March 8th is International Women’s Day: a celebration of women’s achievements and a call to action for women’s rights. If one of your New Year’s resolutions was to read more books by women—or if, like us, you’ve reached the end of yet another reading list—we have good news: seven out of nine of our forthcoming Spring 2021 titles make the cut, and three of those titles will be released this month (or have already been released!). We’ve selected a few more titles to join them that are equally concerned with the spectrum of women’s lived experiences.
This isn’t a completionist’s reading list (we’ll consider making one in 3031). If you’re serious about reading more books by women, which you probably are, these titles are only ten out of… well… quite a lot. But they’re ten of our many, many favourites, and we hope they become your favourites, too. As part of our celebration, we’re offering 25% off all Book*hug titles until March 12th, 2021, at 11:59 p.m. EST (use code IWD21 at checkout).
Erase and Rewind by Meghan Bell
An assault survivor realizes she can rewind time and relives the experience in order to erase it. A teen athlete wonders why she isn’t more afraid of death when the plane carrying her team catches fire. The daughter of a superhero ruminates on how her father neglected his children to pursue his heroics. Two shut-in depressives form a bond on Twitter while a deadly virus wipes out most of the population of North America.
Meghan Bell’s debut collection of short stories is a highwire balance of levity and gravity, finding the surreal in everyday life. Told from the perspective of female protagonists—from early teens to early thirties—Erase and Rewind probes the complexities of living as a woman in a skewed society. Bell’s work picks at rape culture, sexism in the workplace, uneven romantic and platonic relationships, and the impact of trauma under late-stage capitalism. It both scours and heals the pain of modern existence.
“Utterly bold, darkly funny, candid and bizarrely tender, Meghan Bell’s debut is a testament to being young and female, lost, lonely, and neurotic, while simultaneously trying to navigate the perilous journey of everyday life,” writes Lindsay Wong, author of The Woo-Woo. “The female narrators stumble frequently, and learn tough and heartbreaking lessons about the people they love or those who claim to love them.”
Erase and Rewind is forthcoming from Book*hug Press on May 18th, 2021.
Phantompains by Therese Estacion
Therese Estacion’s Phantompains is a visceral, imaginative collection exploring disability, grief and life by interweaving stark memories with dreamlike surrealism. Estacion survived a rare infection that nearly killed her, but not without losing both her legs below the knees, several fingers, and reproductive organs. She says she wrote these poems out of necessity: an essential task to deal with the trauma of hospitalization and what followed. Now, they are demonstrations of the power of our imaginations to provide catharsis, preserve memory, rebel and even to find self-love. Taking inspiration from Filipino horror and folk tales, Estacion incorporates some Visayan language into her work, telling stories of mermen, gnomes, and ogres that haunt childhood stories of the Philippines and, then, imaginings in her hospital room, where she spent months recovering after her operations.
“Phantompains is a text of rare power, birthing a brave new world flush with pain, lust, drugs and the uterus,” writes award-winning author Tamara Faith Berger. Sara Peters, author of I Become a Delight to My Enemies, writes that “[i]t’s not a book about triumph (though she has triumphed), or perseverance (though she has persevered), or courage (though she has it). To me, [Phantompains] is a book about vision and reckoning, descent and return. Therese Estacion plunged into an abyss—found suffering, dehumanization, terror—and when she emerged, she chose to make radically confrontational art.”
Phantompains is forthcoming from Book*hug Press on March 31st, 2021.
Sludge Utopia by Catherine Fatima
Sludge Utopia is an autofictional novel about sex, depression, family, shaky ethics, ideal forms of life, girlhood, and coaching oneself into adulthood under capitalism. Using her compulsive reading as a lens through which to bring coherence to her life, twenty-five-year-old Catherine engages in a series of sexual relationships, thinking that desire is the key to a meaningful life. Yet, with each encounter, it becomes more and more clear: desire has no explanation; desire bears no significance. Sludge Utopia presents, in highly examined, raw detail, the perspective of a young woman’s punishing though intermittently gratifying sexuality and profound internalized misogyny, which causes her to bring all of life’s events under sexuality’s prism.
“Few recent novels have absorbed me so completely, and filled me with this kind of plain admiration,” writes Sheila Heti, author of How Should a Person Be? and the Scotiabank Giller Prize-shortlisted Motherhood. “It leaves me feeling as though I had discovered a female, 21st century Henry Miller for all its unfiltered engagement in the raw and the real.”
Éditions Héliotrope recently published a French translation of Sludge Utopia, Marécages de l’utopie, translated from the English by Jeannot Clair.
Hope Matters by Lee Maracle, Columpa Bobb, and Tania Carter
The wide-ranging poems in Hope Matters focus on the journey of Indigenous peoples from colonial beginnings to reconciliation. But they also document a very personal journey—that of a mother and her two daughters. Throughout their youth, Columpa Bobb and Tania Carter wrote poetry with their mother, award-winning author Lee Maracle. The three always dreamed that one day they would write a book together. Written collaboratively, Hope Matters offers a blend of three distinct and exciting voices that come together in a shared song of hope and reconciliation.
“Each of the poets is utterly unique and yet there is a striking commonality: commonality of blood, of perspective, and most of all, how the immense power of female desire is expressed through the power and dynamism of the natural world,” writes Judith Thompson, award-winning author of White Biting Dog and The Other Side of Dark.
On March 8th, 2021 at 4:00 p.m. EST, please join Red Sky Performance—in association with Hot Docs—for REDTalk: HOPE MATTERS, a conversation with Maracle, Bobb, and Carter about the journey of Indigenous people from colonial beginnings to reconciliation. Registration for the event is PWYC and can be found here.
Bunny and Shark by Alisha Piercy
Alisha Piercy’s Bunny and Shark is a middle-aged coming-of-age story-cum-shark-adventure that reveals and celebrates women’s power in the trenches. After “the bastard” pushes his ex-Playboy Bunny wife, Bunny, off a cliff in the Caribbean, she is saved from sharks by a band of dolphins. Her continued survival depends on her ability to become a spiritual extension of the landscape: she is the mood of the ocean at night as she swims blindly in it, and the protective coolness of the jungle by day as she recovers from the loss of a limb; she is the close-walled refuge of the sailboats anchored in the harbour, and the sparkling deck of an opulent superyacht when, transformed, she makes a triumphant return to her former world.
Introducing one of the great heroines of contemporary fiction, Bunny and Shark is a fable about island survival, and the perils and potentials of being exiled from one’s identity. “This violent, sensual, heartbreaking story of a worldly-powerful woman’s experience of being cast out, carries us on the unlikely journey of what it is to become otherworldly-powerful,” writes art critic and author Caia Hagel. The National Post writes that the book “[r]eaffirms every hero’s (and importantly, every woman’s) right to choose her own name, relationships, and fate.” Bunny and Shark was a finalist for the 2015 ReLit Novel Award.
Begin by Telling by Meg Remy
In Begin by Telling, experimental pop sensation Meg Remy of U.S. Girls spins a web out from her body to myriad corners of American hyper-culture. Through illustrated lyric essays depicting visceral memories from early childhood to present day, Remy paints a stark portrait of a spectacle-driven country: we catch glimpses of Desert Storm, the Oklahoma City Bombing, random street violence, the petrochemical industry, small town Deadheads, a toilet with uterus lining in it, the county STD clinic, and missionaries at the front door. These threads nimbly interweave with probing quotes and statistics, demonstrating the importance of personal storytelling, radical empathy, and the necessity of reflecting on society and one’s self within that construct.
“Begin by Telling ripped through me with the velocity and weight of a freight train,” writes Tegan Quin, member of the acclaimed duo Tegan and Sara and co-author of High School. Michelle Tea, author of Against Memoir: Complaints, Confessions and Criticisms, writes that “Begin by Telling explores the horrors and absurdity of being a ‘girl’ in the mediated warscape of America. With sharp emotional intelligence, Remy reveals a cultural systemic rot that begins with family and fractals out into school, life, the media, the government, and history. Both hallucinogenic and lucid, this work is a radical interrogation of trauma, and a literary salve for the feminist psyche.”
Begin by Telling has appeared on multiple “can’t-wait-to-read” lists, including CBC Books’ and the Toronto Star’s. The book will be released on March 16th, 2021 in Canada, and April 21st, 2021 in the USA.
The Men by Lisa Robertson
The Men explores a territory between the poet and a lyric lineage among men. Following a tradition that includes Petrarch’s sonnets, Cavalcanti, Dante’s works on the vernacular, Montaigne, and even Kant, Lisa Robertson is compelled towards the construction of the textual subjectivity these authors convey—a subjectivity that honours all the ambivalence, doubt, and tenderness of the human. Yet she remains angered by the structure of gender that these works advance. Who are the men? What do they want? How does a woman of the present century see herself: in men’s lyric texts of the Renaissance, in the tradition of the philosophy of the male subject, and in the men that surround her, obfuscating, dear, idiotic and gorgeous as they often seem? What if “she” wrote “his” poems?
At once intimate and oblique, humorous and heartbreaking, composed and furious, The Men seeks to defamiliarize both who and what men are. As Hadara Bar-Nadav writes for the American Book Review, “Roberston’s formal investigation of the epistemology of lyric poetry… mirrors the difficulty of her subjects: men, poetry, and construction of the lyric ‘I.’”
It Begins with the Body by Hana Shafi
Hana Shafi’s It Begins with the Body explores the milestones and hurdles of a brown girl coming into her own. It’s about feeling like an outsider, and reconciling with pain and awkwardness. It’s about arguing with your mum about wanting to wax off your unibrow. Funny and raw, personal and honest, Shafi’s poems address anxiety, unemployment, heartbreak, relationships, identity, and faith, and are accompanied by her original illustrations.
“From body hair and financial angst to heartbreak and self-doubt, Shafi examines all the expectations society places on women—and pushes back against these outrages with a voice that is both vulnerable and damning,” writes Lauren McKeon, author of F-Bomb: Dispatches from the War on Feminism. Fariha Róisín, co-host of the podcast Two Brown Girls, writes that “Shafi’s work is a sigh of relief for the queer Muslim brown kid I was, and the queer Muslim brown adult I now am.”
In Memory of Memory by Maria Stepanova, Translated by Sasha Dugdale
Following the death of her aunt, the narrator of In Memory of Memory is left to sift through an apartment full of faded photographs, old postcards, letters, diaries, and heaps of souvenirs: a withered repository of a century of life in Russia. Carefully reassembled with calm, steady hands, these shards tell the story of how a seemingly ordinary Jewish family somehow managed to survive the myriad persecutions and repressions of the last century.
Dipping into various forms, including essay, fiction, memoir, travelogue, and historical documents, In Memory of Memory is imbued with rare intellectual curiosity and a wonderfully soft-spoken, poetic voice. Elif Batuman, author of The Idiot and a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction finalist, calls the book a “luminous, rigorous, and mesmerizing interrogation of the relationship between personal history, family history, and capital-H History… In Memory of Memory has that trick of feeling both completely original and already classic.” Andrew McMillan, award-winning author of Playtime, calls it a “book to plunge into.” In its native Russia, In Memory of Memory won the 2018 Bolshaya Kniga Award and the 2019 NOS Literature Prize, and has now been published in over seventeen territories.
We, Jane by Aimee Wall
Aimee Wall is the translator of many books, including Vickie Gendreau’s Testament and Drama Queens. Her debut novel, We, Jane, explores the precarity of rural existence and the essential nature of abortion, and probes the importance of care work by women for women. The novel follows the Montréal-based, Newfoundland-born Marthe, who begins an intense friendship with an older woman—also from Newfoundland—who tells her a story about a duty to fulfill back home. Marthe travels back to Newfoundland with the older woman to continue the work of an underground movement: abortion services performed by women, always referred to as Jane. Marthe commits to learning how to continue this legacy and protect such essential knowledge, but the nobility of her task and the reality of small-town, rural life compete, and personal fractures in the small movement become clear.
We, Jane is a quiet, compelling novel about the magnitude of women’s friendships and connection. It underscores the complexity of relationships in close circles, and beautifully captures the inevitable heartache of understanding home.
We, Jane is forthcoming from Book*hug Press on April 27th, 2021.