Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Great Books For Women's History Month 2011 (by Erin O'Riordan)

The month of March is so much more than an excuse to drink Guinness and pinch people who don't wear green on the 17th. It's also Women's History Month...a great excuse to look into these fascinating books. Each of these titles is from my personal library.

A Woman's Book of Life by Joan Borysenko. This explains all the big transitions in a woman's life in a way that makes sense biologically, psychologically and spiritually. My other favorite Borysenko volume is A Woman's Journey to God.

Feminist Fairy Tales by Barbara G. Walker (HarperCollins, 1996). Includes classic fairy tales most Americans will recognize from childhood, rewritten without the sexist overtones. They're more fun that way. Walker also wrote the incomparable encyclopedia mentioned below.

Goddesses in Everywoman: A New Psychology of Women by Jean Shinoda Bolen (Harper & Row, 1984). Another book that totally gets me--I'm a Persephone, big time. Using classical Greek goddesses as archetypes, it posits a theory of various female personalities. (It also works on fictional characters, like the ones in Twilight. Bella Swan is a Persephone too, Esme Cullen is a Demeter and Rosalie Hale is a Hera.)

Letters to Ms. 1972-1987, edited by Mary Thom (The Ms. Foundation, 1987). Okay, this is just an old book I bought for a quarter at a library cast-off sale, but it captures a huge variety of women's issues in voices from all around the country. It's remarkably intimate and diverse. The intro was written by Gloria Steinem, founder of Ms. Magazine, whose work I respect and admire. (Also, I have a crush on her stepson, Christian Bale.)

QPB Anthology of Women's Writing, edited by Susan Cahill (QPB, 2002). Poetry, nonfiction, fiction and personal letters make up this more-than-600-page anthology, which covers women who wrote in English from Julian of Norwich (c.1342-1423) to Sandra Cisneros (born 1952).

Sacred Voices: Essential Women's Wisdom Through the Ages, edited by Mary-Ford Grabowsky (HarperCollins, 2002). Composed of prayers and other spiritual writings from many cultures, ancient times to modern. Priestesses of Inanna share its pages with Hildegard of Bingen, Teresa of Avila, African and Native American oral tradition, and modern Hindu women.

She's a Rebel: The History of Women in Rock and Roll by Gillian G. Gaar (Seal Press, 2002). The title pretty much says it all. It starts with Big Mama Thornton and ends with Britney Spears.

The American Women's Almanac by Louise Bernikow and the National Women's History Project (Berkley Books, 1997). With all its vintage photos, artwork, quotes and fascinating sidebars, this one's tough to put down. The best section is the last one: "25 Things Women Have Done For Each Other." Examples: Alice Walker, appalled by Zora Neale Hurston's unmarked grave, bought her fellow writer a headstone inscribed "Genius of the South." Lucille Ball used striptease to cheer up a friend who'd had a miscarriage.

The Book of Goddesses by Kris Waldherr (Beyond Words Publishing, 1995). Waldherr wrote and illustrated this beautiful, multicultural children's alphabet book, with a goddess or goddesses for every letter of the alphabet.

The Great Women Superheroes by Trina Robbins (Kitchen Sink Press, 1996). Sure, you know Wonder Woman, but what about the other leggy costumed super-sheroes whose ideals little girls have aspired to? From Miss Fury to Action Girl, Robbins covers them all. Trina Robbins has also written Great Women Cartoonists and, one of my all-time personal favorites, Eternally Bad: Goddesses With Attitude.

The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets by Barbara G. Walker (Harper & Row, 1983). This is my go-to source for Pagan mythology, and I also sit around flipping through it, reading it just for fun. It's fascinating! If you've ever wanted to know the mystical meanings of lilies, the Himalayas, the moon...just about anything, it's in here, and so much of it connects to goddess-worship suppressed by the rise of patriarchal Middle Eastern-based religions.

Wild Women by Autumn Stephens (1992, Conari Press). A gallery of notable and infamous women from American history, arranged into categories like "Hatchet Queens and Pistol Packers" and "Holy Terrors and Pope Perturbers." Some of these women, like Harriet Tubman and Susan B. Anthony, are still well-known. Others make for fascinating historical footnotes.

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