In 2016, I had two crystallizing experiences about the kinds of books I read.
Crystallizing Experience #1:
I have had a Barnes and Noble edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray that I bought in high school for no reason I can remember and never got around to finishing. I recall trying to get through the first two chapters but getting bored, so it got shelved indefinitely. In 2016, I wanted to economize my 50-book goal as much as possible by reading the to-read books I already had, so I introduced Dorian into the rotation back in July.
As I was slogging through it, I realized that 15-year-old Zoë had the right idea about the book’s dullness. I’m sure at the time people thought this novel was interesting, but it doesn’t hold up today. It’s a story written by a white and privileged man about a white and privileged man, with a philosophical message about art (that it only exists to be beautiful) that I’m not sure I agree with. I did not like the gender dynamics throughout the plot, and the symbol of “whiteness” that kept coming up did not sit well with me.
At the same time, I thought about the books that I’d read as a student and in my post-grad life. In middle and high school, the book selections were often the “classics,” which was a designation I didn’t think about or challenge. In college, I was extremely lucky that my literature program’s texts came from a diverse group of professors who drew from a diverse group of authors, and that the class discussions were designed to make us students look past the surface level. Since graduating, I’ve kept working on expanding my literary knowledge: reading more from the authors I’d grown to love, the novels that the literary part of my Twitter timeline couldn’t stop talking about and theory texts and nonfiction books. This desire — to always seek out something new-to-me to read — is one of the things I like most about myself.
When I finished The Picture of Dorian Gray, I felt like I had wasted my time reading something that was supposed to be a gem in the English canon’s jewelry box. I hated that I felt that way, and it struck me as an opportunity to revisit and reconsider my choices in literature. I’m sorry that it had to be Oscar Wilde to get me to come to this conclusion, but it had to happen eventually.
Crystallizing Experience #2:
In an incredible essay, Rebecca Traister said exactly what I felt in the immediate aftermath of the 2016 presidential elections: “We have gotten a clear view of how deeply this country is invested in keeping women and people of color on the sidelines.” I thought that there was no way the American people way would elect a candidate that boasted he could grab women by the pussy, but I was deeply, deeply wrong. This national decision made me want to not only be a better woman, informed about her body’s physical and political properties, but to seek refuge in art made by women. I don’t think I’m the only one who felt this way.
Both of these experiences helped me come to the conclusion that I want and need to spend more quality time reading books written by women and people who identify as such. I consider myself an ardent, but woefully under-informed feminist, and that is unacceptable. I want and need to cultivate my thoughts on feminism and intersectionality to be able to fully participate in discussions. Most importantly, I want and need to spend my money on art and initiatives made by women who entirely deserve the support. I owe it to myself to do it.
Since I’m a big advocate of setting annual achievable goals, I decided to make this my 2017 goal — to read 50 novels and nonfiction books written only by women. Throughout the year, I’ll chronicle what I read like I did in 2016. My only expectation is to expand on my thoughts around what it means to be a woman in the world. This project isn’t anti-white or misandrist. But it is a desire to appreciate exceptional artists in a purposeful way, and challenge myself to continually consider my world view. This is the moment I need to act upon it. Will you join me?