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International Women's Day: Bookworm Edition

To celebrate International Women's Day on March 8, kick off some serious binge-reading of great minds through feminist classics, novels, and nonfiction alike marking the literary, political, and scientific achievements of women.

1. Start with the classics 

King Kong Theory by Virginie Despentes
(FSG Originals, May 2021 new edition, Tr. Frank Wynne)

Powerful, provocative, and personal, King Kong Theory is a candid account of how the author of Baise-Moi and Vernon Subutex came to be Virginie Despentes. Drawing from personal experience, Despentes shatters received ideas about rape and prostitution, and explodes common attitudes about sex and gender. An autobiography, a call for revolt, a manifesto for a new punk feminism, King Kong Theory is Despentes’s most beloved and reviled work, and is here made available again in a brilliant new translation by Frank Wynne.

Why you should read it: Required reading for anyone who considered majoring in gender studies. If you have a taste for Elizabeth Wurtzel and are unfazed by profanity, look no further than this seminal feminist text that defined the noughties almost as much as leggings under dresses.
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2. Get personal with the great Annie Ernaux

 A Girl's Story by Annie Ernaux
(Seven Stories Press, 2020)

In A Girl’s Story, Annie Ernaux revisits the night fifty years earlier when she found herself overpowered by another’s will and desire. In the summer of 1958, eighteen-year-old Ernaux submits her will to a man’s, and then he moves on, leaving her without a “master,” bereft. Now, fifty years later, she realizes she can obliterate the intervening years and return to consider this young woman that she wanted to forget completely. And to discover that here, submerged in shame, humiliation, and betrayal, is the vital origin of her writing life, her writer’s identity.

Why you should read it: According to an article published in the New York Times in April 2020, it took nearly six decades to Annie Ernaux to unravel the event she relates in this book. It questions the gray areas of sexual consent, at a time when that notion wasn’t taught or discussed.
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3. Get acquainted with top women scientists

Women Discoverers: Top Women in Science by Marie Moinard
(NBM, March 2021)

From Ada Lovelace (computing) to Marie Curie (Physics and Chemistry), these exceptional women enabled the world to advance in all fields of science including space exploration (Mae Jemison), telecommunications (the actress also genius discoverer Hedy Lamarr), and Biology (Rosalind Franklin). An inspiration going counter to preconceived notions about women and science, presenting a diverse group from around the world.

Why you should read it: Featuring inventive illustrations by comic artist Christelle Pecout, this collection of science biographies is a timely triumph of inclusive representation. And if the only (Polish-French) female scientist you can name is Marie Curie, this book will fix that.
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4. Smash the patriarchy

We are not Born Submissive: How Patriarchy Shapes Women's Lives by Manon Garcia
(Princeton University Press, March 2021)

We Are Not Born Submissive offers the first in-depth philosophical exploration of female submission, focusing on the thinking of Simone de Beauvoir, and more recent work in feminist philosophy, epistemology, and political theory. Garcia argues that to comprehend female submission, we must invert how we examine power and see it from the woman’s point of view.

Why you should read it: Examining the phenomenon of women and femmes undermining their own from a contemporary perspective, Garcia’s work goes beyond Beauvoir to posit that consent to submission can signal its own sort of feminist resistance. An intriguing read in a post-What Happened world.
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I Hate Men by Pauline Harmange
(Harper Collins, Jan. 2021, Tr. Natasha Lehrer)

Women, especially feminists and lesbians, have long been accused of hating men. Our instinct is to deny it at all costs. But what if mistrusting men, disliking men – and yes, maybe even hating men – is, in fact, a useful response to sexism? In this sparkling essay, as mischievous and provocative as it is urgent and serious, Pauline Harmange interrogates modern attitudes to feminism and makes a rallying cry for women to find a greater love for each other – and themselves.

Why you should read it: What’s in a name indeed—read this searing essay if you’re tired of being bothered on the subway, or if you really want to be bothered by a certain type of person. For all the furor its title suggests, this Roxane Gay-recommended read maintains a remarkably temperate tone throughout.
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5. Jump into action 

The Price of Democracy: How Money Shapes Politics and What to Do about It by Julia Cagé
(Harvard University Press, March 2020, Tr. Patrick Camiller)

In theory, everyone in a democracy has equal power to decide elections. But it’s hardly news that, in reality, political outcomes are heavily determined by the logic of one dollar, one vote. We take the political power of money for granted. But does it have to be this way? In The Price of Democracy, Julia Cagé combines economic and historical analysis with political theory to show how profoundly our systems in North America and Europe, from think tanks and the media to election campaigns, are shaped by money. She proposes fundamental reforms to bring democracy back into line with its egalitarian promise.

Why you should read it: At a time of widespread political disenchantment, The Price of Democracy is a bracing reminder of the problems we face and an inspirational guide to the potential for reform.
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6. Regain control

Consent: A Memoir by Vanessa Springora
(Harper Collins, Feb. 2021, Tr. Natasha Lehrer)

Thirty years ago, Vanessa Springora was the teenage muse of one of the country’s most celebrated writers, a footnote in the narrative of a very influential man in the French literary world. At the end of 2019, as women around the world began to speak out, Springora, now in her forties and the director of one of France’s leading publishing houses, decided to reclaim her own story, offering her perspective of those events sharply known. Devastating in its honesty, Vanessa’s painstakingly memoir lays bare the cultural attitudes and circumstances that made it possible for a thirteen-year-old girl to become involved with a fifty-year-old man who happened to be a notable writer.

Why you should read it: Nearly every reviewer uses weaponized adjectives to describe the incisive prose: steely, piercing, rapier-sharp. The Times lauded it as “a Molotov cocktail, flung at the face of the French establishment”—what’s not to like? Readers searching for the memoir equivalent of My Dark Vanessa need look no further. Not for Polanski apologists.
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