The Subjection of Women by John Stuart Mill was the February selection for A Year of Feminist Classics, and I have to say that I found it to be surprisingly accessible and very interesting. As the book was written in 1869, and as I tend to have difficulty reading classics, I imagined that this would be a trying read for me. While it wasn’t the most fun book I’ve ever read, it was a much more enjoyable experience than I was expecting! I was pleasantly surprised by how progressive Mill’s opinions were on the subject of women’s rights and equality. Of particular interest to me was the fact that he mentioned the social construction of gender multiple times throughout the book. While he didn’t use the phrase “social construction of gender” (of course) he blatantly stated that men “are” a certain way and women “are” another way because society tells men and women how to behave and think, and people tend to act accordingly. While anyone who has taken Women’s Studies 101 or even read a basic feminist text will be able to explain this nowadays, I didn’t expect to read about someone having a solid understanding of that concept in the mid-1800’s. Overall, this was a pleasant reading experience and I would definitely recommend The Subjection of Women as an important feminist classic.
The Sacredness of Questioning Everything by David Dark was exactly the kind of thing I needed to read at the time I was reading it. What Dark argues is that the God of the Bible doesn’t look for us to be docile sheep who simply go along with the crowd, acting and thinking just like everyone else. Instead, the God of the Bible encourages questioning, demands that we look at the world with a critical eye, analyze what’s happening around us and really question those aspects of life and of faith that just don’t add up. I loved this book so much because often in my faith journey, I get the feeling that I am doing it wrong. That when I read a passage of scripture or hear a teaching by my pastor and think to myself, “Hmm, not sure I agree with this” that I am somehow offending God, that I am not being an obedient child of His. I needed to be reminded that it was God Himself who gave me my brain, who gave me the freedom to think for myself and the courage to question that which just does not agree with my sensibilities. This may not be the book for everyone, but it tremendously encouraged me and I would highly recommend it.
I loved, LOVED The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. In case you haven’t seen the buzz this book has generated, Gretchen Rubin dedicated a year of her life to trying to become a happier person and then wrote a book about that year. She also maintains a blog about her happiness project, which I have visited one time but now I plan on becoming a regular reader. This book was just so very motivating. I do not have the time nor the energy to come up with an actual happiness project of my own, but I can see the immense value in some of the things Rubin did, especially when it comes to attitude adjustments. I loved that she came up with twelve personal commandments for herself and really attempts to live according to those commandments – something I definitely would consider doing myself. Truly, I loved so many things about this book and I absolutely couldn’t put it down. Highly recommended.
I also really liked Bonobo Handshake: A Memoir of Love and Adventure in the Congo by Vanessa Woods. Vanessa is an Australian scientist who thought she would want to study chimpanzees for the rest of her life – that is, until she met and fell in love with Brian, who researches bonobo apes in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She agrees to travel to the Congo with Brian and gets involved with his research, and this decision completely changes the course of her life. The first time I’d personally heard of the bonobo was when I read Sara Gruen’s Ape House, and I have to admit that as a reader, I fell in love with these delightful animals immediately. That love was expanded quite a bit after reading Bonobo Handshake - I still find it so difficult to believe just how human-like these apes really are. They can communicate, cooperate, show affection, form familial bonds, among many other things. Many traits that we believe make us human these bonobos actually share. I also appreciated that Woods treats the reader to quite a bit of information regarding the government in the Congo, the various wars that have happened there, and how the bonobo/chimpanzee black market works there. Also, I listened to Bonobo Handshake and can definitely recommend the audio version. This was such a fascinating read, I absolutely recommend it.