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Best feminist books: The essential reads picked by female authors and entrepreneurs

Evening Standard

There’s no underestimating the power of a great book. A set of ideas that can influence us to the point of motivation, action and change.

With that in mind, we asked a group of exceptional women journalists, entrepreneurs, librarians and best selling authors like Chloe Caldwell, Dreda Mitchell and Sara Pascoe to compile a go-to list of feminist reads that spoke to them in a life-altering way.

International Women’s Day is particularly highlighted this year, coming on the heels of global movements for women’s rights, equality and justice. From the rise of the #MeToo movement to the #TimesUp campaign against sexual harassment following the scandals in Hollywood, the need for change is wide spread. In January, the second annual women’s march took large cities across the globe by storm, while in the UK we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the British women’s right to vote.

The theme for International Women’s Day 2018 is #PressForProgress. The day is meant to bring together global governments, women's organisations, businesses and charities and will be marked with talks, performances, rallies, networking events and marches.

Key events include the annual Women of the World (WOW) Festival at the Southbank centre showcasing exhibitions, lectures, markets, food and drink. Penguin Publishing have also launched a pop-up bookstore featuring solely female authors. The Like a Woman Bookshop will be open from 5-9 March, with categories like ‘Essential feminist reads’, ‘Inspiring young readers’, ‘Women to watch’ and ‘Changemakers’.

However you choose to celebrate women today we've rounded up some top feminist book recommendations by inspiring women in literature and business.

Chelsea Girls by Eileen Myles - Recommended by Chloe Caldwell

Chloe Caldwell, author of Women, a novella detailing female friendship and sexual confusion recommends Chelsea Girls as her essential feminist read. Eileen Myles' autobiographical coming-of-age story about her Christian upbringing, and fight for survival as a young poet in 1970's New York is considered a staple in feminist literature. ''This was the first book that I read which made me think: Hey, are women allowed to write like this? Solely from their perspective about their experiences? Unflinchingly, with vulgarity and humour? I was surprised to learn that we are allowed to write like men. I was 21 when I read it, and ten years later I still return to it time and time again.”

£5.03, Amazon, Buy it now

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg - Recommended by Vicki Psarias

''Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead'' the international bestseller written by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg about women, ambition and maintaining the difficult balance between work and family. ''Sheryl offers insight into why women are held back both in society and the workplace (citing the Heidi/Howard study which found gender bias against women (Heidi) despite having the exact same experience and accomplishments as Howard'', writes well-known Honest mum blogger and award winning film maker, Vicki Psarias.

''Despite this, Sandberg empowers the reader to step up, lean in and shine as she has done time and time again in both her career and life asking the reader, 'What would you do if you weren't afraid?'. Sandberg has inspired a generation of entrepreneurial women like myself to lean in and be proud of who they are” writes Psarias.

£6, Amazon, Buy it now

Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys' by Viv Albertine - Recommended by Rhyannon Styles

Viv Albertine was obsessed with playing in a band in part because she had never seen a girl with an electric guitar. This book is a memoir of her journey from obscurity to leading one of the most influential bands 'The Slits', to post-punk life, marriage, divorce and IVF. Her turbulent life has encouraged many inspiring women including the author of “New Girl: A Trans Girl Tells it like it is”, Rhyannon Styles.

Styles writes, ''This is perhaps not the most 'classic' choice when you think of empowering female reads but reading about Viv Albertine's life encouraged me to be bolder, stronger and visible as a transgender woman. It encouraged me to find my inner voice, to harness its power and blast into the world as Rhyannon Styles.''.

£6.99, Amazon, Buy it now

How to be Both by Ali Smith - Recommended by Zainab Zuma

The 2014 multi-award winning novel by Scottish author Ali Smith is a story told from two perspectives: George, a fastidious 16-year-old girl, living in modern Cambridge, and Francesco del Cossa, an Italian renaissance artist responsible for painting a series of murals at the ''Palace of not being bored''.

The two versions of the book were published simultaneously. Zainab Zuma, Creative Manager at Penguin Random House Publishing tells us "Quite apart from being a frankly astonishing book, 'How to be both' by Ali Smith is also a kind of gender playground where the bounds of femininity become fluid and ambiguous. It’s melancholy, tender, playful, daring and it leaves an indelible mark on all who read it.”

£6.19, Amazon, Buy it now

'Man Made Language' by Dale Spender- Recommended by Bea Davenport

Have you ever noticed a slightly misogynistic tone in your partner's or boss's language that wasn't really their fault? This book by Australian feminist writer Dale Spender examines those numerous areas of sexism as they appear in the English language.

“There are many feminist classics that really spoke to me as a young woman in the 1980's, so it was hard to choose just one. But this is a breathtaking analysis of how language contributes to keep women ‘in their place’, and for someone who works with words, it was eye-opening,'' argues author lecturer and journalist Davenport. You can’t read this and ever again argue that using the word ‘man’ when you mean ‘human’ is irrelevant, for example. But of course, it covers much wider territory than that and argues beautifully that language is never neutral. If someone says, “Oh, I’m not a feminist,” I ask “Why? What’s your problem?” Davenport concludes.

£17.83, Amazon, Buy it now

'Paid For: My Journey Through Prostitution' by Rachel Moran - Recommended by Sara Pascoe

Rachel Moran tells her own story of resorting to prostitution at age fifteen while revealing the emotional cost of selling her body in order to survive. At age 22 she managed to liberate herself, go to university and finish this book. All due to her amazing residual strength and remarkable courage.

“This incredible book is a lesson in empathy, coercive economics and incredible writing. Please read it, whatever you think you know and understand about prostituted women,” says Sara Pascoe, English writer, stand-up comedian and actress.

£9.76, Amazon, Buy it now

'The Color Purple' by Alice Walker - Recommended by Dreda Mitchell

This Pulitzer Prize winning novel tells the tale of Celie, a young black woman living in poverty and segregation. The story details a group of women joined by the love for each other, the children that they care for as well as their gruesome experiences at the hands of abusive men.

"This is an emotional, mesmerising, epic story of how a young, black girl rises up and fights against abuse, racism, injustice, misogyny to become the powerful, educated woman she is meant to be." says Dreda Mitchell, British author of the award winning book Running Hot.

£8.99, Amazon, Buy it now

Good Morning Midnight by Jean Rhys - Recommended by Kate​ Gielgud

This 1939 modernist novel is highly experimental in nature and deals with female vulnerability, loneliness and depression during the years between the two World Wars. ''This book was given to me by Irina Brook, daughter of Peter Brook. We were in a production of Lady Chatterley’s lover in 1995, and I had just been through a very difficult time in my life,'' says Kate Gielgud, Tri-borough Libraries health information coordinator.

"This is not a traditionally ‘feminist book’, my shadow side was/is drawn to the chaotic inner life of the protagonist. This woman is no plot device or cypher, and in spite of all pain and confusion her worst fears are not realised, courage is what comes through, and the willingness to go on,” writes Gielgud.

£6.18, Amazon, Buy it now


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