Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Books I Read in 2018

Happy New Year!! I know this was technically last week’s topic, but shhh! I’m going to do it anyways because I didn’t get a chance to do it yet. I ended up reading way more books than I expected to in 2018, so picking just ten was actually pretty difficult. In the order that I read them, they are:

1. Girl Up by Laura Bates

This is one of the first books I read in 2018 and I can’t think of a better way to start a reading year off right. Although I think this book is technically geared toward young women in their teens, I think it is an important and valuable read for women at any age. In addition to the witty, intelligent writing in this book, the graphics are also fantastic in and of themselves.

2. What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton

I distinctly remember listening to Hillary narrate the audio book version of What Happened and I’ve found myself thinking about it frequently since then, even all these months later. Politics aside, Hillary offers some fascinating food for thought regarding being a woman in  the professional work sphere as well as what it’s like to suddenly have your private life become a public spectacle.

3. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

Another great audio book listen of 2018! Although it took a while to get through, I really enjoyed reading story that sparked the amazing musical that I was lucky enough to see performed on the West End while in London. It’s always interesting to note the differences between page and performance; however, I think experiencing both in this case gave me a greater appreciation for each!

4. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

After taking an entire term solely on Virginia Woolf while at Oxford, I think A Room of One’s Own is the one that has made me think the most. So many aspects of this book are still applicable today–or at least the sentiment behind her words is still relevant today–and I found solace in the fact that even one of the most brilliant minds I have ever read something by struggled with these sorts of issues.

5. Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman

This novel was everywhere in 2018, and for good reason: it is beautiful, lyrical, and captivatingly emotional. I remember visiting several bookshops in Amsterdam over my spring break and being overjoyed to see displays of this novel in many of them. Something about its story is so universally human.

6. Butterfly Burning by Yvonne Vera

Ahh, the novel that sparked my honors thesis! I feel such gratitude towards this novel for making me think about literature, feminism, and individual independence in ways that I never had before. If you want a challenging, eye-opening, heart-wrenching, thought-provoking read then I highly, highly recommend picking this one up!

7. Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga

Nervous Conditions is another vital novel in terms of my honors thesis and such a formative reading experience regarding thinking about the importance of multiplicity in stories and experiences. Learning that this novel is actually the first in a trilogy written over the course of decades was just icing on the cake!

8. The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Jurassic Park has been one of my favorite movies and books for a long time, so you can imagine how surprised and ecstatic I was when I stumbled upon this novel in the Blackwell’s Bookshop in Oxford. I had had no idea that the modern story was inspired by this early novel–and what a novel it is!

9. Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I read this essay at a time when its message was exactly what I needed to hear. I love how bold, direct, assertive, and confident Adichie is in this text. I think I’d even go so far as to say that it’s one of the most empowering things I have ever read.

10. The Human Stain by Philip Roth

Surprising to see a Roth book on this list after how much I complained about my Philip Roth senior seminar this semester? Honestly, so am I. I came to appreciate Roth as a writer, and the way he writes about identity in this novel really made me think.

What are the top ten books you read in 2019? What do you think of the books on my list? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

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Classic Couple

A Classic Couple: Middlemarch and Nervous Conditions

A few months ago I discussed Tsitsi Dangarembga’s 1988 novel Nervous Conditions in the context of feminist writing and postcolonial literature. Today, I’ll like to talk about this remarkable novel in a slightly different context: coupled with George Eliot’s classic 1871 novel Middlemarch. Published over a century apart and set against very different backdrops, these two novels are nevertheless tied together by many surprising similarities.

+ Multiplicity. Like the widely read classic Middlemarch, Nervous Conditions emphasizes the multiplicity of women’s voices and experiences. Dangarembga takes this a step further, demonstrating that so-called “Third World women” also possess a multiplicity that deserves to be recognized. Tambu’s (the narrator) mirror-like statements framing this novel remind the reader that although the story may be her own, it is also that of others. There is multiplicity in wholeness, just as it requires a plethora of women’s voices in order to establish and maintain a thriving tradition of women’s writing.

+ Challenges facing women. Both novels discuss rather taboo challenges facing women that are not often brought up in everyday conversation. Through Dorothea Brooke’s tense relationship with her husband Edward Casaubon, Eliot shows that marriage is not always inherently satisfying and gratifying for women. In Nervous Conditions, Dangarembga tackles the ominous topic of eating disorders. Rather than generalize disorders in the same way that women’s experiences of colonialism have been reduced to inaccurate stereotypes in literature, Dangarembga imbues Nyasha’s “nervous condition” with nuance. Like Nyasha, Dangarembga refuses to remain under the restrictive power of the patriarchy.

+ Opposing idealogical norms. Eliot strives to present a certain form of “moral realism” in her novel and is therefore much more concerned with representing fundamental truths than with recounting the minute details of daily life. One aim of her moral realism is to expose overlooked moments, as seen when Dorothea is disappointedly sobbing on her honeymoon with Casaubon in Rome. The belief that marriage must be flawless and fulfilling at all times is therefore dashed to pieces by Eliot’s realistic gaze, exposing the commonly held romanticized view of this life event. Disenchantment is a vital component of Eliot’s moral realism due to its emphasis on the true representation of an experience rather than one’s idealized, preconceived notions of a situation.

Similarly, Dangarembga opposes the notion that the literary sphere must be dominated by male voices. There is no singular experience of being a woman, meaning that there should be more than one woman’s voice being heard–and read–in the male-dominated literary sphere. In writing Nervous Conditions as a novel about African women and largely for African women, Dangarembga has indeed asserted the perspective of women into the otherwise male-dominated literary sphere of postcolonial writing. By engaging with the idea of multiplicity in the present, Dangarembga strives to ensure a multiplicity of African women’s voices being heard in the future.

While obviously very different, Middlemarch and Nervous Conditions still possess many similarities that may surprise unsuspecting readers. I highly recommend both of these novels, particularly if you’re looking for more literature that focuses on women’s experiences in different socioeconomic classes and cultures.

Click here to check out other Classic Couples from past posts.

What do you think of this classic couple? What other books would you pair with Middlemarch? What are your thoughts on either or both of these books? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Feminist Fridays

Feminist Fridays: Postcolonial Literature & Tsitsi Dangarembga

First, I want to thank you all for being so receptive to my last Feminist Fridays post about postcolonial literature. I didn’t expect there to be such resounding interest in this topic, but I’m so happy that there is! Today I’ll be talking about a groundbreaking author who does not get nearly enough time in the spotlight as she deserves: Tsitsi Dangarembga. After reading her debut novel in my postcolonial literature tutorial, I can’t help but want to dedicate an entire post to her impressive work.

Born in Bulawayo, Rhodesia (what is now Zimbabwe) in 1959, Tsitsi Dangarembga made her mark in 1988 as the first Zimbabwean women to publish a novel in the English language. After studying medicine for some time at Cambridge University, she ultimately returned to Zimbabwe due to the intense racism she experienced in England. While studying psychology at the University of Zimbabwe she began writing plays and then finally wrote her landmark novel in 1988. The success of her debut text led her to study and pursue film as a career, and in 2002 she founded the International Images Film Festival in order to challenge the damaging stereotypes and beauty ideals promulgated by beauty pageants.

Her debut novel titled Nervous Conditions tells the story of several women struggling under the pressures of sexism, racism, and colonialism in 1960s Zimbabwe. Although narrated from the perspective of Tambudzai, a woman looking back on her life growing up in this tumultuous time, Dangarembga goes to great lengths to emphasize that Tambu is one of countless women whose experiences and perspectives are rarely considered, both in Zimbabwean society and in literature. Not only are there multiple women who feature prominently in this novel, but their lives are written with nuance and a meticulous attention to detail that defies homogeneity. By emphasizing multiplicity in Nervous Conditions, Dangarembga suggests the necessity and advantage of many voices being heard rather than a single perspective prevailing over all others. This cacophony of expression thus provides a space for African women writers to share their experiences and ideas in the predominantly male sphere of postcolonial literature.

Was Dangarembga successful in helping break down barriers of access and opportunity for a tradition of African women’s writing? When asked this question in an interview with Seal Press found in their 2004 edition of Nervous Conditions, Dangarembga responded: “I like to think the novel’s success might have encouraged other African women to go out there and do their thing […] because the shortage of role models is a critical issue for young black women in my part of the world.” Dangarembga’s emphasis on multiplicity in numerous aspects of the novel–from Tambu’s narration and focus on five women’s experiences to subverting Sartre’s notion of a singular “nervous condition” and portraying eating disorders with careful, meaningful nuance–defies the creation of a single homogenizing interpretation of women’s experiences of colonialism. In writing Nervous Conditions as a novel about African women and largely for African women, Dangarembga has indeed asserted the perspective of women into the otherwise male-dominated literary sphere of postcolonial writing. By engaging with the idea of multiplicity in the present, Dangarembga strives to ensure a multiplicity of African women’s voices being heard in the future.

I would highly recommend this novel to anyone and everyone, especially those who have studied postcolonial literature or have read novels like Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Here Dangarembga asserts that there is no universal women’s experience, calling for increased intersectionality and nuance when discussing feminist issues around the globe.

Click here to see other Feminist Friday posts!

What are your thoughts on Nervous Conditions? Are you interested in hearing more about what I’ve been reading in this tutorial? Have you ever taken a course on postcolonial literature? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY