• The cover of the book Passing

    Passing

    Reading Larsen’s 1929 exploration of race and gender in our current cultural context feels like entering into a timeless moment in which many of the questions Larsen explored are still flashpoints. What is obvious in reading Passing is that Larsen was well aware of the ways in which people of mixed-race origin had often been portrayed, and her novel can be read on multiple levels. The central relationship between the two childhood friends, Clare and Irene, who encounter each other as adults and fall back into a close friendship, is the trellis upon which Larsen nurtures the tangled vine of history and the bloody blossoms it shows.

    160 pages

     
  • The cover of the book Botchan

    Botchan

    Soseki‘ s 1906 academic farce about the educated young city man who is sent out to the “sticks” to teach boys still provokes laughs. He refers to his fellow teachers by the nicknames he gives to them, and Botchan discovers that “Redshirt” and “Porcupine” appear to be plotting against him after he fails to show them any respect for their seniority. With students who delight in subjecting Botchan to practical jokes, and colleagues who think the new guy is a little too hung up on himself, there’s plenty here to laugh at. And for those familiar with historical Japanese culture, this book adds another layer to the nation’s story of modernization.

    112 pages

     
  • The cover of the book Corregidora

    Corregidora

    This slim novel contains a history of rage and suffering in its story of Ursa, the blues singer. Ursa wants someone to acknowledge the damage that was done to her foremothers by the slave-master who fathered both her grandmother and her mother. Written in 1975, Gayl Jones explored the volatile territory later written about by giants such as Alice Walker and Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison. Praised by both James Baldwin and Maya Angelou when it first published, this forgotten classic will forever strip away the whitewashing of slavery some keep trying to sell.

    192 pages

     
  • The cover of the book Frankenstein: The 1818 Text

    Frankenstein: The 1818 Text

    Perhaps no book has had more misinterpretations of it committed to film and television treatments than Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. This gorgeous novel should be at the top of anyone’s list of books to read right away. Rather than the story of a murderous monster that stalks the countryside, Frankenstein contains within its pages a story of paternal abandonment, a homeless child in search of comfort, and a society unwilling to accept the less than perfect. Written during a period when Shelley herself gave birth twice and was pregnant with her third. This is one of the original feminist texts that history has tried to dismiss as a horror novel.

    188 pages

     
  • The cover of the book Northanger Abbey

    Northanger Abbey

    Northanger Abbey is considered by many critics to be her most humorous novel as Austen skewers the genre of gothic fiction in order to have fun with it. When flighty socialite Catherine Morland is invited by her new friends, the Tilneys, to their ancestral home, Northanger Abbey, Catherine’s love for all things gothic convinces her that she has discovered a secret about the venerable hall. Determined to investigate, Catherine sets off a series of comical events as she hunts down a murderer. Northanger Abbey shows Austen at her witty—and queen of shade—best.

    256 pages

     
  • The cover of the book In a Lonely Place

    In a Lonely Place

    I was riveted by the story of Dix Steele, a decorated World War II pilot who has come home a hero but hasn’t learned how to live in the civilian streets of 1940s Los Angeles. Night after night, Dix goes out looking for something he cannot find. Hughes summons the mood of dark streets like no one else, and by the time readers discover that there’s a serial strangler of women whose path keeps crossing Steele’s, I doubt that anyone else will be able to stop reading until the end. (After you finish the book, watch Gloria Graham and Humphrey Bogart as Dix Steele in the eponymous film.)

    224 pages

     
  • The cover of the book Down Below

    Down Below

    Leonora Carrington grew up to be a tremendous Surrealist painter, a writer, and a women’s rights advocate. As a child, she was expelled from a number of schools, and her parents sent her to art school when they ran out of options. Just as her career was starting to take off, however, World War II broke out, and in her terrifying flight across Europe that led her to refuge in Spain, Carrington began to internalize the outside chaos. Her parents intervened, interpreted her anxiety as mental illness, and had her committed to a mental hospital. This slim memoir is a must-read for anyone who has ever wondered why women’s emotions are pathologised if they are seen to be “too much.”

    112 pages

     
  • The cover of the book La Femme de Gilles

    La Femme de Gilles

    Elisa’s day has no purpose until her husband Gilles returns home from work. Even with a toddler twins to look after, and bearing the weight of another pregnancy, Elisa’s heart only starts beating when she knows Gilles is on his way home to her. Madeline Bourdouxhe constructs an obsessive love story that from the very first sentence will lead to tragedy, as Gilles becomes bored by Elisa’s complete devotion. Another layer exists in this deceptively simple story. Bourdouxhe wrote the novel just before the outbreak of World War II, and in its telling, warns women readers about the dangers of ceding one’s thinking to someone else.

    144 pages

     
  • The cover of the book Insel

    Insel

    Imagine having a friend who fancies themselves a great artist. Because they are doing “art,”—which means they’re broke — they never have money to cover the coffees the two of you buy, or the occasional dinner. And even though you think that you might be taken advantage of, you just find their friendship so refreshing that you put up with it. Now, move that situation to 1930s Paris, think about sitting in those cafes and walking those boulevards among the Plane trees, and add humor and a touch of Surrealism and voila! Qu’est-ce que tu attends? (What are you waiting for?)

    224 pages

     
  • The cover of the book The Pure and the Impure

    The Pure and the Impure

    Colette referred to herself in later life as an “erotic militant.” She was born in 1873, a time when women’s sexuality was often pathologized as “abnormal” for straying outside sharply delineated perimeters. In this work, which Colette considered her best, she writes about her erotic life. For her, when desires are denied, they resurface later as perversions, which fractures the whole person that women are meant to be. This work is haunted by those who were forced to starve vital pieces of themselves in order to appear “normal” in a culture that was frightened of the power of the erotic.

    208 pages

     
  • The cover of the book The Blazing World and Other Writings

    The Blazing World and Other Writings

    Margaret Cavendish wrote this novel in 1666, the historic year when the Great London Fire torched the city. In her vision, a young woman discovers a new world beyond the Arctic Circle, which she reaches through a “wrinkle in space,” and becomes its empress. Her subjects are the talking animals whose society is more advanced than that of Seventeenth-Century Europe. When the empress organizes an invasion of her homeland, the animals deploy weapons not yet invented back home. Scholars have long argued over this work, but agree that it is one of the first feminist, utopian, science-fiction universes in literary history.

    100 pages

     
  • The cover of the book My Brilliant Career

    My Brilliant Career

    Sybylla longs to be a famous writer. But she is constantly being sent outside to work in the boiling sun of 1901 Outback Australia. When her family sends her to live with her grandmother, Sybylla is suddenly confronted by the attentions of a young man who wants to make her his wife, which she fears will end any and all hopes of being an author. Franklin wrote this novel when she was sixteen, and its spirit and panache have made it a favorite of many. A book for any young woman who has worried that her dreams are “too much” for their time.

    288 pages

     
  • The cover of the book The Enchanted April

    The Enchanted April

    Look outside: is it snowing? Sleeting? Freezing? And yet, somewhere on the Italian Riviera, people are sat at outdoor cafes, drinking Negronis and Bellinis and wondering how warm it will be the next day. In this 1922 novel, four friends depart frigid London for a holiday in the Italian sun. They rent a castle for the month of April, and in adventures that range from the comic to the romantic, the four women discover that they do not have to be servants to the timekeeper’s clock. They emerge as practitioners of la dolce vita.

    240 pages

     
  • The cover of the book A Chill in the Air

    A Chill in the Air

    In 1939, Italy had been under the Fascists led by Mussolini since 1922. And while Adolf Hitler was terrorizing other parts of Europe, there were no indications that the two men would form an alliance. But in Origo’s memoir of the years 1939-1940, she recounts the changes that took place in Italy as Mussolini edged closer to an alliance. Origo’s godfather was the American ambassador to Italy. As political events dictate enormous transitions, the biggest change takes place in Iris Origo herself. No longer an observer, she opts to become an activist.

    192 pages