Politics & Current Events:
Wayne Besen, Lies With a Straight Face: Exposing the Cranks & Cons Behind the “Ex-gay” Industry
Shakirah Bourne & Dana Alison Levy, Eds., Allies: Real Talk About Showing Up, Screwing Up, and Trying Again
Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism
Philip S. Gorski & Samuel L. Perry, The Flag and the Cross: White Christian Nationalism and the Threat to American Democracy
Gabrielle Jackson, Pain and Prejudice: How the Medical System Ignores Women — And What We Can Do About It
Lyz Lenz, Belabored: A Vindication of the Rights of Pregnant Women
Ijeoma Olou, Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America
Maureen Ryan, Burn It Down: Power, Complicity, and a Call for Change in Hollywood
Nancy Schwartzman & Nora Zelevansky, Roll Red Roll: Rape, Power & Football in the American Heartland
Rebecca Solnit & Thelma Young Lutunatabua, Eds., Not Too Late: Changing the Climate Story From Despair to Possibility
Some powerful feminist books in there. Burn It Down is about #MeToo, and about the structural barriers that keep women and POC out of power in Hollywood. Roll Red Roll is about the infamous rape of a high school girl in Steubenville, and the complicity of school personnel and others in protecting the assailants. Pain and Prejudice is about the medical establishment’s tendency to discount women’s symptoms, exclude women from studies (this one’s changing, somewhat), and fail to research or treat issues that mostly affect women. Belabored was written too soon — it talks about the ways law and custom encroach on women’s freedom during pregnancy, but the book came out before the Dobbs decision that radically changed the landscape in the US.
Allies is aimed at white people, straight people, etc., who want to fight systems of oppression. White Fragility discusses why it’s so hard to make any progress with this; changing the world is more appealing than changing yourself. The Flag and the Cross zeroes in on the intersection of far-right Evangelical Christianity and fascism.
I have a weird, inexplicable fascination with the “ex-gay” movement. So does Wayne Besen, who wrote Anything But Straight in the movement’s heyday in the early 2000’s. Lies With a Straight Face traces the movement’s decline, an assortment of scandals, and the exporting of extremism to places like Uganda which now has a “kill the gays” law.
Not Too Late is a collection of essays about choosing hope and action in the struggle with climate change. The contributing authors include Pacific Islanders who have seen the effects up close.
Rita Mae Brown, Rita Will: Memoir of a Literary Rabble-Rouser
Shirin Ebadi, Iran Awakening
Primo Levi, Moments of Reprieve: A Memoir of Auschwitz
Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad
Richard Wills, Bloody Social Worker
I tend to prefer memoirs that are about bigger issues. Shirin Ebadi was a judge before the Iranian revolution stripped most rights away from women. She saw signs of hope when the book was written in 2007, but I’m afraid she was overly optimistic. Primo Levi’s Moments of Reprieve captures the rare moments of humanity behind the walls of a concentration camp. (Still a grim read, to be clear.)
Bloody Social Worker is about bigger issues, but it’s definitely a from-the-trenches view.
I usually love Twain, but The Innocents Abroad didn’t do much for me. I did enjoy Twain’s sly commentary on the way the same saint relics showed up in every cathedral they visited.
Rita Will dishes on being an out lesbian author in the 1970s, and Brown’s affairs and breakups with famous women. She mined her unique family history for a lot of the material in her early books.
Margaret Atwood, Dearly
June Bates, The Lavender Haze
Bryan Borland, Ed., If You Can Hear This: Poems in Protest of an American Inauguration
Jericho Brown, Please
Jeffrey Lamar Coleman, Ed., Words of Protest, Words of Freedom: Poetry of the American Civil Rights Movement and Era
Rita Dove, Selected Poems
Nikki Giovanni, Bicycles: Love Poems and Make Me Rain
Hattie Gossett, The Immigrant Suite: Hey Xenophobe! Who You Calling a Foreigner?
Alvin Greenberg, Why We Live With Animals
Marilyn Hacker, Names
Honor Moore, Red Shoes
Pablo Neruda, Five Decades: Poems 1925-1970
Sapphire, Black Wings & Blind Angels
Katharine Washburn, John S. Major, & Clifton Fadiman, Eds., World Poetry: An Anthology of Verse From Antiquity to Our Time
I have two preferences for poetry; I like it (1) comprehensible, and (2) actually about something. A couple of really good books of political poetry are on this list: If You Can Hear This and Words of Protest, Words of Freedom.
I’ve reached the age where a lot of my early favorites, like Atwood and Hacker, are writing a lot about mortality and aging. Nikki Giovanni still writes love poems, and they have the feel of poems written in maturity, with a lot of life experience behind them.
Jericho Brown is a recent favorite of mine. Please is his first book, and while I think he blossomed in the later volumes, I definitely see the roots in this one.
World Poetry is one of those giant tomes with poems from ancient Sumer and China, progressing though the millennia to the late 20th century. (While I finished it in 2023, I’m not sure what year I started it.) There’s something oddly consoling about seeing that people in a very different place & time still wrote about love, grief, and the corruption of politicians.
Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot
Henrik Ibsen, A Doll’s House
A Doll’s House was very ahead of its time. I knew the general premise of Waiting for Godot, but reading the whole thing just had me saying “huh?” Maybe I’d get it if I saw it performed.
Judy Batalion, The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler’s Ghettos
Jon Butler & Bruno Vincent, Do Ants Have Assholes? And 106 of the World’s Other Most Important Questions
Soraya Chemaly, Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger
Rebecca Hall (Hugo Martinez, Illustrator), Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts (graphic novel)
Erik Loomis, The History of America in 10 Strikes
Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, On Repentance & Repair: Making Amends in an Unapologetic World
Wake and The Light of Days are different styles but a similar theme: women rising up against oppression when victory wasn’t possible but resistance still mattered. The History of America in 10 Strikes actually talks about a lot more than 10 strikes; it’s a pretty thorough history of the strike as a weapon of labor in America. Rage Becomes Her is about anger as the forbidden emotion for women, the one we’re always supposed to keep under control.
And if all that’s too much heavy stuff for you, Do Ants Have Assholes? is a very silly parody of “Ask Dr. Science” books.