SheFest favourites: Books

In the spirit of feminist book fortnight, the SheFest team have collated some of our favourite reads for your viewing pleasure. In no particular order, this list is a showcase of those books which inspired, moved and excited us.

Feel free to send us your own recommendations!

  1. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

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Claire: “I read Gone Girl after enjoying the film and my Mum had it, so I could borrow it for free (whee). I was expecting a well-crafted, taught, crime thriller, and it was. But the fact it was also an unflinching examination of a failing relationship, and the complex identities we build for ourselves was a breathtaking surprise. I have never read anything that so clearly understands that who we are to ourselves, to our partners and to the world can be very different things. And that our expectations of others hang on these maybe constructed identities. And that navigating this is difficult and stressful and you can be brutally disappointed. It had me internally shouting ‘Yes! That!’ throughout. The prose is stunning and made me want to read everything Gillian Glynn has ever written. So highly recommended.”

2. Comfort Zones edited by Sonder & Tell

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Shahed: “This anthology focuses on women writing about topics outside of their usual expertise, in other words, outside of their comfort zone. It covers a range of topics from reflective pieces, mental health, motherhood and fictional pieces, to name a few.

Personal highlights for me were Poorna Bell’s chapter on ‘the art of being alone’, Pandora Sykes’ on ‘books for my daughter’ and Tahmina Begum’s ‘the beauty of sitting still’.

It is a lovely book that can be dipped in and out of easily and all proceeds of the book go to Women for Women International, so a win win!”

3. The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton

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Alaina: “One of the many impressive things about The Outsiders is that it was published in 1967 when the author, Susan Elouise Hinton, was only 18 years old. She based the novel on two rival gangs at her high school, the Greasers and the Socs, and told the story from the first person perspective of a young Greaser, Ponyboy. The book is a thoughtful, tear-jerking exploration of poverty, youth, friendship and masculinity and an absolute classic!”

4. The Handmaid’s Tale, Women’s Rights and Living A Feminist Life - Various

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Katie: “'Women's Rights' was published in 1974. It states, 'it is still the policy of most clinics to ask for your husband's consent if you are having a coil fitted or an operation for sterilisation’. Their excuse is that the doctor must be protected from being sued by an irate husband who might demand compensation. This is the oldest feminist book I own.

I can't not include Margret Atwood's 'The Handmaid's Tale' as it was probably my first feminist fiction. Whilst I've mixed feelings about the book now, I still recall the surge of emotions and revelations reading her novels and then, shortly afterwards, Fay Weldon's 'Darcy's Utopia' and Stevie Smith's poems. Her poems still have the pencil lines I traced as a teenager.

Fast forward through the years, I find my feminism was continuing to be too influenced by my background. Sara Ahmed's 'Living a Feminist Life' and Audre Lorde's 'Your Silence Will Not Protect You' help to address that.

'As women, we have been taught either to ignore our differences, or to view them as causes for separation and suspicion rather than as forces for change... Without community there is no liberation....But community must not mean a shredding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretence that these differences do not exist'. I keep coming back to that. (Audre Lorde).”

5. The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Beckie Chambers

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Jenni: “The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet (+the other books by Becky Chambers) create a world I want to live in forever. They're set 100s of years into the future after planet Earth has been ruined by us, and humanity is now an intergalactic race, part of the Galactic Commons - an alliance and trade system between many different species. Humans are scattered across the universe, some on otherworldly planets, some on generational ships.

'Long Way' is set on a ship that makes wormholes in space to help make travelling quicker but it's not really about that. It's more about the people on the ship, who they are, how their relationships develop, what species they are and how they live, and you can't help but fall in love with them.

It's also one of the first books I've encountered where gender neutral pronouns are used as default. There are alien species who change gender depending on what point they are in their life. There are some who don't have gender and some who have multiple, so everyone goes by xe/xyr unless told otherwise. It's great to see a writer being inclusive, especially in a genre that doesn't always have the best history of this.

Basically, the books in this universe give me the warm squishies and it's my go-to book to recommend to anyone.”

6. We Should All Be Feminists by Chimananda Ngozi Adichie

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Beckie: “If you're anything like me, you have a list as long as your arm of books you want to read but either never find the time, or when you do, your eyes close by the time you're on the third page. 'We Should All Be Feminists' provides the answer to this problem. Adapted from her TEDx talk, the short call to action can be read from cover to cover in the space of one hot bath. Perfect for a sense of accomplishment and a much needed reminder of why we need feminism and gender equality.”

7. Can we all be Feminists? - June Eric-Udorie.

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Evie: “This is the most recent feminist book I’ve read and it automatically became one of my favourites! I couldn’t put it down nor could I stop talking about it. A collection of essays which tackle issues of access and inclusivity in feminism, this book ensures the underrepresented views and experiences of identities, including race, religion, sexuality, gender identity and ability, are represented and heralded as important.

My favourite chapter was ‘The Machinery of Disbelief’ by Wei Ming Kam, which examines the intersections between immigration policy, anti-immigration rhetoric and domestic abuse. Outside of SheFest I work for an organisation that supports BAMER women who have suffered domestic abuse and trafficking and this is the first time, outside of accedemia, where I’ve seen this complex intersection relayed.

Throughout the book it was concluded that yes we can and should all be feminists, and it is down to our feminisms, collectively and individually that this is made possible. It was so refreshing to read testimonies which are normally excluded from mainstream feminism, to feel like you were learning throughout, and to feel both seen and validated on an personal level.”


Sula by Toni Morrison

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Noah: “I was perusing the treasure troves of charity shop bookshelves when I found this. I had been meaning to read Toni Morrison for a long time because, quite frankly, she is a god among mortals and its shameful to not have read her work. For 50p, Sula did not disappoint.

Its a heartwrenching story about friendship, love and social inequality in 20th century USA. Moving from from the early 1900s to the 1950s, the story follows the friendship of two girls growing up in Ohio and all the sadness, joy and anger that entails. Morrison takes language and plays with it like a tiger cub might play with its prey, words are beautiful putty in her hands. She writes a history that has never been written but was played out thousands of times across the US during that time.

I still maintain to this day that the last line of Sula is one of the most heartbreaking and powerful last sentence I have ever read. This book stays with you.