While there are lots of novels we've enjoyed over the years, today we're sharing five that have profoundly influenced how we feel about being a woman. In their own way, each title explores the themes of feminine wisdom, sisterhood, fertility, sexual empowerment, resilience, and healing.
The Red Tent
Of course, The Red Tent has to be the first on our list. The Red Tent takes the most revered text in history and offers a new perspective by giving Dinah, Jacob's daughter from the Old Testament, a voice that was previously silenced. It's hard not to be moved by the significance of this reimagining. The Red Tent also offers a beautiful way of viewing menstruation. Most of us have been taught to dread our periods. In contrast, the novel presents an alternative where menstruation is honoured as a time to rest, reflect, and connect with other women. The respect shown for women's bodies and natural rhythms, the sharing of wisdom between generations, and the powerful reclaiming of women's stories make The Red Tent a book we believe every woman should read.
The Birth House
Set in a small town in Nova Scotia in the early 1900s, The Birth House explores midwifery through the story of Dora Rare and her apprenticeship with the local "witch." Blending together newspaper reports, recipes and advertisements (including one for the first vibrator!), The Birth House has a historical feel while also highlighting themes that are still relevant today - the medicalization of women's bodies, sexual empowerment, and the devaluing of feminine wisdom. What stands out is the contrast between the isolation experienced by many mothers today and the community-focused traditions depicted in the novel. In The Birth House, a mother's home would become a hub of activity as women gathered to assist the midwife in birth preparations - engaging in rituals such as baking "groaning cake" and brewing Mother's Tea. Reading this book inspired us to find ways to incorporate the essence of these traditions into our own lives.
The DoveKeepers is a book that, like The Red Tent, reimagines historical Judeo-Christian events from a woman's perspective. The book follows four very different women whose lives become interconnected as they struggle to survive on Masada. And similar again to The Red Tent it examines all the major phases of women's lives - birth, childhood, menstruation, sexuality, pregnancy, motherhood, and the wise women years. What stood out in this book was the courage and strength of each of the characters - and yet how differently it manifested in each of them. Although the book centres around Jewish historical events, one of the main characters is a priestess of the Goddess traditions that predated Judaism. Her character's wisdom and authority conjure an almost cellular remembering of the power of our female ancestors. The Dovekeepers offers an exceptionally layered narrative that underscores the complexities and contradictions characteristic of women's lives.
The Mists of Avalon
We both read the Mists of Avalon as teenagers and have since reread it (Amy is actually reading it right now), and it remains as powerful now as it was then. Similar to our later experience with The Red Tent, we were struck by the significance of reading a famous narrative that had only been told one way - with the male as the hero and the women either omitted entirely, or treated as an afterthought. Instead, The Mists of Avalon positions Morgaine and Guinevere at the forefront of the King Arthur legend and in doing so, led us to question what other stories might have failed to acknowledge the contributions of women. This was also our first exposure to Goddess traditions and the divine feminine.
A Thousand Splendid Suns
Following in the footsteps of The Kite Runner, it is hard to imagine how Khaled Hosseini's second novel could have lived up to his first - but in fact it is better. The story weaves together the lives of two women who share a marriage to the same abusive man. At first rivals, brutal circumstances bring these two women together and turn this story into a tale of hope and courage. Hosseini's storytelling is perhaps the most vivid we have ever encountered, enabling one to truly feel that we have walked in these women's footsteps. It is an eye-opening experience to "live" the restriction and brutality that women face every day around the globe through the imagined experiences of these powerful characters. While it is a heartbreaking reminder of how far we still need to go before women truly share the rights of men, it is a powerful reminder to be appreciative of the freedoms we often take for granted in the west.
Have you read any of the titles on our list? We'd love to hear what you thought! Hop on over to our Facebook page to share your reviews.
You'll notice that each of the book images in this post provides a link to amazon.ca. Our first preference (for ourselves and our community) is always to support your local bookshops (we're huge fans of Book City). However, we recognize that sometimes ordering from Amazon is simply more practical. In these cases, we appreciate the commissions earned on your purchases - we promise to use them towards buying additional resources to share with our clients and community and to pay it forward by sharing our reviews! :)
Kim & Amy Sedgwick love to discuss sex, periods, and all the other things we’re not supposed to talk about. The co-founders of Red Tent Sisters and ecosex.ca, they’ve been featured in every major Canadian news outlet and have become a trusted resource for women seeking natural (effective!) birth control, a more joyful sex life, and an empowered journey to motherhood.