Reading Women with Michelle Porter

In honour of International Women’s Day, we invited some of our authors to tell us why reading books by women is important and to share some of their favourite books by women with us.

Our final featured author is Michelle Porter. Michelle Porter is a Red River Métis poet, journalist, and editor. She holds degrees in journalism, folklore, and geography (PhD). Her academic research and creative work have been focused on home, Métis mobility, and the changing nature of our relationship to land. She’s won awards for her work in poetry and journalism, and has been published in literary journals, newspapers, and magazines across the country. She lives in St. John’s.

Michelle’s nonfiction has been anthologized in Best Kind (recently named a Foreword INDIES finalist), and her debut collection of poetry, Inquiries, is now available for pre-order.

IWD2019_Michelle Porter

Michelle Porter on Reading Women

I can tell you that I don’t read women writers so that I can read about familiar worlds. There’s so much diversity among women that I almost never recognize myself in the books I read that are written by women. The notable recent exception is when I read The Break by Katherena Vermette. In that book, for the first time in so, so long, I recognized myself and my family. And that’s why I’ll read anything and everything by Katherena Vermette. But that’s a rare thing.

Indigenous women are writing some of the best books in Canada and in the world. They’re writing books that offer us a different way of thinking about our selves, our connections, about the land we live on, this country we all want to understand, about possibilities for the future, and about new paths that lead to something like hope, but are too real and too connected to be as wispy as hope. Lee Maracle, Katherena Vermette, Maria Campbell, Marilyn Dumont, Louise Bernice Halfe, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Eden Robinson are just some of the writers I’ve been encountering. And I’m a better person for it. If you are looking for more, this Room Magazine list remains strong.

I read women authors so that I can enter stories that offer a full spectrum of human experience. In so many ways in today, we live in a world that holds up the male experience and body as the norm. The world we encounter on a daily basis is built on the male experience of the world, as writer Caroline Criado Perez points out in her book Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men. The world we live in offers itself to the common daily lives and bodies of men. Some days it is only in essays, books, poems, and novels written by women that a person can begin to understand a world that is focused on the imagination of a woman.

See also: “You cannot be ‘well read’ without reading women”, The Guardian 

And rarely does this female imagination create worlds that are similar to each other. Women, even from the same place, are just too different from one another. That’s the beauty of the untapped scope of the female imagination and world — there’s so much to lean into. Think of the Brontë sisters’ three very different responses in literature to the challenges of their places and lives in Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Think of the wonderful gaps between the different stories told in new novels by two women living right here: consider the startling worlds evoked by Sharon Bala in The Boat People and in Megan Gail ColesSmall Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club.

It is my opinion that one of the best ways to experience a place you’ve never been is to read it through the eyes of a woman author. Sophie Baggott wrote in The Guardian that “male authors dominate more than two-thirds of the translated fiction market.” That’s so much of the world left untranslated. And Miles Klee writes about our personal bookshelves, many of which are dominated by male authors—great authors, certainly—but male.

I read women authors because women write good books. Just look here in Newfoundland and Labrador. How incomplete would our understanding of Newfoundland and Labrador be without writers like Melissa Barbeau, Lisa Moore, Bridget Canning, and Trudy J. Morgan-Cole?

I believe that what [Miles] Klee wrote about women writers is true:

“If you’re passionate about an art, a science, a sport or a business, you owe it to yourself to seek out the women who are mastering it, and to study how they do so. Otherwise you’ll never get more than halfway to anywhere good.”

And read Mary Oliver. Poetry and essays both. Just do it. The world she unfolds before us, built with nothing but words, is fierce and beautiful all at once. Like the woman who wrote them.  And oh, dear God, read Miriam Toews’ Women Talking. Like all the best novels it is universal and particular all at once, uncovering through women’s talk, one conversation in a barn at a time, the dilemmas women face as we try to grapple with the years beyond #metoo. It left me breathless.

From March 8th – 12th, take 20% off all books by our female authors in-store and online.

Enter promo code: WOMENSDAY2019