Inspirational female authors – International Women’s Day 2019

Happy International Women’s Day!

Today, 8 March, is a date to celebrate the social, economic, political and cultural achievements of women. It all began over a century ago and today it is observed all over the world. It is also a day to reflect on improving gender equality and for 2019 the theme is #BalanceforBetter.

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At Brompton library, we have been celebrating the literary achievement of women with a series of book reviews. Since International Women’s Day in 2018, I have been doing regular reviews of books by inspirational female authors. In total I have read eleven books by eleven amazing female writers. It is hard to pick a favourite because the books are all so different and written in different styles.

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I loved some of the books because of their subject matter or the worlds they created. There are the feminist dystopias of The Power, The Water Cure and Red Clocks which comment on gender equality in our own society. There is Helen Dunmore’s novel that explores how a female writer from the eighteenth century could be completely forgotten by history. Angela Carter and Margaret Atwood’s novels reimagine classic myths and fairy tales from a feminist perspective.

I found some of the books inspirational because of their authors. Such as Zadie Smith, who was published at a young age and has gone on to win many literary awards or Toni Morrison, who was the first African-American woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. Then there is Malala Yousafzai, who almost lost her life standing up for women’s rights.

Because the books are from different eras, it made me reflect on the journey of women’s rights. Roxane Gay’s essays are a funny and insightful look into the struggles of being a modern feminist, whereas Emily Bronte, who had to publish Wuthering Heights under a male pseudonym, is a reminder of how far we’ve come.

I hope you have been as inspired as me by these great reads! And I’m sure you can think of many more inspirational female authors to add to this list.

 

 

Inspirational female authors: Zadie Smith

As we get ready to celebrate International Women’s Day next month, we are continuing with our inspirational female authors blog series. For February, I will be reviewing White Teeth by Zadie Smith 

White Teeth was Zadie Smith’s first novel, which was published when she was just twenty-four years old. It went on to have huge critical success and it won several awards, including the 2000 Whitbread Book Award, the Guardian First Book Award and the Commonwealth Writers First Book Prize. It has also more recently been adapted for the stage.

It is difficult to give a quick, neat synopsis of what White Teeth is about because it weaves between many characters, timelines and settings. It is a tale of immigration and belonging and at its heart are two unlikely friends, Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal. The book follows their stories and the stories of their families.

It is not a quick read and it has been criticised as needing editing as there is backstory upon backstory. Not only do you know the life of the main characters’ parents, but their parents and even their parents too. But I loved it, you really sink into the lives of the characters. I loved how you slowly learn how the threads of their lives intertwine and then collide towards the end, over the most bizarre spectacle.

It deals with some difficult, serious topics but it is also very funny. I don’t laugh easily at books, but I found myself chuckling at some of the lines and scenes in this.  Zadie Smith brings her own fresh perspective to the tale of an immigrant in Britain and although she has been compared to many other writers, I think she has a strong, unique voice.

Next month we will recap all the books we have reviewed this year, to coincide with International Women’s Day on 8 March.

Philippa, Brompton Library

Inspirational female authors: Margaret Atwood

Is one of your New Year’s Resolutions to read more? Why not get some inspiration from our monthly reviews of inspirational female authors. We have been reviewing a book by a female writer (nearly!) every month since International Women’s Day in March last year. For January, I have chosen The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

The Penelopiad is a reimagining of The Odyssey, but instead of following the adventures of Odysseus, it is told from the perspective of Penelope, his wife. It is part of the Canongate Myth Series, where ancient myths were rewritten by a selection of contemporary authors.

Margaret Atwood chooses to retell the classic story from a female perspective and she creates a complex character in Penelope, who is more than the dutiful wife portrayed in the original. She also gives a voice to the mysterious twelve maids, who are killed by Odysseus when he finally returns from his voyage. In this version, the maids tell their tale as part of a chorus which interrupts the story with songs, children’s rhymes, an academic lecture and even a court trial.

I loved this retelling of the classic myth and in particular the way in which the maids tell their side of the story, which is fresh and unique. As is typical of a Margaret Atwood novel, it is intelligent but also funny, and that odd mix of disturbing but also engaging.

Come back in February for our penultimate review of an inspirational female author.

Philippa, Brompton Library

Inspirational female authors: Angela Carter

Since March we have been reviewing one book a month by an inspirational female author and this series will continue up until International Women’s Day next year. This month I have chosen The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter.

It can be claimed that Angela Carter changed the path of fiction with her dark tales of magical realism and her influence can be seen in generations of writers since. Her novels are famous for focusing on women’s stories and The Bloody Chamber is my personal favourite. It is a collection of reimagined fairy tales, which put female voices to the front.

The collection of short stories is quite dark, with sex and violence as key themes. But, she uses this to explore issues around conventional femininity and gender roles. The language she uses and her style of writing is beautiful, in contrast with her sometimes brutal subject matter.

I love how she explores the potential of fairy tales and how she allows her female characters to be flawed and real. I think this book is a good starting point for anyone new to Angela Carter.

Join us in January for the next review of an inspirational female author. See you in 2019!

Philippa, Brompton Library

Inspirational female authors: Leni Zumas

2018 marks 100 years since women were legally able to vote and to celebrate this we are reviewing one book a month by an inspirational female author. So far we have reviewed Nobel prize winners, women forced to publish under male pseudonyms and some trailblazing feminist novels.

For this month I have chosen Red Clocks by Leni Zumas. It is a vision of near future America where abortions and IVF are illegal. It shows how these new laws affect four main characters: the Biographer, the Mother, the Daughter and the Mender. The Biographer is despite to have a child, but her biology and the new laws are working against her. The Mother is struggling with two children and the breakdown of her marriage. The Daughter finds herself pregnant at fifteen with no idea what to do next. And the Mender lives alone in the woods and offers treatments to the women that seek her.

This is a powerful novel that explores motherhood and a woman’s relationship to her body.  All the main characters are introduced to us not by their names but by their role to someone else, for instance mother or daughter, so it also considers the various “roles” women play. The world Zumas creates is frighteningly realistic and close to our own.

I loved the subtly unique voice of all the characters and how we gradually learn how they fit together. The plot is unpredictable and doesn’t take any easy ways out. It also doesn’t offer any easy answers to the many issues it raises.

It reminded me of The Power by Naomi Alderman, which was the first book I reviewed for the inspiration women series in March. You can read the review here.  You can also see the other previous reviews for April, May, June. July and August.

See you in November for the next review.

Philippa, Brompton Library

Inspirational female authors: Malala Yousafzai

Welcome back to our monthly review of books by inspirational female authors, in celebration of the centenary of women legally being able to vote.

For August I have chosen I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai It is the true story of a young Pakistani girl who spoke out against the Taliban to defend her right to an education. This bravery almost cost Malala her life, but she survived and continues to advocate for education as a universal right. In 2014, she became the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

The story is told in Malala’s own words and you get a sense of the real person behind the icon. Learning that she squabbles with her younger brothers, she loves the colour pink and she hates getting up in the morning made me connect with her story even more. It’s easy to forget she is an ordinary teenager as well as a symbol for resistance and justice.

Alongside Malala’s experiences, the book outlines in some detail the history and politics of Pakistan. It is explained simply, presuming no prior knowledge so it is a good introduction if, like me, you don’t know as much about it as you’d like.

I found her story very inspiring. It reminded me how much freedom I take for granted every day, when that is not the case for women around the world, and also how much further there is to go for equality.

Check back in September for the next review of another inspirational writer.

Philippa, Brompton Library

PS – you can see the previous reviews of inspirational women writers for July, June, May, April and March

Inspirational female authors: Emily Bronte

This month we have a double celebration! As well as the monthly review of a book by a female author to mark the centenary of votes for women, we are also celebrating the 200th anniversary of Emily Bronte’s birth on the 30th July. So it was a clear choice to pick Wuthering Heights to review for July.

Wuthering Heights is an intense story set in a lonely house on the Yorkshire moors. It is about the wild and passionate love between Catherine and Heathcliff. They grow up together and years later Heathcliff returns to seek revenge on those he feels have wronged him. The dark tale has shocked and enthralled readers since it was published in 1847.

I first read Wuthering Heights years ago, but reading it again recently I was brought straight back to the haunting atmosphere. If you have already read it, I would recommend re-reading it as there is so much scope for analysis. For those that haven’t, the characters are iconic and the brooding mood of the book will stay with you long after you finish reading.

Emily Bronte is a fitting author for our inspirational women series as she illustrates the progress of women’s rights. When she first published a collection of poems with her sisters in 1846 they all had to use male pseudonyms; Emily’s was Ellis Bell. Wuthering Heights was also originally published as Ellis Bell but after her death her sister Charlotte republished it under Emily’s real name. Despite writing at a time when female authors were rare and would face prejudice, Emily Bronte wrote a powerful and imaginative novel that would become an English literary classic.

At Brompton Library we have created a display to celebrate Emily Bronte’s bicentenary, featuring of course Wuthering Heights, but also her poems, various non fiction books about her life and beautifully illustrated children’s books. So there is also a lot of further reading you can do to mark the 200 years since the birth of this inspirational woman.

You can see the previous reviews of inspirational women writers for June, May, April and March See you in August.

Philippa, Brompton Library

Inspirational female authors: Roxane Gay

Throughout 2018 we are reviewing one book a month written by a woman, to celebrate the centenary of women legally being able to vote. This month I have chosen the first non fiction book on the list: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Bad Feminist is a collection of essays about a wide range of subjects including pop music, sexuality, scrabble, women’s legal rights, privilege, sexual violence, reality TV, Chris Brown, female friends, The Hunger Games, body issues and Orange is the New Black. The essays are all in some way an exploration of feminism today.

From the outset Roxane Gay introduces herself as a ‘bad feminist’. Throughout the book she convincingly argues that there might be more than one perfect way to be a feminist. She also explores feminism from the often overlooked perspective of black and LGBT women. It is part essay and part memoir as she shares very personal stories of her life.

I don’t normally read a lot of non fiction but I was hooked by this book straightaway and it was an engaging read. Some parts are funny, some parts are emotionally challenging and she is always insightful. A lot of what she said resonated with me and it made me reevaluate some of my opinions. There is such an array of subjects examined that even if you don’t agree with everything she says, there will be something to interest you.

She also discusses a lot of books I haven’t read yet so it has given me a whole list of things I want to read!

You can see the previous reviews of inspirational women writers for May, April and March See you in July.

Philippa, Brompton Library

Inspirational female authors: Toni Morrison

To celebrate 2018 being the centenary of women’s right to vote, we are reviewing one book a month by an inspiring female author.

This month’s book is ‘Beloved’ by Toni Morrison, who was the first African-American woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature.

‘Beloved’ is set in America just after slavery was abolished. It is inspired by the supposedly true story of a woman who killed her child rather than have her taken back into slavery.  Sethe, a former slave, and her daughter Denver encounter a mysterious woman called Beloved. She comes to live with them and as they discover more about her they believe she is the ghost of the child Sethe murdered. ‘Beloved’ is about being haunted, struggling with identity and attempting to escape the past.

I think it is one of the most powerful books I’ve read. The way Toni Morrison contrasts the beauty of her language and the brutality she describes is very striking. This book stays with you long after you finish it.

The story is told through the flashbacks of several characters, which can make the plot difficult to follow at times but I think it is worth it for Morrison’s unique writing style.

If you have read ‘Beloved’ I’d recommend the other two books that were intended to be read as part of the same trilogy. The second book is ‘Jazz’ which is set in Harlem during the jazz age and has one of the most intense opening scenes. The third book is ‘Paradise’ which is about a brutal attack in a convent in 1970s America. None of the books feature the same characters, but they all deal with the same recurring themes.

See you in June for the next review.

Philippa, Brompton Library

ps – April’s review is here and March’s here