Posted on March 8, 2022 at 6:00 am
I admit not paying much attention to International Women’s Day in years past. But I’m excited to participate this year—at least in my own way.
International Women’s Day takes place each year on March 8 to acknowledge women’s social, economic, cultural, and political achievements in the face of historical disadvantages. It’s also a day to advocate for women’s rights worldwide.
While the day doesn’t get a lot of attention in the U.S., it’s celebrated in over 100 countries around the globe.
I’m normally a fiction reader, so I’ve decided to celebrate International Women’s Day this year by expanding my reading list to include nonfiction books about women’s widely varying experiences.
What I’m discovering is that these books are just as riveting as a good novel!
The following selections offer powerful insights into some of the ways women have struggled, persevered, and triumphed around the globe. Most were published within the last two years.
With over 150 children’s nonfiction books that celebrate girls and women, the library offers great reading choices for kiddos—including boys.
Whether children are reading on their own or reading with you, here are some titles published in 2020–21 for all to enjoy:
Nonfiction books geared specifically for teen readers often make great introductory reads for adults too. Recently published titles include:
A rich variety of books for adults on women’s experiences are being published these days. Some focus on the contemporary world while others explore the past.
Trigger warning: Please be aware that some titles contain straightforward accounts of rape and other violence.
Toufah: The Woman Who Inspired an African #MeToo Movement recounts author Toufah Jallow’s harrowing escape from The Republic of Gambia’s dictator and her extraordinary life of advocacy since. The autobiography also frankly recalls her psychological struggles even after settling in a safe environment. Jallow’s intelligence and bravery fill the narrative and culminate in her decision to use her real name when testifying against the most powerful man in her country.
Secrets of the Sprakkar: Iceland’s Extraordinary Women and How They Are Changing the World fleshes out why the World Economic Forum ranks Iceland as the leading country in closing the gender-equality gap. Born and raised in Canada, author Eliza Reed currently serves as First Lady of Iceland. In this volume, Reed interviews sprakkar (extraordinary women) and examines Icelandic culture to tease out how social structures affect women’s ability to thrive.
In The Underground Girls of Kabul, Swedish journalist Jenny Nordberg investigates a tradition employed by cultures that maintain strict gender segregation. The practice of passing off girls as boys allows families with no sons to still send a child out to run errands, work for income, and/or be educated. It also allows families with all-female children to gain more respect. But what happens when these girls reach puberty? Truly an eye-opening book for Western readers.
Life, I Swear: Intimate Stories from Black Women on Identity, Healing, and Self-Trust (eBook on OverDrive) combines beautiful photographic portraits of contemporary, influential Black women with written statements recounting each one’s trials, tribulations, and triumphs. The collection is curated by Chloe Dulce Louvouezo, an international leader in foundation work, human services, and public policy. The book is inspired by her podcast of the same name.
Poet Cathy Park Hong discusses her experiences as a Korean American woman in Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning. This collection of essays explores topics including racial self-hatred, invisibility, depression, and identity with a deft touch and moments of humor, lucid prose, and rich language.
Flying Free: My Victory over Fear to Become the First Latina Pilot on the US Aerobatic Team, by Cecilia Aragon, offers an inspirational autobiography. Raised in the 1960s in the Midwestern U.S. by a Chilean father and Filipina mother, Aragon went from being a shy child who considered herself a failure to becoming a successful stunt pilot with a stint working at NASA on the Mars mission. President Obama declared her to be “one of the top scientists and engineers in the country.”
Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive, by Stephanie Land, provides a memoir with a wallop. When the author’s dream of attending university vaporized after an unplanned pregnancy, Land found herself traversing a world of homeless shelters, public assistance, and low-wage work to survive. Her story provides a stark look at conditions for America’s working-poor women.
As a Woman: What I Learned about Power, Sex, and the Patriarchy after I Transitioned, by Paula Stone Williams, recounts the author’s lifelong struggle with gender dysphoria. A successful life as an evangelical pastor, husband, father, and CEO was simultaneously a life of denial and fear. The author finally chose to embrace her authentic self. But the fallout to her family was just the beginning of a new, difficult journey.
Sidelined: Sports, Culture, and Being a Woman in America, by award-winning sports journalist Julie DiCaro, clearly makes the argument that “sports aren’t just about sports.” The book’s focus expands to include topics as varied as online harassment, domestic violence, and how the media treats women. DiCaro also asks what we can do with the “revolutionary anger” of sexual assault survivors—a class to which DiCaro herself belongs.
All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake reveals the heartbreaking story of a mother’s parting gift to her daughter when they become forever separated by the savagery of slavery. Author Tiya Miles traces three generations of Black women who preserved this extraordinary object. When scant archival materials run dry, Miles explores art and artifacts to make African American history come alive.
Additional books investigating 19th-century American women’s lives include:
The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper (eBook and audiobook on OverDrive) takes readers to the heart of Victorian Britain. Author Hallie Rubenhold not only humanizes the impoverished victims of a notorious serial killer but also creates a riveting narrative. Her research reveals lives complete with parents, siblings, spouses, children, good times and bad—all constrained by legal and social systems that disadvantaged women.
Girly Drinks: A World History of Women and Alcohol (eBook on OverDrive), by Mallory O’Meara, provides a lighthearted and long-overdue look at women in the history of alcohol. From ancient royals and medieval alewives to 20th-century female bootleggers, women have always produced and consumed alcohol. So why are drinking, brewing, and distilling considered “manly”? And why are “girly drinks” embarrassing to order?
Mother Is a Verb: An Unconventional History, by Sarah Knott, investigates how motherhood has varied across more than 400 years of British and North American life. The book compares pregnancy, childbirth, and infant care in cultures as diverse as the Cree and Ojibwe Nations, Appalachian tenant farmers, enslaved African Americans, and free-city dwellers. Diaries, letters, court records, medical manuals, artifacts, and Knott’s lived experience all contribute to this fascinating read.
The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler’s Ghettos (young readers’ edition), by Judy Batalion, tells the remarkable story of Jewish women who resisted the Nazis in Poland during World War II. Having witnessed their family members being murdered and their communities destroyed, these women became armed fighters, spies, and saboteurs in a large underground network.
The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices, by journalist Xinran, chronicles hard-to-find straightforward accounts of Chinese women’s experiences from the 1950s to the 1990s. This turbulent period in China’s history spanned several political upheavals in which everyday citizens became pawns to ideologies. Pre-communist assumptions about women’s inferiority compounded profoundly tragic conditions for many women.
Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality, by Tomiko Brown-Nagin, reflects upon the exceptional life of the first Black woman appointed to the federal judiciary. Raised in a blue-collar family, Baker Motley became the first black woman to argue a case to the Supreme Court, the first black woman elected to New York’s state Senate, and the first woman elected Manhattan Borough President. Why do we not all know her name?
The Barbizon: The Hotel That Set Women Free, by Paulina Bren, provides a history of New York City’s women-only residential hotel that helped launch careers for many successful 20th–Century women. Opened in 1928 and catering exclusively to female residents until 1981, The Barbizon housed aspiring writers, actors, and countless others who chose professional lives over housewifery.
It’s exciting to see so many books about women’s experiences being published. I hope some of these titles pique your interest and you join me in bookish celebration.
Happy International Women’s Day!