> Zed Book Club / She Said: 11 Books for International Women’s Day

The late writer, feminist, poet and civil-rights activist Audre Lorde during her 1983 residency at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach, Fla. Photo: Robert Alexander/Getty Images

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She Said: 11 Books for International Women’s Day

These novels, biographies and essays celebrate the gains – and explore some of the losses – of gender equality and women’s rights. / BY Nathalie Atkinson / March 2nd, 2023


It’s International Women’s Day, a time to celebrate the accomplishments of women and highlight the disparities in gender equality around the globe. We’ve got a biography about Helen Keller’s indefatigable activism, a history of the pregnancy test, an examination of the gender assumptions inherent in parenting and a novel-within-a-novel featuring a kickass eco-warrior mermaid. Dive in and #EmbraceEquality.

Obsessive Book Buyers: Zoomer editors have carefully curated our book coverage to ensure you find the perfect read. We may earn a commission on books you buy by clicking on the cover image. 

1Forbidden Notebookby Alba de Céspedes, trans. by Ann Goldstein

Italian-Cuban anti-fascist novelist, screenwriter and journalist de Céspedes wrote about women’s lives before and after the Second World War. Her subversive 1952 novel (written in the form of diary entries) about a middle-aged Roman woman’s domestic ennui was out of print for decades, but gets a reviving new translation. In style and content, it will be catnip to Elena Ferrante fans.


2Black Women Writers at Workedited by Claudia Tate

This collection of candid interviews with Maya Angelou, Audre Lorde, Toni Morrison and other foundational Black women writers and critics about their lived experiences and their art was vital when it was first published in 1984 (edited by an acclaimed late professor of English and African-American Studies at Princeton University). Out of print for too long, dog-eared copies were treasured, so it’s freshly republished for a new generation.


3Red Paint by Sasha LaPointe

Indigenous artist LaPointe has already won the Pacific Northwest Book Award for this memoir about the joy, healing and responsibility of reclaiming and honouring her heritage. As she reckons with past trauma and lives up to being her great-grandmother’s namesake, it’s billed as “the ancestral autobiography of a Coast Salish punk.” (Mar. 7)


4Flowers of Fireby Hawon Jung

In one of Ms. Magazine’s most-anticipated feminist books of the year, a former Seoul correspondent for Agence France-Presse delivers an eye-opening firsthand account of the recent South Korean feminist movement — where, since #MeToo, thousands took to the streets to end a decades-long abortion ban and hold those accused of sexual misconduct to account – that contextualizes the country’s feminist history and considers the global ramifications. 


5Lives of the Wivesby Carmela Ciuraru

When Roald Dahl married Academy Award-winning actress Patricia Neal, her fame so eclipsed his own that the New York Times headline read: “Patricia Neal and Writer Wed.” By the time this breezy biography has finished probing the relationships of five legendary literary couples whose formidable women were eclipsed (including Kingsley Amis and Elizabeth Jane Howard), readers will agree when the New York journalist and book critic declares:In the marriages of celebrated literati throughout history, husband is to fame as wife is to footnote.


6After the Miracleby Max Wallace

Through a new biography that examines Helen Keller’s whole life, Canadian journalist Max Wallace reveals the activism and social justice work that followed the famously inspirational childhood of the deaf-blind girl, whose “greatest accomplishment was not learning to speak, but what she did with her voice when she found it.”


7Madame Restellby Jennifer Wright

Pop historian Wright, a Los Angeles-based writer on shows like HBO’s feminist sci-fi series The Nevers, pens an engaging feminist history built around the notorious and fearless 19th-century New York abortionist who was a self-taught surgeon and a celebrity of her day. It unpacks the era’s male power players, whose misogynist tactics sought to curtail women’s independence and rights and led to the pro-life movement. Just as Heather Marshall’s bestselling historical novel Looking for Jane told the story of abortion in Canada, it’s a history of abortion and its criminalization in America that resonates strongly today.


8American Mermaidby Julia Langbein

Using the book-within-a-book device, the France-based former Chicago standup comedian’s debut delivers two novels in one: satirical feminist fiction and SF. This corker follows the Los Angeles adventures of a high school teacher whose first novel becomes an unexpected blockbuster as she contends with the ridiculous revisions Hollywood wants to make to turn it into a movie (like making her warrior mermaid scientist heroine into a sexy teen). It’s as thought-provoking as it is funny.


9Strong Female Characterby Hanna Flint

We deserve more than stock action babes, gender-swapped movies, and rebooted franchises that don’t do enough to establish female leads outside of the male shadows of the originals,” the English culture journalist writes in her new book of cinematic essays about her relationship with pop culture (with echoes of Jen Sookfong Lee’s recent book, Superfan). Flint’s impressions, memories and anecdotes, which explore the representation of women and ethnic minorities on screen (wondering why, for example, women in apocalyptic films like Mad Max: Fury Road have smoothly shaven arm pits), are interwoven with memoir (as a mixed-race critic of colour, Aladdin’s Princess Jasmine was a major moment) and include a deft deconstruction of the titular trope.


10The Equal Parentby Paul Morgan-Bentley

Could there be a book more on point for #EmbraceEquity, the International Women’s Day 2023’s theme, than this one? The head of investigations at The Times of London draws on research, interviews with scientists and case studies, mingled with his own experience as a gay dad, to challenge gender assumptions and reset the course of shared parental load so that everyone involved thrives. Support and encourage equity in your sphere of influence by giving it to new and future parents.


11Pregnancy Testby Karen Weingarten

This is a new gem from Object Lessons, my favourite series of short pop culture books (extended essays, really) about the hidden lives of ordinary things. It’s a quick and quirky read by a historian of reproductive technologies who teaches at the City University of New York —a cultural and historical exploration of an overlooked object at the heart of the sexual revolution.


THE SCROLL

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