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

It’s Not Really About the Hair: The Honest Truth about Life, Love, and the Business of Beauty
by Tabatha Coffey

There are few modern day Bibles that are published today, one of them being Tim Gunn’s book, Gunn’s Golden Rules, and hairdresser, entrepreneur, TV celebrity, and really, goddess, Tabatha Coffey’s book earns a way onto the bookshelf, next Mr. Gunn’s.  Tabatha’s insight into personal growth, loving others and yourself is truly insightful.  Yes, she is a television personality and a celebrity, but unlike so many celebrities today who earn their stardom through their family lineage or their plump posteriors, Coffey has earned her recognition because she is full of sass and moxie, makes pragmatic life decisions and truly respects herself.  Her philosophy is honest, down to earth, and she preaches complete self-acceptance.  True, easier said than done, but she has the amazing gift to make it seem as if she’s holding your hand throughout the book, encouraging you to live an authentic life.

Tabatha Coffey

The American Way of Eating
by Tracie McMillan

Journalist McMillan goes undercover from west to east as she picks produce with Latino (il)legal immigrants, works at a Walmart in Detroit, and finally an Applebee’s in New York to see where our food comes from, and how it is disseminated to the public at places whose mission is to deliver mass amounts at a low cost.  What she experiences is truly eye opening; whether you are pro or con immigration, what she hears and sees firsthand regarding how immigrant workers are treated, i.e. dying from heat exposure from picking Charles Shaw aka “Two Buck Chuck” grapes, can’t help but make you feel a little queasy buying garlic from the grocery store.  Her undercover examination of where our food comes from, how it is harvested, and the costs to those who are on the front lines makes you question everything that you put in your mouth.

AmericanWayofEating

Last Rituals
by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

Last Rituals is the first in a series by Icelandic writer Sigurðardóttir that pulls together mystery, witchcraft, and a little bit of lovin’.  Main character, Thora Gudmundsdóttir, is single-mother and lawyer turned amateur private investigator with two children who has been created by Sigurðardóttir with restraint and wit.  If you’ve ever been to Iceland or its capitol Reykjavik, you’ll be transported back to the chilly country as you walk the streets with Thora as she investigates murder and explores the world of Icelandic witchcraft and folklore.

Last Rituals

Manhunt: the 12 Day Hunt for Lincoln’s Killer
by James L. Swanson

Let me begin by saying that I completely abhor dates, facts and especially, lineage.  Not only do my eyes glaze over with boredom, but the thought of reading a book filled with all of these makes the thought of cleaning my toilet seem really attractive.

However, thanks to James J. Swanson’s fresh writing style, we are saved from rubber-gloved servitude this time.  Swanson gives us dates, times, historical detail and characters, but does it in a way that is written more like fiction.  And though everything in the book is 100% fact, he details what the killers most likely saw, felt and smelled.  He describes relationships and friendships, disagreements and love all with such candid detail that it feels as if you are living the story firsthand.

Manhunt

No Kidding: Women Writers on Bypassing Parenthood
edited by Henriette Mantel

A group of women with diverse experiences share their varied stories as to why they chose, or life chose for them, not to have children.  This book wouldn’t be called food for thought, but rather feast  for the heart.  Filled with comedy, tragedy, wit and even some schadenfreude, this book left me completely satisfied from beginning to end.  The real tragedy about this book is not that all of these women haven’t had children, but that most of them have left us with a lack of further writing to latch onto now that the book is over.

No Kidding