The best books about diversity in womanhood

Who am I?

I’ve always been interested in the interconnected lives of women and of womanhood. I find that it's also important to acknowledge the diversity in women’s experiences in all cultures and points in history. My first academic essay, which was published, was “Reevaluating of the Role of Women in Beowulf” which, in my youth, helped to not only flesh out the historical and contemporary roles women or persons who identify as women have had but also to begin to understand what that means to myself and to those around me. Since then, when writing about women in my numerous stories and novels, I focus on how she exists within her world and how she defines herself.


I wrote...

When We Were Flowers

By Catori Sarmiento,

Book cover of When We Were Flowers

What is my book about?

In 2011, Tara Larson is told that her English teaching contract would not be renewed. Upset and despondent, she moves from her small hometown of Minot, North Dakota to take an Assistant Language Teaching position in Tokyo, Japan. Having barely traveled outside her home state, Tara finds new cultural experiences while in the Land of the Rising Sun. It is there that she meets Ami Kishiguchi and the two share an inexorable bond. However, when the Tohoku earthquake and nuclear disaster threaten to separate them, Tara must decide if she will stay and continue her relationship or leave Japan for the safety of home. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Breasts and Eggs

Catori Sarmiento Why did I love this book?

Here is a book that grabbed me from the first paragraph. It’s a wonderful exploration of contemporary Japan and the struggles that women have as they grow and age. As a woman in my mid-thirties, I enjoyed the self-deprecating and honest imagery that was presented through the characters in this novel.

By Mieko Kawakami, Sam Bett (translator), David Boyd (translator)

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Breasts and Eggs as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A BEST BOOK OF 2020
TIME Magazine・The Atlantic・Book Riot・Electric Literature・The New York Times (Notable Book of the Year)

The story of three women by a writer hailed by Haruki Murakami as Japan’s most important contemporary novelist, WINNER OF THE AKUTAGAWA PRIZE.

On a sweltering summer day, Makiko travels from Osaka to Tokyo, where her sister Natsu lives. She is in the company of her daughter, Midoriko, who has lately grown silent, finding herself unable to voice the vague yet overwhelming pressures associated with adolescence. The story of these three women reunited in a working-class neighborhood of Tokyo is told through…


Book cover of Gathering Blossoms Under Fire: The Journals of Alice Walker, 1965-2000

Catori Sarmiento Why did I love this book?

Alice Walker is one of my constant and favorite authors and I find myself re-reading her works often. I was fortunate enough to be part of a discussion of this book with Alice Walker present and was in awe of how forthright she was. Gathering Blossoms Under Fire is a collection of her journals that shared such intimate moments from her life.

By Alice Walker, Valerie Boyd (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Gathering Blossoms Under Fire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'These journals are a revelation, a road map and a gift to us all' TAYARI JONES, author of An American Marriage

From the acclaimed author Alice Walker - winner of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize - comes an unprecedented compilation of four decades' worth of journals that draw an intimate portrait of her development as an artist, intellectual and human rights activist.

In Gathering Blossoms Under Fire, Walker offers a passionate, intimate record of her intellectual, artistic and political development. She also intimately explores - in real time - her thoughts and feelings as a woman, a…


Book cover of The Bread Givers

Catori Sarmiento Why did I love this book?

I first read The Bread Givers in college. It was assigned to me and I read the entire thing on a flight to London. This is one of my favorite novels to read because of how the narrative follows a young Jewish woman in New York as she struggles against tradition and expectations to pursue her own desires.

By Anzia Yezierska,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Bread Givers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

First published in 1925, Anzia Yezierska's "Bread Givers" is the tale of a young Jewish-American immigrant woman and her struggle to control her own destiny in Manhattan's Lower East Side at the turn of the century. The novel is based in large part on Yezierska's own life experiences immigrating from Poland as a child and growing up in New York City in an Orthodox Jewish family. "Bread Givers" centers on the story of its main character, Sara Smolinsky, who lives with her older sisters and parents in a poor tenement in the Lower East Side. The Smolinsky family is destitute…


Book cover of Song of a Captive Bird

Catori Sarmiento Why did I love this book?

I enjoyed the presentation of the historical and biographical point of view in this book which follows Forough Farrokhzad from a forced marriage to her life as a poet and filmmaker. The poetry from Forough Farrokhzad itself is used to give insight into her thoughts and desires. Her poem "Sin" was one that I read and re-read at different points during the book because of how it intertwined with the narrative. 

By Jasmin Darznik,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Song of a Captive Bird as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

LOS ANGELES TIMES BESTSELLER • A spellbinding debut novel about the trailblazing Iranian poet Forugh Farrokhzad, who defied society’s expectations to find her voice and her destiny

“A complex and beautiful rendering of [a] vanished country and its scattered people, a reminder of the power and purpose of art, and an ode to female creativity under a patriarchy that repeatedly tries to snuff it out.”—The New York Times Book Review (Editors’ Choice)

All through her childhood in Tehran, Forugh Farrokhzad is told that Persian daughters should be quiet and modest. She is taught only to obey, but she always finds…


Book cover of Tipping the Velvet

Catori Sarmiento Why did I love this book?

This was one of the first women-focused love stories I’d read as a young adult, so it holds a nostalgic essence over my experience reading women’s fiction. I enjoyed how it shared the life of a young lesbian woman as she came of age in the 1890s. Overall, the novel was fun and exciting and showed the resilience of the narrator as she sought to live her truth.

By Sarah Waters,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Tipping the Velvet as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Piercing the shadows of the naked stage was a single shaft of rosy limelight, and in the centre of this was a girl: the most marvellous girl - I knew it at once! - that I had ever seen.'

A saucy, sensuous and multi-layered historical romance set in the 'roaring' 1890s, Tipping the Velvet follows the glittering career of Nan King on her journey from Whitstable oyster-girl to music-hall star to cross-dressing rentboy to East End 'tom'.


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A Long Way from Iowa: From the Heartland to the Heart of France

By Janet Hulstrand,

Book cover of A Long Way from Iowa: From the Heartland to the Heart of France

Janet Hulstrand Author Of A Long Way from Iowa: From the Heartland to the Heart of France

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Reader Editor Francophile Minnesotan Once and forever Brooklynite

Janet's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

This memoir chronicles the lives of three generations of women with a passion for reading, writing, and travel. The story begins in 1992 in an unfinished attic in Brooklyn as the author reads a notebook written by her grandmother nearly 100 years earlier. This sets her on a 30-year search to find her grandmother’s journals and uncover the hidden interior lives of her mother and grandmother.

Her adventures take her to a variety of locations, from a small town in Iowa to New York, Washington, London, and Paris—and finally to a little village in France, where she is finally able to write the book that will tell her own story, intertwined with the stories of her mother and grandmother.

A Long Way from Iowa: From the Heartland to the Heart of France

By Janet Hulstrand,

What is this book about?

This story, about three generations of women with a passion for reading, writing, and travel, begins in 1992, in an unfinished attic in Brooklyn, as a young writer reads journals written by her grandmother as a schoolgirl nearly 100 years earlier. This sets her on a 30-year quest to uncover the hidden lives and unfulfilled dreams of her mother and grandmother. In this coming-of-middle-age memoir, the author comes to realize that the passion for travel and for literature that has fueled her life's journey is a gift that was passed down to her by the very role models she was…


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