#FeministBookWeek – What’s on Joey Bui’s and Mirandi Riwoe’s bookshelves

Recommendations from Joey Bui

Joey Bui is a Vietnamese-Australian writer. She graduated from New York University Abu Dhabi where she completed her first collection of short stories, Lucky Ticket, based on interviews with Vietnamese refugees around the world. Lucky Ticket was longlisted for the 2020 Stella Prize and the Booktopia Favourite Australian Book Award, shortlisted for the 2020 Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction and the 2020 UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing NSW Premier’s Literary Awards and was the winner of the University of Southern Queensland Steele Rudd Award for a Short Story Collection Queensland Literary Awards 2020.

Joey Bui’s Lucky Ticket can be purchased here, or at your local bookstore.

My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante

Two girls grow up together in a poor and violent part of Naples. This book is spectacular in how it tracks their minds coming to consciousness. While the girls navigate domestic violence, their sexuality, and Italy’s class tensions, the thing that excites me most is their cerebral world. Life becomes sharper and more seductive because of the way that they think and the meeting of their minds. Uniquely, the girls’ experience speaks to the human condition, and not just the female condition. Literature badly needs more of that. For me, there’s been nothing like this book.

Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys

The Jane Eyre story but told from the perspective of Mr Rochester’s mad wife. Rochester takes her from Jamaica and locks her up in an attic in England. Wide Sargasso Sea is the most haunting book I’ve ever read. It’s a brutal reminder that literature — and people — often ignore what is ugly about them. Those things are, for a start: slavery, colonialism, racism, and misogyny. Wide Sargasso Sea brings these ugly truths to life and shows you how it feels to be trapped in them, to the point of madness. It’s a feminist starter-pack book.

The Hour of the Star, Clarice Lispector

There’s a way of describing writers that I believe is overused. I think it only applies to Clarice Lispector, and that is: Lispector writes as though no one has ever written before. The Hour of the Star, translated from the original Portuguese, is a novella about a poor woman from northeast Brazil. She is narrated by a man who, when he is not condescendingly sympathetic, enjoys showing us just how pathetic she is. The sadomasochistic prose is thrilling to read (I know how that sounds). This book also makes its readers confront the question: who is literature for? Literary circles are not often filled with impoverished, illiterate women like the protagonist. What happens when readers elevate books about people who are relatable to them: well-educated characters with Arts/Humanities degrees? On the other hand, what does it mean for readers to access stories of poverty for entertainment or as an intellectual exercise?’

Recommendations from Mirandi Riwoe

Mirandi Riwoe is the author of the novel Stone Sky Gold Mountain, and the novella The Fish Girl, which won Seizure’s Viva la Novella V and was shortlisted for the Stella Prize and the Queensland Literary Award’s UQ Fiction Prize. Her work has appeared in Best Australian StoriesMeanjinReview of Australian FictionGriffith Review and Best Summer Stories. Mirandi has a PhD in Creative Writing and Literary Studies and lives in Brisbane.

Mirandi Riwoe’s Stone Sky Gold Mountain can be purchased here, or at your local bookstore.

The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood

I think it can be telling what feminists give their own daughters to read. My mum, a keen feminist, gave me Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale to read when it first came out in the 1980s. What a novel. Back then, it seemed like a nightmare, something I don’t think I would have really believed would happen in America or Australia. In interviews, Atwood explains that she got various ideas for The Handmaid’s Tale from history, which is horrifying. Even more horrifying? The fact that life for some women today skirts rather too closely to the subject matter of The Handmaid’s Tale. I have given a copy of this book to each of my daughters. I think this novel, at the very least, is a cautionary tale, reminding us to be alert to how there will always be feminist work to do.

Growing up with Feminist Books

Kate Millett, Susan Brownmiller, Dale Spender, Ursula Le Guin, Andrea Dworkin, Adrienne Rich, Susan Sontag… These are the names of just some of the feminists I grew up with. Their books lined the bookcases alongside Mum’s Ngaio Marsh and Dorothy L Sayers novels. Now, some of these books are in my bookcases. As a Eurasian teenager, I found Mum’s copy of The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston especially interesting, with its connotations of Asia and strong women. I think, as a feminist, it’s interesting to read, not only contemporary feminist thought, but also some of the foundational texts: from Mary Wollstonecraft to the history of suffragettes, as well as work by second-wave feminists and those who followed.

The works of Emily Maguire

While working on my PhD I came across work by Emily Maguire. Princesses and Pornstars (Your Skirt’s Too Short: Sex, Power, Choice, the revised young adult edition) is a passionate book about the need to continue pursuing the original goals of feminism, with a keen eye on the pressures on women to conform to a ‘beauty culture’. Maguire’s novel An Isolated Incident, is about a murdered young woman, and the reader’s attention is firmly drawn away from the familiar ‘whodunnit’ and ‘dead girl’ tropes, towards the harrowing truths of those left behind. Both these books have made me think about my own self, but also about what I write. Her most recent work, which I own and would urge other feminists to read, is This is What a Feminist Looks Like, a thorough history of feminism in Australia.

We also recommend you visit The Stella Prize and check-out what books made their award longlist each year.

Competition Time!

To support your feminist reading journey, we’re giving away a prize pack of the 12 bold and feminist books which make up the 2020 Stella longlist. Take a minute to enter the competition!

YWCA Australia wishes to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the lands on which we work, live and play and pay our respects to Elders past and present. We recognise First Nations people as the custodians of the lands, seas and skies, with more than 60,000 years of wisdom, connection and relationship in caring for Country.

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