: A Collection of Essays & Accounts on What It Is Like to Be a Woman in the 21st Century, I jumped at the chance to use it to fulfill the “read a book published by a micropress” challenge task. While the book went immediately out of print on the day of its release – International Women’s Day – I was pleased to receive notice the very next day that the ebook was available for immediate download. Download I did and not only am I glad to have crossed off this difficult task, I’m happy to have done it while also providing support to the authors speaking on these very necessary subjects.
by Margaret Atwood, 1986
I read The Handmaid’s Tale years ago and, while I loved it, I didn’t remember many specific details of this classic feminist dystopia. I’ll just give it a little re-read before the Hulu series comes out, I thought. Little did I know that I’d find myself reading this, fists literally clenched, terrified that I was staring into my future.