Exploring Feminisms’ Top 10 Books of 2013

It may seem unusual that not every book on Exploring Feminisms’ top 10 list of 2013 was published in 2013, but some are just so timelessly fantastic that they deserve to be kept on our socially conscious radar.

1. Rubyfruit JungleRubyfruit Jungle
Rita Mae Brown (1973)

2013 is Rubyfruit Jungle’s 30 year publishing anniversary and because it’s just so damn good, it makes #1.  While reading Rubyfruit Jungle, I couldn’t help but think of the 19th century novel The Awakening by Kate Chopin: down to earth, subversive-by-nature female lead characters who challenge social norms in times where women received the short end of the stick (even more than now, one could argue).  RJ details the life of Molly Bolt as a child in the south through young adulthood as she moves to New York, and we follow her journey as a blossoming lesbian.  She is a rough and tumble character, and the book is filled with hilarious and brutally honest thoughts on womanhood, the life of a wife, and lesbian stereotypes.  Completely entertaining and thought-provoking.

2. The Dude and the Zen MasterDudeandtheZenMaster
Jeff Bridges and Bernie Glassman (2013)

The true testament to any great piece of art is its permeability and stickiness-does it get it and stay in?  Having read The Dude and the Zen Master in June of 2013 and even in the swirling catalog of my own brain, I still often think back to the novel-long conversation between actor Jeff Bridges and Jewish Zen Master, Bernie Glassman, where they discuss the art of living a more meaningful life. There are times when I feel Sartre’s timeless words, “hell is other people,” were written just to describe my plight in life, and it is especially during those times that I can easily manifest the Dude’s Zen teachings.  The manner in which the authors communicate coping mechanisms has saturated so thoroughly that I often find myself imagining my many enemies in clown noses, leaving the often imagined assaults on my character disarmed.

3. No Kidding: Women Writers on Bypassing ParenthoodNo Kidding
ed. Henriette Mantel (2013)

It takes a lot of gumption for a woman to make the conscious choice to not have children, especially in a world where childless women continue to be looked upon with suspicion.  The writers in this collection consist of a group of women with diverse life experiences, all of which have shaped their views on “bypassing” biological motherhood.  They share their varied stories as to why they chose, or life chose for them, not to have children.   Because of the plethora of viewpoints, the reader really gets the full gamut of opinions, thereby neither damning nor exalting child rearing.  This book wouldn’t be called food for thought, but rather feast  for the heart.  No Kidding is filled with comedy, tragedy, wit and even some schadenfreude to keep you on your toes.

4. If It’s Not One Thing, It’s Your MotherIf It's Not One Thing
Julia Sweeney (2013)

Being a parent only to two cats and not an actual human baby, there was some hesitation to pick up this book.  Reading a lecture about how wonderful parenting is and those adorable trials and tribulations of raising a child and how those without children couldn’t possibly even begin to understand…it just didn’t seem appealing.

Luckily, this book isn’t about any of that.  What this book is about is insight and the threads that connect us all by inevitable shared life experiences. We all have families who actually annoy us; we date, we break up; we knit actual and proverbial sweaters as proof of our love; we face stereotypes, either our own or others; we eat cupcakes or candy bars and then feel eater’s remorse, thus perpetuating the cycle of how no one will ever love us because we are fat and ugly, et al.  Sweeney, by describing what is probably a sprinkling of her major life moments, has an amazing gift to pull out the teensiest emotion or observation and tease it out into something that we can all recognize as being personal in our own lives.  I often found myself stopping and thinking, “That’s how I feel!  How come I’ve never thought about that?”  Plus, the appeal of this book could be attractive to many audiences.  Have a kid?  Bam!  This book is for you.  Have a mother?  Bam!  This book is for you.  Are you a sentient being?  Bam!  This book is for you.

5. GulpGulp
Mary Roach (2013)

Gulp is about the digestive system, from start (mouth) to finish (guts, and then you can guess).  Why would you want to read about the digestive system, you may ask?  Because she goes in deep: smelling and tasting what we cringe to even read about and relates it back with humor and tact.  In essence, she skins herself for us, the reader, by diving into the world of cat food sampling, Elvis’ mega colon and a thoroughly gripping description of the nose/tongue connection. Roach chooses a topic, researches it, and pulls out the most interesting parts; in essence, she does the dirty work for us, while keeping the gross-out factor completely classy.

6. Jacob’s FollyRebeccaMiller
Rebecca Miller (2013)

The premise of Rebecca Miller’s third book is truly original: a Hasidic Jew, born in the 1700s, is reincarnated as a fly in current day America who has the power to control the minds of humans.  The story see-saws between his current day observations in the U.S. as a winged insect and his life as an 18th century Parisian.  Miller, who has in the past done a magnificent job of writing and directing from varied female perspectives, takes a stab at writing from the male perspective.  Her observations from the masculine gender’s point of view are entertaining, tawdry, and scintillating, thereby ever-changing your feelings towards the narrator.  While reading, I was sometimes appalled by the hyper-sexualized inner-workings of the main character, and as many of my male friends have informed me, her insight in the male psyche is not so far off, which is both engaging and gross.

In all, JF is a fun book with an amusing storyline that paints some interesting portraits of Hasidic communities, 18th century Europe, and of what many men are usually thinking.  Excuse me as I reach for a full body condom.

7. It’s Not Really About the Hair: The Honest Truth About Life, Love and the Business of BeautyTabatha Coffey
Tabatha Coffey (2011)

I really don’t like to accept advice from those who haven’t been through some shit in life, and Tabatha Coffey, she’s been through some shit. She grew up in Australian strip clubs worked by transgender dancers, her father left her and her mother in the most heinous manner, she was an overweight child who endured the torture that only other children can deal out, and like many of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, had to endure a little piece of hell while coming out to her family.  Given all of this, she’s surfaced on the other end as a successful business woman who has a firm grasp on what she wants and who she is.  Much like Julia Sweeney’s book, Coffey has taken a fine tooth comb to her life and has given us a guide on how to empower ourselves so that we can live a more authentic life.

8. Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger StoryWoman Rebel
Peter Bagge (2013)

With my formal Women’s and Gender Studies lessons years behind, I find it necessary to take additional strides to keep feminist fundamentals close at hand, especially if my work or home environment may be somewhat lacking from time to time.  Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story is an amusing graphic novel that highlights the more monumental and even titillating details of the life of the Planned Parenthood founder.  Thanks to writer and illustrator Peter Bagge, Sanger is presented to us as a real person, though in graphic novel form, by illustrating (pun intended) such enumerations as her famous sexual escapades, to her more unflattering personality prejudices.  In turn, we are reminded that extraordinary people who accomplish extraordinary feats often embody a sliver of the ordinary, sometimes making our own extraordinary feats seem tangible after all.

9. The Last Girlfriend on Earththe-last-girlfriend-on-earth-by-simon-rich
Simon Rich (2013)

It’s so rare that one comes across a book that can only be described as truly original, and after reading a plethora of books over the past year, The Last Girlfriend on Earth remains steadfast as one of the most original books that I’ve read.  It’s short stories are sweet, simple, surprising, and don’t take themselves too seriously, which is especially refreshing in a world where many authors neglect to relate any sort of elasticity and fun.  I mean really, what other books have you read lately that make you sympathize with a sad condom?

10. Ocean at the End of the Lane
Neil Gaiman (2013)

Ocean at the End of the LaneNeil Gaiman is a man who communicates his respect for women through his stories, and in this case, by dreaming up a cosmically strong lineage of three women (grandmother, mother and daughter) whose bond with each other spans time and space.  The three woman, along with a little English boy, fight an evil witch-woman in a small English town.  This book is beautifully written, a quick read and a great primer for any Gaiman novices.

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The Last Five Books

Life by Keith Richards (2010)

Richards tells his life story in stream of consciousness style while regretting nothing and spilling just the right amount of dirt on his band mates and other celebs.  Given everything (the drugs, the women, the road) his journey is summed up by a man who possesses a surprising level of introspection.

Keith Richards book cover Life.08-10

Girl Singer by Rosemary Clooney (2001)

Girl Singer is the epitome of bittersweet.  It constantly wavers between cliffs and valleys; the highs of singing, freedom and love and the lows of drugs, alcohol and the bondage of a troubled marriage.  Besides offering the reader a first class ticket into her career and love affairs, Clooney presents us with a cultural artifact into 1950s and 60s music and culture.  A great juxtaposition to Richards’ Life, Clooney describes the penultimate period where big bands and girl singers ruled and Rock and Roll was just on the horizon.

Rosemary+Clooney

Cyndi Lauper: A Memoir by Cyndi Lauper and Jaycee Dunn (2012)

Often times, reminisces of Cyndi Lauper conjure 1980s imagery of neon colors, spiky hair and of course, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”  Because of this, her memoirs couldn’t have waited any longer to show the world just who this woman is, and especially what she has done.

We all know that Lauper is a musician and artist, but when we hear that she is an activist, what that means is that she was one of the first advocates for gay rights, women’s equality, and a true trailblazer for HIV/AIDS awareness, especially at a time when it was shrouded by the highest amount of fear and taboo.  Lauper’s memoir is an essential reading for anyone who needs a boost of self-confidence and a reminder to keep their chin up when they’re wading through the muck of life.

CyndiLauper

Jacob’s Folly by Rebecca Miller (2013)

A Hasidic Jew, born in the 1700s, is reincarnated as a fly in current day.  The story see-saws from his current day observations and his life in 18th century Paris.  Miller, who has in the past done a magnificent job of writing and directing from a varied female perspective, takes a stab this time at writing from the male perspective.  Her observations from the masculine gender’s point of view are entertaining, tawdry, and scintillating, thereby ever-changing your feelings towards the narrator.

RebeccaMiller

The Lady and Her Monsters: A Tale of Dissections, Real-life Dr. Frankenstein and the Creation of Mary Shelley’s Masterpiece by Roseanne Montillo (2013)

Author Roseanne Montillo describes the social thought and study leading up to the creation of Mary Shelley’s infamous story, Frankenstein.  To do this, Montillo details the very real history of grave digging for medical experimentation and the use of electricity as a possible re-animator of human life, both of which permeated both scholarly and pub conversations for hundreds of years.  She interweaves this history with Shelley’s feminist roots, being the daughter of women’s rights advocate Mary Wollstonecraft, and the subsequent publishing of the novel under an anonymous name due to the bias against female authors.

The conglomeration of the history of the human body, reanimation, electricity, and feminism are in itself a Frankenstein, being hobbled together to create the text that resulted in Frankenstein the story.

Montillo

[Listed in order by first to last book read]