Saturday, December 31, 2011

Books I read: 2011 edition

For the past few years, I've felt like I haven't been reading enough. I don't know what "enough" is, exactly, but I've definitely been reading less than usual.

And that's how I feel about 2011, even though looking at this list, I didn't do too badly. My big thing this year was that I had a hard time focusing on fiction. I told everyone I was on a huge nonfiction kick. And that's certainly what it felt like, even though that wasn't entirely true. I read a decent number of novels, some of which were pretty long.

I didn't read much poetry until just this month, when I discovered Mindy Nettifee. She gets special mention up here because her books inspired me to start writing poetry again. Read them.

But anyway, the list. As in previous years, I've added comments about a few, and links to longer posts that I wrote earlier this year about certain books.


In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez (1994)

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2006)

The Man from Saigon by Marti Leimbach (2009)

Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson (1989)

On Beauty by Zadie Smith (2005)
This book contains a brief reference to an early Tracy Chapman album. A+.

White Teeth by Zadie Smith (2000)

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn (2001)

Alfred and Emily by Doris Lessing (2008)

American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell (2008)

The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall (1928)

The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi (1990)


Hope was Here by Joan Bauer (2000)

When We Were Saints by Han Nolan (2003)

The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (2007)

Pregnant Pause by Han Nolan (2011)

Don't You Dare Read This, Mrs. Dunphrey by Margaret Peterson Haddix (1996)
I picked this out randomly, because I love YA books. It contained a list of books by the same author, and although I hadn't recognized her name when I picked this up, I realized that she also wrote Running Out of Time, a book I read in elementary school and loved. So it was cool to accidentally stumble upon another book by the same author.


I Never Called it Rape: The Ms. Report on Recognizing, Fighting, and Surviving Date and Acquaintance Rape by Robin Warshaw (1988)
My one complaint about this book is that it's a bit dated. A lot of the scenarios therein chronicled women who found themselves trapped in a bathroom in the home of someone who had assaulted them. They then had to crawl out of the window to find help. Cell phones have changed that, so I think that a more current edition would be helpful, because unfortunately, this is still a very relevant issue.

He's a Stud, She's a Slut, and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know by Jessica Valenti (2008)

The Journal of Helene Berr by Helene Berr (2008)

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs (1860)

Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington (1901)

Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty by Dorothy Roberts (1997)
This was the best book I read all year. It was published quite a few years ago, so I don't know why it wasn't on my radar until now. But it rocked. I could literally feel my brain growing and learning as I read it-- a lot of the information was hard to digest. It was totally riveting and I think that everyone interested in race, class, and reproductive justice should read it.

A People's History of the United States: 1492-Present by Howard Zinn (1980, 2003)
I actually started reading this last year and just finished it this spring. It's a giant beast of a book, but everyone should read it; it was first recommended to me by a high school teacher six or seven years ago. I think this particular high school recognized my political leanings before I was even aware of them, though, so I'm glad that I waited until college to read it.

Side note: I have a list of people I'd like to high five before I die. Howard Zinn and Lucille Clifton were both on it, until they died within a couple of weeks of each other. That's when I started to get serious about my high five list, and in November of that year, I tracked down Michael Franti after a show in Ann Arbor and gave him a high five. He also gave me a hug, which was AWESOME, but I digress.

When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to presentby Gail Collins (2009)

Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future by Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards (2000)
The one cool thing about this book for me is that the authors included a blurb about a student at the University of Michigan who started a feminist zine there in the 1990s. And the name sounded really, really familiar, so I Googled it, and realized that she teaches in the women's studies program at Wayne now. So I took a class with her this fall. :)

Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power in a World Without Rape edited by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti (2009)

Behind Every Choice is a Story by Gloria Feldt (2002)
As I've mentioned in previous entries, I did not always consider myself to be pro-choice. I only became pro-choice after hearing many women's stories and realizing that reproduction is not an area of life in need of government interference. This is not a book about abortion. It's a book about the difficult decisions that women make.

It was published quite a few years ago; I was bummed to find that many of the web addresses Feldt included don't work anymore. But other than that, it's a pretty good read. What I liked about it is that Feldt left it largely unedited, which allows each woman's individual voice to come through.

Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America by Melissa Harris-Perry (2011)

How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America by Cristina Page (2006)
My problem with books like this is that the people who really ought to read them never will. This is yet another reason why I think the climate surrounding the "abortion debate" should be modified. The whole pro-choice vs. pro-life thing isn't effective. Talk to people. Respect each other.

A Shining Thread of Hope: The History of Black Women in America by Darlene Clark Hine and Kathleen Thompson (1998)

The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap by Stephanie Coontz (1992)
This past summer, a former professor mentioned that she was reading Coontz's most recent book, and told me that she thought I'd really like it. Although I didn't go out and find a copy of the book right away, I kept the author's name in the back of my mind, and was surprised to find her work referenced all over the place (in essays I read, blogs, etc). So finally, I looked to see if the Grosse Pointe library owned copies of any of her books. And I found this one.

It's dated, and could benefit from some more recent statistics. But Coontz is a historian, so I still really appreciated what she had to say about American families in earlier centuries. I also really liked how objective she was. The book has been described as "myth-shattering," and I'm always skeptical of that label, because it's usually a euphemism for "hugely biased." But that really was not the case with this book.

The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan (1963)
As mentioned above, I intended to read Stephanie Coontz's most recent book. But it was written about The Feminine Mystique, which I hadn't read. So, maybe because I'm completely insane, I decided to read it in its entirety. Lucy joined me, because a friend of hers recently wrote a capstone paper on it, which she found interesting.

I also wanted to read this book because, as someone who was born twenty-five years after it was published, I feel like I've been told how to feel about books like this one: It's outdated, not inclusive of women who aren't white/middle class/etc. And while those things are all pretty much true, these books obviously had a lot of influence in their time. So I like to read them to figure out why; they're not exactly assigned reading in my women's studies classes these days, and I'm fine with that. The focus of the program I'm in is to emphasize that feminism is still relevant today, and therefore, our readings are more current. But I like to read and think history is really important, so here we are.

That said, parts of it were definitely difficult to get through. For whatever reason, I wasn't expecting Friedan to spend so much time on psychology: Freud, Maslow, etc. To be honest, I don't like psychology very much. I used to. But after taking however many psychology classes at SVSU just because I found it interesting, I got tired of spending so much time in my own head, and decided I cared more about how people interacted with each other. And now I'm a women's studies major. It's sheer personal bias, but it still really influenced my opinion of this book.

A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s by Stephanie Coontz (2011)

Just Kids by Patti Smith (2010)

Inferno: A Poet's Novel by Eileen Myles (2010)
This isn't really a "novel," which is why I've placed it under the nonfiction heading. Creative nonfiction, that's it. Myles herself is the protagonist, and describes her time on the art/poetry scene in 1970s NYC. It was interesting to read this right after I finished Just Kids.


for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange (1975)
This is another one of those books I had a hard time categorizing. Should I have put it beneath the heading below? It's referred to as a "choreopoem," so. Here you go. I have yet to see the Tyler Perry film.

Crush by Richard Siken (2005)
Stephanie raved about this book, so I decided to read it. Also, I pretty much automatically love anyone who has ever won the Yale Series Prize for Younger Poets, which Siken did. This reminds me that Carolyn Forche gave a reading at SVSU back in March and I missed it because I live two hours away and had to work that night anyhow. I'm still really bummed out about that.

Late Wife by Claudia Emerson (2005)

Rise of the Trust Fall by Mindy Nettifee (2010)
What I loved about this was that it was both poignant and hilarious. Also, it inspired me to start writing poetry again, which is significant, because I hadn't written any in almost three years. Mindy Nettifee gave a reading at the West Side School for the Desperate (where Stephanie lives) back in October. It was on a Monday night, and I live all the way out in Michigan, so I missed it. And I'm so bummed about that, because Mindy Nettifee is one badass poet, and I would have loved to see her read in person.

Sleepyhead Assassins by Mindy Nettifee (2006)


M Butterfly by David Henry Hwang (1986)
Is this really the only play I've read all year? Gotta step my game up, I guess. I love reading plays. The idea of an entire story being told through dialogue = win, win.


  1. I read "Inferno" and then "Just Kids!" I think they complement each other perfectly. Patti Smith and Eileen Myles are gods of literature.

  2. We keep doing things opposite!

    And I agree. They both rock. You rock too, btw. Let's be friends forever.