The Women Unbound Challenge

Instead of a Friday Find this week…I’m joining another reading challenge! I’m trying to pace myself, since a) I’ve never done reading challenges before, b) I hate leaving things unfinished, and c) I’ve got a busy job/life.

But…I’m really excited about this one, which I found on A Striped Armchair. I argued with myself and finally decided to go for it and join the Women Unbound Challenge. According to the challenge blog:

Participants are encouraged to read nonfiction and fiction books related to the rather broad idea of ‘women’s studies.’ The definition according to Merriam-Webster is “the multidisciplinary study of the social status and societal contributions of women and the relationship between power and gender.”

There are three levels of participation:

  • Philogynist: read at least two books, including at least one nonfiction one.
  • Bluestocking: read at least five books, including at least two nonfiction ones.
  • Suffragette: read at least eight books, including at least three nonfiction ones

The Women Unbound Challenge runs from November 2009 to November 2010. If you want to get involved, head over to the challenge blog and sign up!

I’m going to aim for Bluestocking this time around. (Suffragette, maybe next year!) As for a possible reading list to complete the challenge, I’ve got:

  • The Commoner, by John Burnam Schwartz: A fictional account of a woman who becomes the first commoner to marry into the Japanese royal family, whose “freedom and ambition suffer under the stifling rituals of court life.” Bonus: it’s based on the real life of Empress Michiko of Japan.
  • Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters:  A gothic novel about the intertwined lives of two orphan girls and the misfortunes that they participate in, with more twists and turns than a maze. I’m about 2/3 of the way through right now. SO GOOD.
  • The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman: This was my Friday Find last week, a story about a woman locked in a tiny room after giving birth.
  • Out, by Natsuo Kirino: The story of four female Japanese factory workers who become linked due to a crime, and the covering up of the crime. It’s been praised for its gritty portrayal of domestic Tokyo life.
  • Year of Wonders, by Geraldine Brooks: A historical fiction novel about the lengths a small Derbyshire village goes to to keep a 17th-century plague from spreading. I’ve read that the female narrator has great inner strength while dealing with the deaths of her fellow villagers. 
  • The Boys of My Youth, by Jo Ann Beard: A series of memoir-ish essays of growing up in the ’60s, and the author’s relationships with family, friends, and men.  
  • Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, by Harriet Jacobs: One of the first personal narratives written by a slave in the United States during the late 1800s, and one of the only written by a woman. It features cruelty and subjugation, yes, but also kindness, justice, and above all, the strength and will of Harriet. A re-read for me, but a powerful one.
  • Birding on Borrowed Time, by Phoebe Snetsinger: The true story of a woman who, after being diagnosed with malignant melanoma, decided to dedicate the rest of her life to birding and became one of the “big listers”–a birder who has seen and identified 7000+ species!
  • Odd Girl Out, by Rachel Simmons: The author, a journalist, investigates the “hidden aggression” in girls and the ways they express it by interviewing 300 girls at 30 different schools.
  • Sex with Kings, by Eleanor Herman: A history of royal mistresses and the power they wielded in Europe that serves as an account “of the “art and science” of being a royal mistress.” 

This is a tentative list; I still haven’t quite decided what to read. What are some feminist fiction and non-fiction books that I’ve missed or ones that you love?  Leave a comment and let me know!

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13 Responses to “The Women Unbound Challenge”


  1. 1 Care March 5, 2010 at 12:57 pm

    Welcome to the Challenge! I loved Year of Wonders; I have The Yellow Wallpaper on my challenge list and I have Fingersmith in the house but yet to start it. Great list!

    • 2 tarynwanderer March 5, 2010 at 2:14 pm

      Thanks for the welcome! I’m excited to be participating. 🙂 I’ve already been having fun reading other participants’ reviews!

      Ooh boy, you won’t regret reading Fingersmith!

  2. 3 candletea March 5, 2010 at 1:15 pm

    Good luck on your challenge! I signed up for it this week as well. I’m super excited about it, but am still reading my first book for the challenge.

    I like your list. I cannot say I have read any of the books you mentioned, but I like your description of Sex With Kings and The Commoner. I have Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl at home, but I still have to read it. Your post made me realise I want to read it for my challenge. Also, I keep hearing great things about Fingersmith, so I definitely want to pick that book up as well.

    • 4 tarynwanderer March 5, 2010 at 2:18 pm

      Oh good! I’m glad someone else signed up recently…I was a little worried that I was starting too late! 🙂

      Hooray! Incidents really is a perfect fit for this challenge. Looking forward to your review of it! Maybe we can compare notes 😉

  3. 6 Eva March 5, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    Thanks for joining! Your list looks great; I’ve only read Fingersmith of them. Love Sarah Waters! I read a different Simmons book, Queen Bee & Wannabe and liked it a lot.

    • 7 tarynwanderer March 6, 2010 at 4:19 pm

      Well, thanks for hosting! 😀 I’m excited to get a chance to participate and share thoughts with the others.

      Glad to hear that Simmons is solid!

  4. 8 softdrink March 5, 2010 at 10:42 pm

    This is the bestest challenge. I don’t want to tally up the books I’ve read so far…I think I’ve met my goal, but I’m going to just keep reading.

    I loved Year of Wonders, but will be interested in your thoughts on the ending.

    • 9 tarynwanderer March 6, 2010 at 4:18 pm

      It does seem like one of those challenges that you just want to keep going indefinitely! 🙂

      I hope I’ll be able to get my hands on Year of Wonders in time! I’ve heard good things. I’ll also make sure to avoid ending spoilers!


  1. 1 Review: Fingersmith « bookwanderer Trackback on March 6, 2010 at 4:56 pm
  2. 2 Teaser Tuesday (Mar 9)! « bookwanderer Trackback on March 9, 2010 at 8:34 am
  3. 3 Review: The Boys of My Youth « bookwanderer Trackback on March 18, 2010 at 7:38 am
  4. 4 Review: The Commoner « bookwanderer Trackback on March 29, 2010 at 7:57 am

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