4 Contemporary Feminist Memoirs for International Women's Day

March 07, 2020

On My Knees, Periel Aschenbrand
Harper Perennial, 2013
Too many contemporary women's memoirs are described as hilarious in the blurb, when they're not - as if the only reason you might read a woman's memoir is if it's funny. This irks me because there are more relevant compliments to pay to women's memoirs such as insightful, critical, lyrical. On My Knees, however, is rightfully marketed as hilarious. On My Knees is a frank exploration of sexuality against the backdrop of fresh heartbreak, Jewish identity and NYC. It's an honest account of a life falling apart after a breakup and we follow as Aschenbrand travels to Israel, rebuilds her life and coaches her prudish best friend on sex. Aschenbrand's language is conversational and pithy, making this an easy read. This is her second memoir after The Only Bush I Trust Is My Own (2005) and it's Aschenbrand's direct, self-assured personality that keep me coming back to her memoirs.

Too Much and Not the Mood, Durga Chew-Bose
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017
OK, perhaps Too Much and Not the Mood is not a memoir in the classic sense and perhaps is better described as a personal essay collection but it is a piece of genre-defying life-writing that lingers with you long after you finish reading it. Beautifully lyrical throughout, at times reading like a stream of consciousness, this book meanders through Chew-Bose's astute observations on life as a twenty-something, first-generation woman. The book weaves cultural criticism with personal experiences, exploring themes of racism and identity. The language is luxurious, slow; it's a book to set aside time for, to immerse yourself in. Read my full review here.

Mean, Myriam Gurba
Coffee House Press, 2017
A critical yet personal exploration of identity, trauma, rape, eating disorder and culture, Mean is a reflection on Gurba's early 20s, as she navigates university and life after rape and her identity as a queer, mixed-race Chicana. Gurba experiments with the memoir form by incorporating elements of personal essay, news reports, found material and short snippets of prose. Gurba skillfully weaves her themes through the text; ghosts and crime haunt the text as Gurba obsesses over murdered rape victims to process her own survival. Skilful and always critical, Mean is an exciting demonstration of what contemporary memoir can be. It's one of the primary texts for my PhD thesis (hence the page markers in the photo) that you can expect to read more about on the blog.

The Rules Do Not Apply, Ariel Levy
Fleet, 2017
Ariel Levy is a journalist and staff writer for The New Yorker and so you might be familiar with her work. She's also author of Female Chauvinistic Pigs which, although I haven't read it, sounds like the kind of generalising feminist book I don't enjoy, and so I had low expectations for this memoir. To my surprise, The Rules Do Not Apply blew me away. The events related in the memoir are tragic and it's a feeling of heartbreak and a desperate need to find out if things get better for Levy that propel you through the book in a day or two. The memoir is about thinking that you can create and control your own life, make your own rules, until a series of events and losses make Levy reevaluate how much control we really have. The memoir broaches topics of motherhood, loss, relationships and family, and has a controlled and clean writing style that makes this a quality read. Levy demonstrates a mature understanding of herself, her behaviour and those around her which make for an objective and wise narrator: astounding considering the emotion and heartbreak attached to the events relayed.

Reviewer: Lauren - PhD researcher & founder of Destination Books

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