2016 Recap: Our Favorite Books

We’re taking a break this week to reflect on some of the best feminist writing of the last year. Today, we’re recalling our favorite feminist books: most were published in 2016, but we’ve cheated and included a few great older ones, too. Let us know what we missed, in the comments!

Dana: While Han Kang’s short, spare novel, The Vegetarian, has received almost universal acclaim, everyone seems to have a different idea of what it’s about: agency, subversion, eating disorders, mental illness, patriarchy, Korean family structure, suicide, rebellion. It may be, of course, many or all of these things. But, for me, the heart of the book is its reflection on consciousness – on our resolute refusal, or inability, to inhabit someone else’s inner world, and the unbearable misery at times of living with(in) our own. Our protagonist — who desires no longer to be (human, aware, engaged) — asks why, in a brutal, violent world, “is it such a bad thing to die?” Her question haunts the book. The task of answering falls to us.

Barbara: My favorite book of 2016 was Junot Diaz and the Decolonial Imagination, a collection of critical essays that explore the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, (dis)ability, poverty, and power in Diaz’s novels. A must read for any Junot Diaz fan.

Ava: Ottessa Moshfegh’s Homesick for Another World are some of the darkest, funniest stories I’ve read in a long time. The collection comes out in January.

Sam: I’ve been bummed not to see Aracelis Girmay’s incredible poetry collection the black maria on more year-end best-of lists. Granted, being in grad school means I pretty much only read new books when I’m reviewing them for Feministing, but I can’t imagine many people having written more breathtaking sentences than Girmay’s this year.

Meghna: Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts was published in 2015, but I only got around to reading it this summer — and I can’t emphasize enough how life altering it was. The way Nelson squares the theory and philosophy she studies with the way in which she lives her life — with kindness, and love, with her partner and child — is illuminating. It reflects, I think, what any of us who have studied leftist or queer theory struggle with constantly, especially as we want to move away from swaggering, posturing, performative radicalism and toward trying to live a life of love.

Senti: This is also technically a 2015 book but one I read this year: Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life. It just about broke me and was a story I carried with me for months afterward. I’ve never read anything that so deeply and agonizingly explores human suffering. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt so swept up in a novel, or felt so complicated about one. It’s all consuming, and even though it’s so full of darkness, there’s undeniable beauty and brilliance there, too.

Quita: I haven’t finished reading it, but Octavia’s Brood has been amazing for me. I’m typically not a science fiction reader, but this book helped me to realize the connections between visions of liberation and speculative fiction. There’s one short story about gentrification in Detroit that I’ve come back to over and over again throughout the year.

Mahroh: Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers by Arundhati Roy. Please go find a copy now. I started reading it this summer and picked it back up after the election. Roy’s words resonate more than anything else I’ve read post-Trump — without talking about the United States or Americans really at all. We have a lot to learn from organizers and writers in the Global South.

Juliana: I read this way back in the beginning of the year but, like all of Naomi Klein’s work, I felt totally changed after reading Shock Doctrine. The book discusses how the U.S. has started a wave of capitalism that is so heinous it can only survive in undemocratic societies and can only be imposed in moments of crisis and disaster. Examining the era we are moving into under Trump feels ripe to be Klein’s next example.

Header image by Rick Finkelstein.

New Haven, CT

Dana Bolger is a Senior Editor at Feministing and the co-founder of Know Your IX, the national youth-led organization working to end gender violence in schools. She's testified before Congress on Title IX policy and legislative reform, and her writing has appeared in a number of outlets, including The New York Times, Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. She's also a student at Yale Law School, and you can find her on Twitter at @danabolger.

Dana Bolger is a Senior Editor at Feministing and a student at Yale Law School.

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