I spent a lot of this year writing a book, making me acutely aware of how terrifying it is to publish one of those things. You can spend years working on a book, and people can just not read it! How many books have I just not read, in my lifetime? What a travesty.
So here’s where I mention two books written by my feminist colleagues, Asking for It by Kate Harding, and Notorious RBG, by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik, and tell you that they are great: Respectively, the Rape Culture 101 breakdown and pop-friendly biography of Ruth Bader Ginsburg you always needed. Reading Feminist Books is good for the soul. Try it.
That said, much of my reading was about feminists of ages past. John Szwed’s Billie Holiday: The Musician and the Myth, published in time for Holiday’s centennial, was fascinating; Holiday’s complicated relationship with her own media coverage and her highly entertaining fights with her publisher over her autobiography Lady Sings the Blues are in there, but more importantly, there’s scads of information about the music. Did you know that, due to illness during her final recording, Billie Holiday was one of the first musicians to use pitch correction? (She sang to a slowed-down backing track and they sped it up to make her voice higher.) Did you know that some of her experiments with tempo were unprecedented in Western music outside of Frédéric Chopin? You do now.
Outside of this, I mostly read for escape. Many titles are too embarrassing to mention, but lots of fantasy and sci-fi paperbacks got dragged out from storage. (Coincidentally: Joan D. Vinge’s out-of-print feminist sci-fi classic The Snow Queen was reprinted this October. And I know this. For totally unspecified reasons.) One 2015 book, however, I’d recommend even to non-nerds: Wylding Hall, by Elizabeth Hand, in which a British psychedelic folk band of the ’60s may or may not be hunted down by the Ancient Faerie Spirits of Olde Britain they can’t stop singing about. It’s so scary that I was afraid to walk alone at night afterward, and taps into all Hand’s strengths as a writer: Her stylish prose, her obsessively detailed portraits of musical subcultures, and the witchy, chthonic undercurrents of her ’90s classic Waking the Moon, in which (and I’m trying not to spoil anything) a tousle-haired, ethereal icon of Goddess feminism gets possessed by a bloodthirsty Moon Goddess and only a queer folk-punk icon named “Annie” can stop her.
I mean. You read that, right? There’s a book, available in stores, in which Tori Amos and Ani DiFranco battle to the death. You could be reading that, right now. What is stopping you?
Meanwhile, Eileen Myles’s Chelsea Girls, which I’ve been trying to find for years due to a recommendation from Michelle Tea, is being re-issued. And Michelle Tea has a new book, How to Grow Up. This probably also falls under “escapism,” because Eileen Myles and Michelle Tea are both very cool, and I am the sort of person who gets excited about a Snow Queen re-printing.
So: I read these books. You should read these books. You should read all books. I’m just saying: It took someone years to write them. So if you don’t, you’re probably a bad person. No pressure.
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