This is something new I want to try. I really love recommending books (it’s what I liked most about my brief stint in a public library), and I want to do it more. So! I decided to do a monthly themed recommendation post. Since March is Women’s History Month, I thought I would start off with non-fiction books by women. I am excluding memoirs from this post (they’ll get their own post at some point, I’m sure, I love memoirs), and going with straight, researched non-fiction. Here are five titles I wholeheartedly recommend:
Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China by Leslie T. Chang. This book is especially relevant these days with the controversy over Mike Daisey’s story on Fresh Air about the Apple factory in China. Chang lived in China and followed a number of women (as best as one can in a very transient society) through their experiences working at various Chinese factories. You will get a real sense of the working conditions of the factories and also the effect that this “internal migration” of young women from rural areas to factory towns is having on China. It’s a very dramatic shift that happened very quickly.
The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade by Ann Fessler. The subtitle of this book really says it all, and it is quite the heartbreaking read. Living in the age of open adoption (and legal abortion), I had never really considered the emotional damage done to women forced to give up their children (and forced to bear the children in the first place), and it’s really quite severe. Sadly, given the current attack on women’s rights in this country, this book is more relevant than you would hope.
The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family by Annette Gordon-Reed. Annette Gordon-Reed has written a masterfully researched history of perhaps the most famous slave family in America. (Seriously, if you don’t want to make out with Gordon-Reed a little after you read it, just because she is so SMART, then, well, you are less nerdy than me). This is a fascinating look at slavery, privilege within slavery, early American history, and gender relations. While Sally Hemings is the most well known because of her relationship with Thomas Jefferson, this book traces the known history of her entire family (mother, siblings, children, etc.). Did you know that Sally Hemings was Martha Jefferson’s half sister? I am still boggled by the repercussions of that (what is it like to own your sibling? how strange and yet somehow understandable that Jefferson’s two relationships were with women who were related…) This is a long book – I had to check it out of the library multiple times to finish it, but it is definitely worth reading.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. This book is both a history of one woman (Henrietta Lacks) and her family, and an exploration of medical research, and the ethics surrounding that. It is a nuanced look at the scientific advances achieved from using the cells taken from Mrs. Lacks while she was being treated for cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins, the obligations (or lack thereof) to Mrs. Lacks and her family because of the use of those cells (taken without her permission), and finally the broader question of who owns your bodily tissue (the answer appears to be – not you. At least not once the tissues are no longer attached to your body). Lots to think about.
When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present by Gail Collins. Collins writes an incredibly readable history of women’s rights in the last 50 years in America. It was astounding to me how much had changed in just 50 years and indeed how much had changed just in the 30 years since I was born. At the time of my birth, for example, a single woman could not buy a home in this country, a male cosigner was required! Insane! In addition to being simply interesting, this is a book that will make you feel good about the progress women have made.