The Welcome to My Vagina Ever-Expanding Reading List
Hi! Welcome to the Welcome to My Vagina reading list! We’re so glad you’re here. This is by no means an exhaustive reading list or one of those weird “books to read before you die” things or anything like that. This is simply an ever-growing database of books that we have read, or that have been read and recommended by people we respect, to help us all open our minds and expand our views. We are including fiction, nonfiction, memoir, theory, history, science fiction, academic and comedy. The criteria is simple: the books included here have informed or challenged our ideas about feminism and/or have touched on important themes that have changed or impacted our thinking. These are books written largely, but not exclusively, by women and include a diversity of lived, and imagined, experience. We hope you enjoy and check back often; this list will grow.
All books marked with an * were read and suggested by your WTMV hosts. All the others were recommended by our awesome and well-read friends and listeners. Feel free to send along any suggestions you might have to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “WE LOVE BOOKS!”.
Disclaimer: Just as all of us are riddled with flaws, none of these books are perfect. They all add something to the conversation and at the same time force us to reckon with our own inherent biases. Is The Feminine Mystic perfect, what with its discussion about the “lavender menace?” No. But does that mean we should throw Betty Friedan’s book out because of it? Probably not. We have to be able to take the good from things while also using what we learn to dismantle oppressive theories in order to make space for everyone. That is what feminism is all about. Making the world a better, more equal place for everyone in it – no matter the bodies and cultures we inhabit.
Anthologies and Essays:
- Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado*
- Listen Up: Voices from the Next Feminist Generation, Barbara Findlen, ed.
- A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf
- The Golem & the Jinni, Helene Wecker
- Helen Wecker’s debut novel is part historical fiction, part magical fable. Through a chance meeting of two mythical beings – one, Chava, a golem made of clay who was brought to life by a disgraced Rabbi dabbling in dark Kabbalistic magic and the other, Ahmad, a jinni who is a being of fire born in the ancient Syrian desert – this book takes readers on a fantastical journey through turn-of-the-century New York.
- The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
- Less because of the TV series, more because we seem to be steadily heading towards this as our reality and we must all be prepared. This book is set in the near-future (AKA right this fucking second) when a totalitarian state overthrows the US government. Atwood’s masterpiece explores what would happen if the patriarchy took a shit ton of steroids and how the women living within the confines of this theonomy attempt to gain independence and individualism.
- *Red Clocks, Leni Zumas
- A dystopian novel set in a small Oregonian town, the fodder Zumas uses to create her narrative is taken from actual legislation proposed by the men who currently run our government. Told from the perspective of 4 women – “The Wife,” “The Mender,” “The Biographer,” and “The Daughter” – Red Clocks explores what would happen if a Personhood Amendment to the US Constitution nullified Roe v Wade and a Pink Wall stretched across our northern border, keeping women from obtaining abortions in Canada. Incredible read. Here’s a good review by The Washington Post.
- *The Space Between Us, Thrity Umrigar
- Set in modern day Bombay, this novel tells the story of two women from very different backgrounds. There is Sera Dubash, an upper-middle class Parsi housewife whose wealth hides the effects of an abusive marriage and Bhima, the illiterate, life-hardened woman who has worked in the Dubash household for over 20 years. This beautiful book explores themes of caste, income disparity, domestic violence, family dynamics, trust, friendship, regret, love and loss. You will laugh, cry and get angry but in the end you will want to turn back to page 1 and start over.
- Swamplandia!, Karen Russel
- Dubbed by many critics a contemporary Southern Gothic novel, this story takes place on Ten Thousand Islands off the coast of Florida and explores themes of loss – much of the story focuses on the girls’ quest to find the ghost of their mother. Russel herself observes that her characters are lost in their “pool of grief,” saying that she “envisioned Hilola Bigtree’s death like a pool ball break, this traumatic event happens and they all spiral off into their own pocket.”
Memoirs and Autobiographies:
- Just Kids, Patti Smith
- Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, Audre Lorde
- *Sex Object, Jessica Valenti
- This book explores the ways in which women’s lives are impacted by sexism, from the everyday to the existential. Valenti investigates what it means to be a person living within a culture, in a world, that hates you, a world that constantly beats you down simply on the basis of your gender. She explores what impacts the constant gender discrimination – both explicit and implicit – has on the development of a woman’s mind and on her actual lived experience. For anyone who has ever wondered what sorts of neural pathways are paved through our everyday experience – and whether for some of us that can amount to PTSD and everything that comes along with it – then this book is for you.
- Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America,” Beryl Satter
- Based around the life and work of her father, Mark J. Satter who spent his life crusading on behalf of black families in Chicago who were victimized both by greedy real-estate speculators and the city’s racist housing laws, this book argues that “the true cause of black ghettoes in Chicago was financial exploitation – not the ‘culture of poverty’ or white flight. She then takes the next step and links this kind of financial exploitation, something that happened in cities and towns all across the country, to the recent subprime mortgage crisis during which lenders pushed people to take on more debt than they could handle and then charging them massively inflated interest rates, impoverishing people who were only hoping to achieve “the American dream.” When thinking and learning about feminism, understanding unfair housing policies is a crucial step in understanding how race, class and gender intersect.
- *Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution, Mona Eltahawy
- Written by an Egyptian American feminist, this book talks about the need for a sexual revolution throughout the Middle East. Eltahawy was a much heard and needed voice following the Arab Spring back in 2011 when it seemed as though everything in the region was on the brink of change. Through changes in government in many Middle Eastern countries (some for the better, some for the worse, and some without much impact at all) one thing has stayed stubbornly the same: the treatment of women. Eltahawy talks about what it is to be a woman in the Middle East through the recounting of her own experiences growing up but also through statistics and the stories of others. Her dedication at the beginning of the book sums the mission of this project up exceedingly well when she says, “To the girls of the Middle East and North Africa: Be immodest, rebel, disobey, and know you deserve to be free.”
- So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo
- The Girls of Atomic City, Denise Kiernan
Plays and Poetry:
- for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf, Ntozake Shange
- Milk and Honey, Rupi Kaur*
- Broken Earth (entire series), NK Jemisin
- The Dispossessed, Ursula K. LeGuin
- The Earthsea Series, Ursula K. LeGuin
- The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. LeGuin
- Very Far Away from Anywhere Else, Ursula K. LeGuin