The Bookish Babe

Friday, March 14, 2014

Let's start a feminist book club!

Because I'm an English teacher I read constantly. Each time I teach a book, I reread it. That means every year I read The Scarlet Letter, The Awakening, Fahrenheit 451, The Turn of the Screw, Anthem, To Kill a Mockingbird, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass and a number of other works of classic literature.

Unfortunately, this doesn't leave much time for the contemporary fiction, memoirs, or feminist non-fiction that I long to read. But last month when I lead a group of women who were reading and discussing Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In I made time to reread the book. There was no room for excuses. If I didn't reread the material, I couldn't be a good group leader. I took the task as seriously as I take my job as a teacher.

And so I realized what I need to do to read more -- I need to start a book club.

But I also need your help.

I'm trying to decide on a few things about this little book club of mine.

Should the book club be virtual, IRL, or both? I could post videos and discussion questions online or if most of the people who want to participate are in Birmingham we could actually meet at a local coffee shop once a month. Or I could always do some combination of both. What do you think?

Should I host the book club here, on the See Jane Write Birmingham blog or at  

What types of books should we read? I'd like this to be a feminist book club, but will we read books on writing, creative non-fiction, fiction, or a mixture of all these genres? I prefer non-fiction (it's the journalist in me) but I do like variety.

I'd really appreciate feedback and feel free to suggest specific books too.


  1. Hi Javacia,
    I think you should choose fiction and non-fiction. Maybe take turns having members choose a book. Here's a few suggestions for historical novels-The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (based on the Grimkee sisters, two of the first feminists! It's a great book. And then of course, there is Noah's Wife :-) and an upcoming Angels at the Gate: the story of Lot's Wife, both by T.K. Thorne and both explore women's issues. As to virtual or in-person, I think in person is best, if B'ham based. If not, virtual. Or you can try alternating.

  2. Hi Javacia,

    So I thought I left thisreally long comment earlier, but alas, here we go again.

    I really shouldn't be commenting since my first suggestion will leave me out of your book club but I suggest:

    IRL. Online is too easy to back out of, in my opinion, but maybe occasionally you could do a post about the discussion. I just think your participation will be much richer and the whole endeavor possibly less time-consuming (no tech drama) if you do it in person.

    Host it here. The book club is a better fit with your personal mission statement than it is with SJW.

    I say do a mix of everything, including plays--although a filed trip to the theater might be better than reading the play. Titles depend on how you're defining feminism and how you're defining the purpose of the group. Is this to introduce more women and men to feminism? To feminist literature? What makes a text a feminist text? Does it matter if the critics call it a feminist text but the author doesn't? Toni Morrison, for example, often is taught as a feminist author, but she doesn't see herself that way. Does it matter if the author sees her text as feminist, but critics, scholars, and Twitter don't? Will this only be women authors, or will you include men's depictions of feminism, or of sexism? On that last question, I'm thinking about Ishmael Reed's "Flight to Canada," and a fantastic scene I'm going to blog about soon. We just finished this in my English class.

    I took History of U.S. Feminisms last semester, and since it was a history, we read primary source documents, scholarly books and articles, and memoir. Notice the course name ended in "s." That's because of the history of racism and separatism within the U.S. feminist movement. We read black, white, and Chicana histories because they had such separate issues. I give that detail to stress the questions of definition and purpose. The class changed my perceptions of feminism because other than bell hooks (who you MUST have on your book list), white middle-class women had defined feminism for me. This made so much of what was happening in the present day make more sense.

    Specific authors/texts I would suggest:
    Sister Citizen, Melissa Harris Perry
    Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman, Michele Wallace
    Poser: my life in 23 yoga poses, Claire Dederer
    Too Heavy a Load, Debra Gray White
    Alice Walker
    The Other Side of Paradise, Staceyann Chin
    Deals with the Devil, Pearl Cleage ("Mad at Miles" is the last in that essay collection, I think, and it's a must)
    Blues for an Alabama Sky, Pearl Cleage
    bell hooks
    How to Be a Woman, Kaitlin Moran
    This Bridge Called My Back, anthology but I can't remember editors
    Third Girl from the Left
    Ruined, Lynn Notage
    Dear Sister Anthology: Letters from Survivors of Sexual Violence, Lisa Factora Borcchers
    Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
    Letters to a Young Sister, Hill Harper

    One last question/suggestion (and this should probably be your first): How does starting a book club fit in with the things you want to do over the next 7 years?

    1. Many of the books you've listed are on the very list that makes me want to start a book club, which makes me want to start a book club with you! I too recently realized that my feminism has been mostly defined by white women (although Joan Morgan's book was instrumental in my journey of defining feminism for myself). So I've been planning to read more books by black feminists and womanists. But now you've hit me with the hardest question of all asking how this book club fits in with my 7 year plan. I want to say personal growth, but that feels like I'm cheating. I'll have to think about that. PS -- I will be in Louisville this for a couple days and would love to see you!