BitchReads has been on hiatus, but our list of books that feminists should read is back—in a new format. Instead of publishing a monthly list, we are running a quarterly list broken up by genre; there will be a nonfiction list, a fiction list, and a poetry list. Spring is the perfect time to shake things up, not only with BitchReads but in our own lives. This list should encourage readers to pick up books that they would’ve never picked up before. Donate books to libraries and consignment shops. Clean off your bookshelves to make space for new reads. That’s what the renewal of spring is all about.
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Radical queer Chicana writer Cherríe Moraga has been reshaping the way we think about feminism for nearly 30 years. After co-editing the groundbreaking 1981 anthology, This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, and working alongside other feminist icons, including Audre Lorde and Gloria Anzaldúa, Moraga is now recounting the close but tumultuous relationship she had with her mother Elvira Isabel Moraga. Native Country of the Heart heavily meditates on Elvira’s difficult childhood in Tijuana; Moraga’s upbringing in California; how both women came to terms with Moraga’s sexuality; and the toll that Elvira’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis took on their relationship.
In her first book, Dani McClain, a contributing writer for The Nation and a Type Media Center fellow, makes the necessary argument that Black motherhood is inherently political. After she gave birth to her first daughter, McClain began speaking with other Black mothers, including those who are fighting racial injustices and have lost their children to gun violence, about how they’ve approached parenting. What she found is that Black mothers parent differently because their ancestors had their children stripped from them during slavery and they now live in fear of their children being maimed or killed. In many ways, We Live for the We is a manual for Black mothers who are worried about failing at the job.
In 2017, Grace Talusan, an English professor at Tufts University, won the prestigious Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing for her debut memoir The Body Papers. She earned that award for good reason. The Body Papers is an incredible book about the sexual trauma, xenophobia, and mental illness that shaped much of Talusan’s childhood after she and her parents emigrated from the Philippines to Chicago in the 1970s. Though she didn’t realize she was undocumented until she was in high school, Talusan felt othered as one of the only children of color in her predominantly white school. Home also wasn’t safe, as her paternal grandfather molested her. And adulthood offered no reprieve as she stared down a family history of breast cancer that forced her to make difficult decisions about her body. The Body Papers is a poignant memoir about managing trauma and finding purpose.
In her debut book, Toronto Life magazine editor Alexandra Kimball argues that the mainstream feminist movement hasn’t supported people with wombs who are dealing with infertility. She calls it an “anti-maternal bias” that began in the Garden of Eden but really took root during feminism’s second wave when “essential” and “natural” female experiences, like giving birth, were celebrated. The Seed combines Kimball’s experience with infertility with the work of notable feminists, including Judith Butler, to examine feminism’s lack of consideration for the barriers to parenting for queer women, transgender women, women of color, and poor women.
Ever since Donald Trump became president, politicians, activists, historians, and others have been warning Americans about the rise of fascism in the United States. Natasha Lennard, a columnist at The Intercept and part-time New School for Social Research professor, brings those warnings to our bookshelves with a timely essay collection that aims to guide us through this uncertain and critical time. Is it possible to live a non-fascist life? That’s the question Lennard’s collection answers through essays about sex being “radical,” the rising criminalization of political dissent, and how we unintentionally invite ghosts to haunt us.
Once upon a time, fat bodies were celebrated in art, in newspapers and magazines, and in medical journals, but that all changed during the Enlightenment Era of the 18th century when fatness was purposefully intertwined with the idea that people of color were racially inferior savages. Sociologist Sabrina Strings’s incredible book analyzes how that shift continued to plague Black women, from Sara Baartman—a woman kidnapped from Cape Town, South Africa, to participate in freak shows—to fat Black women currently being stigmatized within the medical industry. Fearing the Black Body makes the convincing argument that the thin ideal has always been racist.
Domestic violence is a “global health problem of epidemic proportions,” according to the World Health Organization, but it is still grossly misunderstood and understudied. Even as more women face the reality that home is the most dangerous place for them to be, there is still a lack of resources available to victims. Journalist Rachel Louise Snyder has been researching and writing about this dire issue for many years, and she has found that the overall approach to curbing domestic violence puts many victims at risk. No Visible Bruises is a comprehensive breakdown of all of the misconceptions that people have about domestic violence and a manual for changing our thinking about such a pressing issue.
The “cancerous surge” in nationalism, xenophobia, and racism in the United States and around the world isn’t accidental, as British science writer Angela Saini outlines in her timely and important new book. In fact, researchers have long tried to use science to prove that white people are innately superior. Superior: The Return of Race Science recounts that disturbing history, from the Nazis attempting to extinguish entire populations based on perceived inferiority to human zoos being opened at world’s fairs in the 1800s, and explains how prominent scientists have re-entrenched racism through their research.
The commercial modeling industry has long been confusing to those who casually follow fashion week coverage and those who are looking to break into the business. University of Toronto professor Elspeth H. Brown’s third book brings clarity by looking at the industry’s overlooked queer history. Work! begins in 1909, ends in 1983, and traces how the industry made strides in each decade to become more progressive. Whether it’s the showgirls of the 1920s, fashion photographer George Platt Lynes spearheading “queer glamour” in the 1930s, or the groundbreaking Black models of the 1950s and ’60s, Brown’s book will reshape our understanding of the modeling industry.
R. Kelly is facing a reckoning after allegedly abusing Black girls and women for more than two decades. Thanks to Lifetime’s Surviving R. Kelly docuseries, the ongoing #MuteRKelly campaign, and the ceaseless activism of a number of Black organizers, Kelly is facing 10 charges of felony aggravated criminal sex abuse. There are few people who have been as integral to Kelly being charged as Jim DeRogatis, who has been reporting on Kelly’s alleged crimes since 2000. Since DeRogatis received an anonymous fax at the Chicago Sun-Times saying that Kelly had a problem with “young girls,” he has doggedly pursued the story—even as the music industry continued supporting Kelly. Soulless is DeRogatis’s compelling account of working for more than two decades to get the music industry to care about Kelly’s victims.
Samra Habib learned from an early age that revealing her identity could put her in danger. As an Ahmadi Muslim child living in Pakistan as the government targeted her religious sect, her parents instilled in her the importance of hiding in plain sight. When Habib and her family emigrated to Canada, she silently endured bullying, racism, and an arranged marriage because assimilation was more important than being honest about her sexuality, her experiences in school, and her unhappiness. We Have Always Been Here is an exquisite memoir about Habib’s long journey toward reclamation in a Western world intent on keeping her—and other women—silent and obedient.
Since 2010, Kevin Allred has been teaching “Politicizing Beyoncé,” a popular college course that examines the relationship between Beyoncé’s albums, videos, and overall artistry and Black feminism. Ain’t I a Diva delves into Allred’s process for creating the class—from how he chose the songs, videos, and Black feminist texts to his philosophy around teaching pop stars in college classrooms. Allred makes the age-old case that pop culture is inherently political, and can be a gateway for students who might otherwise be disengaged.
Lawyer, writer, and cultural historian Linda Hirshman is a master of turning landmark legal cases and figures into compelling books. Her amazing 2012 book, Victory: The Triumphant Gay Revolution, delved into the long legal fight for marriage equality, while her bestselling 2015 book, Sisters in Law: How Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World, is a fascinating look at the friendship and alliance between the two women who transformed America’s most important court. Reckoning, like her other books, is an enlightening look at the women who forged through legal, political, and cultural obstacles to force Congress and their employers to take workplace harassment seriously.
Dr. Tanisha C. Ford, an Africana Studies and History professor at the University of Delaware, loves fashion. Her first book, 2015’s Liberated Threads: Black Women, Style, and the Global Politics of Soul, delved into Black women’s use of fashion as a tool of resistance during the Civil Rights Movement of the ’60s, the Black Power Movement of the ’70s, and the anti-apartheid movement of the ’80s. Dressed in Dreams, however, isn’t an academic text. Instead, the entertaining book combines Ford’s personal history with fashion—from rocking bamboo earrings to wearing baggy jeans—with her extensive knowledge of fashion history to examine how she and other Black women come into their own.
There are few critics who are as insightful and entertaining to read as the New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum. It really doesn’t matter what television show she’s writing about; I always know that her observations will make me think more critically about what I’m consuming and why. I Like to Watch is a collection of some of the Pulitzer Prize-winning critic’s best work, including her musings about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the ways that sexual violence onscreen influences our real-life behavior toward one another. It also includes a never-before-published essay about reconciling our love for someone’s work with the monstrous accusations leveled against them.