How To Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran rocks. The cover says, “The British version of Tina Fey’s Bossypants.” That is a lie. This book is at least seven times better than Bossypants. It is feminist and smart (not that Bossypants is not smart, it’s just not as substantive) and so, so funny. The gold, though, is at the end, when Moran talks with eloquence, heart, and genius about motherhood.
Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman is fantastic. It gave me a yearning to teach writing classes in women’s prisons. The best thing about this book, however, is not the writing. It’s the love and sensitivity with which Kerman renders this totally underrepresented American population: people, in fact women, in jail. It made me want to get involved.
I made one exception, but for the past year plus, I have only read books by women. Recently, VIDA, an organization that advocates for and tracks women’s literary success, celebrated five HUGE wins for women in literature during 2013.
The best-known work by Beverly Donfrio is Riding in Cars With Boys, which I also read, and her new book, Astonished, is near the top of my “to read” list. But Looking for Mary is this heart-wrenching, gorgeously historical, vulnerable, feminist work. Especially since I grew up with religion and have a lot of static about Biblical figures, and a lot of anger about the mythology. Looking for Mary showed me Mary as a feminist icon, as a symbol of motherhood and strength and an appealing mysticism.
One of the themes of the books I’ll continue to read over the next months, is motherhood. I am perplexed by my own relationship with motherhood (sometimes it is uncomfortable), and engrossed by other women’s relationships with their versions of motherhood. Therefore, Surrendered Child by Karen McElmurray, which is among the most beautiful books I’ve ever read, is appealing for literary and personal reasons. I’ve rarely read a book with such an intentional, belabored pace. In fact, I haven’t even finished reading it yet. I don’t want it to be over.
Finally, The Boys of My Youth by JoAnn Beard is fantastic. It’s presented as individual essays, and they are mesmerizing. It was a useful book to read early in drafting my own memoir because Beard’s life, like mine, has been pretty regular–that is, the things that make me the kind of person who wants to write a memoir are fairly common: raised by Christians, single mother, etc. Beard had an alcoholic father and a shitty marriage. The thing that makes the book worth reading is the telling, the introspection. Especially “The Fourth State of Matter,” which takes place during the shooting at Iowa University in 1991.
How about you? What is the best memoir by a woman you’ve read?