Feminist Bookshelf

Hopeful, romantic, powerful, and devastating: Alice O’Rorke shares the best books she read over Lockdown.

Lockdown came and surprised us all by giving us an abundance of time to do with as we pleased. Although I spent a lot of this time browsing through Netflix, Amazon Prime and occasionally (when desperation struck) YouTube, I did manage to read a few great books, and I wanted to pass my Lockdown feminist reading list on to you.

Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This beautifully descriptive novel tells the story of Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman who moved to America after University to seek better opportunities. Although she does create a life for herself here, she is haunted by her past passionate relationship with Obinze and struggles with the realities of being a Black woman in a racist society.

Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden

Telling the story of a fictional girl, Sayuri, before World War II, Golden explores her journey from poverty to fame as she becomes a Geisha in Kyoto, Japan. He demonstrates her luck, as a beautiful woman, in rising upwards in society and also how other women are willing to bring you down in order to succeed themselves. 

Empress Orchid – Anchee Min

Written in first person, this novel is based on the story of the real Empress Dowager Cixi. It tracks the life of Orchid as she, similarly to Sayuri in Memoirs of a Geisha, finds fortune due to her beauty. Orchid is played off against hundreds of girls to become a concubine of the Emperor. Her sole purpose is to serve and please him and to bear his children, all while being under constant surveillance.

The Help – Kathryn Stockett

Stockett tells the lives of several Black maids in America in the 1960s, and the discrimination they faced in the workplace. Mistreated by their employers and society. This is their story of striking back.

The Moment of Lift – Melinda Gates

In this non-fiction book, you are given an insight into the work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which has uplifted women globally. Gates explores the use of family planning, the knowledge of farming and equality, and infiltrating local hierarchies to reduce harmful practices such as genital cutting and child marriages. Through facts and statistics, she emphasises the global economic benefit to gender equality and female emancipation. 

Normal People – Sally Rooney

Over lockdown, I’m sure everyone will have come across or heard of this book (and probably watched the BBC series of it too). The novel follows the lives of Marianne and Connell and their complex relationship and understanding of one another. They start on unequal feet at school, pushed apart by hierarchy and reputation, and manoeuvre their way through University into real life. Rooney’s exploration of their relationship is raw, heartbreaking and hopeful. 

Women Don’t Owe You Pretty – Florence Given

Florence compacts into her book things that she wishes she had been told when she was younger. Women don’t owe anyone anything, least of all, prettiness. 

Girls Like That – Evan Placey

This play tracks the difficulty and pressures modern teens face through social media. When a naked picture of Scarlet gets leaked around her school, girls who she had known most of her life turn their backs on her. They slut shame her, ignoring and isolating Scarlet. The play is written in the chorus of “Girls”; Placey shows how damaging girls tearing each other down can be.

The Other Boleyn Girl – Phillipa Gregory

This is the story of Mary Boleyn, Anne’s forgotten sister, who caught the King’s eye and was held in his affection long before the infamous Anne was able to tempt him away from Katherine of Aragon. The book shows how women were used as pawns in a game of power.

Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

Of course, I had to finish the list with my favourite classic, which tells the story of the feisty Elizabeth Bennett, and her desires to escape the confines of a patriarchal society.

The most inspirational: The Moment of Lift

The most famous: Normal People

The easiest read: The Help

The shortest read: Girls Like That 

The punchiest: Women Don’t Owe You Pretty

The most beautifully written: Americanah

The most heart-breaking (in a good way): Empress Orchid

Although some of these are old favourites, each one has a feminist theme. Some are more persistent than others, which makes me think about the injustice women have faced, both past and present. All these texts are fabulous reads that are inspiring and eye-opening, and I recommend them to all.

Artwork by Amelia Elson.

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