4 Lesser-Known Books to Read for Women's Month
Fiction and non-fiction books to help you celebrate women
I love women’s month. Of course, March isn’t the only time gender equality is relevant, but the month’s purposeful focus transforms the topic from something we should talk about into something we must talk about. Both major brands and everyday people feel an urgency to stand up, take action, and push the gender equality movement a little further along than it was before. And that’s a net positive.
There are a lot of things you can do to celebrate women’s month, but one of my favorites is to read books by and/or about women that really make you think. And they don’t have to be non-fiction; you can find all kinds of books that accomplish this goal. Here are four of my favorites.
1. HALF THE SKY: TURNING OPPRESSION INTO OPPORTUNITY FOR WOMEN WORLDWIDE (NON-FICTION)
By Nicholas D. Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn, Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalists
If you only ever read one non-fiction book about gender equality, let this be it. Nothing has opened my eyes wider to the gender issues that need attention throughout the world and the steps we can take to address them.
Nicholas and Sheryl spent years traveling the world, interviewing and learning from women who have experienced or been affected by issues like sex slavery, gender violence, and maternal mortality and identifying actions that make a real, tangible difference. It has literally changed my life, and I still think about this book all the time.
Some noteworthy quotes (which were really hard to choose among so many):
“So let us be clear about this up front: We hope to recruit you to join an incipient movement to emancipate women and fight global poverty by unlocking women's power as economic catalysts. That is the process under way—not a drama of victimization but of empowerment, the kind that transforms bubbly teenage girls from brothel slaves into successful businesswomen.”
“More girls were killed in the last 50 years, precisely because they were girls, than men killed in all the wars in the 20th century. More girls are killed in this routine gendercide in any one decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the 20th century.”
“Decades from now, people will look back and wonder how societies could have acquiesced in a sex slave trade in the twenty-first century that is... bigger than the transatlantic slave trade was in the nineteenth. They will be perplexed that we shrugged as a lack of investment in maternal health caused half a million women to perish in childbirth each year.”
“It's no accident that the countries that have enjoyed an economic take off have been those that educated girls and then gave them the autonomy to move to the cities to find work.”
“Women aren't the problem but the solution. The plight of girls is no more a tragedy than an opportunity.”
2. Who Fears Death (African-based sci-fi/magical realism)
By Nnedi Okorafor, international award-winning novelist
First of all, I hope your ears perked up when I said “African-based sci-fi/magical realism,” because this, on its own, is a BFD. There aren’t a lot of sci-fi novels out there by people from Africa, rooted in African heritage, or featuring African characters. Nnedi Okorafor is on a mission to change that.
“So, what if a Nigerian-American wrote science fiction? Growing up, I didn't read much science fiction. I couldn't relate to these stories preoccupied with xenophobia, colonization and seeing aliens as others. And I saw no reflection of anyone who looked like me in those narratives,” Okorafor says in her excellent TED Talk.
Now, listen to me: READ THIS BOOK. It was absolutely incredible. Set far in the future of today’s world, the main character, Onyesonwu (which means “who fears death?” in an ancient African language), comes into her own destiny to end the longtime oppression and brutal genocide of her people. It’s moving and brings depth and will leave you reeling in the best way.
3. Poor Your Soul (Memoir)
By Mira Ptacin, New York Times bestselling ghostwriter
In this heartbreaking but hopeful memoir, Mira Ptacin chronicles her journey from unexpected pregnancy to a devastating diagnosis, late-term abortion, brutal period of grief, and eventual healing. Throughout, she weaves her story together with that of her mother, who also lost a child. It was an emotional read, but I really enjoyed it.
Ptacin is a masterful writer; her words are like music, almost hypnotizing. And I wouldn’t classify it as a book “about abortion.” It’s really about love, and grief, and everything that happens to us as humans when we go through something terrible. The catalyst for Ptacin’s grief was an abortion, and her story is very atypical from those that are usually told.
4. THE POWER (SPECULATIVE FICTION)
By Naomi Alderman, winner of the 2017 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction
This one has probably gotten the most attention lately because it was published recently, has been frequently compared to The Handmaid’s Tale, and won several awards because it’s SO GOOD. It asks a really interesting question: would the world be more peaceful if the gender dynamic switched and women held power over men, or does power itself just corrupt humans no matter their gender?
It’s easy to see oppressed groups as morally superior simply because they are the ones who’ve been oppressed. But this is not necessarily true. Before I read this book, I had never thought of it that way, but now I can’t stop. It literally changed the way I see the world. And Naomi Alderman can really write, man. So, so well.
Not to mention that it’s a great story that does a fantastic job of highlighting gender equality in a new, interesting, and jarring way. As Alderman has said, “Nothing happens to men in the novel—I explain carefully to interviewers—that is not happening to a woman in our world today. So is it dystopian? Well. Only if you’re a man.”
Your turn: which books would you include on my list? Let me know in the comments. I’d love to read them!