by contributing writer Em J Parsley
When choosing books for this list, I found it impossible to stick to one genre or theme. There’s too many wonderful books from all the wonderful genres to confine this list to a monolith, so what we’ve got spans from poetry to graphic novels to children’s literature. Enjoy!
1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen [novel]
If you haven’t read it, you’ve probably seen one of the several versions of the movie. I recommend you read it anyway. Over 200 years later, and Austen still holds up. Her dry humor and quick-witted heroines hold as much charm as ever, but even more than that, Elizabeth Bennet is an ever-modern heroine who remains that just-right combination of realistically flawed and startlingly authentic.
2. Antígona González by Sarah Uribe [prose poetry]
Inspired by Sophocles’ play Antigone, Uribe tells the utterly heart-breaking tale of a woman’s search for her missing brother. Antígona’s grief becomes a powerful manifestation of all the Antigones across Mexico who are in the same position as her, which is all the more convincing due to Uribe’s scattering real accounts throughout the book from people whose family members have gone missing.
3. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel [graphic memoir]
Equal parts hilarious and tragic, Fun Home tells the story of Bechdel’s childhood and coming of age. From her time spent at her family’s funeral home to the discovery of her sexuality to her emotionally distant father’s sudden death, Bechdel pulls no punches and leaves no family stone unturned.
4. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros [novel/short stories]
On the surface, teenage Esperanza Cordero’s story may seem like a typical coming-of-age account with boys and fights and questions of what it means to grow up, but Cisnero refuses to stop there. The House on Mango Street displays a rich use of a vignette style that weaves between storytelling, philosophical quandaries, and at times language so flowing and rhythmic it could be considered poetry, while also dealing with a variety of heavy, important topics, like sexual assault, racism, and misogny. Cisneros’ message is clear right from the dedication page, which reads, “A las Mujeres -- to the Women.”
5. Playing in the Dark by Toni Morrison [literary criticism]
Playing in the Dark is a phenomenal (and short) read if you are interested in literary criticism. Shedding the dry, painfully academic tone that so much of literary criticism is guilty of, Morrison takes a look at the past and present condition of literature in the United States, examining how white canonical literature portrays race and “Americanness.” It is a potent, thoughtful, and unflinching look into America’s literary imagination.
6. The Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag [children’s graphic novel]
This is the only novel I’ve included in this list that does not have a woman/girl protagonist, but Molly Ostertag still has so much to say about feminism and gender roles. The Witch Boy tells the story of a boy named Aster who comes from a family where all of the women are witches and all of the men are shapeshifters, and what he does with his struggles with shapeshifting and his love for witchcraft. It’s a heart-warming and at times heartbreaking tale that asks the reader to examine who they are and be that person unconditionally.
7. Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown [novel]
Protagonist Molly Bolt is fondly placed in my memory as a Scout Finch-esque tomboy if Scout swore a lot. Molly’s story, while placed in lesbian novel history as being one of the few that is not deeply tragic--it is, in fact, one of the funniest books I’ve read in a long time--it is also a literary goldmine for feminism, in particular, feminism’s relationship to patriarchal control of women’s sexuality.
8. The Color Purple by Alice Walker [novel]
The Color Purple follows the life events of Celie living in rural Georgia, told through a series of letters to God in which Celie recounts her experiences of the horrors of rape, systemic racism, and poverty. Even in the face of addressing such dark subjects, Walker treads with gentleness and love, because her focus is always, perpetually on women’s bonds with each other.
9. Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde [essays and speeches]
While Audre Lorde is probably best known for her poetry, this book of essays is truly a marker for what Lorde is capable of. The essays, handling everything from police brutality to terminal illness, are, as with everything Lorde writes, a push back against silence, against violence: “We cannot allow our fear of anger to deflect us nor seduce us into settling for anything less than the hard work of excavating honesty.”
10. Wanting in Arabic by Trish Salah [fiction/poetry/memoir]
This marriage of genres, as undefinable as it is beautiful, harkens back to old Arabic traditions of femininity and literature while remaining fresh with its modern memoir elements. Salah’s recounting of her experience as a transgender queer woman mixed with more traditional poetic thought is not only a fascinating thought experiment on how we interact with our pasts, but gives insight into the human soul, body, and experience that make it a worthy read, I believe, even if you think poetry’s not for you.
How to Critique Flash Fiction
by contributing writer Hannah Macafee
One of the best things about writing is creating a world, but the best thing about reading that work is getting to sling on your proverbial hiking backpack and explore the world that has been given to you. But what do you do when the world you’ve decided to take a jaunt through, though small, is flipped on its head and pulsating with unknown themes and colors? How do you critique the wild world known as Flash Fiction (FF)?
Giving criticism to a genre that should be, by definition, rule-less and experimental may seem counterproductive, but in practice it helps FF writers just as much as it helps its ever growing community. Keeping this fact in mind is vital as it gives you a goal to achieve and clarifies that your intent is not to be rude to the writer, but rather to help them and the genre grow. Now that you have the right mind set, it is important to come up with “trail-markers” of what flash fiction should be (and by elimination, what it is not). Keep in mind, that there will always be wonderful exceptions but for the first time critic of FF, these points should be your compass.
Flash fiction does not equal short story
One of the biggest mistakes a writer will often make is thinking that micro fiction and flash fiction are synonymous. While both are defined as incredibly short works of prose, they have some differences. FF is attributed more towards stylized writing while a micro fiction’s main intent is to tell a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end. Flash fiction should be focused more on creating an atmosphere (more on this later) than telling a plot.
Abstraction should not pass theme
My own personal definition of FF is poetry without borders, but even that definition leaves room for conflict. When reading FF, it is important that the piece not get too abstract; it’s a sliding scale of art and story. It’s like you’re a bee looking for nectar: if the flower has too many flashy colors and weirdly shaped petals, how on earth are you going to be able to get to the center of the flower where the pollen waits to be picked up and spread? In a similar fashion, FF should not be impossible to decode.
Look at the structure
So you’ve defined what Flash fiction is (and isn’t), and you’ve observed word choice; what else is there to look at? Well, another area that a FF author can toy around with is structure. Unlike standard short stories, FF does not have have to adhere to the major structure; it can forge its own path both in style and in physical format. If a FF piece is falling just short of what it could be, try suggesting a change in the fiction’s direction. This could give the writer more to play around with and help them come up with new ideas on their own for how to improve their work, without doing a complete overhaul on their intended effect.
If there’s no impact, there’s no “fiction”
This final part is the most important part to remember, not just for Flash fiction, but for all prose. You should always be getting something back from what you’re reading. I stated earlier that FF is more atmospheric than plot-driven, and while that is true, it should still leave you with some impact. With that in mind, “impact” is in the eye of the beholder. I personally feel that if a piece has simply left you “feeling good”, then that’s ok. But if you can’t come up with a reason as to why it has left such an impression, then it is time for a reread and maybe a reconsideration, so that you can do the author, the piece, and yourself a full service.
There is more to take into account when critiquing FF than what I have stated, and I’m sure there are a few paradoxes in my own above suggestions that go against how others critique flash fiction. Do you think there are important points or additions that have been left off? Let us know in the comments below.
by first official Nevada Poet Laureate Mildred Breedlove who spent three years writing a poem about the State of Nevada.