A Feminist Reading List

We_can_do_itElizabeth Heritage asked for recommended reading lists from each of the people she interviewed in relation to our article on feminist themes at NZ literary festivals. Please feel free to add your own recommended reading at the bottom, and we will incorporate this gradually into the main list.

Our respondents were: Carole Beu, from The Women’s Bookshop, Ponsonby; Matthew Simpson from publisher HarperCollins NZ; Tilly Lloyd, from Unity Bookshop, Wellington; Writer and Lecturer Anna Jackson; Nicola Strawbridge, from Going West Festival; Kathryn Carmody, from NZ Book Council, and Rachael King, from WORD Christchurch.

cv_a_history_of_nz_women A History of NZ Women, by Barbara Brookes (BWB) Recommended by Tilly Lloyd.
• Animal: The Autobiograpghy of a Female Body, by Sara Pascoe (Faber) Recommended by Tilly Lloyd.
Bad Feminist, by  Roxanne Gay (Little, Brown) Recommended by Tilly Lloyd.
Colour of Food: a Memoir of Life, Love and Dinner, by Anne Else (Awa) Recommended by Tilly Lloyd.
Do It Like a Woman – and change the world, by Caroline Crido-Perez (Portobello)
Everywhere I Look, by Helen Garner. Helen Garner is one of my favourite feminist essayists – whose feminism, and humanism, and personality inform everything she writes on every topic. Recommended by Anna Jackson.
Fat is a feminist issue, by Susie Orbach. Orbach’s book made me see that, unless something was done urgently, what was going on around me would continue indefinitely. Highly motivating. Recommended by Maria McMillan.
Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics, by Bell Hooks is a must. Recommended by Nicola Strawbridge.
cv_the_fictional_woman Fictional Woman, by Australian crime novelist Tara Moss. (HarperCollins)  This 2014 book focuses among other things on the under-representation of women in modern entertainment, media, advertising and politics. It was a #1 Nonfiction bestseller in Australia. Recommended by Matthew Simpson.
Fifty Shades of Feminism, edited by Lisa Appignanesi, Rachel Holmes & Susie Orbach (Virago, 2013)
Published as a response to Fifty Shades of Grey – it is a brilliant collection of 50 stunning essays by a wide variety of feminists, young & old – and it has a grey cover! Recommended by Carole Beu
Fighting to Choose: the Abortion Rights Struggle in NZ, by Alison McCulloch (VUP) Recommended by Carole Beu.
• Freedom Train: The story of Harriet Tubman, by Dorothy Sterling.() I loved that Harriet Tubman, who herself escaped slavery and returned many times to help others escape, was short, not physically beautiful and plagued by narcolepsy. I knew the stakes were as big as could be and every time I read was stirred by the fact one woman, through cunning and cleverness and stubborness was responsible for life and death. Recommended by Maria McMillan.
Fury: Women Write About Sex, Power and Violence, edited by Samantha Trenoweth (Hardie Grant) Recommended by Carole Beu.
Headscarves & Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution, by Mona Eltahawy (Wiedenfeld & Nicolson) Recommended by Carole Beu.
cv_how_to_be_a_womanHow to Be A Woman, by Caitlin Moran (Ebury Press). As she says: “We need to reclaim the word ‘feminism’. We need the word ‘feminism’ back real bad. When statistics come in saying that only 29% of American women would describe themselves as feminist – and only 42% of British women – I used to think, What do you think feminism IS, ladies? What part of ‘liberation for women’ is not for you? Is it freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man you marry? The campaign for equal pay? ‘Vogue’ by Madonna? Jeans? Did all that good shit GET ON YOUR NERVES? Or were you just DRUNK AT THE TIME OF THE SURVEY?” Recommended by Nicola Strawbridge.
How to be Both, by Ali Smith. This is one of the loveliest novels I’ve read, about art, ambition, identity, and relationships including the relationship between a daughter and a mother. Recommended by Anna Jackson.
How to Win at Feminism (HarperCollins), the new book from the editors of the Reductress feminist satirical website, is another one we love. Never let it be said that feminists are a humourless bunch. Recommended by Matthew Simpson.
cv_I_call_myself_a_feministI Call Myself a Feminist :The View from Twenty-Five Women Under Thirty, edited by Victoria Pepe (Virago)
Virago followed Fifty Shades of Feminism up in 2015 with this great collection. Recommended by Carole Beu.
In Gratitude, by Jenny Diski (Bloomsbury) Recommended by Tilly Lloyd.
Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, by Sheryl Sandberg (W H Allen)
A more controversial, alarming book, which may start arguments that are surely worth having. Recommended by Anna Jackson.
Mary Anning’s Treasure, by Helen Bush. Like Harriet Tubman, Mary Anning was no beauty. She was gruff, proud, and as strong as a man. Once with an unexpected tide, she hoisted a woman across her shoulders and carried her to safety. I was going to be a paleontologist when I grew up because of Mary Anning. Recommended by Maria McMillan.
Men Explain Things to Me, by Rebecca Solnit (Granta) Recommended by Carole Beu, Tilly Lloyd
Moranifesto , by Caitlin Moran (Ebury press)
Then there is the wonderful Caitlin Moran. She is the first of a whole range of young women who don’t give a stuff what people think of them. Recommended by Carole Beu and Anna Jackson, who says, “I find Caitlin Moran terrifically funny and magnificently sensible.”
cv_not_that_kind_of_girlNot That Kind of Girl, by Lena Dunham. Lena Dunham and Amy Schumer are figures from popular culture whose frank and unapologetic feminism is completely central to their fame and genius. This was a huge bestseller. Recommended by Matthew Simpson.
Roll on the revolution . . . but not until after Xmas! : Selected Feminist Writing
A collection of years of feminist essays, many of them originally published in Broadsheet Magazine, from 95-year-old New Zealander Margot Roth, now living in Melbourne. The project was begun by the late great Pat Rosier (former Broadsheet editor) & has been completed by The Margot Collective (available from PDL, via Paul Greenberg). Recommended by Carole Beu, Tilly Lloyd
Sex Object, by Jessica Valenti (HarperCollins) , founder of Feministing and columnist/staff writer with The Guardian (US), is a confronting and forthright memoir about how she came to be a leading voice in third wave feminism. Recommended by Matthew Simpson.
Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, by Lindy West (Quercus) Recommended by Carole Beu.
So Sad Today, by Melissa Broder (Scribe) Recommended by Carole Beu.
Speaking Out, by Tara Moss (HarperCollins). This is the follow up to Fictional Woman, and is a practical handbook for women and girls on speaking out safely and confidently in a world that marginalises them. Recommended by Matthew Simpson.
Scv_stuff_i_forgot_to_tell_my_daugthertuff I Forgot To Tell My Daughter, by Michele A’Court (HarperCollins). A’Court is one of NZ’s pre-eminent and funniest feminists. Recommended by Matthew Simpson.
The Argonauts, by Maggie Nelson (Text) Recommended by Tilly Lloyd and Anna Jackson, who says, “this is a brilliant mix of essay, memoir and lyric about the difficulty of negotiating parenthood, gender roles and relationship issues in a marriage with a transgender partner.”
The Blazing World, by Siri Hustvedt (Sceptre) This brilliant novel looks at the career of a woman artist who devised an art project to expose the bias against women artists: she set up a young, male imposter to pretend to have made the art works she herself would produce, then reveal her identity; as she anticipated, there was an excitement around his work her own work had never generated even though this work was very much a development of her own ideas. What she didn’t anticipate is that he would claim the work as his own, and no one would believe it was hers, despite all the proof of her workings. It is a brilliant premise and the novel draws out the twists and turns of a gripping story brilliantly, but what is ultimately so moving about the novel is its complex representation of relationships between difficult people, and the difficulty of managing personal relationships alongside ambition. Recommended by Anna Jackson.
The Changeover, by Margaret Mahy () I had no brother to save but, as the world revealed itself to me at 14 as ethically bereft and deeply women-hating, I realised I had my own personal and intergalactic crisis to deal with. There was only one thing for it. Hmm, thought I was a mere human? Pyeouw! Take that, patriarchy. Recommended by Maria McMillan.
The Fact of a Doorframe, by Adrienne Rich ()  Rich seemed to capture perfectly our own struggles in dealing with the horror of a world that seemed particularly violent towards women, and a desire, despite it all, to love, laugh and celebrate. Recommended by Maria McMillan.
The Female Eunuch, by Germaine Greer (HarperCollins). This was published over 40 years ago and it’s never been out of print. It is still a go-to work about how 20th century western society was taking away women’s agency on so many levels. Recommended by Matthew Simpson.
The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, by Amy Schumer will certainly be just as big a smash as Lena Dunham’s book, if not bigger. Recommended by Matthew Simpson.
The Natural Way of Things, by Charlotte Wood () Recommended by Maria McMillan.
cv_unspeakable_ThingsUnspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution, by Laurie Penny (Bloomsbury). This is the book that I’d recommend to get anyone fired up about feminism. Recommended by Kathryn Carmody.
We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (4th Estate) Recommended by Carole Beu, Matthew Simpson, Tilly Lloyd. Matthew adds, “We should all be feminists is something every young woman and man should be afforded the chance to hear or read.”
Who was that Woman Anyway: Snapshots of a Lesbian Life, by Aorewa McLeod (VUP) Recommended by Tilly Lloyd.
Why Science is Sexist, by Nicola Gaston (BWB Texts) Recommended by Tilly Lloyd.
Witches: Salem 1692, by Stacy Schiff (Weidenfeld) Recommended by Tilly Lloyd.

And some online recommendations, from Rachael King, WORD Christchurch Director:
I love On the Rag, The Spinoff’s podcast which is run by Alex Casey, who is writing some fantastic commentary on the representation of women in the media. The Spinoff is publishing a lot of good feminist writing. Alex will be at the festival of course, along with three other Spinoff editors.

I also recommend BUST, which isn’t widely available in New Zealand but which can be found online. It was started in the Riot Grrl era and has kept on going. When I first was introduced to it by my friend Gemma Gracewood, I found it incredibly refreshing and encouraging. So of course I had to take Gemma with me when I met with Debbie Stoller in New York – it was a wonderful meeting of minds.

Two feminist writers are visiting for WORD Christchurch in a week or so: Tara Moss, noted earlier; and Nadia Hashimi, whom Matthew Simpson says is “an Afghan-American novelist whose stories of the intimate lives and struggles of women in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan are imbued with a strong message of female solidarity across national and cultural divides.”

Tell us your favourite feminist reads below, and we’ll add them to the list.

Joy Cowley: A Joyful Life, with John Allen

Joy Cowley is truly a living legend, and it was a privilege to be at this final event of NZ
Festival Writer’s Week. John Allen is himself a great speaker, and it was wonderful to hear the obvious admiration in his voice as he spoke with Cowley about her life and career to date.

Allen had a chat with one of Joy Cowley’s friends before coming to interview her, and she described her friend thus: “When I think of Joy, I think of Yoda: he is old, he is wise, he is strong, he is serene, he has seen it all, done everything, and loves it all.” Is this how Joy Cowley sees herself, asked Allen.


Cowley says, “I’m a very big container filled with stuff that’s come from other people, other places. There’s something within me that wants to process what people have given me. I relate to the world most strongly as a mother. But as far as looking in the mirror; as far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing there.”

Cowley’s early life was covered briefly in her autobiography from 2010, Navigation: A Memoir. She has long been a risk-taker, she rode motorbikes, and was one of the first female Tiger Moth pilot in the country. There were frequent references throughout the chat to Cowley’s enjoyment of life on the wild side. She bungy-jumped to celebrate her 65th birthday, and got a tattoo to celebrate her 70th.

pingAllen wondered about her early reading life. “I was slow to come to reading,” Joy said, “My parents moved around a lot when I was young, I had been to 5 different schools by the age of 7.” At that stage in school, kids were taught reading by phonetics, which made no sense to her. The first book she remembers reading by herself was a picture book called Ping – a marvellous adventure of a duck. “And I finished it and started it again, and the story was the same. This was the first time I’d encountered the constancy of print.”

Her family were great storytellers, but of course stories changed as they grew. “The stability of story is very important, especially if you are from a muddly home, as I am.” When she was about 9, she started telling stories to her sisters, using universal stories but changing the details. These stories were always about powerful children, who could do anything. “I made these into our stories.” Cowley later noted that she wasn’t young as a child – she was the eldest, the responsible one, while her parents were often ill and unpredictable.

pp_joy_cowleyPowerless kids empower themselves through stories, says Cowley. “It’s very important that kids are made powerful. In their stories children may solve adults’ problems, but adults can’t solve children’s problems.” To give a child a positive, empowering world in a story is very important.

Cowley uses her lived experience in her fiction. “Fiction writers are dealing with reality, but taking it to another level. They are deconstructing and reconstructing the ingredients of their stories, and pouring them out, making something new.”

After a brief discussion of Cowley’s adult novels, the discussion moved on to young writers using writing as therapy – as Cowley herself did. “You go deep when you are writing. If it is bleak, good – write it, but not for children.” She is concerned by the bleakness in many YA novels. You can empathise, but not sympathise.

Dreams are a recurring theme in Cowley’s writing. “They are important to me, mainly because I remember my dreams. Sometimes they are just the muddle of the day, but then there are messages that take you home to yourself.” There was also a longer discussion about spirituality, and the place of religion in Cowley’s life.

If fascinates Allen that her books have travelled so well around the world, despite their clear kiwi character. Cowley says, “I like to see a strong sense of place in any book. It is important to see where the character is and what the child is doing there. “

As a child, Cowley read so many stories giving children serious messages about being good and responsible. “I used to wish I could be twins so one could be good and one could be bad. There are stories by adults that place adult expectation on children. But my first duty to a reader is to entertain.

“I work with children who are reluctant readers. No one can be tense when they are laughing.”

Her road to publication wasn’t exactly straight-forward. She says, “My writing was always invisible to me. I had no idea of how to evaluate my writing. I didn’t know until I got some feedback, how to begin.” The person who she owes her breakthrough to was Monty Holcroft, who edited The Listener when her first story was accepted – he asked her how many times she had reworked her stories. “Being a writer is one thing, but learning to be an editor is another. I still need a good editor to work on my manuscripts. I very easily go into self-doubt.”

cv_snake_and_lizardAllen wondered about her eponymous characters snake and lizard – are they Cowley and her husband Terry Coles? “Yes” she says, “I firmly believe that friendship is not made of sameness, but the accommodation of differences.” They married in mid-life, which was the right time for them – and now they are a unit. In Snake and Lizard, Terry is represented by snake and Joy is represented by Lizard. Joy Cowley and Gavin Bishop are currently working on a third in the series, to be called Helper and Helper, which she then read an excerpt from.

In contrast to Sally Gardner about the UK education system, Joy Cowley loves the kiwi education system. New Zealanders are in the top 10 in the world in many different areas, because our education system encourages individual potential. There issomething in the New Zealand character that will give anything a go, and that will persist.

cv_road_to_ratenburgTake heed, Elizabeth Heritage – Joy Cowley loves rats! The Road to Ratenburg is her next Gecko Press publication, about some rats that are made homeless. A bit like Pilgrim’s Progress, apparently – but for rats.

This was a fantastic look into the mind of a legend. I was second in the signing queue, with my well-loved copy of Just One More. It will be Cowley’s 80th birthday this year, and to celebrate this, everybody who attended received a greeting card from Gecko Press, featuring a print of one of Gavin Bishop’s illustrations for the next Snake & Lizard book.

Attended and reviewed by Sarah Forster
NB: I have just gone to Nielsen to find something by Joy Cowley, and come up with 1480 hits for her author name. Now that is a publishing backlist!

Booksellers NZ has been privileged to attend and report on twenty-five world-class events over the last four days. I’d like to give a huge shout-out to Elizabeth Heritage, who bore a full load beginning last Tuesday with Henry Marsh; to Sarah McMullan, whose account of the Robert Dessaix event was fantastic, and to Emma Shi, who attended the more poetry-focused events on the programme. Thank-you also to Kathryn Carmody and Claire Mabey, for being amazing organisers; and to the Radio NZ bloggers, Charlotte Graham and Ellen Falconer, who did an incredible blow-by-blow account of all the activities of the weekend.

Now we have the Auckland Writer’s Festival to look forward to!

Sally Gardner: Maggot Moon, with Anna Mackenzie

I have attended all of Sally Gardner’s sessions. She rapped at the opening Gala event, she was part of the Kids are All Right panel, and I was very excited to see her in conversation with Anna Mackenzie. And Mackenzie was a really good choice of chair – in fact, I haven’t hit a bad one all weekend, I don’t think! This session started with a discussion about her Carnegie Award-winning book, Maggot Moon.

maggot moonGardner wrote Maggot Moon in a frenzy, while on a diet of “astronaut food.” Standish Treadwell, the hero of the story, is very much based on herself as a child. She is dyslexic, and she wanted to write a book where the dyslexic hero wasn’t simply hat-tipped by the way he spelled. Instead, she set out to tell it in the way he viewed the world, and the way he thought. This puts itself across through some incredible image-based metaphors, with malapropisms galore.

Listening to Gardner speak, as well as reading Maggot Moon, gave me more insight than I had ever had previously into the world of a dyslexic person. She related gleefully that the Blind Foundation in the UK now makes their recorded books available to dyslexics. She also pointed out that they had recently had a change in culture, leading to the organisation going from having 80% sighted people employed, down to more like 5%.

Maggot Moon has add-ons in some formats to help readers to understand people who are dyslexic. “They see the page turns black, and the minute we show them to teachers and parents, they say ‘oh, my word.’” Gardner mentioned in The Kids are All Right that she wishes that she could make the educational system realise that what they are creating by their ways of teaching is a row of conifers. “We should celebrate the differences in the way we learn. It would help everybody.”

sally_gardnerThe importance of “love, loyalty, and the importance of a moral core” was raised by Mackenzie as being central to Gardner’s work. Gardner agrees, saying, “The selfie sums up this generation. It’s all about “me, me, me” – which contrasts sharply with earlier generations, particularly the war-going ones.” Standish Treadwell’s power is that he has an ability to put himself aside out of love for his friend.

Gardner has written quite a lot of historical fiction mixed with magic. She says, “With a lot of dystopia I get bored by the worlds they create, there’s not enough gravitas.” Gardner uses our history because it is the map of our past, showing us how we got to this future. She is concerned that in the UK, the schools don’t teach history. It shouldn’t be up to novelists.

“I worry about our leaders, they have no knowledge of history, and I worry about them. I really do. If you don’t understand the 30-year war in Germany, then you will not understand what Napoleon got up to when he nibbled the borders of Germany, you won’t understand WW1, or then WW2. Then you will never get to the point where you will understand the Holocaust.”

Gardner says she has always been a storyteller, but for a long time she was terrified of putting her words down. But then something happened. She became an illustrator, and she started to write her junior readers. Then her husband went to New York and forgot to return. And something magical happened – outside her house one day the Wolf appeared, in the form of a bailiff.

“I realised that he could blow my house down. So I rang my agent.” Her agent told her to bring her all the writing she had hidden in her drawers, that she was afraid to show. So she did, but she says, “I cut a hole in the bag I took to Soho, thinking it was up to fate whether she ended up not being able to publish. The pages were about to fall out as I got there, but a woman chased her down the street with some, saying ‘I know what you are doing, you think you won’t have to be published if you don’t have any pages left when you get there. You must.’“

i corianderHer first longer book was I, Coriander. The opening came to her as an image of a little girl, in a white shift, on a wooden staircase. “She went into a room, to find a stranger, with a box that was glowing. She asked the man “Is that my mother’s fairy shadow?” I, Coriander melds history with the fairy realm. Coriander was her first “big writing” so she was still working on her style. She had to learn how to paint with words, and she thinks of her plots as a rhythm, especially when considering a synopsis of a story.

Gardner only began reading aged 14. “One I found I could read, I was all over everything. My favourite at that age was a book called Forever Amber. I now write for the person who never got any books as a kid.” She talked a little about the YA audience yesterday, you can find this here. To this she added, “We are not exploiters. We do things with consciousness. Some of the most philosophical notions and cleverness in books can be found in YA.”

The fifth book in her Wings & Co series will come out in June. She came up this idea because she hates pink fairies. “So I came up with this idea of a very distinguished 6ft tall cat, who was once a builder, until a spell was cast on him.” Wings & Co is a shop where the wings of all fairies are kept in drawers, until the 17 keys decide to go ahead and unlock a door, creating another fairy – sometimes rather inconveniently.

Then it was over to the Q & A, the first question of which dealt with what the favourite book she had written was. She was about to give the standard “the last one I wrote”, but decided to be more honest this time, and said I, Coriander because it won her prizes; an excellent reason. A wee girl asked her whether writing was like homework. “Oh no, I would never do it then.”

One of the most beautiful images came towards the end, when she was asked who her favourite author was as a child. “I lived in London as a child, in the inner city, and it was very foggy then. I thought that the fog was made up of all the people from the past.” Her favourite author was Charles Dickens, because he used to work in the building she lived in. Once she realised he was dead (her parents read her his stories) she thought “Well, when I go out in the fog, and I put my hand out so it disappears into the fog, I will touch him.” She adored him.

As I spoke to a few of my friends as we exited, we all agreed that we had been present for something special. It was a writer’s week session that I will remember. Thank you for bringing this author to my attention, Kathryn Carmody!

Attended and reviewed by Sarah Forster
11am, Sunday, 13 March at The Embassy
NZ Festival Writer’s Week

Operation Bunny
by Sally Gardner, illustrated by Daid Roberts
Published by Orion Books
ISBN 9781444003727

I, Coriander
by Sally Gardner
Published by Orion Books

ISBN 9780803730991

Launch night of Wellington Writers and Readers Week


I was very happy to be invited along to the launch of Wellington Writers and Readers Week. A few of the staff and reviewers for Booksellers NZ will be covering events from the week on the blog as they happen, in the hope of carrying on conversations started by the performers on stage. The week runs Friday 7 – Wednesday 12 March.

Arriving early, I had a chance to chat to one of the coordinators for the Week, Claire Mabey. She was very excited, and happy that all the arrangements for individual writers had been finalised.

The room was bustling by the time the speeches were made announcing the Festival programme for 2014. Looking around, I could see almost every ‘face’ of literature in Wellington, plus a few other special guests like Mayor Celia Wade-Brown.  Kerry Prendergast, who is Executive Chair of the NZ Festival Trust, was not in attendance. A few years ago, just after the first election in which Celia won Kerry’s seat, they spoke one after the other, and things were amusingly tense.

The speeches were led by NZ Festival Artistic Director Shelagh Magadza, who has come most recently from a role as artistic director of the Perth Festival, but started her festival journey here in Wellington as tea lady. Her memories of festivals past included one of being ‘blown away’ by Chris Price at an event during the writers’ festival. Damien Wilkins followed her, speaking on behalf of Victoria University as a sponsor; then Kathryn Carmody came forward and spoke very gracefully, thanking all of her partners in putting together this spectacular line-up.

There is something for everybody in the line-up, frpp_leo_timmersom those who read historical fiction, with Tom Keneally and Elizabeth Gilbert as previously announced; to those who like to learn something that will make them look at life differently, like Dr Marco Sonzogni and Diarmaid MacCulloch. There is also some fantastic illustrators, with Leo Timmers (right), Aleksandra and Daniel Mizielińsky, and Alison Bechdel .

Leo Timmers is running a live drawing workshop, with Aleksandra and Daniel Mizielińsky also showing some of their techniques. Both workshops are for practising illustrators and graphic designers only, making them a truly fantastic opportunity for these people to extend their skills. Get in quickly for these!

The first Writers and Readers week headed by Wellington book industry wonder woman Kathryn Carmody, is bound to be a massive hit. Tickets for Friends of the Festival and Bookmark Pass holders go on sale today, and all tickets are available to the public next Friday 7 February.

For the full programme, head online to festival.co.nz/writers-week.

By Sarah Forster