I’m definitely a reader, and a semi-avid one at that. During my undergrad I did more reading than I think is healthy for the average human being, and now, even though my reading has slowed to a more comfortable pace, I still invest myself in books.
I’m a total sucker for a good horror book or a captivating who-dunnit. I love the odd American Classic, and graphic novels are always a great way to unwind and appreciate beautiful art my literature.
When it comes to my social understanding of those around me and of marginalized groups I don’t share experiences with; I turn to books. Because I have a BA in English and Cultural Studies in which I specialized and honed in on intersectional feminism, academically I am well versed in social issues, many of my thoughts and opinions I derived from texts regarding feminist theory, but because reading only theory can be dry and monotonous, I indulge in all kinds of books that broaden my horizon and social perspective.
If you’re wondering where to start, here’s a short list of books that I’ve read that fundamentally changed my social and political perspective, some I read as recent as last year, others I read while I was in middle school. If you’re looking for some good book recommendations, look no further.
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
By Mary Wollstonecraft
Genre Political Philosophy/ Feminist Theory (non-fiction)
Year Published 1792
Description A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is the original feminist manifesto. Written by feminist pioneer and trailblazer Mary Wollstonecraft, who also happens to be Mary Shelley’s mother (the writer of Frankenstein and the mother of science-fiction), A Vindication is an absolute must-read for any potential scholars of feminist theory. Although this text was published over 200 years ago, it tackles feminist issues that are (unfortunately) still relevant today. Wollstonecraft tackles issues in regard to women’s right to education, gender-specific societal expectations, as well as love and sexuality. Reading A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is to grasp and understand the earliest feminist literature and theory and see the building blocks of the women’s rights movement.
How it Shaped my Thought Process It’s easy to regard women from centuries ago as unlike ourselves, as meek and mild, proper, and naturally conservative—Mary Wollstonecraft’s manifesto takes that idea and punches it square in the jaw. I learned a lot about early feminism and early feminist theory, as well as the strength and unrelenting fight that all women—even women in 1792—hold.
White Fragility: Why it’s so Hard for White People to Talk About Racism
By Robin DiAngelo
Genre Self-help/anti-racist theory (non-fiction)
Year Published 2018
Description Written by Robin DiAngelo, a woman who has spent a large part of her career traveling to different companies to teach work-place anti-racism and tolerance, wrote this book’s total game-changer. DiAngelo discusses how racism is a fluent part of our society, and how white supremacy has a hold over all of us. She talks about how everyone holds racial biases and prejudices from what we consume from the media, and what the world teaches us; she argues that it’s our job to be introspective and challenge the racist rhetoric that we may hold. It’s a call for other white people to do better, and to expect more from their friends and families. This can definitely be a hard conversation to have, and not everyone wants to have it (proven by all the book’s one-star reviews on Amazon, claiming that the book is “racist to white people”).
How it Shaped my Thought Process I like to consider myself a very racially and politically aware person, but the man did this book teach me a lot! If you’re open to what DiAngelo has to say, you’re willing to do some real inward thinking, and you don’t get your back up when confronted with racial issues, then this book has so much to offer. I learned that having an anti-racist world starts by looking inward and creating change which can be a really difficult thing to do!
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
By Sherman Alexie
Genre Novel, Young-Adult (Fiction)
Year Published 2007
Description Written by indigenous activist, poet, and filmmaker Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian follows the fictional story of fourteen-year-old Arnold Spirit Jr. (known as Junior). Junior, who has lived on an indigenous reservation throughout his life, is a very gifted student. He wishes to travel off the reservation to go to the predominantly white school to take advantage of their academic resources. When he transfers schools, he is shunned by his friends on the reservation but doesn’t fit in with his new white schoolmates either. Junior is forced to face his racial and cultural identity while navigating foreign social territory.
How it Shaped my Thought Process I first read this book when I was twelve, making this book one of my first experiences with learning about indigenous culture and theory. Before reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian I didn’t know what a reservation was, what kind of issues indigenous communities faced, or how they were oppressed. Because this book is for young adults, (teenagers/tweens) it had a great way of simplifying and teaching indigenous issues to the average person, while also being interesting, fun, and clever. This book was my first introduction to indigenous issues, thus it shaped my way of thinking about indigenous stereotypes and what they’re rooted in, what it means to be different culturally and racially, and how we perceive those in marginalized groups.
Noughts & Crosses
By Malorie Blackman
Genre Young Adult /Graphic Novel (Fiction)
Year Published 2001
Description In this Romeo and Juliet style romance by Malorie Blackman, racial roles are reversed, forcing us to look at racial issues from a new perspective. In this world, black people (known as crosses) are the dominant racial group and the ruling class, while white people (known as noughts) are the marginalized and oppressed racial group who were in recent history enslaved by the crosses. When Sephy and Callum who are of opposite racial groups and lifelong friends become romantically involved, the plot becomes more sinister and tumultuous, eventually ending in one of their deaths.
How it Shaped my Thought Process Although sometimes the walk a mile in their shoes approach can be over-used and insensitive, the way this story approaches what it means to be white and what it means to be black with direct apples-to-apples comparison is a very valuable teaching tool. Especially as a graphic novel, this text works to literally show the stark societal difference in how we treat marginalized communities. The story is heartbreaking and frightening and definitely worth the read.
Ariel By Sylvia Plath
Year Published 1965
Description Published in 1965, two years after the tragic suicide of its author Sylvia Plath (also writer of The Bell Jar, a coming of age book about what it means to be a woman, and what it means to live with depression) Ariel is a collection of genius poetry that tackles the meaning of femininity, loss, abuse, and mental illness.
How it Shaped my Thought Process I had first read Plath in my first year of my undergraduate degree after my own recovery from depression. Her poetry’s rawness and intensity normalized the struggle of dealing with mental illness while also holding on to the dreams and goals a young woman may hold. Sometimes, we’re taught that to hold femininity we must hold our emotions and continuously smile through whatever we’re going through. Plath absolutely disregards that bullshit and spills her feelings to paper. Although, unfortunately Plath lost her battle with mental illness, she inspired many women such as myself to overcome their own mental issues and to talk about their feelings, and more importantly, their anger. Check out Daddy—it’s my favourite poem in the collection.
As I stated at the beginning of this article, I’m a somewhat-avid reader who pulls a large amount of joy from a book’s pages. I’m not above the silliest trash magazine, and I’m not below complex theory. A lot of my academic understanding of social issues, and my interest that has thus arisen towards social issues comes from my love of reading and the books I choose to surround myself with.
These have just been a few of my favorite books over the years that have made me think, understand, and question.
What books have awoken the feminist inside you?