I didn’t quite mean to do my second “Rosemary recommends” this soon after #1 (read that here), but when I sat down to write today’s blog post, here’s what popped out – books worth reading this year. It’s something that I get asked a lot by followers: “Can you recommend any books worth reading?”
As it happens, of course I can – although, I would argue that all books are, technically speaking, “books worth reading”, even if they’re crap – but I just find it hard to come up with my favourites when I’m put on the spot! It seemed to make sense, therefore, to sit down and work out a hard and fast list of my go-tos, so that the next time someone asks me I can do that annoying blogger thing: “I have a blog post on that!”
The Girls* by Emma Cline
I read this last year, the second book in a book club I attempted to start with my friends, and there’s a reason it tops my list of books worth reading: it’s really great. The Girls* is a story about adolescence, about being a teenage girl, about growing up in a world that’s designed to make you feel less than. It’s set in the 1970s, but the emotions are incredibly relatable for women of any age. It made me feel really sorry for my teenage self, and also very forgiving of her; it wasn’t my fault that I was so insecure and self-obsessed – the world sets all girls up for failure.
That makes it sound a lot more po-faced than it is – loosely based on the Tate murders, by the Manson family, it’s gripping and suspenseful and very tense.
Life Of Pi* by Yann Martel
There’s a caveat to this one: don’t read this is you’ve seen the movie and, if you haven’t already, do not see the movie. The book is an incredibly rich tale of a young boy making sense of an insane scenario he finds himself in; the movie is visually stunning, but otherwise a shit show, and it took me a good year to get over my feeling that Life Of Pi * had been ruined for me entirely. It’s not an incredibly deep book; it’s not about feminism; it’s not a self-help book and it’s not pompous or pretentious. It’s just a great story, beautifully told.
Girls Will Be Girls* by Emer O’Toole
The main reason you should read this book – which is about feminism, but also about growing up female in rural Ireland – is that it’s brilliant. The secondary reason is that Emer O’Toole is Irish, and it’s nice to support our own. Girls Will Be Girls: Dressing Up, Playing Parts and Daring to Act Differently* is a smart look at what it means to be female – but not just to be female, but to act female, and how we all “play our parts” in one way or another. It also presents really interesting challenges, and suggests that, ultimately, we are the arbiters of our own fates. (I found the section of structure vs agency, on what you’re born with vs what you do with it, really interesting.)
This is the kind of book you’ll be glad you read when you’re arguing about feminism with someone you hate. Trust me.
Revolutionary Road* by Richard Yates
Okay, serious Dawson Leary moment here but: this is the kind of book that made me want to be a writer. There’s something so incredibly truthful about the way Richard Yates writes about suburban life in Revolutionary Road*– there was a particular moment, that I would rather not ruin for you, that made me stop and close the page and think about my life, and all of the times I’ve been that person, and laugh. It’s amazing.
The Sparrow* by Mary Doria Russell
Okay, so this is going to seem incredibly weird and random, because: The Sparrow is about a Jesuit priest who goes into space to explore a heretofore undiscovered planet. It was another book club pick, and though I baulked at the description – c’mon, that does not sound like a good book – I adored this. Once I got about a quarter of the way through, I devoured it. It has everything: faith, love, adventure, and honestly I reckon even sci-fi haters (like my friend Ciara) would love it. I have the sequel, Children Of God*, on my wish list.
The Art of Fielding* by Chad Harbach
Bear with me here, because this one is another left-field (geddit?!) choice: The Art of Fielding* is, ostensibly, about, er, baseball. If that turns you off reading it, just grow up! (That’s what my sister said to me when she recommended it and, based on the Google results, I refused to consider it.) This book made me laugh and it made me cry and it just made me feel, non-stop, which is pretty much what I think any good book should do. (Well, either feel loads, or think loads. This one is a feeler. That sounds weird, but you know what I mean.)
Living Dolls* by Natasha Walter
Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism* is a book I read a few years ago, but it’s one I always come back to when I’m beginning to waver a little on how important feminism still is. It’s about how the hypersexualisation of our culture – the one we’re immersed in, right now – is diminishing and objectifying our girls and our women, and it really helped stoke the fire of my feminist anger (which some would argue didn’t need stoking, but it’s too late now). Natasha Walter is single-handedly to blame for the fact that I 100% do not believe that pole dancing is “empowering”, and I adore her for giving me that pig-headed belief.
Then, of course, we have the books I plan to read this year. I’m currently working my way through Eimear McBride’s The Lesser Bohemians*, which is bonkers and brilliant. Next up, I’m going to sink my teeth into Jessica Bennett’s Feminist Fight Club: An Office Survival Manual (For a Sexist Workplace)*, which my mother bought for me (she knows me so well). After that I’m thinking of taking a break from feminism and reading Robert F Worth’s A Rage for Order: The Middle East in Turmoil, from Tahrir Square to ISIS*, which I bought more than a year ago and just haven’t got around to, but my feelings of ignorance when ISIS and the Middle East are discussed mean I really have to get into it. Lastly? Chris Kraus’ I Love Dick* has pride of place on my shelf, and I can’t wait to bring it on holidays with me so I can read it on the beach and scandalise my fellow holidaygoers.
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