The Help by Kathryn Stockett
I read this book twice. It's kind of a popular book and there's a movie based on it. Roxane Gay has a whole essay on how bad it is on her own book, Bad Feminist. She claims it reduces black people into a stereotype and it made her sad. I'll have to disagree, this is a very good book and not racist at all except in one part, where Skeeter thinks a white girl cheating on a white guy with a black guy is ''too much, even for me''.
It's about black maids who serve white families in 1960's Jackson, Mississippi and a a white girl who just graduated college (Eugania ''Skeeter'' Phelan) and wants to write a book about black maids' experiences so their voice will be heard. They're reluctant because in 60's Mississippi, even talking about racial equality is illegal (kinda like gay rights in today's Russia) and black people get their cars set on fire for trying to register to vote. But they do it anyway. The three narrators are Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny.
Aibileen's age is around 60 (the movie makes her look too young) and she raised 17 white kids in her life. She's a maid, her mom was a maid and her grandma was a house slave. In the book she works for the Leefolt family who have a little girl named Mae Mobley. She's neglected by her own mother. Aibileen basically raises her. Minny works for Hilly Holbrook's mother, then Hilly fires her (Hilly is the queen bee of her charity thing and a racist bitch who encourages the white community to build extra toilets for their ''coloured help'' so they don't get ''black people diseases'' from the toilet seat) and she finds a job at Celia Rae Foote's house. Celia is excluded from the desperate housewives club because her husband used to date Hilly & she doesn't understand social norms. She's really emotionally problematic but also secretly badass because she grew up impoverished and had to fend for herself. Minny figures that out when she fights off a stalker lurking around her house, potentially saving both their lives. Anyway, it's really interesting. Read it.
Silk for The Feed Dogs by Jackie Mallon
This book is about the daughter of an Irish farmer who is a talented fashion designer and just graduated from some fashion school in England. She works for a pathetic woman who rips off high-end fashion labels' designs to get them done in China and is probably going to get sued for it. She's really dissatisfied with it, so she goes to Milan, Italy after her friend Edward (who is gay. About %25 of men in this book are gay.) who got a job there. She has many interesting experiences dating Italian men and working for various labels. I really enjoyed this book.
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
It's an amazing comic book by French-Iranian graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi about her life growing up in revolutionary Iran and immigrating to Europe, then going back to Iran and then back to Europe. I recommend this one especially to everyone who is prejudiced againsts Muslims. It'll help them see people as people, not their religion. They'll also learn about Iran, which is a really cool country with a long history, and how it got fucked over. There's also a movie, but it leaves out many details.
Night by Elie Wiesel
This is a Holocaust memoir.
Elie (a young boy during 1944-1945) and his family get sent into concentration camps. Since those are divided by gender, he goes with his father. In the book he talks about the horrors he witnessed.
What broke my heart was he and his family had many chances to survive. They don't take the war seriously enough. While they were waiting to get on trains which would take them to the camps (though they didn't know that yet) the family's former housemaid begs them to come to her village where they'll be safe. The father says no, kids don't want to go without him. If they said yes, all of them could survive. At one point Elie gets to stay at a camp while others leave because his foot is injured. He chooses to leave. Right after he leaves, the camp is liberated.
He watches his father before he dies and goes to sleep, by the morning they already took his body. His mother Sarah and youngest sister Tzipora also die. He and his two other sisters (Bea and Hilda) ultimately survive and they immigrate to North America.
The Desert Flower by Waris Dirie
This book is the autobiography of Waris Dirie, a Somalian-born supermodel and a victim of female genital mutilation. She was born in a Somalian desert to a nomad family. They didn't read or write, have a permanent house, get any kind of formal education (their births weren't even recorded), handled money or did anything normal people do.
Since males are the head of the household in their tribe, girls were pretty much worthless and a burden if they weren't married off. In order to marry, a girl had to be circumcised because it's tradition and a boy (or a man) wouldn't want to marry her if she wasn't. Girls weren't supposed to enjoy sex, and circumcision made sure they didn't. It also made peeing and periods hell for them and caused complications during childbirth―how is a kid supposed to come out of the tiny hole they left open after they sewed the rest of the vagina shut? After she went through FGM and her father tried to sell her to an old man for a couple camels, she ran off (literally, she ran through the desert, starved and thirsty, facing a lion, drinking camel's milk directly from the camel and running from the camel sheperd, hitchikking and smashing the pervert driver's head with a rock to avoid rape before jumping off the vehicle) to the city of Mogadishu where her mother's relatives lived. After that, she goes to London with her mother's relatives as their maid. Some photographer discovers her and her modeling career begins, though she's still illiterate.
Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn
This one is a hard read. It has many different stories about women all around the world, written by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn―they're a married American couple with 3 kids. Instead of ''raising awareness'', this book talks about actual solutions for their problems, programs and charities that help them.
It's about girls and women who are sold into prostitution which is basically slavery, rape in war zones, fistulas caused by sexual violence, parents who live in crippling poverty and send their sons to school instead of their daughters, ''gendercide'' and ''missing women'' (abortion of female fetuses in high numbers that happen in places where daughters are unwanted, because why have a daughter only to marry her off?), women dying in childbirth because the hosiptal won't take care of them without paying and the fucking asshole doctor doesn't want to bother coming to the hospital and prefers letting a woman go into a coma carrying a dead baby, and AIDS, God, a lot of AIDS. A large number of prostitutes are HIV positive. Men go to brothels and pay extra for no condom, get infected with HIV, then go home, sleep with their wives and infect them too. You all know the stigma around this disease, it's even worse in the poorer parts of the world. Women suffer in silence and some feel so much shame they commit suicide. In one part of the book, Nicholas and Sheryl rescue a prostitute and after they leave, she goes back to the brothel because she's addicted to the drugs they gave her. You should definitely read this.
Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell
I first saw this book on the Smithsonian's website next to Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton which has been flying off the shelves since Hamilton the Musical came out. It may sound boring, the life of some dead white dude, but it turned out what better than I thought. It has a lighter tone than Alexander Hamilton. I learned Marquis de Lafayette was basically the first major celebrity in America. He spent a year touring all the states in 1824 and people actually made Lafayette merchandise. His face was on women's gloves! People were crazy for him.
An excerpt from the book (just to be legal, copyright belongs to Sarah Vowell, which I already violated, but whatever):
“The newly dubbed General Lafayette was only nineteen years old. Considering Independence Hall was also where the founders calculated that a slave equals three-fifths of a person and cooked up an electoral college that lets Florida and Ohio pick our presidents, making an adolescent who barely spoke English a major general at the age I got hired to run the cash register at a Portland pizza joint was not the worst decision ever made there.
On the one hand, the French rookie got himself shot in the calf in his very first battle. On the other hand, he was so gung ho that he cut short his recuperation and returned to duty with one leg in a boot and the other wrapped in a blanket. Which might be the first and last time in history a Frenchman shirked rest and relaxation to get back to work.”
Man, I love this book.
Purgatory: A Novel of the Civil War by Jeff Mann
Finally. The gay book.
This book is about two gay soldiers in the Civil War in 1865. Its description of the war is really good. It's not really focused on sex, how much sex can you have in a war anyway? One of our guys is a Confederate soldier from West Virginia, Ian. He's a bespectacled, short, dark haired and bearded guy, but by today's standards, he's %200 a Dom. He likes guys, but he especially likes hairy and bearded guys. If he lived today, he'd be a part of that BDSM community who do shit like handcuffing each other in bed and wear lashes. And Drew, the big, blonde and hairy Union soldier that Ian's group (regiment? I don't know those terms well) captured would %200 be his sub. Seriously, their relationship dynamics really fit this thing. Since Ian's uncle Serge who leads their group hates Union soldiers (they burned a town and his wife died there) he makes them torture him daily by things like whipping. Ian is responsible for keeping him alive. They talk during the night, begin to sleep together at some point. He tends to his wounds with some kind of Indian salve (Ian has Cherokee blood, it seems his aunt who made the salve grew up Cherokee) and has to leave him gagged and tied up during the day. Since he's a dom and Drew is a sub and they're in love, they both like it. Except the fact Drew is likely to be killed by Sarge soon. And if they notice Ian treating him too softly, Sarge may take him from Ian and give him to George who wants to rape and possibly kill him.
I don't recommend this book for germophobe types. Those guys have a lot of body hair, which has lice in it. And they don't shower. At all. Just wipe themselves. And still, rimming happens. Ian, WTF?!
If you like this book, go read Lovers in Arms by Osiris Brackhaus. It's another gay war story, but it takes place during and after WWII. It's about an American soldier who falls in love with a Nazi. It's much, much more clean and really sweet. If you have no money, just leave a comment and I'll give you a tor**** link. It's in an epub dump, though. Took me 2 days to find.
In Order To Live by Yeonmi Park
This book is written by Yeonmi Park who was born in North Korea and fled from the country with her mother, about their experiences. North Korea and its 25 million citizens who are basically living 1984 are ignored by the rest of the world, because North Korean government is an ally of China and an attemp to overthrow the government would cause WWIII. North Koreans need to rise up themselves, but they can't since their heads are filled with propaganda (like Kim Jong-un is a God, Americans impale pregnant women on spears etc.).
Sex and Punishment: Four Thousand Years of Judging Desire by Eric Berkowitz
I keep this book by my bed and look at it almost every day. Most of the pages are marked. I've read it countless times. I can say it's my all time favorite non-fiction book.
Where do I start... it's about the history of sex laws from 4,000 years ago to the end of 19th century. Not 20th, because conceptions of sex and gender changed more than they ever did in 20th century and it would take another book to cover that. It starts with cases from Mesopotamia and ends with the sodomy trial of Oscar Wilde, who was fucking awesome but stupid enough to not flee the country. It was around the time of that trial that the word ''homosexual'' was first used. You see, in earlier days, sexuality wasn't a thing. Men liked women, women liked men. Period. Sodomy was something you did, not something you were. The idea that human sexuality could have variations was truly radical. But after late 1800's homosexuality became a thing, people demonized it, people embraced it, now a century and a couple decades later they're raising legally adopted children with their legally married partners. Anyway. This book is about much more than that. There's a chapter on sex in Ancient Greek society, a whole fucking chapter on how European men fucked over millions of Native and enslaved black women since 1492, including a part where Christopher fucking Colombus gives a Native woman as a fucking gift to his friend and the murder of a couple women who tried to resist rape, early bestseller pornography and shit people got into upon publishing them, English housewives suing each other because one called the other a nasty whore who showed her ass to the king and the other replied with ''I'm not a whore like you are because I've never sold my daughter's virginity for money.'' and also apparently men who love each other could get married at some point before old-school crazy Christianity took over on the basis that sodomy and love are different things.
People did fucking crazy shit. This is a must read for everyone.