Every time I see a woman in public reading a book by a man (usually dead, usually white), I fantasize about offering her a book by a woman instead, replacing the male voices in her head with female ones one book at a time. Here are the ones I’d like to hand out on subway trains and in parks and coffee shops:
I love books that counter the narratives we expect about women’s relationships to themselves and to others, especially ones that don’t avoid those stories of our families and romances and dreams, the stories that make up our daily lives. I’ve never read a book that has crammed so much about womanhood, families, marriage, parenthood, friendship, heartbreak, and change in such a slim package. I started many a sentence in this book laughing and ended it crying.
I wish I could make every American read this book (especially during flu season), not only because Biss makes a compelling case for vaccination as a moral responsibility, but because it is a beautiful and thoughtful mediation on that responsibility. She takes a prickly issue and clearly presents the science while pulling back the curtain on the cultural fears and hopes underlying the choices we make, and the burden of those choices on women and mothers in particular.
The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service
I read this book last year as research for my novel-in-progress. The Story of Jane is an account of housewives in 1960s Chicago who, out of necessity, started an underground abortion service. It’s a thrill to read about women literally taking power away from men who had exploited other women, and to witness the change their work created, even as their work was meant to be invisible. Kaplan doesn’t shy away from the complex and imperfect power structures inside Jane, and that, too, is an important reminder: that social justice work is ongoing; no effort is a total solution, but that fact shouldn’t stop us from doing what we can or reflecting on how to do better.
Olivares’s crystalline, often sensual poems are about grief and letting go, about allowing yourself to be tender enough to love, about family, about Cuba, about women’s bodies. They make you aware of the invisible lines connecting our souls to the largeness of the universe. The final poem, “Teaching the Map,” is a heart-wrecker about adolescence and borders and the questions we shouldn’t stop asking.
Maya, the narrator of Problems, has lots of problems—a serious drug addiction, entanglements with subpar men, a talent for bad choices—but I’d say there’s nothing wrong with her. Watching Maya fight to grab hold of herself despite these problems, watching her nakedly want over and over again, is what makes us root for Maya rather than judge her. We all want, too, don’t we? The joy of this book is in witnessing a woman learning to trust in and hope for herself.
Kayla Rae Whitaker
At the center of Whittaker’s book is an intense personal and professional relationship between two female animators, a till-death-do-you-part bond without marriage. There are so many reasons to read this book: because it features female artists reckoning with creative life, because it doesn’t shy from trauma or class or sexuality or how messy we can be. But most of all, The Animators asks what it means to tell our stories, not only in art, but to one another. I can think of no better question right now than what we should bury and what we should bring up to the light.
Danielle Lazarin’s short stories have won grants from New York Foundation for the Arts and the Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance, the Glimmer Train Family Matters Award, and Hopwood Awards. She is a graduate of the writing programs of Oberlin College and the University of Michigan’s Helen Zell Writers’ Program. She lives in her native New York City with her husband and daughters.