I remember the vertiginous feeling I experienced the first time I read Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body. It was the feeling of my perception not just expanding but fundamentally altering. The book is a love story in which the narrator is purposely genderless. This point of view technique shapes the narrative into multiple stories as the reader is encouraged to contemplate the main character’s actions and the implications depending on the narrator’s gender and/or gender identification.
It was my sophomore year of college and I was primed for mind expansion in a distinctly non-drug-related way. I was taking courses such as Psychology of Oppression and Philosophy of Women. I was reading Ann Sexton and Kate Chopin and Sylvia Plath. I had hot pink hair and a nose ring. Like every young woman who has been through this exact same phase, I was sure that I was one of the few people who really understood what it meant to be a woman and why that’s important.
And then, shit happened. I went through a rough period and self-medicated and lost the plot- literally and figuratively. I was adrift in my life and consumed by anxiety. I couldn’t hold down a job, let alone purposely move forward into a future. As my ability to care for myself deteriorated, so did my curiosity and capability to concentrate on reading important books.
And then, just as slowly and painstakingly as I spiraled downward, I began to claw my way back. I quit the bad things. I moved toward the good things. And I’ve been doing that ever since.
But when my curiosity returned, it no longer included thoughts of gender and feminism. Not that I wasn’t a feminist, but my focus was on other areas of knowledge. And so it’s been until recently, when two important things happened:
1) I received my first leadership role
2) I got married
And suddenly, gender matters again. I find myself instinctively reaching for novels and memoirs and business books written by women. Suddenly, women in leadership roles are much more interesting to me than they were a year or two ago. I find myself calling my mom even more than I already did to gain advice and perspective on how she has managed the role of wife and mother with her sense of self and independence.
I am excited to be a wife and a boss. And as I begin this new period of growth and learning, I am pulled toward the stories of other women and their struggles and successes. My sister has a habit of pointing out things that I had not previously noticed and then cannot un-see. For example: whether or not television shows have main characters of color and, if so, how they are portrayed. She exclusively reads books written by women- typically women who are a minority as a result of their color, sexuality, and/or gender identification. She encouraged me to, once again, read books that stretch me- whether it’s a book about a woman whose experience varies vastly from mine or it’s a book about the construct of gender in and of itself.
So, for my first year of marriage (and second of leadership) I’m reading books that are either a) exclusively by women or a) written by men/or women that I think will help me be stronger as a woman. This will take a few different forms:
- Leadership books: by and for women; also classic leadership books, written by women and/or men that will help me strengthen by skills and abilities as a female leader
- Books I’ve already read in this category include: Lean In; Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office; Mindset: The Psychology of Success
- Books I intend to read: What Works for Women at Work; How Remarkable Women Lead; Pushback: How Smart Women Ask & Stand Up for What they Want; and many more
- “Classic” authors and novels- both contemporary classics and “conventional” classics- written by women.
- Novels/authors I’ve already read in this category include: Written on the Body; Jane Eyre; JK Rowling, Americanah; The Handmaid’s Tale
- Novels/authors I intend to read in this category include: Donna Tartt; The Golden Notebook; The Joy Luck Club
- Memoirs/non-fiction essays/biographies of women
- Books I’ve already read include: Wild (Cheryl Strayed); Drinking: A Love Story (Caroline Knapp); My Beloved World (Sonia Sotomayor); Let’s Pretend this Never Happened (Jenny Lawson); I Feel Bad About My Neck (Nora Ephron)
- Authors I intend to read include: Jen Lancaster, Laurie Notaro, Arianna Huffington, Elizabeth Warren. Eleanor Roosevelt
- General books about women and/or gender (Half the Sky; Delusions of Gender)
- General books that will make me a better human (Man’s Search for Meaning)
- Books in the current pop culture conversation (Gone Girl)
- Audiobooks that I can tolerate while training for a half marathon (psychological thrillers)
There is no book too lofty or too silly. Along the way, I plan to chronicle my observations and experiences, both with the books and with the roles in which I am embarking (boss, wife).
I would love to hear others’ thoughts, experiences and (especially) book recommendations. Welcome.
On Beauty by Zadie Smith
Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton
The Runner’s World Big Book of Marathon and Half Marathon Training by Jennifer Van Allen , Bart Yasso, and Amby Burfoot