In March, we celebrate Women’s History Month – an opportunity to explore the rich contributions of women throughout history and showcase some of the individuals who have changed the world, in both big and small ways. It’s also International Women’s Day on 8th March.
There are lots of books highlighting women who have been pioneers in all areas of life – from science to entertainment, engineering to health care, politics to popular culture and beyond.
In today’s blog post, Warwickshire Libraries’ staff share just a few of their reading recommendations for you to discover this March.
You can also explore the history of women in Warwickshire here, or look through our ‘Herstory’ reading list on our Inclusive Reads page. If there are individuals that peak your interest, use our eInformation resources, including Encyclopaedia Britannica and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography to explore more about their lives (you’ll need to log in with your Library Card Number to start your explorations).
You’ll find the reading suggestions featured below and many, many more available on our library shelves and in our BorrowBox collection. You can search our library catalogue here and if you’re not yet a member, find out how to join here.
Happy Women’s History Month
Kerry’s pick for this year’s Women’s History Month is Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez (available on our library shelves, as an eBook and on eAudio). The book’s blurb tells us more: Invisible Women shows us how, in a world largely built for and by men, we are systematically ignoring half the population. It exposes the gender data gap – a gap in our knowledge that is at the root of perpetual, systemic discrimination against women, and that has created a pervasive but invisible bias with a profound effect on women’s lives.
Kerry is also a BIG fan of the Little People, Big Dreams series (her picks from last year include the Dolly Parton title and Emmeline Pankhurst). There are a number of titles in this fabulous series that might inspire – from artists including Frida Kahlo and Josephine Baker to Mary Anning, Ada Lovelace, Greta Thunberg, and Malala Yousafzai.
Matthew’s pick is Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang (on library shelves and eAudio). This best selling book charts the history of China through the story of three generations of women in the author’s own family.
Chang’s grandmother was given to a warlord as a concubine, while her Communist mother and Jung Chang herself lived through the epic history of China in the twentieth century.
Little Women was the first book I read at High School when I was eleven. I loved it then and I still do today. It is beautifully written, and I felt like I knew the sisters personally. Set in the time of the American Civil War, the story follows sisters Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy March as they grow up and experience love and loss and navigate the expectations that society placed on them at the time.
Little Women is inspired by the author’s childhood and its theme of sisterhood is timeless.
This is the true story of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden, four African American women who played a key role in achieving some of NASA’s greatest successes in space.
Known as ‘human computers’, these women used their exceptional mathematical talents to help send the first man into space, all while being segregated from their white, male counterparts. These women were labelled as subprofessionals in order to be paid less despite doing the same work.
Set between the 1930s and 1960s, it is fascinating to see how much has changed since then, both scientifically and socially.
Three by Jennifer Jenkins (on library shelves)
A very moving account of life in the village of Eyam, Derbyshire, during the time of the plague in 1665/66. The author, (a Warwickshire resident as I found out after reading it!) paints a clear picture of life in the village, focusing on three women, Catherine, Elizabeth and Emmott, their day to day lives and the impact the plague has on them and their families.
Based on real historical events, the book is very well researched, especially the medical treatments, and I felt like the three women were my friends. It is heart breaking at times, but gently written and full of hope. It is a fascinating read and the impact of lockdown, social distancing, isolation, and loss was strikingly similar in 1665 as it is over 300 years later.
This is a short, but challenging, novel about a group of girls who are kidnapped and taken to a camp where they are abused by their captors. The events that O’Brien describes could have happened in any time in history and in almost any place in the world, as the author isn’t explicit about where the events of the novel take place (though there are some clues), and only the occasional mention of 21st century technology places it in the modern era.
Maryam, one of the kidnapped girls, witnesses – and is subjected to – a series of awful events before she, along with a friend and a new-born baby, escapes the camp’s routines of indoctrination and abuse (that she has escaped from the camp is obvious from the beginning, so – this isn’t a spoiler!).
O’Brien’s style is brief and succinct, and nothing is spelled out for her readers. Her descriptions of the violence done to the women are quite graphic, so this may not be for faint-hearted readers.
I was impressed with this novel, and I’ve already started on another of O’Brien’s works: The Country Girls Trilogy. The three books that make up this collection – which were written in the early 60s – were all banned, as their discussion of sexual behaviour caused uproar amongst the people of Ireland (O’Brien’s native country).
Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys by Viv Albertine (on library shelves)
This is a music biography by Viv Albertine of the Slits, who made one of my most favourite albums ever, 1979’s Cut (which, despite its being over 40 years old now, still sounds as fresh and innovative as it was back in ’79).
Though you might need to be a little bit interested in the punk era of music-making to fully enjoy Albertine’s story, her first-hand account of being a female operating in a male-dominated culture, and of the challenges she (and her bandmates) encountered during her career, tells of an experience that ambitious women from all walks of life continue to encounter.
The Greatest: The Times and Life of Beryl Burton by William Fotheringham (on library shelves)
Long before women were allowed to compete for Olympic cycling medals and world titles, and finally getting acclaim for their achievements, working-class Yorkshire woman Beryl Burton was taking on the men and beating them on two wheels. As a record breaker in time trials at all distances in the 1960s and 1970s, she was beyond compare.
Most of her national records lasted 20 years; one stood for half a century. Add to the equation a serious childhood illness, and hard manual labour on a rhubarb farm, and her achievements seem even more remarkable.
Thanks to this biography, there is a better chance of a wider audience becoming aware of her exploits, and for Burton to gain the recognition that she would have surely received if she were competing today.
Women of Steel by Michelle Rawlins (on library shelves)
For this excellent and moving book, Michelle Rawlins interviewed some of the women who were the unsung heroes of the Second World War – the Sheffield steelworkers.
When war broke out, the lives of these young women were turned upside down. They were relied upon to take the place of men in the factories, working in the same dangerous conditions, enduring some shocking incidents, but receiving only a fraction of what men were paid.
They proved to be the equals of their male counterparts, yet as the author puts it, “There was no mention of it in the history books and no official thanks, and so most people didn’t know what these women had been through.” When the war was over, they were pushed aside and seemed destined to be forgotten until a grassroots campaign resulted in a statue being dedicated to them in 2016. Like this important book, it was long overdue.
The Headscarf Revolutionaries by Brian Lavery (on library shelves)
This book tells the story of how four women from Hull changed the shipping laws after three fishing trawlers from the city sank in the space of three weeks in the winter of 1968, costing 58 lives.
Despite strong opposition from trawler owners, Lillian Bilocca, Christine Jensen, Mary Denness and Yvonne Blenkinsop are estimated to have saved thousands of lives through their safety campaign, which is thought to be one of the biggest and most successful examples of civil action of the 20th century.
In the space of a few weeks of action, including a meeting with prime minister Harold Wilson, the women secured a total of eighty-eight safety measures in a fishermen’s charter that laid the foundations for safety at sea for future generations.
How women are portrayed in mythology and legend has always fascinated me so when I saw this title in our BorrowBox collection, it was immediately added to my TBR list. Here’s the book’s blurb:
The folklore that has shaped our dominant culture teems with frightening female creatures. In our language, in our stories (many written by men), we underline the idea that women who step out of bounds–who are angry or greedy or ambitious, who are overtly sexual or not sexy enough–aren’t just outside the norm. They’re unnatural. Monstrous. But maybe, the traits we’ve been told make us dangerous and undesirable are actually our greatest strengths.
Through fresh analysis of eleven female monsters, including Medusa, the Harpies, the Furies, and the Sphinx, Jess Zimmerman takes us on an illuminating feminist journey through mythology. She guides women (and others) to reexamine their relationships with traits like hunger, anger, ugliness, and ambition, teaching readers to embrace a new image of the female hero: one that looks a lot like a monster, with the agency and power to match.
The cover of this one drew me in from the word ‘go’ and its premise is thought-provoking and intriguing:
In a famine-stricken village on a dusty yellow plain, two children are given two fates. A boy, greatness. A girl, nothingness… In 1345, China lies under harsh Mongol rule. For the starving peasants of the Central Plains, greatness is something found only in stories. When the Zhu family’s eighth-born son, Zhu Chongba, is given a fate of greatness, everyone is mystified as to how it will come to pass. The fate of nothingness received by the family’s clever and capable second daughter, on the other hand, is only as expected.
When a bandit attack orphans the two children, though, it is Zhu Chongba who succumbs to despair and dies. Desperate to escape her own fated death, the girl uses her brother’s identity to enter a monastery as a young male novice. There, propelled by her burning desire to survive, Zhu learns she is capable of doing whatever it takes, no matter how callous, to stay hidden from her fate.
After her sanctuary is destroyed for supporting the rebellion against Mongol rule, Zhu takes the chance to claim another future altogether: her brother’s abandoned greatness.
This is an “udderly hilarious LGBTQ+ story of friends, family and four-legged beasts” (sadly I didn’t come up with that joke – it’s the tag line from the blurb!). This book was a great read – a love story, poignant in places with all the highs and lows you could want from a book that won the Comedy Women In Print Prize in 2019.
In the book, Billie, who fled her Yorkshire upbringing to pursue her dreams of finding a cure for the illness which killed her mother, must return home to save the farm when her father gets sick.
The transition from city girl to country lass, however, isn’t easy, not least because leaving London means leaving her relationship with Joely Chevalier, French pharmaceutical femme fatale, just as it was heating up. And when she gets to Yorkshire, Billie’s shocked to discover the family dairy farm is in dire straits.
Cue complicated love triangles/other shapes, hilarious glimpses into a city girl getting to grips with being in the country and an ending that will leave you satisfied and wanting more from this debut author.
Happy reading this Women’s History Month!