Are you a book club goer? Personally, I’ve always viewed reading as a solitary activity. Staying in bed and falling into a whole other world away from modern-day NYC is my idea of Saturday bliss. But the more extroverted of us find the energy and camaraderie of a book club stimulating and inspiring. Even I have to admit there’s something deliciously nostalgic about those days at the library, reading side-by-side with a friend.
If that’s your reading vibe, listen up: As if we didn’t already heart Emma Watson, she has given us yet another reason to crush on her. The devoted sustainable fashionista and outspoken advocate has launched her very own feminist book club, Our Shared Shelf. Emma herself picks 2 new feminist books every two months, and the club convenes on Goodreads and socializes over Instagram–how very Oprah 3.0.
What I love about these picks are that they’re not traditional “Book Club books.” Translation: in the publishing world, that means anything from “women’s fiction” to “upmarket women’s fiction,” which can be anything from beach reads like The Devil Wears Prada to something deeper but still not “literary enough” like The Joy Luck Club. In terms of nonfiction, a “Book Club book” is something like Wild. Basically, it means books that appeal to the biggest common denominator rather than something that aspires to an artistic or cerebral specificity.
This way of conceptualizing Book Club books, aka books that women like to read, has the consequences of underestimating female readers *and* female writers. Female readers are taken as less serious, less intellectual consumers. Female authors are seen as producing works of less serious literary merit. This comes out in misogynistic bursts from male authors like V.S. Naipaul, who declared no female author living or dead could be his equal. For the record, I’ve read his work and worked with his editor and think he’s a pile of ___. As for the said editor of Naipaul, he told me point-blank that women writers are simply not as good as male writers. “How many canonical female writers can you name?” He asked me–this was circa 2011, pre #MeToo.
This isn’t just anecdotal, unscientific evidence. Roughly twice as many books by male authors are reviewed by The New York Times than those by female authors, and a great majority (up to 90% in certain years) are written by Caucasians. When they are reviewed at all, books by women are 3-4 times more likely to be described using words like “husband,” “marriage,” and “mother,” while books by mean are twice as likely to be reviewed using words like “president,” “leader,” “argument,” and “theory.”
That’s why Emma Watson’s book club picks are such a breath of fresh air: instead of picking fluffy, “women-friendly” books that start with the single woman going through a breakup and ending with her getting married, she picks works that are all likely to use words like “theory” and “argument”–written by, for, and about women of all walks of life.
Without further ado, here are the two picks for May/June.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
This timely novel chronicles the struggles of a female black adolescent after she witnesses police shoot her friend. Told with empathy and nuance, this gripping story explores the intersections of race, poverty, police brutality, urban strife, and current political movements including Black Lives Matter. It’s truly a work for our times.
Radium Girls: The Dark Story of Americca’s Shining Women by Kate Moore
Radium Girls illuminates the hardship faced by hundreds of young women working in radium-dial factories where they are exposed to the dangerous chemical, causing them to fall ill. The work immortalizes the courage of these women as they stand for workers’ rights during a time when women’s voices were routinely ignored or silenced.
What was the last really good book you read?
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Photo: Amazon, Emma Watson vis Instagram