Tag Archives: women empowerment

Women-centric literature: A book list #Birthdaybloghop

“And since a novel has this correspondence to real life, its values are to some extent those of real life. But it is obvious that the values of women differ very often from the values which have been made by the other sex; naturally this is so. Yet is it the masculine values that prevail. Speaking crudely, football and sport are “important”; the worship of fashion, the buying of clothes “trivial.” And these values are inevitably transferred from life to fiction. This is an important book, the critic assumes, because it deals with war. This is an insignificant book because it deals with the feelings of women in a drawing-room.”

– Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
women-centric literature
women-centric literature

I recently compiled a list of books from my bookshelf, and the main theme that seemed to bind them all was the fact that they were either written by women or were about women in different spheres of life. Needless to say, many of these books, when they first came out, were often subject to various controversies, specifically because they also dealt with the themes of female independence, sexuality, intellectualism as well as female interrelationships.

Although these books all belong to various genres (literary fiction, nonfiction, bildungsroman, Post Colonial studies, dystopian, graphic novels, contemporary literature, etc), they have a common thread of continuity running through these. These follow women who are growing in one way or another (physically, emotionally, mentally, etc) and as such are often placed in contrast against the largely conservative and patriarchal society. All of these women are rebelling, in either a small or a big way, against the society that strives to repress them and their beings.

These are books that I have either read or am planning to read, specifically because of the subject matter. I believe that in one way or another, these can be great references when studying feminism, because like I have reiterated continually, they all deal with women and their rights, in various degrees. So, here is my book list of 25 books, including 3 special mentions, which I think every person should read.

  1. Delta of Venus by Anais Nin – A rich and exotic collection from the master of erotic writing!
  2. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott – The trials and tribulations of the March sisters during the American Civil War.
  3. The Ages of Lulu by Almudena Grandes – A groundbreaking novel of sexual exploration which was an overnight sensation and sparked international controversy!
  4. Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde – A cyclical chronicle of the author’s coming-of-age and the different women who shaped her.
  5. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – A dystopian novel that is utterly convincing in its representation of a society that does not let women read and uses them as breeders.
  6. The Loves of Faustyna by Nina Fitzpatrick – A sexual odyssey across the social and political scenario of Communist Poland.
  7. Orlando by Virginia Woolf – A love-letter to Woolf’s lover Vita Sackville-West, Orlando is a journey across three centuries.
  8. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys – A retelling of the Jane Eyre story from the eyes of the madwoman in the attic!
  9. The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir – A powerful analysis of the Western notion of “woman,” and a groundbreaking exploration of inequality and otherness.  
  10. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf – A feminist text that argues for the need for literal and figurative space for a woman to flourish and dedicate time to herself.
  11. The Awakening by Kate Chopin – One of the key first-wave feminist texts, that portrayed the stifling cage the institution of marriage was for one woman, who found respite in an extramarital affair.
  12. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath – An intensely emotional read about a young girl suffering from mental health illness.
  13. The Color Purple by Alice Walker – An empowering story of a Black woman who faces multiple hardships, until she takes charge of her own destiny. Narrated via a series of letters.
  14. We Should All be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – A seminal nonfiction work that serves as the most basic and relevant modern reason why one should be a feminist.
  15. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel – A graphic novel that explores sexuality, literature, and the effect of shame of closeted homosexuals.
  16. Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi – Often described as a Middle Eastern version of Sex and the City, Embroideries deal with female sexuality, the concept of virginity, and independence.
  17. City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert – A fun read set during the years before and after the WWII, City of Girls is an exploration of one’s identity and sexuality, amidst the glamour of fashion and showgirls. Also, narrated by an old woman looking back on her life.
  18. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert – The only book in this list, written by a male author, Madame Bovary is much like The Awakening in the sense that it follows a married woman trapped in her marriage, seeking emotional fulfillment in reading, spending and ultimately in adultery.
  19. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett – One of the best-loved works in Victorian and children’s literature, it is about resilience and hope in the face of extreme hardships and sadness.
  20. Emma’s Secret (A Woman of Substance series) by Barbara Taylor Bradford – The Woman of Substance was a book that my aunt loved and heavily annotated, and as many would agree, a story of the indomitable spirit of a woman who with a mean entrepreneurial streak became the richest woman in the world.
  21. The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni – A reimagining of the Mahabharata from the eyes of Draupadi, the wife of the five Pandavas.
  22. Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery – A book series that was a childhood favourite of many, and was again relieved via the Netflix series Anne with an E.

Special Mentions:

  1. Becoming by Michelle Obama
  2. Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  3. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin
women-centric literature
women-centric literature

This post is part of #Birthdaybloghop by Vidhya Thakkar and Neelam Sharma should not be repurposed, republished or used otherwise. The content herein is owned by the blogger. Hosts are not responsible for any infringement caused.

City of Girls, by Elizabeth Gilbert, 2019

Title: City of Girls

Author: Elizabeth Gilbert

Published on: 4th June, 2019

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Genre: Historical Fiction

Format: Paperback

Language: English

No. of pages:  470

Synopsis:

From the # 1 New York Times bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Loveand The Signature of All Things, a delicious novel of glamour, sex, and adventure, about a young woman discovering that you don’t have to be a good girl to be a good person.

“Life is both fleeting and dangerous, and there is no point in denying yourself pleasure, or being anything other than what you are.”

Beloved author Elizabeth Gilbert returns to fiction with a unique love story set in the New York City theater world during the 1940s. Told from the perspective of an older woman as she looks back on her youth with both pleasure and regret (but mostly pleasure), City of Girls explores themes of female sexuality and promiscuity, as well as the idiosyncrasies of true love.

In 1940, nineteen-year-old Vivian Morris has just been kicked out of Vassar College, owing to her lackluster freshman-year performance. Her affluent parents send her to Manhattan to live with her Aunt Peg, who owns a flamboyant, crumbling midtown theater called the Lily Playhouse. There Vivian is introduced to an entire cosmos of unconventional and charismatic characters, from the fun-chasing showgirls to a sexy male actor, a grand-dame actress, a lady-killer writer, and no-nonsense stage manager. But when Vivian makes a personal mistake that results in professional scandal, it turns her new world upside down in ways that it will take her years to fully understand. Ultimately, though, it leads her to a new understanding of the kind of life she craves – and the kind of freedom it takes to pursue it. It will also lead to the love of her life, a love that stands out from all the rest.

Now ninety-five years old and telling her story at last, Vivian recalls how the events of those years altered the course of her life – and the gusto and autonomy with which she approached it. “At some point in a woman’s life, she just gets tired of being ashamed all the time,” she muses. “After that, she is free to become whoever she truly is.” Written with a powerful wisdom about human desire and connection, City of Girls is a love story like no other.

My review:

I received a review copy from the publishers in return for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

City Of Girls is part memoir, and part coming-of-age. It is narrated by Vivian Louise Morris, who is now an old lady of 95. From the beginning itself, we see Vivian as a very practical, matter-of-fact woman, who accepts things as they are. Of course, it was not always so. However, she was always a confident woman with her self-esteem intact and on point. In the very first page itself, she says –

“I was always pretty Angela. What’s more, I always knew it.”

Of course that may come off as something a narcissistic person would say, but Vivian was a good person, essentially. And besides, it is nice to read about women who love themselves as they are – quite rare to find that kind today – we all have so many doubts about ourselves, with our looks and bodies, etc.

Easter eggs in the book were the mentions of Gone With The Wind as well as the people associated with it. In a way, Vivian is a foil, or rather somewhat of a modern-day version of Scarlett O’Hara herself.

Dealing with trauma is something that is shown multiple times in the book, although very subtly as undercurrents that determine the actions of the characters. Vivian herself never thought much of her grandmother’s death and how it affected her much – she herself says that it was only then as she narrated her life, that she understood how very sad and bereft she had felt and not even recognized (another effect of being brought up WASP style, I assume!). Later on, after that ‘bitterly regrettable’ mistake, and the comment of one silly boy, we see her suffer. Depression is not really mentioned here, but I do think that Vivian was very depressed for a time. It also shows how some careless words from the mouth of any careless person can affect people. Celia is a character who seems very shallow in the first few instances. But she has admittedly been through so much dark stuff as Vivian later realizes – her trauma is not much explored in the book but I’d love to read about her story. Addiction is another lesser theme I saw through Peg. Her addiction to alcohol is crippling.

Later on, when we see Vivian and Celia get punished for their actions, we confront the hypocrisy of the society, just as the character mentions, the women are always punished but the men get away scot-free with it. And that was so very relatable.

Marjorie is a character I absolutely loved. She is witty and wise and knows what she wants, most importantly, she never cows away from society and its expectations – she has never been afraid of being different even at the cost of being weird and alternate to society’s rules for women. Later on, she does what she wants with her baby and makes her own way despite the fact that society frowned upon it. She accepts herself and is not afraid of being alone – rather she is very comfortable with it. Vivian and Marjorie’s talks are really illuminating, I feel, especially the one they have on page 335.

Olive is another one of the powerful females who is not at all afraid of being herself. She is an admirable lady, responsible and completely different from the rest of the ‘theatre folk’ and I loved this juxtaposition the author played with. Billy is an irresponsible person, as Arthur an idiot and I just couldn’t help but laugh and get frustrated with them at times. Edna is charismatic and I understand that many may have a second thought, but I understand her actions later on in the story and where she comes from. The LGBTQ+ angle is well threaded into the narrative and it is a great addition in some of the characters’ arcs.

One of the most important lessons though is that some wounds simply never heal. They get old and we get used to the dull pain but the chafing, if we notice, never goes away completely. We may forget but that doesn’t mean they go away entirely.  

I had also been watching Sex and the City series simultaneously while I had been reading the book and it was a powerful combo. They reinforce the fact that it is very important for us women to just be ourselves and not be afraid of being alone. It was an illuminating experience for me overall and I shall definitely be returning to this book whenever I feel doubtful of myself and need some womanly inspiration!

Verdict:

I think this is one of the best books I have ever read in this genre. I rate it 5/5 stars!

About the reviewer:

Nayanika Saikia, is one of the foremost book reviewers from the North-east and Assam, and is also an admin for the official India bookstagram page on Instagram. She publishes her own reviews and recommendations for poetry, fiction, non-fiction etc. on her bookstagram account @pretty_little_bibliophile which won the NorthEast Creator Awards 2018, as well as in daily newspapers, online magazines etc.  She can be contacted at nayanikasaikia98@gmail.com .

Child of Paradise: Listen to your dreams, Pratibha R DH, 2017

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Publisher: Flugel Publishing House
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Pages: 340
Blurb:
Life takes an unexpected turn when Tia meets the boy whom she secretly had a crush on all through her school years. Not only does Ron steal her heart but he seems equally besotted in a true blue sense of the word. Tia’s friends who had always known about her infatuation are more than thrilled as Ron is absolutely a girl’s dream come true – a stunner with a heart of gold.
Everything seemed just so perfect and it looked like the universe finally heard her wishes…if not for one person who didn’t want her to be with Ron. And it was none other than the person Tia loved most in the world – Rianna, her sister. The bizzare part of it all was that Rianna was no longer alive! Tia was continuously haunted by dreams of her sister who kept warning her off Ron.
Her sister’s case being closed off by the police as suicide was something that had left Tia deeply perturbed even years after her passing away. As Tia follows her instincts and tries to solve the mystery surrounding her sister’s death she comes up with evidence that might just open up a can of worms and shatter her whole family.
Will she be able to fulfil her sister’s last wish? Will she make the right choice between love and justice? This story is a journey of corporate ambition, greed, lust and betrayal. A paranormal crime novel that will take you on a roller coaster ride of emotions and family drama while at the same time leave you twitching to unearth the mystery of a death, unresolved.
My Review:
Child of Paradise was quite an interesting read and I have never read a paranormal crime fiction of this type before. The author has obviously done quite a lot of research before writing this book and it is evident from the first chapter itself- from the medical stuff to the psychic/spiritual ones. That was commendable in itself.
The plot of the novel has been well laid out and it is clear from the different twists and turns we come across as we keep on flipping the pages. Different forms of the novel such as an epistolary, a bildungsroman, and also, of course, social novel, could be seen. The framing devices, though a few, used by the author through the use of the emails, text messages and letters, works really well and binds the story together. We also see the mental growth of not only the protagonist but also of the dead sister herself. The social aspects that the reader brought in through the different conversations, meetings in the story as well as the work lifestyle were very well portrayed, keeping in mind the real situation in India. The themes of love- familial, platonic as well as romantic; friendship, and mystery were very well planned out. The writing was beautiful and very well edited and I hardly found even a single grammar/editing error. The way of writing was also very relatable and the author could incite laughter from me as I read the funny interactions among the characters in the novel. The events are also very nostalgic at parts without being monotonous.
The characters were well formed and the author has taken pains to make them as believable as possible- they are round, displaying a number of emotions for a number of various situations around various people. The relatability that the reader can share with the characters in the book is very high as well. The author has also subtly invoked the image of the independent women, one that I love.
The one thing that I didn’t like was the introduction of so many characters because it made me very confused. Frankly, I was lucky since I always sort of take notes or make family trees when I read a book. The cover was nice in a simple sort of way, but there is much scope for it, especially the spine of the book. I honestly have no other issue beyond these.
Verdict:
This book was a great read, and I really enjoyed it a lot. Definitely recommend for fans of thrillers, mystery and romance books. Would rate it as a 13+ book and I personally shall be picking up again. I rate this a 5/5 stars.