A Book of One's Own: The Myth of a Top Ten
Written by
Madeline Smola
November 2009
Written by
Madeline Smola
November 2009
When asked to come up with a list of the top ten books for 2009 to counter Publisher’s Weekly all male Top Ten Best Books of 2009, our group of over 5000 women writers at She Writes decided not to make a list. What point could be made by making a top ten female authors list? Virginia Woolf posited that great artists are androgynous. It is hard to believe the claim that PW was dismayed that their list turned up all male. There isn’t anything new about a top 10 list—they’re fun—but can they effect change? A controversial top 10…well, that’s something. The She Writes members decided to blog and buy books written by women. In the words of Virginia Woolf: “I thought about the organ booming in the chapel and of the shut doors of the library; and I thought how unpleasant it is to be locked out; and I thought how it is worse perhaps to be locked in; and, thinking of the safety and prosperity of the one sex and to the poverty and insecurity of the other and of the effect of tradition and the lack of tradition upon the mind of a writer.” And then I picked a book of my own. Yes Means Yes! Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape edited by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti is a book of urgent need. According to the Office for Victims of Crime, every single minute in America there are 1.3 forcibly rapes of adult women; 78 women raped each hour; and 1,871 women raped every day—more than half a million women raped every year (683,000). Dismantling our rape culture is one of the most important causes of our time. The right-wing and religious groups continue to promote the rape culture by insisting on the “pro-family marital structure, in which sex is exchanged for support and the woman’s identity is absorbed into her husband’s; reinforce[ing] the idea of women as property.” And internationally, rape is increasingly used as a weapon of war and terror. The book is important on many Escherian-levels—addressing the full frontal disclosure of female sexuality and pleasure—it’s an exclamation on the sluggish pace of women’s’ equality. The essays include statistics like: “One in thirty-three men will survive sexual assault,” and remind us that “73 percent of sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows.” Yes Means Yes! moves beyond a powerful indictment of rape culture to declare the right of female sexual pleasure and ownership of our bodies. “Women are not empty vessels to be f-ed or not f-ed;…and we should feel safe saying no—even if we’ve been drinking, even if we’ve slept with you before, even if we’re wearing tight jeans, even if we’re naked in bed with you.” And I’ll add, even if we’re married to you. As a rape survivor, a woman, and violence prevention advocate, it seems natural that I would choose this book. However, I already know that next year, Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks will be in my top ten. It’s a strange tale…nearly presents as science fiction…a discovery of true science gone awry…masterful prose that makes science intriguing for the lay man. I purposefully won’t Google anything about it—I want the journey as led by Skloot whose sentence titles alone send the curious mind racing for answers and imagining the possibilities that will unfold within the pages: Doctors took her cells without asking. Those cells never died. They launched a medical revolution and a multimillion-dollar industry. More than 20 years later, her children found out. There lives would never be the same. I did cheat and read a tiny excerpt. To be honest, I almost forgave PW’s list when they put Skloot and “The Immortal” on their cover. However, it is unthinkable that female authors didn’t deserve a slot in the top ten. Take a look and take your pick. Every woman should have a book of her own.

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  • Christi Craig Revising


    I bought the 2009 anthology, The Best American Short Stories, edited by Alice Sebold. She had the honor of choosing the top 20 short stories published in 2009. Her selection includes male and female authors.

    I'm also interested in your choice, Jaclyn Friedman's and Jessica Valenti's book. That'll go on my "to-read" list.

    Christi Craig
    Writing Under Pressure