Reading List

2017 Reading List

I’m keeping track of all the books I’ve read in 2017. I’m trying to get through at least one per week, with an emphasis on books about women, by female authors.

Listings without a synopsis have a full review on the blog.

1. Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay
2. The Story of the Lost Child
Elena Ferrante
Read full review.

3. Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft & Mary Shelley
Charlotte Gordon
Examines the lives and struggles of the creator of Frankenstein and her feminist mother, including their shared fight for acceptance in society and the rights of women. 

4. If Walls Could Talk
Lucy Worsley
The companion book to the BBC series examining the history of the home, from technology to clothing, set out by room and covering the Tudor period to present day. If you’re a fan of Worsley’s many TV documentaries, you’ll totally hear her voice when you read this.

5. Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany
Norman Ohler
It’s a fairly well-known fact that Hitler was a drug addict, his personal doctor giving him daily “vitamin” shots that contained everything from amphetamines to cocaine to heroin. But Ohler discovers that most of the German army (plus factory workers and housewives) were also addicted to an early form of crystal meth in the form of pep pills. A bit on the dry side once you get the basic facts, but still an interesting read.

6. Dangerous Books For Girls: The Bad Reputation of Romance Novels Explained
Maya Rodale
A romance writer herself, Rodale holds her own on her side of the debate with regard to society’s attitudes towards romance novels. Why do we look down on them so much, really? Are they that subversive? Is it wrong for women to have safe outlets for their fantasies? However, she misses (or avoids) the main issue – it’s not the Fabio-haired bodice-ripping rakes and clichéd, submissive heroines, it’s that many of these titles are just so poorly written that it makes most people cringe.

7. Rejected Princesses
Jason Porath
Read full review.

8. Bad Girls of Fashion
Jennifer Croll, illustrated by Ada Buchholc
9. Fashion Rebels: Style Icons Who Changed the World through Fashion
Carlyn Cerniglia Beccia
10. Rebel Rebel Anti-Style
Keanan Duffty with Paul Gorman
Read full review.

11. This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism
Ashton Applewhite
Read full review.

12: Nina Hamnett: Queen of Bohemia
Denise Hooker
I think I’ve figured out that “Queen of Bohemia” is code for “wasted her life away at the bottom of a bottle”, since so many of the women who were part of the London and Paris art scenes of the early 20th century seem to have spent more time drinking and partying than actually making art. Despite associations with Modigliani, The Bloomsbury Group and even Alistair Crowley (plus pretty much everyone of note in the art scenes in both cities), Hamnett seemed to have spent most of her adult life impoverished and drunk. Which is a shame because her art is unique and quite moving and she could have done so much more of/with it had she not been an alcoholic. A dry, mostly statistical account, but with a suitably tragic ending.

13: Face Value: The Hidden Ways Beauty Shapes Women’s Lives 
Autumn Whitefield-Madrano
Read review.

14: Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk
Kathleen Rooney
A love letter to New York City as an elderly woman, once a famous ad exec, spends New Year’s Eve of 1984 wandering the city and remembering bits of her past. Uneven in a few spots, but generally quite a charming and intriquing story about female independence. (The character, while fictional, is based on a real person.)

15: Save Me the Waltz
Zelda Fitzgerald
While it’s a bit of a mess technically, at least by today’s standards, this is an important work, if only so modern readers can compare the story to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night, as they cover the same period and events. For years, people (men) in the publishing industry called Zelda a jealous dilettante, competing with her husband for attention because she was considered mentally ill, but opinions are turning and she is finally getting her due.

16. Catering to Nobody
Diane Mott Davidson
Get past the terrible covers and this long-running series (11 titles in total, since 1990) is actually delightful. So often food-themed fiction is just all food porn with little plot, and this series about a mystery-solving chef from Aspen is quite fun and engaging. 

17. The Women Who Made New York
Julie Scelfo
History books remember the men, but women were part of history too. Schelfo, with illustrations by Hallie Heald, honours the many women who built New York City, from the actual female engineers to the artists, philanthropists and fashion icons. Small criticisms – the book is sorted into categories and not everything feels like a good fit, and I dislike the author’s habit of creating segues from one woman to the next instead of just creating stand-alone entries. Still a great, interesting book to gives props to many amazing, inspiring women.

18. This Side of Paradise
F. Scott Fitzgerald
After reading Zelda, I had to go back and revisit Scott. The editor in me would like to write reams about style changes in fiction writing over the past century, because Fitzgerald’s work probably wouldn’t make it out of a slush pile today, but this is an intense piece of writing that, while meandering allegorically a bit too much for my taste (plus the desperate patchwork of styles that move from 1st to 3rd person, through gobs of poetry, and a 1-act play…) , asks some questions that are still relevant today, if you can get past loathing the protagonist.

19. The Beautiful and the Damned
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Written shortly after Scott and Zelda married, he mined their lives, and her diary, for plot twists and witty phrasing. Basically, it’s terribly hard to be upper class and wealthy, you know.

20. Les Parisiennes
Anne Sebba
This is a wholly comprehensive look at Parisienne women during WW2. Edith Piaf, for instance, worked with the Germans so she could smuggle identity papers into concentration camps. Other women hid or smuggled Jews, catalogued stolen artwork, worked as spies, and spread resistance notices. Many women, like Colette tried to ignore the whole thing, while some, like Chanel, thought their best bet was to collaborate. Masterfully researched, the book covers so many people it can sometimes be difficult to follow, but it does astound with the bravery and courage these women exhibited in the face of rape, torture, concentration camps and death.