Photo: Courtesy of the Retailer
Author and New York contributing editor Rebecca Traister discusses the books that inspired her fiercely argued and profoundly relevant history of America’s “oppressed majority,” Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger (Simon & Schuster) — which comes out today — as well as a couple she wishes she’d gotten around to earlier.
I spent about six months doing interviews and research for Good and Mad, presuming the whole time that I would be writing this book, which was meant to be a slow chronicle of the Trump administration, over several years. But the fast-burning wrath of just the first year of that regime — from the Women’s Marches to the female candidates to #MeToo — forced me to change course pretty quickly. And so the actual writing of the book was done in four months. That meant that I was relying on a lot of books I’d already read and absorbed, turning quickly to many others as research material, and desperately hoping to be able to read and incorporate many more but failing to for lack of time. Here are the few that made the biggest impressions on me.
Brittney Cooper’s book Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower (St. Martin’s Press, 2018) was published just as I was starting to write my book. I’d been doing research for months and we’d just been through #MeToo, so I was already thinking about anger, gender, race, and then I got an early copy of this and it blew the doors off, imaginatively speaking. It was this proud, energetic reclamation of anger, via memoir and pop cultural analysis — a vision of how a book could be forceful and smart and joyous all at once. It was an inspiration to me in those four months of speedwriting; it just sat next to the bed where I wrote, kind of glowing with pleasure and promise.
One Woman, One Vote: Rediscovering the Women’s Suffrage Movement (New Sage Press, 1995), a collection of essays about suffrage edited by Marjorie Spruill Wheeler, was absolutely vital. I had been taught very little in school — shockingly little — about the lengthy, complex, fraught movement for women’s suffrage in this country. And I often find it strange how few comprehensive texts there are about it. I turned to this compilation of academic perspectives over and over again, learning about the movement’s horrifying racial politics, the many strategic approaches taken by different activists at different stages, the arguments about whether to create a proletariat coalition or appeal to elite women, and the domestic remaking of Susan B. Anthony. It’s a terrific resource for those who want to know about suffrage from many different angles.
At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance—a New History of the Civil Rights Movement From Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power, by Danielle McGuire (Knopf, 2010). I’d read this book when it was published, and it made a huge impression on me, chiefly because it was the text that really made me rethink everything I’d been taught about Rosa Parks as demure, stoic, and exhausted. It also helped me to understand and begin to question so much about structural relationships between racial and sexual violence.
Intercourse, by Andrea Dworkin (Free Press, 1987). You may think you know Dworkin, and there may indeed be things that you can’t stand about Dworkin — like her approach to porn, and to sex work (I agree with neither!). But there is so much about her work that is prescient, terrifying in its acuity, raucous and daring and very much of this moment. It’s worth it to go back and read some of it with an open mind.
I’m also going to mention two books that I didn’t read in time to incorporate them into my book, which I really regret:
Tera W. Hunter’s To ’Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women’s Lives and Labors After the Civil War (Harvard, 1997) is a book I just hadn’t known about when I wrote about women’s catalytic role in the American labor movement. I focused on the young white women working in the mills of Lowell, Massachusetts, and the immigrant insurgents in the shirtwaist factories in New York, but the big story I wish I’d included was about black washerwomen in Atlanta who organized in the summer of 1881, kicking off a citywide action for higher wages and recruiting the (few) white washerwomen in the city as well as other domestic and hotel workers. Hunter’s book covered their strike, and I only realized that I should have included it in my book after I was already done. I recommend everyone go read about it now!
The other book I didn’t read until I was done with my own was the newish novel The Power, by Naomi Alderman (Little, Brown, 2017). Lots of people kept telling me, “Oh, you’re writing about women and anger? You have to read The Power.” But my God, I had no time for a novel! As soon as I was done I dove in — and holy hell, it was like every theme or idea I had just finished writing about brought to chilling, mind-bending fictional life. I kept having to put it down because it was hurting my brain.