The “state of our world” is a contentious topic at the moment (as it should be) with climate change, gender inequality, and racial intolerance featuring daily in the headlines. These issues don’t make for light reading matter, but both fiction and nonfiction books on the subjects are important for adding context and perspective—and in some instances entertainment value. This month our editors at Literary Mama have been digging into the past, present, and future of society with their reading choices, and they have some gripping recommendations for you.
Meredith Porretta, Photo Editor and Blog Editor, has been probing the history of the status quo by reading this powerful account: “Lately I’ve found myself questioning how we’ve arrived here as a society. Why are we ‘like this’ in regard to leadership and resistance? Our status quo, with major polarities in opinions about race, gender, sexual preference, healthcare, privilege, etc. has forced a dichotomy between urgent social change and benevolent surrender. In my search for some type of understanding, I stumbled across a copy of Caliban and the Witch by author and activist Silvia Federici. Caliban and the Witch delves into the history of the painful switch from feudalism to capitalism and its resulting effect on women. This is not a lighthearted read; it’s absolutely terrifying but also mobilizing. I found myself shocked as I discovered that while things were pretty bad for workers during feudal times, women then were regarded quite equally to men in comparison to today. This book goes into fascinating detail of the development of a tried and true method of divide and conquer from the ruling class as a reaction to the backlash of the freedom-seeking working class. Eventually this led to witch hunts, which cemented the state of gender relations for hundreds of years, up to today. Now, whenever someone says something to me along the lines of ‘things are getting worse’ and that ‘they may be the worst they’ve ever been socially,’ I am reminded of this book and how it reveals why we have this struggle between affiliations and that things are certainly not worse than they’ve ever been. I’d like to think that we could be participating in the beginning of positive change as a society. By understanding strategies at play, we become capable of empowering ourselves by creating equally effective counter-strategies. Caliban and the Witch turned out to be an unexpected page-turner over the Halloween festivities that has been haunting me (in a good way) ever since.”
Profiles and Reviews Editorial Assistant Viji Sridhar has also been questioning our society (and it’s future) with her reading choices: “I, like many book lovers, am an absolute culprit of Tsundoku, a Japanese term referring to the habit of piling new books and not reading them. This led to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid's Tale sitting unread on my Kindle for longer than I would like to admit. But when I heard earlier this year that the sequel, The Testaments, was out and that it too had won the Booker Prize, I finally got into action mode. In her novel, Atwood creates a dystopian world set in the near future where the United States of America is taken over by religious extremists and ruled as the Republic of Gilead. A woman’s role in this patriarchal, theocratic society is limited to specific functions. The story’s protagonist, Offred, is brutally plucked away from her husband and child and is now a Handmaid—someone whose job is to conceive babies in an extremely polluted world where fertility is a rarity. Time is against her as she has been assigned to her third and last Commander and Wife—to conceive their precious package through a protocol which could only be described as rape. The dignity of women in every role—not just the Handmaid—is systematically stripped away, leaving them reeling between thoughts of escape and suicide. Reading this extremely well-plotted novel took my breath away as I realized that what Atwood was talking about was perhaps not a dystopia at all—it is the actuality of life for thousands of women across the world today. Be it from a woman’s chances of being born, to her choice of a partner, to her own reproductive freedom—somewhere around the world, a woman is struggling for her basic human rights and dignity every day. I am eager to see what Atwood’s sequel has to say.”
Luckily for Viji, we can give her an instant peek into the next volume of the story because Social Media Editor Abigail Lalonde has already devoured it! “Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments is a must-read for any fan of The Handmaid’s Tale. Atwood weaves both her original dystopian novel and a few plot points from the hit television show together to form one prequel/sequel that takes place 15 years later. This allows the reader to glean a deeper look into Gilead, the dystopian society Atwood created in 1998. Expanding on the original account of one handmaid, The Testaments is comprised of the witness accounts of three narrators—an Aunt, Agnes (a Gilead-raised girl), and another teenager, Daisy, who lives outside the confines of Gilead rule. The Testaments offered Atwood the ability to ‘fill in the blanks’ from her original text. These snippets were absolutely fascinating, especially the witness accounts of Aunt Lydia which reveal who she was before Gilead and how she became an Aunt. I found myself focused on the themes of nature vs. nurture and generational oppression as well as the perception and corruption of power. Atwood works her genius to intertwine the three POVs to create a compelling story that holds the reader’s attention throughout. The Testaments was my latest book club pick and it did not disappoint with its ability to stir up lively conversation and debate. In our current political climate, something Atwood addresses at the end of the novel, this book should go on everyone’s to-be-read pile.”
Over to you. Which books are shaking up your perceptions of modern society? Share with us in the comments or tweet us @LiteraryMama. You can also follow us on Instagram @Literary_Mama and Goodreads for more recommendations.