Reading Women: How the Great Books of Feminism Changed my Life is a book with more than a passing resemblance to the Year of Feminist Classics Project. The author, Stephanie Staal, writes about how she decided to retake the Feminist Texts class she first took as an undergraduate, and even her reading list is very similar to ours. For this reasons, we couldn’t say no when we were offered the opportunity to review the book here. Reading Women came out today, and all four of us have posted our thoughts on the book on our blogs. Amy had this to say:
I really enjoyed this book as a look at one women’s discovery through the texts. Staal is clear that it is only her interpretation and ideas and that others will of course find different things in the book. To me this highlighted the best part of feminism and these texts which is how individual it can be and how it can still speak to so many of us in different situations. By coming together and listening to (and respecting) each others stories we can keep the momentum.
Emily Jane was particularly interested in how Staal’s reactions to the texts she reads changed over time. She says:
Ten years later, Staal has wildly different reactions to the works of Mary Wollstonecraft, Simone de Beauvoir, and Judith Butler–among many others–than she did upon her first reading of them. Interestingly, she sometimes has wildly different interpretations than do the younger women in her class, as well. This inter-generational exchange of interpretations was one of my favorite parts of the book, and I loved how the conversational tone allowed for so many different perceptions to get their due. Many times, in fact, I was tempted to take a break from reading and talk back to Staal and the girls in her class! But not all of the book is classroom centered. Staal always refocuses on how the things she’s learning from the “great books of feminism” impact her relationships with her friends, family, and everyone else.
What makes Staal’s book interesting for bloggers who are also participating in our feminist reading project is that Staal’s approach to the works of feminism very much reminded me of what we are doing. She does give insight into the central premises of these works of feminism, but she doesn’t describe them in a scholarly fashion alone. Like we have done with Wollstonecraft, Mill and Bâ, she looks at these works both in the light of the historical context as well as in the light of modern concerns. Furthermore, she engages with them through the prism of her own personal life. Something that does, I think, sound very familiar to book bloggers.
And I also felt that the highly personal tone of Reading Women was very fitting:
The practical applications of feminism and the ways in which it can be helpful when it comes to everyday decisions are, after all, the major themes of this book. Another reason why I didn’t mind the highly personal tone was because the author was a pleasure to spend time with: she comes across as sensible and highly intelligent, and it doesn’t hurt that I agreed with her about 90% of the time. It was easy to imagine myself discussing all these books with her over coffee.
Thanks to Public Affairs, we are hosting a giveaway for Reading Women. The giveaway is open to everyone, but we thought we’d reward project participants with an extra entry for the sake of fairness. If you’d like to be entered, just leave us a comment saying so – it’s as simple as that. For an extra entry, mention it if you have signed up for the project – it doesn’t matter if it was to read one book or all twelve of them. The giveaway will be open for two weeks, until the 8th of March. And if you come back next week, we’ll be asking Stephanie Staal a few questions about her own reading project and the things it has in common with ours.