BitchReads: 13 Books Feminists Should Read in October

An illustration of a young Black woman with a shaved head sitting on a blanket inside a large open book. She is reading a book, petting a cat, and has a cup of coffee resting on another book.

Illustration by Helen Li

Cozy up with a new title this month. Our list includes an introduction to trap feminism, an essential meditation on police abolition, funny reflections on bisexuality, and a YA novel about an intersex teen. Happy reading!

Every book recommendation in this list comes from a Bitch Media editor with complete editorial independence. However, Bitch Media is an affiliate of Bookshop.org, and we want to make sure you know that a small percentage of any books you click through and purchase will come back to Bitch as a commission. Bookshop.org does not ship internationally.

Jocelyn Nicole Johnson
{ Henry Holt and Co. }
Release Date: October 4, 2021

In her debut book, public school art teacher Jocelyn Nicole Johnson ties together a novella and five short stories that explore racial and environmental social anxieties in Virginia. Partially inspired by the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Johnson’s title novella starts with a harrowing escape from the torch-wielding men who “came at dusk blaring an operatic O say can you see.” The protagonist Da’Naisha, a descendant of Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson, leads the Black and Brown survivors to safe shelter—at her ancestor’s former plantation Monticello. It won’t be the last you hear from Johnson, either: Netflix has plans to adapt “My Monticello” into a film, and the author is already working on her next book.

Sesali Bowen
{ Amistad }
Release Date: October 4, 2021

Sesali Bowen, a podcaster and entertainment journalist, spent years covering the rise of female rappers dominating hip-hop, deeply connecting to their eviscerating lyrics and bold confidence. In this part memoir, part Black feminist treatise, Bowen shares her framework of trap feminism, which she developed to better explain how Black women have defined trap music and how trap culture has influenced Black womanhood; her sharp insight shines throughout, like when she compares Rico Nasty to Audre Lorde. She’s candid and comical as she narrates her life and links lines from Megan Thee Stallion, Saucy Santana, Chella H with her experiences resisting racism, fatphobia, classism, sexism, and homophobia. Bowen underlines her theory with some scholarly moments and provides definitions for essential terms from “misogynoir” to “lace fronts” to “bougie.” She offers a fresh, inclusive Black feminist perspective that’s defiant, brash, and bad as hell. 

Keisha N. Blain
{ Beacon Press }
Release Date: October 4, 2021

A leading historian of Black women’s activism, Keisha N. Blain recently co-edited the sprawling tome Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019 with anti-racism scholar Ibram X. Kendi. Her next work examines one of the most impactful civil rights fighters in the past century, Fannie Lou Hamer, in this social history and biography. Blain delves into Hamer’s expectation-shattering life as a voting rights organizer and Black feminist intellectual with an essential voice that resonates today. In one part, Hamer worked with Shirley Chisholm in calling out white feminists in the National Women’s Political Caucus to demand that they address racism as part of their founding mission in 1971. Hamer minced no words: “The changes we have to have in this country are going to be for the liberation of all people—because nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”

Jen Winston
{ Atria Books }
Release Date: October 4, 2021

What is bi culture? On the internet, it’s lemon bars, cuffed jeans, and an inability to sit in chairs; onscreen, it’s murderous, rebellious adulterers. For Jen Winston, bisexuality contains all of these idiosyncrasies—whether ludicrous or accurate—and so much more. This witty essay collection follows Winston’s journey to understanding her queerness with creative chapter formats (email exchanges with her ex about his identity as a bi man or clinical observations on girl crushes) and keen reflections on biphobia. Bisexuality remains frequently misunderstood and too often ignored, but Winston’s work pushes back against rampant bi erasure and demands to be seen, heard, and read.

Derecka Purnell
{ Astra House }
Release Date: October 4, 2021

As calls for abolishing the police gain more traction in mainstream political discourse, this book serves as an introduction and meditation on the concept of abolition and the myriad ways that it could manifest in the United States. Lawyer, activist, and community organizer Derecka Purnell invites readers to have questions, be skeptical, but above all to understand that we’re living in a crucial time that demands creative, equitable, and just solutions—and it’s on us to dream and experiment with what those can be. Purnell digs into why she embraces this expansive framework through a historical and contemporary analysis of abolition movements that’s vigorous, educational, and urgently necessary.

Chibundu Onuzo
{ Catapult }
Release Date: October 4, 2021

At 48, Anna Bain is watching her life fall apart. Her mother has died, she’s divorcing her husband, and she’s growing more estranged from her daughter. But her world quakes when she finds the diary of her long-lost father and learns that he’s not only still alive, but lives in—and once ruled over—the (fictional) West African nation of Bamana. She books a flight and finds the man who’s been a Prime Minister, a dictator, a terrorist, and, now, her dad. Nigerian novelist Chibundu Onuzo builds suspense around Anna’s exploration into the unknown, physically and emotionally, as she gets to know this complicated man and unpack their broken relationship.

Miriam Toews
{ Bloomsbury }
Release Date: October 4, 2021

Powerhouse Canadian novelist Miriam Toews (whose popular novel Women Talking will be adapted into a 2022 movie starring Rooney Mara and Claire Foy) returns with an impressive new work told through a rambling letter in the voice of 8-year-old Swiv. After getting expelled for fighting, Swiv starts homeschool with her sickly grandmother and picks up a Sudoku obsession. In writing to the absent father who left her and her pregnant mother, Swiv details what she’s learning, not from class but from the two women in her life, Elvira (Grandma) and Mooshie (Mom). Through a stream of consciousness and letters written between the characters, we learn—along with Swiv—the hardships that Elvira and Mooshie survived.

Sonya Lalli
{ Berkley }
Release Date: October 4, 2021

Take a breezy read through a warm and fuzzy holiday rom-com that brings to life the Festival of Lights. The level-headed Niki is laid off from her analyst job and decides last-minute to fly to Mumbai for her friend’s wedding. She soon finds herself practically drooling over a hot bassist named Sam, described as a Riz Ahmed lookalike. The romance features hilarious scenes, like when Niki’s overbearing parents drag her for being single or when she falls into a pool—yellow sari and all—after nearly kissing Sam. Beyond the light fare, Lalli interrogates Niki’s Indian and Indian American identities in revealing flashbacks to childhood and reflections on her cultural insecurities.

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Sol Santana
{ Carolrhoda Lab }
Release Date: October 4, 2021

“I was starting to feel like my body didn’t belong to me anymore. It scared me.” Ash is mortified when he gets his period for the first time in the middle of soccer practice. An intersex high-school junior in Salem, Massachusetts, he’s suddenly being treated differently by his friends, family, and everyone else around him who ignore how he feels about his own body. Instead, he solaces himself with the memory of his ancestor Bridget Bishop, who was killed for being a witch—someone who was deeply misunderstood by those around her. Sol Santana, an intersex author and blogger, pens a compelling YA novel that exposes some of the stigmas and challenges that intersex folks face while lovingly reaffirming Ash’s coming-of-age journey to self-acceptance. 

Christina Dalcher
{ Berkley }
Release Date: October 18, 2021

Christina Dalcher’s latest dystopian feminist novel centers a popular locus of cultural and historical fascination: the women’s commune. Amid a catastrophic economic downfall that’s left the entire country unstable, hungry, and violent, Miranda is a desperate mother running out of options. She takes her daughter to a separatist collective that she had avoided for years—created by her estranged mother, Win—and quickly learns that the rules are severe, the Sisters are harsh, and there’s something sinister about the secretive methods they use to reproduce. Dalcher interweaves Miranda’s bitter, sharp storytelling with glimpses of Win’s life that trace a radical evolution to founding Femlandia.

Tiphanie Yanique
{ Riverhead }
Release Date: October 18, 2021

What if your love story started decades ago, before you exhaled your first breath? This sprawling novel centers the profound intimacy between Stela and Fly living in 2020 New York, but begins much earlier with their parents’ stories. In episode-like accounts, Tiphanie Yanique crafts the narratives of these two families through the ups and downs of their relationships, spanning Georgia, Ghana, the Virgin Islands, Tennessee, and elsewhere. The generational saga situates the characters in historically important events, such as the Vietnam War, and travels up through the COVID-19 pandemic, illustrating the impacts of colonialism, oppression, and racism on their lives. By utilizing her own unique structure and style of storytelling, Yanique guides readers to look deeper into Stela and Fly’s past so we can better understand their future.

Mallory O’Meara
{ Hanover Square Press }
Release Date: October 18, 2021

This fun romp through the history of social drinking habits explores how and why alcohol consumption became gendered—from the actual types and flavors of a drink to the perceptions of the women drinking it. O’Meara zooms out for a global perspective, highlighting the wine-flushed women of the Tang dynasty and the hard-working Christian brewnuns. She introduces the Venus of Laussel, a 25,000-year-old stone carving thought to be one of the first depictions of a woman drinking, and points out that it was likely the Romans who identified the earliest “girly drink” called passum (a raisin wine that was sweeter and weaker than the wine that Roman men drank). Other notable mentions include Cleopatra, the Queen of Rum Joy Spence, and, more recently, Fawn Weaver, the mastermind behind Uncle Nearest—named for the Black distiller who taught Jack Daniels how to make whiskey.

Alison Stine
{ Mira }
Release Date: October 25, 2021

In a dystopian near-future, climate crises have devastated the country and borders have been completely redrawn: there’s the rich coastal cities known as the Elites (or the Els), the Deep (as in the South), and Scrappalachia, the long stretch that includes the Trashlands region. Here, plastic is king because it’s the one thing that endures. Stine unfurls a rich cast—the cruel strip club owner Rattlesnake Master, the tattooist Trillium, the sex workers Foxglove and Summer—and at the heart is Coral, a single mom named after the organism that disappeared before she could witness its wondrous beauty. A gentle artist, Coral is desperate to get her son back from kidnappers forcing him to work at a recycling factory. When a reporter from the Els arrives to write a newspaper story about the area, Coral sees the chance to choose a different path. Will she take it?

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by Rosa Cartagena
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Rosa is a culture writer, arts editor, musician, retired fencer, and Bad Bunny buff. Before becoming Bitch’s senior editor, she spent five years reporting on theater, film, music, museums, and books, at Washingtonian magazine in DC. Rosa has covered anti-racism efforts in the theater community, sex lives in the pandemic, and the horrors of taking a digital detox. Most recently, she ran a newsletter about fun things to do at home that included her writing on pop culture and social criticism. She’s also written about the women’s suffrage movement in Puerto Rico for Smithsonian magazine.