Like a great white shark, you swim through the depths of a great book-ocean, hunting for prey. Already you have ambushed part one of Girls Like Giants’ best feminist reads of 2014. But your ravenous quest for cool things to download on your Kindle or check out from the library surges on unabated. You hunger for more.
We bow to your wishes, oh dinosaur of the sea! Here are five more books our contributors read and loved last year.
“What if we only wanted openings,” asks Rebecca Solnit, “the immortality of the unfinished, the uncut thread, the incomplete, the open door, and the open sea?” This push to embrace the possibility of openings wrestles with the drive to closure in her newest book, The Faraway Nearby. It’s not an idle question, as the book shows Solnit reconstructing her difficult relationship with her mother as her mother descends into dementia and then death, and as Solnit herself battles cancer. Yet these obvious themes of ending and death do not sum up the book, which ranges widely and includes musings on Iceland, Frankenstein, writing, and an excess of apricots, as well as a bonus essay running throughout the book like a newsfeed on the bottom of each page. In assessing what is, for the individual, the ultimate conclusion, Solnit also considers the counter-ambiguity of a lack of closure—the meaning of the messy middle, the potential of beginnings. The Faraway Nearby is a beautiful book, best suited to contemplative periods, meditative moods, and a willingness to sail along with Solnit on her self-consciously jumbled journey. — Sarah S.
Long Division by Kiese Laymon
Long Division is a novel about growing up black and male in America. Its plot connects past and present, reminding us time and again that the violence of the Jim Crow era is much closer than some white Americans choose to believe. I worry that any description of Long Division’s beautiful and complex plotting will be off-putting and clunky outside of Laymon’s deft prose, but bear with me for a moment as the book is well worth a read. Part coming of age, part fantasy novel, and part indictment of fantasies of a post-racial America, the novel follows two young men named City—one, a real live character in the novel’s plot, and the other, the hero of the eponymous novel-within-the-novel, Long Division. As City furiously reads the novel, the plot weaves in and out of both City’s lives, sometimes seamlessly—names stay the same, plots twist and turn out of past and present and fact and fiction. We watch one City follow love through time travel, while the other City grapples with his sexuality. But the novel is also about the power of reading. As City reads—experiencing his real life almost as if it is part of the book he reads—we too travel through time with him, connecting the violence of the past in rural Mississippi with present-day violence experienced by City. Long Division is by far one of the best books I’ve read this year, if not in the last ten years, and Laymon’s prose is simultaneously entrancing, difficult, and enveloping. I can’t recommend this book enough and soon I will be picking up his other book, How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others America. — Phoebe B.
In her phenomenal treatise Pro, Katha Pollitt calls for a radical readjustment in how pro-choicers talk about abortion: Stop describing abortion as an unfortunate but necessary evil, and instead reframe the debate, casting abortion as a vital element of reproductive choice that empowers women to control their own destinies. Pollitt makes a series of intriguing arguments, retelling abortion’s history, detailing the absurdity (and hypocrisy) of “personhood” laws, considering the likely outcomes—horrifying, petty, or surreal—of making abortion illegal, and highlighting how much anti-abortion measures are designed to limit and control women (and not to actually protect children). My one critique of Pollitt’s approach is that she ignores the experience of women who do feel conflicted about their abortions. But she ultimately lays out an expansive argument in defense of those most hurt by restrictive abortion laws—poor women and women of color—and makes an empowering, unapologetic rallying cry for the feminism inherent in abortion rights. — Sarah S.