It’s been a huge year of wonderful books by women, so here are a few of our favourite feminist reads from 2016 to add to your summer reading pile, as recommended by Feminist Writers Festival artists and the FWF team!
Maxine Beneba Clarke
Sally Morgan’s young adult fiction book Sister Heart and Alison Whittaker’s stunning poetry book Lemons in The Chicken Wire both latched onto my heart this year and wouldn’t let go. Zoë Morrison’s debut fiction book Music and Freedom explores domestic violence and artistic passion with extraordinary sensitivity. Kate Tempest’s The Bricks That Built The Houses is in my view a book that has no comparison. Tempest’s words, in long-form prose, sing and weep and roar off the page in much the same way her spoken word reaches the ear, which is an incredible feat indeed.
Maxine Beneba Clarke is a member of the FWF steering committee and the author of The Hate Race and Carrying the World.
Right at the top of my favourites pile are Kirsty Eagar’s smart, feminist, super-sexy YA novel Summer Skin and Maria Lewis’s fast, furious, fierce werewolf novel Who’s Afraid?. I also loved Angela Flournoy’s The Turner House, a gorgeously written, intimate portrait of a Detroit family. I was one of the many who wept and wondered over Elena Ferrante’s The Story of the Lost Child. I plan to re-read the entire series soon. Finally, the book I’ve already returned to several times since finishing it very recently, is Ellen van Neerven’s sensuous, vibrant, emotionally provocative poetry collection, Comfort Food.
Emily Maguire is the author of An Isolated Incident.
2016 has been a great year of reading, helped along by Feminartsy’s new ‘Read Like a Feminist’ book club! The first book we read for the club was The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke, which was a huge highlight for me. Not only was it so refreshing, as a person of colour, to read Maxine’s experiences of racism and identity in Australia, but it was beautifully written. I was also lucky to have a subscription to books from Scribe Publishing this year, as a bonus for being highly commended in the 2015 Scribe Nonfiction Prize. As a result, I got to read some beauties for free, including Georgia Blain’s Between a Wolf and a Dog, which blew me away with its exploration of familial relationships. I also loved Dark Fires Shall Burn, historical fiction from Anna Westbrook. Finally, I was so excited to meet Hannah Kent at her author talk in Canberra this year, and to read her new book The Good People. It’s one of those books that just stays with you. I’m now looking forward to continuing this brilliant year of books over Christmas at the beach.
Zoya Patel is the editor of Feminartsy.
Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen
2016 was the year I fell back in love with reading the way I loved it as a child, devouring books by night, burrowed under my blankets. The majority of books I read were by women. Like the rest of the country, I was spellbound by Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things, a gritty, unrelenting feminist dystopian novel about corporate control and institutionalised misogyny. Lindy West’s Shrill was a delightful rollercoaster of a read, making me howl with both laughter and tears, and also challenging me to think about aspects of feminism often overlooked. I read a lot of graphic novels this year, but my favourites were the Saga series by Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples, best described as a soap opera set in outer space with incredible female characters. Mara Wilson’s Where Am I Now? was a clever and engaging exploration of mental health and growing up in the spotlight. And my favourite read of 2016 was Nadja Spiegelman’s I’m Supposed To Protect You From All This, a beautiful and thoughtful memoir about the author’s relationship with her mother, her mother’s relationship with her grandmother, and her grandmother’s relationship with her great-grandmother. Raising questions of memory and family, it is a book I’ll be thinking about for a long time.
Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen is a Vietnamese-Australian writer based in Melbourne.
Tricky task, so I’m doing this lightly, off the cuff, with apologies to all the other books and authors I adored. One I raced through with delight was Portable Curiosities. Julie Koh’s stories are deceptive, shadowy, arch, satirical and very funny. Iris and the Tiger is a stunning, surreal tale for younger readers by Leanne Hall, but like much of our YA fiction it has great appeal for adult readers too. Our curious, plucky and adventurous heroine Iris has to save her family’s fortune and solve a tiger-and-art-related mystery in the Spanish countryside – encantador! Melina Marchetta always does a great line in strong female characters with heart and spark, and Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil – her first foray into crime writing – is no exception. In the nonfiction stakes, it’s hard to go past Maxine Beneba Clarke’s The Hate Race, which packs a punch, and makes you question your own actions, decisions and perceptions of our so-called land of the fair go.
Nikki Anderson is co-chair of FWF.
I adored Emily Maguire’s beautifully-written novel An Isolated Incident, a tender, dark exploration of small-town ugliness, violence against women, and the bond between sisters. Doing It (edited by Karen Pickering) is a gorgeous, varied anthology of essays by Australian women about positive sexual experiences. Ranging from sexting to celibacy, from sex work to sex with a disability, it is a celebration of the many different forms of pleasure we claim as women. Naomi Alderman’s novel The Power is my book of the year – a fierce, speculative feminist fable that questions the nature of gender and power, subverting the deeply ingrained structures that circumscribe women’s lives and behaviours. I was completely immersed in this daring novel, even as it reshaped my own assumptions about the social and cultural dynamics between women and men.
Veronica Sullivan is marketing and programs manager of FWF.
I feel like 2016 was the year I caught up on some of the best writing from the past decade (or indeed, past century). I bought Meghan Daum’s My Misspent Youth within my first 24 hours of moving to Sydney, and savouring those essays on long evening train journeys was a delight. I picked up Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder at the airport bookshop and was blown away by the beauty and dexterity of her storytelling. I read my first Henry Handel Richardson novel, The Getting of Wisdom, and, whether by design or sheer accident, felt like I had hitherto been robbed of experiencing one of the best Australian women writers – how had it taken me to age 32 to read her work? And finally, I found Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts electrifying: a book that invites creative engagement on a level I’ve not encountered in a long time.
Stephanie Convery is a member of the FWF steering committee and deputy culture editor at the Guardian Australia.
One of my favourite books this year was Laura Woollett’s short-story collection The Love of a Bad Man, a collection of stories told from the perspective of the partners of real-life ‘bad men’, from cult leaders and dictators to serial killers and sociopaths. Laura’s prose is seductive, smart and lyrical, and the stories are not simply sensational retellings, but piercing dissections of power, gender and relationships. Georgia Blain’s new novel, Between a Wolf and a Dog, is just superb: a masterclass in how to write fiction, it explores the complexity of relationships (both family and romantic), the twin tug of career and motherhood, and renewal amidst endings. And I’ve just finished and been utterly seduced by Zadie Smith’s Swing Time, a novel about friendship, class and the post-millennium world. It focuses on two girls, best friends, from their meeting in dance class as young children to their very different adult lives. With echoes of Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye in the central friendship, this book moves between London, America and Africa, and blends observations of race, class and human nature with pop-culture pleasures.
Jo Case is a member of the FWF steering committee and the author of Boomer and Me: A memoir of motherhood and Asperger’s.