In parallel with her work as a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, actress and activist Emma Watson started a feminist book club in 2016 called Our Shared Shelf. Choosing books bi-monthly, she invites readers from around the world to discuss powerful work that’s had profound effects on society.

On her vision for the club, she writes: “Everyone has their own journey, and it may not always be easy, but what I can promise is that you’ll meet some extremely cool people that you will REALLY love and respect along the way that will walk this path with you. You’re not alone. And even if you are, in a particular moment…remember you come from a long line of feminists who did this work, in the outside world but also inside themselves.”

Expanding on what modern feminism means to her, Watson muses: “We put such high expectations on ourselves as feminists, on other feminists, and the movement as a whole. It feels like such a relief to take ownership of words like ‘nasty woman’ and ‘bad feminist’. They don’t have so much power this way and maybe they remind us not to hold ourselves and others to unreasonably high standards – we are all human after all and at different moments of our learning journeys. We need to feel free to be on those journeys and make mistakes.”

Read on for Emma Watson’s book club list (as of May 2018), and find an exhaustive list of every book she’s recommended here. Complement with the reading lists of feminist icons bell hooks, Gloria Steinem and Maya Angelou.

The Power by Naomi Alderman

“Alderman challenges the cliché that women are more noble than men, and that a world run by women would be more gentle, with benevolent leaders and no war. In fact, women become power hungry and begin to repress men. They commit war atrocities, perform male genital mutilation, rape and maim for sport and kill to occupy land. With power dynamics reversed, the women don’t choose a righteous path – they act no better than men who have abused power throughout history. I think Alderman’s point is that people who abuse, do so because they can.” -EW

Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou (READ: Maya Angelou’s Recommended Reads)

“Maya Angelou’s final work, published a year before her death, in 2013, when she was 85 years old. It was the first book to focus on her mother, Vivian Baxter, who abandoned Angelou when she was a child and it portrays their complicated relationship. The story is about the special connection between mother and child; both women found a way to move on and form a profound and enduring bond of love and support.” -EW

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (also rec’d by Gloria Steinem)

“Margaret Atwood wrote The Handmaid’s Tale over thirty years ago now, but it is a book that has never stopped fascinating readers because it articulates so vividly what it feels like for a woman to lose power over her own body. Like George Orwell’s 1984 (a novel that Atwood was inspired by) its title alone summons up a whole set of ideas, even for those who haven’t read it…Atwood has called it ‘speculative fiction’, but also says that all the practises described in the novel are ‘drawn from the historical record’ – i.e. are things that have actually taken place in the past. Could any of Atwood’s speculations take place again, or are some of them taking place already? Are the women in the book powerless in their oppression or could they be doing more to fight it?” -EW

Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein (READ: Carrie Brownstein’s Bookshelf)

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

“I’m excited to announce that our first book of 2018 is Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge which talks about the history of racism in Britain, and ways we can see, acknowledge and challenge racism. I am not supposed to have favourites, however this was the most important book for me this year.” -EW

The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler

“This book isn’t strictly just a book – it’s a play that became a political movement that became a world-wide phenomenon. Just say the title The Vagina Monologues and, even now, twenty years after Eve Ensler first performed her ground-breaking show, the words feel radical…I’m so interested to see which monologues we all like best, and which ones still shock us. Has the world moved on in twenty years, or are there still aspects of women’s sexuality we can’t talk about, through our own fears or because others try to stop us? Do we think art can change the world?” -EW

Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Clarissa Pinkola Estés

“As a young girl growing up in northern Michigan, Estes felt most at home in the woods where she often heard wolves howling. Instead of scaring her, the animals’ cries comforted her in a way she was later able to express in this book. Wolves and women share many qualities: playfulness, strength, curiosity, bravery, they are adaptive, and each care deeply for their young. But both wolves and women have suffered a similar fate of being hounded, harassed, exhausted, marginalized, accused of being devious and of little value. How does one reconnect with our deepest, most true selves when today’s world demands us to conform to ridiculous expectations? Estes retells ancient myths and fairy tales from around the world and in doing so shines a light on a path which leads us back to our natural state — and help us restore the power we carry within us.” -EW

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

“Roxane Gay describes her book Hunger as a ‘memoir about my body’. It traverses many of the issues surrounding our human bodies, the sexual experiences we have, our relationship with food, how we feel about our own bodies and the difference gender has to play on a body…While parts of the book are difficult to read, it highlights the very real damage done by sexual violence and puts you in the mind and body of someone that has to move through the world in a different way. A small insight or perspective I feel grateful for now having and understanding a little bit better.” -EW

All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks (READ: a bell hooks booklist)

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof

“Half the Sky depicts, in eye-opening detail, the various cultures and customs that suppress women and gives a voice to those individuals who need to be heard the most. Traversing through Africa and Asia, Kristof and WuDunn introduce us to some incredibly strong women and describe their stories of suffering and survival. Most importantly, the book spotlights how these women were able to stand up and transform their lives and, through their inspiring examples, we learn that the key to enabling change and economic growth is in unleashing women’s potential (the title of the book, after all, comes from the ancient Chinese proverb, ‘Women hold up half the sky’). Kristof and WuDunn dare us, as readers, to join the cause and Half the Sky shows us how, by doing even a very small amount, we each have the power to change other women’s lives.” -EW

Heart Berries: A Memoir by Terese Marie Mailhot

“Having always felt deeply impatient and limited by having to express myself in perfect grammar and punctuation (this was pre-apostrophe gate!), I am quietly reveling in the profundity of Mailhot’s deliberate transgression in Heart Berries and its perfect results. I love her suspicion of words. I have always been terrified and in awe of the power of words – but Mailhot does not let them silence her in Heart Berries. She finds the purest way to say what she needs to say. She refines… How beautiful are these sentences?” -EW

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore

How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran

“I read it on a plane from London to New York and I laughed out loud and cried so much I think the whole of my cabin, airline staff included, thought I was losing my mind.” -EW

The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson (also rec’d by Carrie BrownsteinKim Gordon)

“The story is about the author’s relationship with artist Harry Dodge, who is fluidly gendered. It’s about their romance, the birth of their son, the death of Harry’s mother and their changing bodies, as Maggie becomes pregnant and Harry undergoes surgery, but it’s also about inclusion and the powers and shortfalls of language. It might require a bit of work but The Argonauts rewards us with an expansive way of considering identity, caretaking, and freedom—along with a liberation from, what Maggie calls, ‘the demand that anyone live a life that’s all one thing.'” -EW

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

“Satrapi grew up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution and its aftermath; Persepolis is the story of her childhood. Through Marji’s youthful (though not-always-innocent) eyes and mind, we see a turbulent moment in history unfold, and we witness the tremendous impact that local and global events and politics can have on even the most intimate moments of personal lives. We experience with Marji her day-to-day dreams and struggles, from family strife to wrestling with religious faith and custom. We’re swept up in her parents’ anxieties and her grandmother’s memories of an utterly different era. And we get a very real sense of what it was like to be a woman in Iran during this intense time of cultural and political transition.” -EW

My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem (READ: Gloria Steinem’s ‘Life-giving’ Reading List)

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Color Purple by Alice Walker (also rec’d by Chimamanda AdichieGabrielle UnionGloria Steinem)

“I am trying to choose works that cover as much ground as possible and are diverse… I’ve heard amazing things about this book from a person that I trust… The musical is currently on Broadway (starring Cynthia Erivo, Jennifer Hudson and Danielle Brooks) and a film was made of the book in 1985 by Steven Spielberg. It was Oprah Winfrey’s film debut and introduced Whoopi Goldberg (I love both of these women). I’m excited to read it and maybe do some watching too.” -EW

The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf

(via Goodreads)

Categories: Activists Actors


Emma Watson's Feminist Book Club

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