The Yellow Wallpaper
by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Afterword by Elaine R. Hedges
1892; afterword from 1973
This little book includes "The Yellow Wallpaper" - sort of a proto-feminist short story - and an informative afterword which places the story squarely in the context of mid-20th-century feminist thought. "The Yellow Wallpaper" is about a woman's descent into madness, aided as it is by the ridiculous impositions, limits and societal strictures placed on women's lives - not such a groundbreaking topic by now, but keep in mind that this story was first published in 1892(!). Anyway, it's a remarkable little piece of literature - a vivid and harrowing work of art.
Sum-up: Certainly worth reading
Woman at Point Zero
by Nawal El Saadawi
Translated from the Arabic by Sherif Hetata
1975; translation from 1983
Saadawi was already an accomplished doctor before she started writing novels: she served as the Director of Public Health in Egypt and was the chief editor of a medical journal; she lost these positions, largely because of her outspoken feminist politics, and eventually came to a career as an author, journalist and educator. Her own experiences, and the experiences of women she observed in her role as a doctor and researcher, compelled her to tell the stories of women marginalized by male-dominated institutions and structures of power.
As for this book: Saadawi is a strong writer, but the tale here is told with such unflagging intensity - and such a glut of callous, abusive male characters - that it becomes somewhat wearying. This story, in which a young woman stands accused of murdering a violent, powerful man, is clearly meant as a sort of indictment/exposé of pervasive sexism and misogyny in Saadawi's native Egypt; in pursuit of that goal, she seems to have let other aspects of the book fall by the wayside. Not that this isn't an impressive achievement - I just wonder what else could've been achieved.
Sum-up: Flawed, but important
Blood and Guts in High School
by Kathy Acker
Greek myths, sexually-explicit scatological screeds, discourses on classic literature, crude drawings of genitals, violent poetry, meditations on space and language… Acker's uniquely intuitive combinations of seemingly disparate elements - from lofty intellectual concerns to base, sex-addled rantings - create something remarkably akin to actual human thought. Even though it can get pretty arbitrary or indulgent at points, this book creates its own sort of awkwardly intimate relationship with the reader. FYI: it's not really a book about high school, but it is a coming-of-age novel, in a messed-up way.
Sum-up: Recommended for those with more, eh, 'extreme' tastes
Parable of the Talents
by Octavia Butler
Last year, I read Butler's 1977 novel "Mind of My Mind" and I was amazed at how many ideas (political, cultural, moral) she was able to access without being blunt or heavy-handed about it. So, with that in mind, I was a little disappointed that the characters in this 1998 novel - her second-to-last book - are terrorized/antagonized by war-mongering, right-wing, pseudo-Christian fundamentalist types. Not that I think that was a bad thing for her to be writing about or anything like that - it's just maybe a bit too on-the-nose for a writer who got so much power out of subtlety and subtext. But, whatever. This gracefully-written post-apocalyptic (or, post-near-apocalyptic) story could be said to be about countervailing approaches to building community, faith and hope in the wake of tragedy and, as with Butler's other work, it contains a wealth of ideas bubbling just beneath the surface.
Sum-up: Strong work from a big talent