BitchReads: 17 Books Feminists Should Read in May

Photo credit: Vikas Makwana/Unsplash

Did you miss us? Though it’s been five months since we published our monthly list of curated reads for feminists, we haven’t stopped reading as we’ve explored ways to bring BitchReads even further into the lives of our beloved community of bibliophiles. So we’re back with our first list of 2021 and some announcements: BitchReads is now a monthly book club! Our first pick, Laura Hankin’s A Special Place for Women, has been announced and will culminate with an interview with the author on May 26 at 2 p.m. PT/5 p.m. ET. You can now join us every month as we read a new book together. We’re also sending BitchReads as an email, though you’ll have to sign up to receive it in your inbox every month.

As for the 17 books feminists should read in May, we’re offering up a wide range of reads from novels and poetry collections to graphic novels and memoirs about life on the frontlines of the pandemic. As always, 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, so we want to make sure you know that a small percentage of sales from books purchased via this list will come back to Bitch as a commission. Bookshop.org does not ship internationally.

Gin Phillips
{ Viking }
Release Date: May 4, 2021

Lucia Gilbert, a family lawyer operating in 1980s Alabama, runs a firebrand practice that’s drawn a lot of ire for helping women leave their troubled—and sometimes abusive—marriages. Lucia has a bullseye on her back, which is what attracts Rachel, a teenager in the crosshairs of her parents’ divorce, to her. For Rachel, Lucia embodies a new kind of womanhood, one less concerned with the trappings of femininity and more engaged in fighting for equality. Family Law, narrated from both Lucia and Rachel’s perspectives, is an engrossing, entertaining novel about Southern women seeking justice for themselves and other women at any cost.

Muriel Leung
{ Nightboat Books }
Release Date: May 4, 2021

Muriel Leung, winner of the 2020 Nightboat Books Poetry Prize, asks a simple question in Imagine Us, the Swarm: “How do you write a history that is both [yours] and [not yours] but an extension of an improbable future?” It’s a question many writers are asking at a moment where we can’t escape the knowledge that we’re living history in real time. And it becomes omnipresent for Leung in the aftermath of her father’s death and the onset of a pandemic that’s sparked a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes; writing through it, she presents a striking poetry collection that speaks to the beauty and the heartbreak of this moment.

Jamal Jordan
{ Ten Speed Press }
Release Date: May 4, 2021

In 2018, former New York Times editor Jamal Jordan went on a quest to find queer people who resemble him after a lifetime of watching white queer couples being elevated in culture and politics. Jordan initially documented this journey in a moving photo essay for the Times and has expanded it into a full-length book that will stir your soul. Queer Love in Color features the photos and stories of queer couples of color from around the world, intimately exploring the politics of love and family in a time where both are crucial to our survival. 

Larissa Pham
{ Catapult }
Release Date: May 4, 2021

Do you remember the first time you fell in love? Though we often ask this question in the context of romantic relationships, Larissa Pham’s exquisite memoir-in-essays expands it to the multitude of things that make our hearts flutter from our favorite childhood book and the album we listen to without skipping a single song to the first city we visited that made us feel like we could achieve anything. Pham understands that love exists in many forms, and there’s wonderment in figuring out who and what we love and what that means. Pop Song is a triumphant collection, one that signals the author’s commitment to recounting complicated experiences without fear or apology.

Alison Bechdel
{ Houghton Mifflin Harcourt }
Release Date: May 4, 2021

Alison Bechdel is a national treasure, credited with inspiring the test many of us use to gauge women’s representation in pop culture; winning a 2014 MacArthur Fellowship; and releasing multiple bestselling memoirs, one of which was adapted into a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical. Yet she still has more insight to offer about her existence and ours in The Secret to Superhuman Strength, which chronicles the fitness fads that gripped American media and culture in the last four decades. From JackLaLanne to feminist martial arts, Bechdel uses her trademark wit to explore the cultural conditions that created our cultural obsession with wellness and undergirded her own ever-evolving relationship with her body.

Chloe Angyal
{ Bold Type Books }
Release Date: May 4, 2021

Journalism is at its best when it explores the inequality plaguing our most beloved institutions. In Turning Pointe, Chloe Angyal, a contributing editor at Marie Claire, examines the racial, sexual, and class problems that have long plagued classical ballet—an industry that has, she writes, been “made fragile and brittle by years of inequality and rendered dysfunctional by sexism, racism, elitism, and a stubborn disregard for the physical and mental well-being of the dancers who make the art possible.” Employing thorough research and eye-opening interviews with dancers, teachers, and other members of the ballet world, Angyal offers a clear indictment of how ballet has historically functioned and how it can be repaired for current and future dancers. “If ballet survives, it will be because of the individuals and institutions who are demanding that it do better,” she writes.

The cover of the Plastic issue of Bitch magazine with the text "Get the magazine that started it all:"
Laura Hankin
{ Berkley }
Release Date: May 7, 2021

You have to be perceived as “elite” to gain acceptance into Nevertheless, an exclusive women-only social club where dues can run members $1,000 per month and Rihanna drops in to run elbows with billionaires and get her aura read. Though journalist Jillian Beckley doesn’t meet the membership qualifications, she needs a scoop to revive her career and is able to convince Miles, the married editor she’s crushing on, to assign a story that lets her infiltrate the group. Once she’s in, however, Jillian gets more than she bargained for, peeling back the layers of a social club that’s doing more than simply encouraging women to connect. A Special Place for Women is the best kind of satire, taking real-life absurd ideas to their most logical—and sometimes scariest—extreme.

Selina Mahmood
{ Belt Publishing }
Release Date: May 18, 2021

When the history of the pandemic is written, we must remember the nurses, doctors, and other healthcare workers traumatized by a neverending cycle of illness and death. When the pandemic struck, Selina Mahmood was midway through the first year of her neurology residency, and she wrote this gripping, unforgettable account of the experience between shifts. A Pandemic is Residence is a must-read for those who want to understand this once-in-a-lifetime experience from the perspective of those on the literal front lines.

Ethel Rohan
{ Dzanc Books }
Release Date: May 18, 2021

There’s no better moment than our current one to read a collection of short stories about characters who are isolated and alone for a multitude of reasons. Ethel Rohan introduces us to Ruth, a woman who has developed an aversion to touch after a classmate’s constant touching caused her to have a seizure in kindergarten; as well as a private tutor who couches his own inappropriate touches in language about healing. We also meet a woman haunted by her childhood best friend’s unsolved disappearance and a priest navigating the difficulties of dementia as it ravages his mind and body. In the Event of Contact is a timely read about the importance of connecting with other people on our own terms.

Camryn Garrett
{ Knopf Books for Young Readers }
Release Date: May 18, 2021

High school senior Josie Wright’s wildest dreams come true when she wins a competition that sends her on a two-week, multicity tour to profile emerging actor Marius Canet for Deep Focus magazine. Though Josie develops a crush on Marius, everything comes crashing down when several women accuse the director of Marius’s next film of a litany of abuses, immersing Josie in a world she’s unprepared for—and jolting her to change the scope of her reporting. Off the Record is an engrossing journey about one woman’s quest to use the power of journalism to seek justice for those who’ve been wronged, even if it blows up her own nascent career.

Jacqueline Rose
{ Farrar, Straus and Giroux }
Release Date: May 18, 2021

Jacqueline Rose, codirector of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, knows as well as anyone that violence against women is one of the most persistent human-rights issues of our time. Whether it’s rape culture or intimate-partner violence, women, especially those from already marginalized communities, face a litany of abuses, often without recourse. On Violence and On Violence Against Women explores the reasons women are subjected to multiple forms of violence in the age of #MeToo and other movements formed to raise awareness about these traumas and end them. Beyond probing this idea through familiar incidents—among them Harvey Weinstein’s rape conviction and the brutality migrant women face in detention centers—Rose also offers a call to action so that we may end violence against women once and for all.

Alex McElroy
{ Atria Books }
Release Date: May 18, 2021

Sasha Marcus, the creator of a successful wellness brand for women, hits rock bottom after she confronts a troll online and is subsequently doxxed and forced into hiding. When her childhood friend, Dyson, hatches a plot to restore her image, she can’t refuse—even when she learns the job involves her running a rehabilitation center for white men incapable of saving themselves. Dyson lures the participants in under the false pretense of job training, and then begins the process of rehabilitating them, sending them to therapy sessions with Sasha to unlearn their commitment to toxic masculinity. The Atmospherians is witty, timely, and a perfect book for our moment.

Mary E. Jones Parrish
{ Trinity University Press }
Release Date: May 18, 2021

On March 31, 1921, a white mob stormed the Greenwood district, a predominantly Black neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma known as Black Wall Street, and burned it to the ground. One hundred years after this act of mass racial terror, a firsthand account of the violence from journalist Mary Parrish—who witnessed and documented the Tulsa Race Massacre as it happened—has been released for a broad, national audience. Parrish’s firsthand recollections of the worst episode of racial violence the nation has ever seen, along with an afterword by her great-granddaughter, Anneliese Bruner, are essential reading. 

Emiko Jean
{ Flatiron Books }
Release Date: May 18, 2021

Izumi Tanaka believes herself to be an average teenager: Her grades are subpar, she’s been accepted into a few decent colleges, and she prefers baking over extracurricular activities, In fact, Izumi plans to live a normal life alongside her single mother in Mount Shasta, California, until she discovers her father is the Crown Prince of Japan and she’s swept up in the whirlwind of traveling to Japan to meet the royal family. Izumi isn’t prepared for the life that awaits her, complete with hungry press, scheming relatives, and hovering bodyguards, and a blunder forces her to question what she truly desires for her future. Tokyo Ever After is a feel-good romantic drama for fans of The Princess Diaries.

Moya Bailey
{ NYU Press }
Release Date: May 25, 2021

When Moya Bailey, who has contributed to Bitch, coined the term “misogynoir” and, alongside Trudy, the creator of the Gradient Lair blog, helped usher it into our cultural lexicon, she couldn’t have predicted the impact it would have. In the near decade since, “misogynoir” has become shorthand for the ways Black women are oppressed in anti-Black and misogynistic spaces, and Bailey has continued shaping the idea both in academia and in the public sphere. Misogynoir Transformed takes Bailey’s work even further, exploring the ways in Black women have used online spaces to confront the misogynoir dictating their daily lives. This is essential reading in a time we’re fighting to ensure Black women are properly cited for their groundbreaking work.

Julie Murphy
{ Balzer + Bray }
Release Date: May 25, 2021

It’s been five years since bestselling author Julie Murphy first introduced us to the small town of Clover City, Texas, where fat teenagers take on beauty pageants and a pair of unexpected friends shake up their high school’s social hierarchy. In the third installment of the Dumplin’ series, Waylon Russell Brewer, a fat and openly gay student, is embarassed in front of the whole school when his audition tape for the televised drag show Fiercest of Them All gets leaked. And when Waylon’s classmates attempt to further humiliate him with a joke nomination for prom king, he decides to face the challenge head-on—and change Clover City in the process. Murphy is sending the Dumplin’ series out with a bang her beloved readers will appreciate.

Monica West
{ Simon & Schuster }
Release Date: May 25, 2021

Every summer, 15-year-old Miriam Horton travels with her famous Southern Baptist father and their family across the South to preach revivals to parishioners in need of healing. During one of their tour stops, a man confronts Miriam’s father, accusing him of fraud, sending her father into a spiral that results in violence, and forcing Miriam to see her father and his ministry in an entirely new light. When the Hortons return home, Miriam begins exploring what it would mean to live outside the confines of her religion, opening the gateway for an incredible book about what Christian faiths means for girls, women, and those who love them.

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by Evette Dionne
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Evette Dionne is Bitch Media’s editor-in-chief. She’s all about Beyoncé, Black women, and dope TV shows and books. You can follow her on Twitter.