Feminism 101: Strong Female Voices in Fiction

The Time’s Up Movement has got us all thinking. Farewell to silence! we say. Goodbye to tolerance! In celebration, I have here devised a list of books. All of these pass the Bechdel test with flying colours. They feature female writers of excellence that will leave you laughing to yourself, or abandon you with teary eyes, grasping a tissue with one hand and embracing the phone with the other — time to dial your mother. These are books that everyone ought to read at some point. They have much to teach us about our place in the world as men and woman— the two sides of humanity that must share it. Looking forward to an egalitarian future for the entertainment industry and beyond, I look to these books in recognition of the dynamic female voices that have already passed across the stage.

Speedboat by Renata Adler

Recently returned to print, Renata Adler’s Speedboat is at the top of my to-read list. In a fragmentary and aphoristic style, Adler charts the life of journalist Jen Fein as she navigates the male-dominated publishing industry of the mid nineteen-seventies. Fein is witty and unabashed. She is at once an observer, a critic, and a member of the scene, and through her, Adler offers up a highly intelligent voice and a wry take on professional life. Sifting through realities of solitude and connection in the big city, she deftly captures and pokes fun at urban America.

 

Orlando by Virginia Woolf 

Virginia Woolf’s Orlando is a satiric masterpiece and a favourite among feminist scholars. The premise: at the age of thirty, Orlando, once a British nobleman, wakes to find that he has transitioned into a woman overnight. From this moment on, Woolf takes a comic trip through time, documenting the next three hundred years of Orlando’s life and exploring the role of women in 18th and 19th century society. Woolf anticipates modern queer and feminist theorists like Judith Butler and Eve Sedgewick as she discovers gender to be one grand performance. “In every human being a vacillation from one sex to the other takes place, and often it is only the clothes that keep the male and female likeness.”

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Marjane Satrapi writes an autobiography in the form of a graphic novel. Part One: The Story of a Childhood recalls her youth in Iran during the Islamic Revolution, and Part Two: The Story of a Return follows her experiences as a high schooler in Vienna, and eventual homecoming. Throughout her life, Satrapi strains to stay true to various modalities of self, to remain both Iranian and female, despite the oppressive nature of Iranian politics. In the beginning Satrapi associates with male heroes and family members, but as the story goes on she finds inspiration in female historical figures like Simone de Beauvoir and Artemisia Gentileschi. Looking both inward and outward, and taking into account a host of unconventional life-experiences, Satrapi grows to find a unique sense of personal freedom.

Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? by Lorrie Moore

While pioneering shows like Sex and the City and more recent productions like Girls and Broad City have opened up space on screen for the portrayal of female friendships, these relationships have gone largely unacknowledged in literature. Lorrie Moore enters gracefully into unchartered territory with her novel Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? While travelling through France with her husband, protagonist Berie Carr recalls an intense adolescent friendship with Silsby Chaussee. She meditates on the difficulties and obscurities of marriage and yearns for the close connection she felt with Sils that summer of 1972.

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison writes: “Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.” In her Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Beloved, Morrison follows ex-slave Sethe and her daughter Denver after their escape from the Sweet Home plantation. With characteristic lyricism, Morrison explores the aftereffects of slavery — a lingering trauma, a haunted past. In the Forward she writes: “The heroine would represent the unapologetic acceptance of shame and terror…[and] claim her own freedom.” Sethe is matriarch: strong, maternal, one of the most memorable characters in contemporary American literature and the subject of one of the most important social commentaries to resonate through fiction.

Novel Ideas: Summer Reading Guide

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TEXT: Chantelle Lee and Snigdha Koirala

To celebrate summer, we at Novella Magazine have compiled a list of fun reads you can all enjoy this season!

1. The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan
Five days after Marina Keegan graduated from Yale University, she died in a car accident. To honour her memory, Keegan’s family and friends gathered the short stories and essays she had written over the years and compiled them into this collection. The Opposite of Loneliness, perhaps her most well-known essay, and for which this collection is named after, reminisces about the feeling of belonging in a community — like university — and encourages readers to hold onto that inspirational feeling throughout their lives. If you recently graduated from high school or university, this book is a must-read for you this summer.

2. Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur
Whether you’re a poetry expert or novice, Milk and Honey is the book for you. Rupi Kaur’s seemingly simple poems are short enough to ease readers into poetry, but also complex enough to touch on a multitude of topics, like femininity, abuse, and love. Kaur is a local Torontonian, and in her first published collection of poetry, she tells her story of hurting, loving, breaking, and healing. If you want an “addictive” collection of poetry to read this summer, then Milk and Honey is the book for you.

3. A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
Now that season six of the popular television show Game of Thrones has finished this year, why not catch up on the books to keep yourself occupied? Immerse yourself in the Westeros universe by reading all five novels so that when the show starts again next spring, you’ll be all caught up on your Game of Thrones trivia.

4. Just Kids by Patti Smith
Summer is a great time to read memoirs! Follow musician, artist, and poet Patti Smith as she reflects on her life in New York, and her intense relationship with renowned photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Just Kids is one of those powerful memoirs that will keep you hooked on every word. Smith writes her memoir with the same lyrical beauty that she gifts her songs, and you will find yourself humming to the tune of the book.

5. A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid
In A Small Place, Jamaica Kincaid compares a tourist’s perception of Antigua to the everyday reality for the island locals. Although it was published in 1988, the book is still timely and eye-opening today. Kincaid takes the words “creative non-fiction” to a whole new level — she turns the state of post-colonial Antigua into an expressive story of hardship, culture, mistreatment, and love.

6. The Accidental by Ali Smith
Ali Smith’s 2005 novel follows a family of four in England who decide to spend their summer in a small Norfolk village. Things fail to go as planned, however, when a stranger decides to join them. Presenting readers with everything from a 12-year-old girl’s innermost thoughts to the philosophical concept of a beginning, The Accidental is all that you could want in a read: it’s funny, it’s poignant, a bit strange, and brutally honest.

7. A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
This Pulitzer Prize winning book doesn’t quite stick to the traditional definitions of a novel, nor does it to the traditional definitions of a short story collection. But whatever you may call it and however you may define it, once you pick it up, you won’t be able to put it back down! Following an array of characters, who range from a music producer to an ex-teen star, A Visit from the Goon Squad will get you to (unknowingly) think of a whole host of things — the biggest being the concept of time: how time moves, where it moves to, and what it does to those who don’t move with it.

8. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
How much can you say about a single day? According to Virginia Woolf, a whole lot. Mrs. Dalloway follows Clarissa Dalloway as she makes her way around 1920s London, preparing for a party she will host that evening. Delving into one character’s mind, then into another’s, then into another’s, Woolf pulls the reader into post-WWI England and makes her stay there, exposing her to everything from PTSD to existential crises to feminism. If you’re someone who’s keen to pull out a classic at the beach, then look no further — this book is for you.

9. And Still I Rise by Maya Angelou
Calling all poetry aficionados (and poetry-phobes too)! Maya Angelou’s easy-to-read, but poignant poems resonate, in some shape or form, with all those who encounter them. Never afraid to veer into the uncomfortable, Angelou explores womanhood and race in this collection — the difficulties they present and, most importantly, the strength with which she overcomes those difficulties.

10. A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Betty Smith’s 1943 novel is the kind that you purposely stretch out over weeks. The very thought of the story ending — of having to say goodbye to endearing characters — will force you to put the book on hold for a bit. Smith’s protagonist, Francie Nolan, will show you around 20th century Brooklyn: from the school that she attends to the streets that she plays in. If you’re in the market for characters who grow as you do, then this is the book for you!