(WOMENSENEWS)–Women enjoyed plenty of literary limelight in 2007, winning prizes, selling in record numbers and using the written word to inspire frenzied discussion in the media.
The most unsurprising book story of the year–and most hyped–was British author J.K. Rowling’s seventh and final installment of the wildly popular Harry Potter fantasy series.
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" sold 8.3 million copies within its first 24 hours on sale this July, smashing records at every major bookstore chain. The popularity of Rowling, once a struggling single mother who depended on government support and scribbled her books in Edinburgh cafes, now rivals Shakespeare and the Bible.
Several prizes for erudition went to women as well.
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Women’s eNews correspondents also signed books this year.
Two frequent contributors expanded on themes they have covered for Women’s eNews. Courtney Martin tackled body image issues, disordered eating and anxiety affecting young women and girls across race and class lines in "Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters." Nicole Itano’s "No Place Left to Bury the Dead: Denial, Despair and the African AIDS Pandemic" digs into the personal realities of women struggling with the scourge.
Women’s eNews historian Louise Bernikow wrote "Dreaming in Libro: How a Good Dog Tamed a Bad Woman," a memoir about city life, a single woman and her book-loving dog.
Regular commentator and board member Caryl Rivers unearthed some of the bad science that feeds media coverage of women’s issues in "Selling Anxiety: How the News Media Scare Women."
Michael Luongo sparked a bit of controversy this year with his book "Gay Travels in the Muslim World," published in May. This year he also wrote a travel guide book, "Frommer’s Buenos Aires," and his first novel, "The Voyeur."
Hannah Seligson wrote "New Girl on the Job: Advice From the Trenches," which delved into how today’s young women fare when entering the workplace.
Resident cartoonist Nicole Hollander offered a sassy riff on the pitfalls of growing older in "Tales of Graceful Aging From the Planet Denial."
Doris Lessing, a Londoner who grew up in Zimbabwe, received the Nobel Prize for Literature for her body of work, making her only the 11th woman to be awarded the prize in over a century. The Swedish committee described Lessing as an "epicist of the female experience." Her 1962 novel, "The Golden Notebooks," fired up the women’s movement with its unashamed portrayal of women’s rejection of traditional roles.
Lessing reacted to the prize standing outside her house, her arms laden with grocery bags. "I’m 88 years old and they can’t give the Nobel to someone who’s dead," she told assembled reporters, "so I think they were probably thinking they’d probably better give it to me now before I’ve popped off."
The Man Booker Prize, Britain’s most prestigious national fiction award, went to Ireland’s Anne Enright for "The Gathering," about a woman’s exploration of her family history after her alcoholic brother commits suicide.
Austen Rocks Again
The year also belonged to an English woman who died in 1817. A bevy of books written by women arrived on bookshelves this year with titles including "Lost in Austen," "Austenland," "Me and Mr. Darcy" and "Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict."
In nonfiction and memoir, Edwidge Danticat’s "Brother, I’m Dying" traces her Haitian family’s painful journey, separation and reunion. It was the only nonfiction book by a woman among the finalists for the National Book Award, which went to Tim Weiner’s "Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA."
Susan Faludi’s "The Terror Dream" released in October explores the upsurge of masculinity after the Sept. 11 attacks and links it to female captivity narratives and frontier anxiety in the American past. Sixteen years after Faludi’s "Backlash" explored the media pushback against women’s activism in the 1970s, her new book prompted furious online arguments about whether women’s voices have really been silenced since Sept. 11. It also offered a barometer for gauging presidential ’08 candidates: Do they portray themselves as "rescuers" of helpless female victims?
Ayan Hirsi Ali’s memoir "Infidel" described her childhood in Somalia, the trauma of undergoing female genital mutilation and her transformation into an outspoken Dutch politician in the international spotlight and a high-profile target of death threats by Muslim fundamentalists.
Katha Pollitt’s collection of personal essays, "How I Learned to Drive," inspired debate about whether eminent feminists–her column in The Nation is considered required reading by many women–ought to reveal potentially embarrassing and intimate histories. One anecdote concerns her inability to confront her partner about the presence of unfamiliar women’s under-things in the family laundry.
Rebecca Walker, daughter of novelist Alice and third-wave feminist, took the opposite tack. Her memoir "Baby Love" offers a rhapsodic account of motherhood’s benefits and takes her mother’s generation to task for its ambivalence about domesticity.
In "The Feminine Mistake" Leslie Bennetts argued that a new crop of younger women who were "opting out" and staying at home faced potential economic disaster.
"The Daring Book for Girls," by Andrea Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz, espouses recreational activities–from camping and cartwheels to science projects and secret note-passing techniques–that involve little-to-no shopping in the "pink" aisles.
For the older set, young adult author Stephanie Meyer continued to mesmerize readers with "Eclipse," the third in her "Twilight" series about vampires, werewolves and a female teen with no supernatural tendencies.
In nonfiction, Jessica Valenti, 29, founder of the Feministing Web site, offered "Full-Frontal Feminism" an upbeat, pop-culture-savvy book about why women’s activism needs a next generation.
Here are suggestions for 12 women-friendly books for your holiday break.
"Bluebird, or The Invention of Happiness" by Sheila Kohler. Based on the life of a French aristocrat who fled the revolution to make her life on a New York dairy farm.
"Away" by Amy Bloom. After a woman’s family is killed in a pogrom she comes to America to find hope and a missing daughter.
"The Camel Bookmobile" by Masha Hamilton, also a Women’s eNews correspondent. An American librarian encounters her own cultural ignorance when she goes to Africa to start a traveling library.
–Recommended by Jane Ciabattari, vice president of membership in the National Book Critics Circle and former chair of Women’s eNews board of directors.
"The Politics of the Veil" by Joan Wallach Scott. Explores how the implied misogyny of veiling is manipulated by France to exclude immigrant communities.
"Writing in an Age of Silence" by Sara Paretsky. Mystery author reflects on writing, feminism and politics.
"Home Girls Make Some Noise!: Hip Hop Feminism Anthology" by Gwendolyn D. Pough, Aisha Durham and Elaine Richardson. Essays, poetry and prose about being young and female in the age of Lil’ Kim.
"Sisterhood, Interrupted: From Radical Women to Grrls Gone Wild" by Deborah Siegel. Explores the generation gap in women’s activism and what young women are doing to take control.
"Women Behind Bars, the Crisis of Women in the U.S. Prison System" by Silja J.A. Talvi. Women and mothers are the forgotten population affected by the incarceration crisis.
"Bella Abzug" by Suzanne Braun-Levine and Mary Thom. Biography of the pioneering feminist and politician.
–Recommended by Women’s eNews staff.
"Aya" by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie. Graphic novel about a young woman coming of age in the late 1970s in Cote d’Ivoire.
"Funny Ladies: The New Yorker’s Greatest Women Cartoonists and their Cartoons" edited by cartoonist Liz Donnelly. The best of women’s wit, as seen in the pages of the famous magazine.
"Attack of the 50 ft Mikhaela" by Mikhaela B. Reid. Twenty-something cartoonist, also a Women’s eNews contributor, takes aim at sexist hypocrisy.
–Recommended by Women’s eNews staff.
Sarah M. Seltzer is a New-York based freelance writer and the editorial intern at Women’s eNews.