As an English Studies graduate student with a full-time internship at a public radio station, a teaching internship, a sometimes part-time job at a comedy club, and everything else that comes along with living life, pleasure reading is not something that I am able to do often. Don’t get me wrong, I read a lot (a whole lot!), but most of what I have read lately has been for academic purposes. The majority of it I like, but some of it is, to be quite frank, B-O-R-I-N-G. However, I make it a point to pleasure read every now and then, whether it is an entertaining listical on a favorite Internet site, a comic book, a fiction novel, or a non-fiction book. I recently took some time to sift through everything I read in 2015 and reflect on what texts inspired me to do better on both a personal level and an academic level.
Here are the five best things I read in 2015. The list is comprised of texts that I read both for leisure and for academic purposes. Side Note: They’re all ultra-feminist!
1. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay, 2014
Bad Feminist is a collection of essays by popular culture critic and professor of English at Purdue University, Roxane Gay. In this collection of essays, Gay discusses being a feminist who loves certain things that go against feminist beliefs (wearing make-up, some rap music, the color pink, shaving her legs, etc). Gay’s essays cover a wide variety of topics, ranging from her Haitian-American background, to her opinions about the novel (and film) The Help to the current political landscape in the United States. Her essays are sharp, funny, and brilliantly honest. If you’re into popular culture studies then Gay’s essay collection will both fascinate you and provide you with a fresh view of all things media. She has a forthcoming memoir entitled Hunger that will definitely eat up a sliver of my pleasure reading time.
My favorite quote from the introduction of Roxane Gay’s collection:
“I embrace the label of bad feminist because I am human. I am messy. I’m not trying to be an example. I am not trying to be perfect. I am not trying to say I have all the answers. I am not trying to say I’m right. I am just trying—trying to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in the world, trying to make some noise with my writing while also being myself…”
Gay’s collection resonates with me because I myself am a bad feminist who just wants to do some good in the world. Gay’s insightful essays made me realize that I can like what I like and be a feminist; and her essays reminded me that my feminism does not have to be perfect, but it does need to be grounded in social awareness.
2. Bitch Planet comic book series created and written by Kelly Sue DeConnick , illustrated by Valentine De Landro (Image Comics), 2015 to present
Bitch Planet is an adult comic book series created by Kelly Sue DeConnick, a long time comic book author and editor. DeConnick’s series takes place in a dystopian futuristic world dominated by men, where “non-compliant” women are sent to a prison on another planet. This science-fiction comic series follows five women, who are imprisoned on this planet, as they struggle to fight against a dangerously corrupt prison system and a society who hates them just for being women. DeConnick’s series is only five issues in, but so far it has been a thrilling and violent ride. The newest issue was released on January 6th, and I’m so eager to read it!
Here’s how DeConnick describes Bitch Planet:
“In this world, if you are a woman who does not fit in the box assigned her — if you are too loud or too opinionated, or too quiet or too religious, too atheist, too black, too brown, too any of the things that they don't want you to be — you are labeled noncompliant. And if you are deemed terminally noncompliant, you are shipped off-world to an auxiliary compliance outpost that is colloquially referred to as ‘B Planet.’”
I love DeConnick’s series because she, and illustrator Valentine De Landro, are able to take from themes of 1970s exploitation films while also pointing out the problematic nature of such films; but perhaps my most favorite thing about this series are the non-fiction essays that accompany each issue. A different female essayist writes each piece, and they each discuss (very honestly and eloquently) topics and concerns that are relevant to young women. If you need to get your science-fiction fix and fill the void of waiting for the new season of Orange is the New Black, while still getting in some topical reading, then this comic book series is screaming your name.
3. Redefining Rape by Estelle B. Freedman, 2013
Redefining Rape by Estelle B. Freedman was a difficult read, but is, quite possibly, the most important thing I read in 2015. Freedman is a popular American historian and professor of history at Stanford University. Her ambitious book provides a fascinating look at the appalling history of sexual violence in America. Defining the word “rape” has a long and messy history; it has never had a universally accepted definition, and remains in flux even today.
In discussing her book Redefining Rape Freedman says,
“One of the arguments of Redefining Rape is that the definition of rape has a good deal to do with our construction of who can be a citizen and who has the full rights of citizenship. These efforts to redefine rape are then, essentially, not just about rape, or individual assaults, they’re also about groups having political authority.”
I grew up in a household where issues of sexual violence were always discussed because my mother is a counselor at a domestic violence and sexual assault shelter. These issues have always been important to me, but until I read Freedman’s book I was not very aware of how in flux the definition of rape was and still is, and I certainly was not well versed in the history of sexual violence in America. Redefining Rape has become an important reference point for my academic studies. Freedman’s book is dense, horrific in many parts, and will weigh heavy on a reader’s emotions, but I encourage everyone to read it because of the urgency surrounding the serious problems of sexual violence in America and around the world.
4. The New Miss Marvel created by Sana Amanat & Stephen Wacker, written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Adrian Alphona (Marvel Comics), 2014 to present
So we all know who Ms. Marvel is, right? Carol Danvers. She is the awesome female superhero who came onto the Marvel comic book scene in the late 1970s. In the Marvel comic book universe, she has teamed up with superhero squads like the Avengers and the X-Men, and she will, hopefully, headline her own movie in 2019. Well, move over, Carol, because Kamala Kahn is here—the new Miss Marvel!
Kamal Kahn is a high school-aged Pakistani-American girl living in Jersey City, New Jersey. Her parents are strict and very religious, she gets top grades, goes to the mosque when she should, and is obsessed with the Avengers and video games. One night Kamala gets caught in a dense fog (Terrigen mist!) and then something weird happens—Kamala is visited by Carol Danvers—she subsequently takes on the powers and responsibilities of Ms. Marvel. While being both thrilling and funny, the new Ms. Marvel, also brings to light the trials and tribulations of being a young girl from a Pakistani family living in the U.S.
Some of my favorite quotes of Kamala Kahn as the new Ms. Marvel:
“Maybe this is what I've been waiting for. Maybe I'm finally part of something... bigger.”
“This is saying our generation will never matter. But we have to matter! If we don't, there is no future worth saving.”
“Wait a minute I have super-powers. I saved somebody's life on Friday. I am 9-1-1! But—everybody’s expecting Ms. Marvel. Ms. Marvel from the news. With the hair and the spandex and the Avengers swag. Not a sixteen-year-old brown girl with a 9pm curfew. Too late for second thoughts. Don’t worry, Bruno…help is on the way!”
I love the new Ms. Marvel because Kamala Kahn has changed the image of what a female superhero looks like. She’s young, she’s Pakistani, her character isn’t played for laughs, and she is never once sexualized throughout the series. Judging by the breakout success of the series it seems that many of us over here in the nerdy land of comic books were ready for a superhero like Kamala. Although a bit violent in parts (physical fights, explosions, evil villains, etc), I’d recommend this series for any young girl or boy who might be interested in superheroes.
5. Wetlands (Feuchtgebiete) by Charlotte Roche, 2008
Wetlands is the debut fiction novel from German writer, Charlotte Roche, published in 2008. Roche’s narrator is 18-year-old Helen Memel. For much of the novel Helen is in the proctology ward of a hospital because she has been treated for a certain condition. As she lays in her hospital bed she recounts past memories of friends and family members and devises a plot that she thinks will bring her mother and father back together. It sounds like an average Young Adult novel plot; however, Helen is not an ordinary young woman. She’s, how should I put this, quite raunchy. She openly discusses every bodily function one can image and there is nothing in terms of sex and drugs that she won’t try.
Instead of sharing a quote from Roche’s novel (I couldn’t find any that were appropriate) I will share a quote from the author herself:
"When it started off, I was afraid people would think it's me, but it's also fun. It gives me a sense of strength. Men think they can be disgusting and sexual and stuff, and now I've shown them that women can do the same. When I walk into a pub now, and I see men saying, 'Look, that's Charlotte Roche,' it's as if I've stolen something from them. I like that feeling."
I first read Wetlands way back in 2009, when it was published in English. I liked it then (although I was more grossed out the first time around), but upon this second reading, I realized I loved it, and the gross-out factor had diminished. After finishing Roche’s book for the second time, I went right out and got her second novel Wrecked (which I have yet to read). Roche’s quote gets right to why I learned to love her book. Yes, it made me squirm and cringe, but ultimately it is a fantastic, well-written debut novel. Helen Memel is over the top, but her hyperbolic character attempts to break down the idea that women are (or should be) prim and proper. It shows that women and men alike have a tendency to be gross. Grossness is a human thing, not a gendered thing, but so, too, are manners. Wetlands is not for the faint of heart, but if you’re looking for something, um, different then you might want to give it a try.
What were some of your favorite reads of 2015? I want to know!