Amy Hornsby suggests some reads to help us escape awkward family encounters, essay stress, and post-roastie exhaustion.
The Christmas ‘holiday’ may not seem like a break at all with the number of deadlines and exams that surround it, but it’s so important to make sure that you take some time for yourself. What better way to do so than through the wondrous act of self-care that is reading? Especially reading empowering, diversified feminist literature, that will make your insides glow and glitter more than any festive advert. Here are seven glorious books that will broaden both your reading list and mind this December.
1. Rupi Kaur,The Sun and Her Flowers (2017)
Kaur’s second collection of liberating poetry is everything you need to take hold of self-care this winter. She does away with the constraints of uppercase letters, using poetry as a platform to tell her own stories of womanhood through themes of love, loss and race. These are expressed refreshingly in poems of varying lengths; I found her written journey of learning to love her parents’ broken English particularly moving. Whilst waiting for your burst of beautiful, emotive freedom to be delivered, you could watch Kaur’s TED talk, listen to her poetry readings on YouTube or follow her on Instagram where you can find snippets of her collection.
“you are a mirror
if you continue to starve yourself of love
you’ll only meet people who’ll starve you too
if you soak yourself in love
the universe will hand you those
who’ll love you too”
– a simple math
2. Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth (1990)
It’s a classic, so how could I resist featuring it here? This book is especially relevant at a time of year when you may receive countless ‘beautifying’ products as gifts (when in fact you are already as beautiful as can be, and really just wanted to add Wolf to your bookshelf rather than another scented moisturiser to your bathroom). Wolf exposes the beauty industry for setting superficial standards and aspirations for women, who, let’s face it, have way better things to be doing than crouching in the shower removing hair from lost corners of the world. The chapter ‘sex’ is my personal favourite; it talks through the ways in which women’s sexuality has been controlled and oppressed into being ‘manageable’, and is used as the ultimate tool in consumerism – sex sells. When we need to remind ourselves that we are already enough, and have no one to please but ourselves, this is a great one to dip in and out of cosied up in the winter months.
3. Grayson Perry, The Descent of Man (2016)
If you didn’t manage to visit ‘The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever!’ at the Arnolfini, then fear not! Perry’s book exposes the white, European, cis-male dominance of powerful global structures for the horror it really is. Grayson states that ‘the process of blending masculine ideology with the notion of common sense in people’s minds so that it becomes invisible is called “exnomination”’. He reminds us that diversity in voices and publications is how we can reconstruct ‘common sense’ to take into consideration the multiple subjectivities we have to offer. Perry does this by exposing shocking facts about everyday life: for example, did you know that room temperature settings are often set to the preferences of the cis male body?
4. Olivia Gatwood, New American Best Friend (2017)
My absolute favourite spoken word poet now has a phenomenal paper space that will make you smile in recognition and defiance. Olivia is reclaiming just about everything ever taken from us with odes to our bitch faces, period underwear, the word pussy and the women on long island. Be sure to accompany your reading of her work with her spoken poems on YouTube for the full experience. Below is a quote from her poem Ode to My Bitch Face.
5. Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007)
Hosseini’s second novel tells the story of two Afghan women from different families who both end up married to the same man, and overcome jealousy in order to help each other fight their patriarchal circumstances. Despite its tragic ending, the power of bonds between women is illustrated beautifully. The novel illuminates the horrors faced by certain groups of women, with the image of a Caesarean section undergone without pain-relief burned into my memory; the emotive language is enough to spur any reader into activism. The imagery and metaphors in this novel are beautiful and delicate, telling a story of brutal domestic abuse and systematic oppression.
‘Like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always find a woman.’
6. Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider (1984)
When gems like this appear repeatedly on reading lists you know you should probably read them. Lorde’s collection of essays calls for us all to reconfigure our outlook to trust the figures we have been shaped to distrust. As a black, lesbian woman, Lorde tells the story of embodying oppressed intersections. My personal favourite is the essay ‘The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house’ – a powerful statement in its own right, and a further call to make more informed, less harmful decisions. When Lorde was invited to a New York University Institute conference, she wrote:
‘It is a particular academic arrogance to assume any discussion of feminist theory without examining our many differences, and without a significant input from poor women, Black and Third World women, and lesbians. And yet, I stand here as a Black lesbian feminist, having been invited to comment within the only panel at this conference where the input of Black feminists and lesbians is represented.’
What do these moments mean when those granted a voice all look the same? Lorde’s work teaches us that it is storytellers who shape narratives and lives.
7. Leanne Simpson, Islands of Decolonial Love (2013)
Leanne Simpson is a Canadian indigenous scholar who writes a combination of poetry and prose, retelling stories following the oral tradition of her ancestry. She includes many anecdotal stories, including being eroticised and exoticised by men at university, and writes a poem to her six year old daughter in wake of her first experience of racism. Simpson abandons capitalisation and teaches us many Ojibwe words in her writing, reclaiming her platform in a way that allows her to tell her own stories in her own way. The term ‘islands of decolonial love’ refers to fleeting, isolated intimacies of life that momentarily transcend colonialism. Simpson recognises this as the most harmful, evil part of colonialism, and as a force that can infect our interpersonal relationships and those with the land. The collection has offered me a fresh and revitalised perspective on life and all forms of love.
Illustration by Delara Youssefian.