What to read for International Women’s Day


Around the world, women fight for the right to be educated, to learn how to read, to ensure stories that amplify women’s voices are published. Women reading and telling stories is often a political act, as much as it can be a pleasurable one.

Books by women that had a profound impact on the way I see the world include Alice Munro’s “Lives of Girls and Women,” a coming of age story with the main character, Del, working against the norms of her time to become a writer; and, more recently, U.K. author Bernardine Evaristo’s 2019 Booker Prize-winning “Girl, Woman, Other,” with its panoply of women’s voices and innovative structure that owes as much to poetry as it does to prose. Or Helen Knott’s 2019 harrowing memoir “In My Own Moccasins.” In her introduction she talks about writing not so that non-Indigenous people can “learn how to humanize Indigenous women” although learning might be a by-product of reading her story. Instead she invites us “into this space with an open heart and with the requirements that you burn your pity and bury your judgments. As Indigenous women, we sometimes must unapologetically write for ourselves. I wrote this for us.”

I asked other writers, too, to share books they felt necessary, that changed them or amplified women’s voices. Here’s what they chose.

Margaret Atwood

Recommending two very different reads:

“Secrets of the Sprakkar: Iceland’s Extraordinary Women and How They Are Changing the World,” by Eliza Reid (Simon & Schuster)

About Icelandic women and equality in that country in general. Reid is a Canadian and is the first lady of Iceland, being married to the country’s president.

“Sacred Bundles Unborn,” edited by Mercredi Morningstar and Fire Keepers (Friesen Press/Kobo)

Includes a piece by Sen. Yvonne Boyer (who is one of the Fire Keepers collective). The collection is about the enforced sterilization (in Canada) of women, mainly Indigenous women.

Farzana Doctor, author of “Seven”

Recommending: “People Change,” by Vivek Shraya (Arsenal Pulp Press)

Vivek Shraya fans will know that she is a creative chameleon; her talents and body of work span film, theatre, visual art, music and literature. In this new book, she explores and troubles our collective notions about change, and the ways we might resist or be motivated to create it. This book is insightful and aspirational: “I want to imagine a world in which we can change, shift, and play as often as we choose, and where this multiplicity is honoured instead of cause for suspicion.”.A true pleasurable read.

Uzma Jalaluddin, author of “Hana Khan Carries On”

Recommending: “Jameela Green Ruins Everything,” by Zarqa Nawaz (Simon and Schuster Canada)

The creator of the hit CBC sitcom “Little Mosque on the Prairie,” Nawaz is one very funny Canadian. Jameela Green is a jaded Pakistani Muslim writer obsessed with achieving bestseller status — even if it causes an international incident and serious political drama in the Middle East along the way. What I love about this biting satire is the initially unlikeable main character Jameela, who is messy and selfish and unapologetic — rare for a Muslim, South Asian female character, who are most often portrayed as submissive victims or perfect model minorities. But then, Nawaz has always been ahead of her time (full disclosure, she is a friend). As she says: “In these very serious times, it’s great to read a book that will make you laugh.”

Casey Plett, author of “A Dream of a Woman”

Recommending: “Birthday,” by Meredith Russo (Flatiron Press)

A beautiful, sad, and charming YA love story about two best friends and their families — it’s also a book about transgender women. Russo is one of the most deft writers of trans women’s literature out there, and this book breaks, captures and nourishes the heart.

Teresa Toten, author of “Eight Days”

Recommending: “The Liars’ Club,” by Mary Karr (Viking)

“The Liars’ Club” is a soul-searing memoir told through the eyes of a young girl growing up dirt poor in the oil-slicked dust of East Texas. It’s about boys and men who were bad because they could be, about women dancing with “nervousness,” alcohol and just plain meanness. It’s about secrets, lies and scenes so absurd that you laugh until you cry. “The Liars’ Club” nurtures the fierce and wild little girl in all of us and insists on making her fiercer still.


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