Written by: Charity Blaine
As you already know, there are a ton of bad-ass women in Hollywood and the world. A few of them, thankfully, have written books. I devour female memoirs right now, in fact, I’ve basically run out of the ones I can easily get at the library. A lot of these memoirs deal with some pretty important issues, for women, and for humanity in general. The humanness of these stories almost always brings me to tears, and not because something is sad, rather because the stories are so relatable. My favourite ones are the audio books where the author actually reads the story. Then, while you take the long commute to work, you have a woman sitting with you, telling you her personal journey. The following ten are ones I recommend specifically for how they address issues that matter. Some autobiographies are specifically written for humour. I love those too, but they are outside the realm of this list.
It’s What I Do, by Lynsay Addario
Addario is a war photographer. She was kidnapped a few times and many of her closest colleagues were killed in action. That in and of itself is pretty impressive. She is also a huge advocate for women’s issues and focuses so much of her work on telling the story of the women who live in third world countries and sometimes don’t even leave the private realm. She travelled to Iraq, Afghanistan and Darfur, and talked to women who were victims of especially damaging and violent rapes. She writes of the hospitality of Muslim men and women, and offers insight on how everyday people experienced the “war on terror” but also the years leading up to and immediately after the war. The people that she writes about aren’t caricatures, they are human beings with deeply moving stories. If you don’t read anything else on this list, I recommend you at least look at this book.
Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson
I laughed out loud so many times reading this book. It’s an accurate account of dealing with a mental illness, mixed with humorous accounts of the author’s experiences with taxidermy. The last chapter was so hopeful and helpful I wanted to write it on my brain forever.
Love, Insh Allah, by Ayesha Mattu and Nura Maznavi
The cover is of this book looks racy. It’s a red slip seductively draped over a bed, but it’s really a collection of love and life stories, written entirely by Muslim women about Muslim women. The stories are true, and for me, they were beautiful. I am Christian, but I loved reading about the commonalities between their faith and mine. I think in these uncertain times, the more understanding and compassion we have for each other, the better.
You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day
I originally selected Gloria Steinem’s My Life on the Road as the tenth book, but that’s sort of an obvious choice, so I substituted it for this lesser know feminist memoir. Day’s book has this semi-disconnected chapter at the end that talks about how brutal it was for her being a female gamer. It was HORRIBLE. I mean, death threats horrible, because obviously a woman gamer RUINED gaming for everyone. I know that sexism exists in North America, but I was actually blown away by how truly blatant it was in this particular field. It’s a really informative, interesting read.
Your Voice in My Head by Emma Forrest
Emma Forrest is a poet and her memoir is lyrical. She too struggled with mental illness and ended up living with a man with borderline personality disorder. Her relationship was high profile being as her partner is a famous celebrity, but she doesn’t actually tell you who it is throughout the course of the work. I felt her pain, but also her resolution, and I think that’s important to people facing mental health issues. There is hope.
I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
Everyone is familiar with Malala, but her memoir, although long, is just so informative and beautiful. You would never believe she was so young. Her book provides insight into the bigger issues at play in Afghanistan and the Middle East, and the politics add context to her story rather than distracting (and putting you to sleep.) Plus, she’s just really inspiring and an advocate for female education, as a means of changing the world.
The Hiding Place by Corrie TenBoome
This memoir was published decades ago, but I don’t feel like it’s any less relevant. Ten Boome and her family hid Jewish people during the Holocaust, and ended up imprisoned for their efforts. Many of the family members did not survive the duration of the war, but Ten Boome went on to continue spreading love and hope despite all they had been through, for the rest of her life. It’s a really beautiful and lesser known memoir now, although it was really popular in its day.
No Baggage, by Clara Bensen
Bensen struggled with depression and anxiety, but that isn’t the focus of this story. She meets a man on OKCupid and they decide to travel from Istanbul to London with NO luggage. Her experiences with mental illness are woven skillfully throughout the narrative. It becomes more so a story about letting go. I cried a lot in this one too.
Muslim Girl, by Amani Al-Khatahtbeh
Al-Khatahtbeh’s book is very different from Love, Insh Allah but it really draws attention to how 9-11 turned a nation against a minority group in a very real, and very marked way. It’s not that minority groups haven’t always faced persecution, I don’t mean to minimize that, but suddenly the world was watching Muslim people. They had to work twice as hard to prove that they weren’t terrorists, even to tolerating and not fighting back when they were abused and mistreated. That was something that I personally never considered. As soon as a persecuted person fights back, verbally or literally, it is assumed they are aggressive and working against the integrity and values of a country. They aren’t allowed the freedom to defend themselves, because defence becomes interpreted as aggression.
Instant Mom, by Nia Vardalos
Everyone knows Vardalos from the hugely popular movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding. I read a lot of comic memoirs so I basically expected this to be on par with Amy Poehler or Mindy Kaling. It’s something entirely different. Vardalos is a spokeswoman for foster parenting and adoption because after years and years of painful treatments, she couldn’t conceive a child. The struggle, pain and stubborn optimism with which she faced her journey is unbelievable and inspiring and then when she finally found her daughter (and her daughter found her) through the American foster care system, the story is basically miraculous. I cried A LOT reading this, and it gave me hope. Not just for my own children, but in hope.
This list is not exhaustive and is not as diverse as it should be, so recommendations are always welcome, but if you’re interested in social issues as discussed by real women, these ten books are a good place to start. But make sure to have kleenex, at least, if you’re super sensitive to any feeling of relatability or hope at all!